Monday, December 31, 2012

1931 : When the year ends

There is only one word in my head...fatigue. Time to hit the bed at 2130. Wish you all a good and safe one.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

1930 : Best Startup

Someone I once knew used to say that his best startup was his kid. I cant but marvel at the preciseness of the emotion that sentence conveys, because I completely agree.

When I see parents not managing to make time for the kids (I work with folks where both parents are “weekend parents”), or when I see parents ill-treating their kids….it does not shock me, but I do think…this startup might still just make it against the odds, but the parents could do so much more to ensure that the ride is safe.

What kids need is time and care, a world where we help them overcome their fears and OUR biases Smile

1929 : Rooted

I live in very strange unexplainable times. Every single acquaintance of mine, wants his/her child to be “rooted”, to not know what a cloistered existence is….and yet, the child is encouraged to never drink anything other than bottled water…and yet, the only vacations the child knows 3 times a year is to a foreign land….and yet, the child will not eat Cabbury since it uses transfat and nickel, only Toblerone will do……

Get the drift.

To be rooted, first we might need to unroot our biases and fears. How difficult is that?


Now Buddha never advocated desire or hoarding, but this one deserves to be an exception.

How much with it set you back by – close to 25000 USD. (Images borrowed from ebay and peninasia. If the owners find it a violation, please drop me a note, I shall pull these images down. Hopefully this shall help you folks sell Smile)





1927 : Potential Barrier

Sometimes when something is broken, and lets say its precious – you do want to fix it. It’s a strong desire in you, but lets say due to the inertial bias that we humans we, you don’t manage to coax yourself to the task in even time.

As an example, you have not spoken to your friend in recent times, and this friend means a lot to you, but due to fear of the unknown, you let this fester, and soon before you know, its over 5 years….since you have spoken.

You are meeting this friend tomorrow, and sure enough pleasantries and coffee shall he shared…what your mind is debating – “should I resolve the break?”……

Guess what, pragmatism has taught us, that sometimes when such a pile up has happened, clearing the highway, might not just be onerous, it might be a chimera.

In such situations, its probably best to just cosy up, cuddle in, coddle out and coffee down.

1926 : Nokia


Have been using a Nokia Asha 200 for the past 6 months. This is my third phone in 3 years and the only one to break the 3000 INR barrier in recent times.

The other two earlier phones (Samsung and LG) both of them conked out. Of course they had been used a little rough, but still, this Nokia seems to be taking the rough and tough well so far.

Battery is awesome, lasts about 5 days and call quality is awesome.

Most importantly build quality is quite unbelievable for a 3600 INR phone. I really think Nokia has the right hardware DNA, its software crap that was its bugbear.

I hope to use this phone for at least 3 years, which shall be a first for me in 13 years of using a mobile phone Smile 

Also, this phone has reconverted me to be a Nokia fan. If I do upgrade, I might consider the Lumia Windows phone, for me that shall definitely be the best of both worlds Smile

1925 : Posturing

Times of India, today morning screams “Rest in peace, Nirbhaya. We wont, until India is a safer place for women.”

TOI has taken it upon itself to name the rape victim as Nirbhaya. Ok that’s still passable.

Whats amusing is the tone of indignation and moral uppity that TOI paints itself in. To me, it would be a little less shocking if Playboy had a similar headline, at least they do what they do very well.

In the month from now, I can bet, Nirbhaya shall be forgotten (within TOI) and if she does get space, she shall be relegated to a 2*2 cm column.

As I have said before this rape (like any other) has two delineated aspects – the personal story – which we cannot  hope to understand, experience or touch, and hence we should not toy with….and the larger fabric aspect, which is what we as a society should work upon.

But  the tone of the current media reporting and circus is focused completely on the former, the latter, and the more difficult meditation is completely ignored.

We as a country, still have 1984, Godhra, Narmada…… and heaven alone knows how many such more ghoulish ghosts to exorcise.

I would quite literally, let the brave little girl rest in peace. She has already been so wholly and socompletely stamped out of existence by us….. lets at least not make her corpse, a prop in the circus trampoline.

1924 : The carnivore in me

I have debated this infinitely, meat or no meat and ….this continues to be a very complex nuanced topic if you really meditate on it.

And no, I am not going to take you through the debate itself.

As an aside, for 7 years 2002-2009, I remained a avowed vegetarian, and since 2009 I have had the occasional bite.

My current leanings are suggesting that I go back to 2002 days.

The internal strife is fascinating to watch. The debate in my head has never been because I feel or thing, that I am missing (or eating) a selection of food…... My real debate - is there an absolute and conclusive preferred route in this matter….and I still have not finalized the answer in so many bloody years.

1923 : Breadworks @ Bangalore (The best bread in town)


(Part of the Bakasur Breaks Bread series, chronicling my favorite places to eat across the cities).

City : Bangalore

Where to eat : Breadworks

What : Bread, pastries, tea, coffee, breakfast and cakes.

My favorite signature : The Sour Dough bread here is probably the best in the country. India still does not understand Sour Dough well, and that’s a pity. I pick up my weekly quota of sour dough from here.

Setback : Sour Dough is Rs. 100 per loaf, and everything a little above the usual range, but quality and taste is perfect to a T.

Frequency : I continue to visit this place at least once a week, if not more. Raavan and I love hanging out here, sipping coffee, chewing bread and reading magazines.

Location : It’s a chain, I use the one in Koramangla near the BDA. Visit for more details.

Alternative : If you are in Bombay, Breadtalk comes close, though they don’t have sour dough. The Breadtalk in Bangalore on 80 feet road is a sham – they always undercook all their bread.

1922 : The cancer in me

Buddhist masters have a fascinating view, that everytime you have a serious debilitating mental or physical condition (say Alzhemiers, Parkinson, blood cancer, a block in your lungs, kidney failure and so on…), they believe your body is trying to tell you something, in most cases its trying to connect back to its own reality (whatever that might be), and most definitely – they urge us to view these experiences as death or “near death”, and use these experiences or inflection points to transform ourselves.

Now years ago, I felt these were hogwash or some mumbo theory. Today, older, wiser and closer to my own death – I can see that this is such a powerful advice. I wish I had understood it well enough the first time.

1921 : Free will

Have been reading quite a bit of papers up on consciousness and free will, and when I say papers, I mean “research”. Its fascinatingly insightful to know how little we know of ourselves and even more scary to know that we assume to control, we don’t and really the whole point of this comes down to who is the “I”…..

Lots of material available on Google, do read up.

It shook me up a bit…..and I thought I was well informed on these matters. My view is, use such an insight to understand your own mind better.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

1920 : My current reading list



In the last 2 months have been re-reading a lot of Dalai Lama, especially published works of the current one.

For the record, I am an unabashed fan of the Lama, I consider him a role model for my life and he is someone who I shall always look upto.

I would so very much like to meet him just once, but then that’s reserved for my bucket list.

Reading some of his works and the perspective it lends alongwith with anchoring writings of folks like Alan Watts – its my best urban meditation and I must add – it really leaves me with a sense of peace and emptiness (which btw, in Buddhism is considered Wow!!).


Raavan has learnt to imitate the Lama and smiles like him. Its awkard, but its hilarious. Raavan is my proxy to the Lama Smile

1919 : The story of my past

From Milan Kundera’s Ignorance

The Greek word for "return" is nostos. Algos means "suffering." So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.

1918 : A nice thought for the future :-)

“If you sit by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy float by”.

Supposedly attributed to Confucius

1917 : Broken Arrow

You try hard and mend some of your broken relationships, but like the arrow, these are usually unidirectional, which means they get worse with time – unless both sides see a merit in salvage.

One of my acceptances in this year – let even the best of relationships die. If you don’t, you shall not only be bearing ventilator and life support charges, but you shall also be creating infinite bad karma.

In a few days, from this very 6ft mound of earth, new fresh flowers shall be frolicking. Hoping to see spring and bloom again.

1916 : RIP : The sparrow just died

I killed my Twitter account.

What does not make you stronger, should get killed.

1915 : At the end of the day (2012)

We are close to ending 2012. I am a thorough rationalist, but I cant help marvel how some years in my life turn out to be horrible and some are so consistently solid fantastic years. I don’t know how and why it happens, but I can clearly see evidence for these patterns.

1996, 2002, 2006 – these were great solid years.
2007, 2012 were tricky and broken years.

2012 most definitely has been a  year, where broken relationships have been a dominant theme, so has internal rife, so has the complete violation of personal space.

Being the Buddhist that I am, I am allowing these weapons to cause maximum damage, because out of this entropy should emerge a new birth, a new transformation and hopefully a newer and fantastic year.

Resisting the damage, will only slam 6 tons of concrete against my fragile mind…..

While I hope to swim across, I must admit, this has been a very humbling year and this shall experience shall stay with me for years to come.

The Mayans are dead, long live the Mayans…..

1914 : Salman and I (By Ruchir Joshi)

Again from Man’s World. Makes me want to subscribe to this mag all over again. They do such fantastic writing.

Take a bow MW.

Original article at

Reproduced below for easier reading


Like many other aspiring artists of his generation, Ruchir Joshi was blown away by the exuberant language and storytelling in Midnight’s Children. Here, Joshi reflects on three decades of engaging with Salman Rushdie, reading his books and meeting him in person

New York, 1982

I was 22, living in New York on the Lower East Side while I considered my options for a Master of Fine Arts degree. Like all cocky kids that age, me and most of my friends thought we knew a hell of a lot about literature, art and film. I’d developed chronic bookwormia at age eight, and now, having emerged at the other end of my teens and finished my BA, I had strong and clear opinions. I couldn’t stand the shit goras wrote about India. I couldn’t bear V.S. Naipaul’s bwana-buttering prose and the unreadable books he’d written on India. And I really couldn’t stand most of the Indian fiction being written in English — the writers I had read were so gingerly with the language they made me think of gardeners allergic to grass and leaves.

In any case, I wanted to be a film-maker and my fiction sector was completely occupied by the best of the world’s films so cheaply available all around me in Manhattan. The gluttonous intake of cheap Monday morning shows, all-night screenings and double bills in the art house cinemas was my main activity that year. The books I was troubling at the time were non-fiction: about cinema and visual art, with a couple of Po-mo meditations on desire and on photography. Unusually, I’d read only two novels that year. Scraping by as a part-time waiter through the brutal winter of 81-82, I spent my off days doing the classic thing of huddling between heater and anglepoise, rationing the cigarettes, and, finally, devouring a small paperback brick of War and Peace. Then, next, I’d heard so much from my aspiring writer friends about this translated novel by a Colombian writer that I hungrily scored a copy of A Hundred Years of Solitude and quaffed that down quickly, too, before I got over the shock of what I was reading. For a few weeks, the reverse of the words and images in my head gave me a deep buzz. It was like the bean-sting of the Puerto Rican cafĂ© con leche tingling at the back of your tongue, surviving the hot milk and heavy sugar.

At the 'Author of the Year' party at Hatchards Bookshop, in London, in 1992

The stories within Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s epic were so mad and true they could be Indian. Equally crazy was the story-telling, the prose constantly shifting its furniture to release the ghosts: dreams that doubled back on themselves, houses that had mirrors for outside walls, 72 girls banging on 72 toilet pans, rain that rained ceaselessly for years, and wan beauties that flew off on wings of drying bedsheets. Clearly, no Indian writer (I’d never heard of G.V. Desani’s All About H.Hatterr) was ever going to match this narrative jazzery; obviously, it would have to be done through film, and Ind-Eng Lit would have to remain on back shelves marked ‘A-B’ for ‘Archaic-Boring’.

After my money-less, food-scarce, woman-wanting winter, the spring warmed up the city and magical realist things began to happen. A beautiful modern dancer asked me to photograph her for her portfolio. Realism correctly told me nothing was going to transpire with her, but the photos were successful and they led to another equally lovely dancer, with whom the magic part did kick in. I found work in a posh restaurant, where the tips were regular (real) and generous (surreal, including lines of the best cocaine, offered to the help under the tablecloth). After months of browsing forays, I could walk into the St. Mark’s Bookshop with intention and a fully weaponised wallet. It is there that I saw the paperback.

The cover was the usual exotic oriental faff and I had only a vague idea of the Booker Prize it was trumpeting. I guess, I bought Midnight’s Children out of curiosity and because I was homesick for India. I began reading and, like innumerable others, I was reeled in. There was this joker in a pickle factory, a digression-junkie but with a hypnotic whine of a voice. There was Kashmir, the Dal Lake and this ancient boatman, ‘His face was a sculpture of wind on water:ripples made of hide.’ There was this young doctor examining different bits of a young woman through a hole in a bedsheet, there was I, the reader, also now bedsheeted, looking through the shifting, teasing hole at different parts of India’s recent history. There I was, Midnighted, benighted, coming to the bifurcations in the story and able to take both forks simultaneously. Here was a writer who loved the English I called Inglish, who took what was familiar to an Indian city boy like me and made it fresh. Here I was, in throbbing New York, missing Calcutta, but hell, this guy could even make me miss bloody Bombay, the city I loved to hate. There it was, ‘my Bombay’, the parts I knew, Kemp’s Corner, Breach Candy, Fort-Fountain-Chowpatty, and it was peopled by characters and events that could match the most powerful in contemporary world literature.

As an Indian, suddenly I could be among my international khichri of friends with more than just Satyajit Ray to flaunt. Yes, yes, this other SR, this Salman funny-surname was based in England, but he was clearly appun ka-ich, so khaali-pili hair kyu spilt karne ka, re? Within a couple of months, I would decide to go back to India without attempting to get into an MFA course. Thanks to a couple of new Indian films I’d seen, and in no small thanks to A Hundred Years of Solitude and Midnight’s Children, I realised where I needed to be in order to find the stories that were mine to tell. I realised where my war and peace lay and returned to Calcutta.

Calcutta, March 1983

The accent was more clipped Brit public school than Warden Road drawl, but the man himself seemed to have no airs or graces. The talk at Kala Mandir Basement had ended and Rushdie was surrounded by signature-seekers. I’d fixed up to do an interview for the The Telegraph. Being nervous, I’d recruited back-up in the shape of my friend Vivek Benegal, had made him quickly read the book, and got him to borrow someone’s little cassette-recorder as well. The British Council lady was firm: ‘You have only 45 minutes. Mr. Rushdie is very tired because of the tour.’.

Anti-Rushdie protests in Tehran, in 1989

We sat in the dark lawn of New Kenilworth Hotel, and SR ordered beer. ‘The newspaper has given us a budget, so we can pay,’ I said, trying to be helpful. ‘Don’t worry, I think we’ll let the British Government get this one.’ Which was a good idea, since my budget was a princely 500 Rs and the hotel was expensive. We began talking: a slim 30-something fellow draped on a cane chair, two younger bozos, excited, sitting straight and scribbling away. After a while, I looked at my watch. ‘Do you have to go somewhere?’ asked Salman. ‘No, but they said only 40 minutes.’ ‘That was me playing safe. You’ve no idea how many dreadful interviews I’ve been through. Relax.’

By the time the bar closed, we’d killed several bottles of Black Label. The three of us tottered up to Salman’s room and we said goodnight. Then we remembered and rang his doorbell. ‘Now what?’. ‘Photograph. Need…photograph, sorry!’ I snapped off a few shots of SR looking big-eyed, black eyebrowed, fully nosed and slightly scary, a younger, more handsome version of Tintin’s Rastapopoulos.

Reading that full-pager today is interesting. The early years so movingly described in Joseph Anton are encapsulated: Bombay, his father’s bedtime tales, the move to boarding school and the sneering gora students; Cambridge, reading history and British racism in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He doesn’t yet mention Shame, but says ‘the body of work that includes Midnight’s Children is now finished.’ Pakistan comes up. “I’m continually amazed at the total absence of organised protest in Pakistan. If we were talking like this in Pakistan,” he suddenly looks around suspiciously to see if anyone is listening, “I’d be doing this all the time.” Asked about future projects, SR says “I don’t want to become an India expert. I want to write about the tensions and difficulties of moving from here to the west. After all, I’ve had 20 years of it. The writing should also migrate at some point and I think this is it.” The Prophet comes up twice, once when he tells us that he’s the only student in the history of Cambridge to have done a paper on Mohammad and the rise of the Caliphate, and again, when we ask him about future work. ‘Islamic history, too, has always interested Salman Rushdie, and one of his tentative projects concerns the early life of the Prophet Mohammad.’

Protests in Pakistan, in 2007

A lot of it would have been standard-issue S.Rushdie biography, honed into nuggets by that time to aid variously competent interviewers. But then we asked him about things like the India Festival going on in Britain at the time, and about Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi, both of whom were then in power. We discussed the stuff that would keep all of us occupied for the next five years: (in today’s words) how to finish un-installing the Raj and get rid of the last, pesky junk files; how to fight racism; how to deal with the fallout of dangerous nutters like Ronald Reagan and Zia-ul-Haq; was there any possibility of a Khalistan coming into being, and, if so, where? A lot of it didn’t make it into print, but the conversation re-inforced the love I had for the novel with a warmth towards the man. The admiration was there, of course, but my main memory of that encounter is of Rushdie’s humour and irreverence, the sharpness of his intellect, how non-doctrinaire he was, the openness with which he seemed to regard the world and himself.

When it came out, Shame was disappointing. One didn’t have much love lost for Pakistanis at the time (Imran was captain, they were winning irritatingly often) but even so, I remember feeling bad for them. First, the buggers got the worse deal in the Partition, and now Rushdie had replicated that in his ‘twin’ novels — Shame was to Midnight’s Children what Pakistan was to India. But there was a lot more to Rushdie than just his latest novel. There were the essays and the brilliant small book on Nicaragua, The Jaguar Smile; there was always a political engagement and a constant quarrel with quietism; there was the point he eloquently made: fighting racism didn’t mean you had to accept all or any nonsense spouted by a person of colour.

Looking back, many of us never saw that Salman of the mid-80s as any kind of Olympian figure. As an Indian film-maker or writer, when you read him, one of the best things about him was that he seemed a somewhat older, quite advanced colleague. He was ours, even as he hung out with his other famous pals Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. He was on our side, reachable and touchable, even as he hobnobbed with cultural stars all over the world.

When The Satanic Verses came out in 1988, reports from fellow fans were mixed. ‘Brilliant beginning, but…’, ‘Hard work, but worth it.’, ‘He’s gone off the rails, tried to include everything, his editor’s gone missing in action, but enough great stuff in here, so hopefully he’ll get back to full form in the next one.’.

The next one. The next thing. Till February 14, 1989, The Satanic Verses was still only the latest of a series of novels, done and yet to come, in the normal up and down career of one of the most adventurous writers of our times. Till that day, Rushdie was more than his latest novel. After that day, as he himself points out in different words, Salman and Rushdie fissioned: ‘Rushdie’ went supernova, way more massive and scattered than a 547-page hardback, while ‘Salman’ compacted inwards at cosmic speed, almost, but not quite, turning into a black hole.

Iranian drawings published in 2000

Standing on the hill made by 25 years, it’s easy to see now. Prologue: the nutter Reagan pumping up Saddam Hussein, the Taliban and Bin Laden. The psychopath, Islamist Zia lapping up American help, powering up the chainsaws that would dismember his own country. The terrified cretin Rajiv Gandhi opening up Babri Masjid and banning the Verses. Then the detonation of the fatwa by the old vulture Khomeini. And then the vicious crescendo of (mostly) brown people screaming nonsense, accepted and manipulated by the powers that be all over the world.

Now, the trenches left by the once-buried grid of dynamite-lines lie clearly visible.

To list just a few:
Fatwa – to Babri demolition (Hindus return Offended) – to BJP
government – Offence epidemic (Taslima, Husain, Fire, et al) – to
re-warmed Babri ‘kar seva’ – to Gujarat massacres.
Fatwa – fillip to Islamic fundamentalists – Abu Hamza and gang in
London’s Finsbury Park Mosque – 9/11.
Fatwa – rise of the Taliban – Babri demolition – Kashmiri jihadis –
Kandahar hijack – 9/11.
Fatwa – 9/11 – Gujarat massacres.
Fatwa – Fundamentalist virus spreads in Pakistan – Rise of the Taliban
– 9/11 – US invasions – implosion in Pakistan – Bombay 2008.
Fatwa – Innocence of Mulims – undercutting of Arab Spring.

At the fulcrum of this vast web of stories, a man gets thrown out, falling out of nothing as piffling as an aeroplane, but flung out of the world. Flung out for what? For telling a story. In a book. Written in a quite peculiar, not that easy-to-understand English and Inglish.

New Delhi, March 2012

There’s an open-air part to the bar at The Hyatt, where each seating unit has a wide sofa with two far armchairs facing it across a table. One evening in mid-March, two men are trying to decide where to place themselves in one of these units. At first, they sit on the sofa, looking at the chairs catching the setting sun.

‘This is good. He can have a chair.’
‘No, but he might not like the sun in his eyes. It might feel like an interrogation.’
‘True.’ Under the bemused eyes of the serving staff, the two flip themselves ourselves over into the chairs, flinging the chair pillows on to the sofa.
‘No, it’s good. He looks like he’s put on some weight, so he’ll be happier on the sofa.’
They sit for two beats, flicking glances over their shoulders.
‘Mmm, dude?’
‘Yeah, man?’
‘These chairs are, I don’t know, maybe a bit higher than that sofa?’
‘They are. You think he might think we’re, like, talking…’
‘Down to him? No, he wouldn’t think that.’
‘But look, the sun’s almost gone now.’
‘Right, you’re right. I’m sure he’d much prefer a chair, actually.’

They move over, chuck the pillows back and plant their asses on the sofa. Almost immediately they — or rather, Jeet Thayil and I — stand up again.

In the intervening 29 years, I’ve seen Rushdie in person only once, when he made his triumphant return to India, after the waning of the fatwa. At the time, the hysteria, the Hokusai wave of photographers rising behind him, the riot of fans with their eyes switched to high-beam, all of it kept me from even thinking of approaching him. Now, as he walks towards us, I see that age and circumstances have been doing their usual malicious damage. His gait is slow and there’s a large oval that’s colonised his middle. I see him approaching and I’m suddenly aware of my own too-large middle, I feel as if I’m aging those 30 years in fast-motion. ‘Hello, Jeet, Ruchir.’ We shake hands. SR removes the extra pillows and settles down on a chair. We order red wine.

Between Rushdie and me, there are the nearly three decades. And then there are the last six weeks.

At a promotional event of his latest book, Joseph Anton, in New York

On January 16th, I hear that SR has withdrawn from the Jaipur Literary Festival because a crack hit team from Bhailand has accepted a supari on him. From both the national and the Rajasthan state government emanates the sound of hands being wrung, a kind of slimy, slithering, satisfied silence that says “What to do? Who told you ask this trouble fellow to come?” No one says, “This is an outrage.” No one says, “We, the government, will not be held hostage by a pair of hired killers.” Later, we understand why, at the time we don’t know. On January 20th, at the end of our session at Jaipur, Jeet and I read a passage from the Verses. The session itself goes beautifully, but soon all hell breaks loose.

Jeet, I and two other writers — each of us independently had the same idea — are all pilloried by a multi-hued coalition of assholes, ranging from fundamentalist mullahs to leftist pundits. The festival organisers get heavy, the cops get tense, there are attempts to slap cases on us by various local political party thugs and pawns. For about a month, we are constantly in the national news. Acquiring some distance, it’s very clear that the Rushdie-ball has been set rolling by parties maneuvering in the state elections. By end February, things get calmer, but there’s still the constant piranha nibble of court appeals, stupid columnists, FB jousts and personal sniping.

Two days after the reading, I get a brief email from Rushdie, a single line thanking me and hoping we are all safe from arrest. It’s the first contact from the man since I received a scrawled note in 1983: ‘Dear Ruchir and Vivek, thank you for the article. I thought it was by far the best piece to come out of the ‘Indian media blitz’!’

It’s crazy to think about that ‘tentative project on the early years of Islam’, which he mentioned in ’83. It’s weird to remember that proposed migration of his writing, that boomeranged migration and the super-strong rubber-band twisted from his own words that’s kept Rushdie yoked to the subcontinent in such unforeseen ways. It verges on the magic-real that it’s those same two early ideas that have brought us back face to face. I’m in Delhi, passing through, when I read that Rushdie was also in town for a conclave. After replying to that first email in January, I’ve had no reason to contact SR. Our stand was about the Satanic Verses, yes, but it was also about the much larger issue of being able to read and write what one wants. But, now I send him an email: ‘Would you have time to meet Jeet and me fora drink?’ The reply is an immediate ‘yes’, so here we are.

We talk about Jaipur. Jeet and I describe what happened, and who said and did what afterwards. Salman has stuff to tell us as well, about the lead-up to the festival, the invitation, the police sliding into becoming fiction-wallas and inventing a non-existent hit team.
“”Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo”, what fantastic names,” I say.
‘Yes, they’re great. I’m planning to use them, actually.’ Salman smiles firmly.
‘Yeah, yeah, sure, of course.’ I back off quickly. I don’t need these, I’m good with inventing names.

Unsurprisingly, SR has no memory of meeting me in ’83. Nor does he let on if he’s ever read anything I’ve written; he makes a nod towards Jeet’s novel, yes, he’s heard about the book and he wishes Jeet well. We move on to other topics, his life in New York, the book, Joseph Anton, the forthcoming film of Midnight’s Children. He talks about personal stuff as if we are old, close friends. Again, there is between us great warmth, candour and easy laughter. Jeet later tells me that when I’ve gone to the loo, SR has apparently leaned forward and said, ‘You know, this guy has written terrible, terrible things about me, terrible stuff, but I won’t hold that against him now.’

When I hear this, I think ‘Well, at least the man knows how to balance a grudge. I know writers whom I could have saved from drowning, but who would have still shot me for an old bad review.’

After that Rushdie interview in 1983, I kept writing journalism, but, mainly, I was a film-maker. I’m still a film-maker, but now I am also, inescapably, in the same profession as Salman Rushdie.

I became a ‘writer’ for perhaps the wrong reasons. I was incensed by a few Indian novels in English that I’d read. The funding that supported my kind of film-making dried up. I became a father and I wanted to pass on the stories my parents had told me, and my own stories, in a form that my son (shortly, two sons) might one day read. Between 1992 and 2001, by some alchemy, these stories became a full-fledged book.

My novel, The Last Jet-Engine Laugh, when it came out, in 2001, was recognised as being very different from Salman Rushdie’s books, and yet owing a debt to his work. One important reviewer (the books editor of a national magazine, no less) excitedly proclaimed that, with my book, Midnight’s grandchild had finally arrived. I’m not sure I even wanted to be Rushdie’s kid brother and I’ve no idea what SR (if he read this) thought of his precious bookly seed having grandsired a strange novel such as mine. Eventually, reviewers found in my book the DNA of many other writers as well — Sterne, Desani, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Angela Carter, the list was longer. Personally, I was flattered and quite happy to have produced a bastard with such a wide-ranging lineage.

The thing is, if I had to draw various lines to do with Rushdie’s work, with all his books, good, bad and indifferent, say a divison that said Rushdie/Naipaul, or one that said magical realism/realistic or hybrid/authentic, I know which side I’d put my written work and it’s the same side I’d put my visual work.

Like SR himself, I, too, am not great at reverence and kid-glove respect. So even while defending SR, or those parts of his work or his politics that I can defend, I’ve been rude to my Dada-Uncle-Grandpa. And, yes, I haven’t shied away from being critical either: save Haroun, the first half of The Moor’s Last Sigh (and possibly The Enchantress of Florence, which I haven’t yet tried to read), SR’s fiction after The Satanic Verses has been pretty forgettable, with TSV itself being problematic, just as literature. Rushdie’s unseemly love for many of official USA’s actions and policies, and for all things American leave me aghast, Rushdie’s excitement at his knighthood (from Tony Blair, at that) baffles me, as does the star-struck, one-man pop fan club that lurks inside the guy.

On the other hand, when I meet him now, or when I dive into Joseph Anton and find myself wiping away tears or heaving with laughter, I realise that I and many others were never looking for an immaculate guru-figure to worship. It’ll do for me that Salman Rushdie is a highly brilliant, erratic writer with many flaws. And the only way I can write about such a man is in a mode of egalitarian exchange, as if we were at some level equal, colleagues, and not two people holding vastly different ranks in some imaginary literary army.

I’m told by knowledgeable people that Rushdie tries to read every word that’s written about him, at least in English. That’s a lot of words. But I can’t imagine the man has bothered to read everything I’ve written about him. If he’d said to my face what he said to Jeet, I might have replied, ‘But, Salman, I’ve also written a whole bunch of nice things about you, passionately defended your work, fought in print with people who were savaging you.’ I might have, and then I might not. Every time I’ve defended Rushdie, I’ve done it solely because I needed to do it, so it’s really not his concern.

Re-reading bits of A Hundred Years of Solitude recently, I came across this sentence about the main character, Aurelio Buendia: ‘…the failure of his death brought back his lost prestige in a few hours.’ As I read Joseph Anton, with all its great passages, its interminably boring bits, its self-serving strands and its great poetry and humour, as I go through it slowly, late into the night, all I can say is ‘prestige’ be damned, I think the fighting off of the fatwa and the failure of Salman Rushdie’s death is a huge triumph for all of us who share a love of his writing. In fact, it is nothing less than the failure of all our deaths.

1913 : Annapurna Devi and Ravi Shankar (From Man’s World)

Prashant pointed me to this fantastic and yet poignant post in Man’s world. You can read the original article at

I have reproduced it here, to archive it and for ease of reading. This is the kind of media I still love and crave for. This is media writing at its very best. Gives me HOPE.

Thanks Anuradha Mahindra (she was the original force behing Man’s World).


In August 2000, Ravi Shankar’s first wife, the reclusive surbahar virtuoso Annapurna Devi, gave Man’s World a rare interview in which she spoke about her torturous marriage and the tragic life of their son Shubho. The interview was a bit bizarre. She invited the writer Aalif Surti to her house, allowed him to wander around, but refused to meet him. She asked him to give a written set of questions and then answered all of them on paper


In the Hindustani classical music fraternity, Annapurna Devi’s genius is part of a growing mythology. The daughter of the great Ustad Allauddin Khan, the sister of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and the divorced wife of Pandit Ravi Shankar, she is considered to be one of the greatest living exponents of both the surbahar and the sitar.

The tragedy is that her music is lost to the world. Four decades ago, following problems with Ravi Shankar, she took a vow never to perform in public. Since then she has lived as a virtual recluse, rarely stepping out of her Mumbai residence. She is 74, but has never made a recording. No outsider has seen her play in almost 50 years, except for George Harrison, who in the 1970s was allowed the rare opportunity of sitting through her daily riyaz, that too following a special request from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Annapurna Devi’s virtuosity, however, is attested by the accomplishments of her students, among whom are some of the greatest musicians of this country — Nikhil Banerjee, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Nityanand Haldipur, Basant Kabra, Amit Bhattacharya, and Amit Roy.

Annapurna Devi’s aloofness from the world extends to not even taking phone calls. The only time she has spoken to the press has been through her students. For this article she made the concession of letting the writer into the house, but did not allow a face to face meeting. She later answered a written questionnaire on a variety of subjects including her hurt at the manner in which Ravi Shankar chose to portray their marriage and the death of their only son Shubho in his autobiography Raga Mala. “I am aware of the false and fabricated stories about me regarding what happened in my married life…,” she says at one point, “…I think Panditji is losing his sense of propriety or his mental balance, or that he has turned into a pathological liar.”

Annapurna Devi’s sixth floor flat at South Mumbai’s Akashganga Apartments bears her name plate and a plastic plaque which says, “Please ring the bell only three times. If no one answers, kindly leave your card/letter. Thank you for your co-operation.” I ring the bell once and the door is opened by a smiling Rooshikumar Pandya (“He is all the time laughing-laughing,” the liftman tells me). A psychology teacher at a Montreal College, Pandya came to Mumbai in the early 1980s to take music lessons from Annapurna Devi and never went back. He married her in 1984. Most visitors to the house don’t get past his room, just across from the main door. However, tonight one of her students, Atul Merchant, takes me through the passage into the ‘forbidden zone’.

We pass the kitchen, where Annapurna Devi herself cooks and cleans, as she keeps no servants in the house. But even while she is busy in the kitchen, her ears, Atul claims, monitor the students playing in the drawing room. Nothing escapes her ears. “Once,” recalls Atul, “her student, sarodist Basant Kabra, was practising Raag Bihaag. All of us sitting near him couldn’t discern any mistake, until Ma yelled from the kitchen, ‘Nishad ka taraf besura hai, sunai nahin deta kya?’” Across the bottom of the kitchen door is a small wooden partition, which was kept, I am later told, for her dachshund Munna. It’s been twenty years since Munna reached the big kennel in the sky but the partition symbolises her affection for him and immortalises his memory.
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Straight ahead is a door, which is firmly shut. “Maa is meditating,” Atul says simply and guides me into the drawing room cum talim room. Alongside a wall is a row of sitars of different sizes in their sheaths. We come into a large drawing room opening out through sliding doors on to the Arabian Sea. Near the centre of the room is a well-worn chattai. “This is where Dakhinamohan Tagore, Nikhil Bannerjee, Aashish Khan, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Nityanand Haldipur, Basant Kabra and every one of Maa’s students has sat and learnt from her. And this round cane munda is where Maa sits while teaching,” Atul says. One instantly perceives that the air in the room is extraordinarily dense with silence. There is a sense of an involuntary freezing of the chattering mind. Around the room are paintings and bronze busts of Allauddin Khan, her father and guru, and her legendary surbahar. But it is a small framed sketch in the corner that catches my eye. “That was drawn by Shubho when he was young,” Atul informs me. It is hypnotic. A stark black graphic depicting a series of doors leading you into them. It’s eerie.

Later, I spoke to one of Annapurna’s senior students of Shubho’s illustration. He quickly remarked, “It sucks you in, doesn’t it?” Shubho is Annapurna and Ravi Shankar’s son who died under tragic circumstances in 1992.

Annapurna’s story
Young Ali Akbar was practising his latest lesson on the sarod. His younger sister Annapurna was playing hopscotch outside their family house in Maihar, 160 miles outside Benares. It was sometime in the 1930s. “Bhaiya, Baba ne aisa nahin, aisa sikhaya,” said Annapurna, who stopped playing and started singing Baba’s lesson flawlessly. And she hadn’t even been given music lessons by Baba. Allauddin Khan had trained his elder daughter, but music had caused marital problems in her conservative Muslim husband’s house. Hence he was not going to make the same mistake with his younger daughter. “I was so involved in the music,” Annapurna recalls, “that I didn’t notice Baba returning and watching me. I was most afraid when I suddenly felt his presence.

But instead of scolding me, Baba called me in his room. He perceived that I had a genuine interest in music, that I loved it and I could do it. This was the beginning of my taalim.” Her taalim had begun, as was compulsory for all students, with vocal Dhrupad training. Then, she was taught the sitar. One day, her father asked her if she would like to shift to the surbahar, a larger and more difficult cousin of the sitar, but ultimately a more rewarding instrument. As she recalls, “He said, ‘I want to teach my Guru’s vidya to you because you have no greed. To learn you need to have infinite patience and a calm mind. I feel that you can preserve my Guru’s gift because you love music. However, you will have to leave sitar, an instrument liked by the connoisseurs as well as the commoners. Only listeners who understand the depth of music or who intuitively feel music, on the other hand, will appreciate the surbahar. The commoner might throw tomatoes at you. So what is your decision?’ I was dumfounded. ‘I will do as per your aadesh,’ was my simple response.”

Around this time, Uday Shankar’s younger brother, eighteen-year-old Robindra Shankar (he changed his name to Ravi Shankar around 1940), came to learn at Maihar. At that time, Annapurna was a shy thirteen-year-old and, in the words of Ravi Shankar, “very bright and quite attractive, with lovely eyes and a brighter complexion than Alubhai’s (Ali Akbar Khan).” Their marriage was not a love marriage. “I was brought up by Ma and Baba in an ashram-like atmosphere at Maihar. There was no question of my getting attracted to Panditji. Ours was an arranged marriage and not a love marriage,” Annapurna Devi says with finality.

Pandit Ravi Shankar too writes in his latest autobiography, Raga Mala, “There was no love or romance or hanky-panky at all between Annapurna and myself, despite what many people thought at that time. I do not know how she truly felt about the match before marriage, although I was told that she had ‘agreed’.” And on the morning of May 15, 1941, Annapurna was converted to Hinduism and the same evening they were married according to Hindu rites. Connoisseurs and music critics believe that she is a more gifted musician than either Ravi Shankar or Ali Akbar. As Ustad Amir Khan would later point out, “Annapurna Devi is 80 percent of Ustad Allauddin Khan, Ali Akbar is 70 percent and Ravi Shankar is about 40 percent.” Ali Akbar himself agrees in his oft-quoted statement: “Put Ravi Shankar, Pannalal (Ghosh) and me on one side and put Annapurna on the other and yet her side of the scale will be heavier.”

Annapurna claims this was what led to the discord in their marriage. Says she, “Whenever I performed, people appreciated my playing and I sensed that Panditji was not too happy about their response. I was not that fond of performing anyway so I stopped it and continued my sadhana.” It is no secret that it was this marriage that was the basis of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s popular film Abhimaan, where a famous singer (Amitabh Bachchan) and his shy wife (Jaya Bachchan) have problems in their marriage when her popularity soars above his. Mukherjee in fact discussed the story with Annapurna Devi before he embarked on the film. However, while in the movie the couple gets back together to live happily ever after, in real life Ravi Shankar and Annapurna Devi’s marital discord got worse and they eventually divorced. To save her marriage, Annapurna Devi says she took a vow before an image of Baba and Goddess Shardama never to perform in public again. But even a sacrifice as great as this didn’t save her marriage.

Ravi Shankar recalls the issue a little differently. In a recent television interview he said, “As long as we were married I used to force her to play along with me and give programmes… But after that she didn’t want to perform alone. She always wanted to sit with me. And after we separated she didn’t want to perform… She maybe doesn’t like to face the public or she is nervous or whatever but it is of her own will that she has stopped. This is very sad because she is a fantastic musician.”

Madanlal Vyas, who was Ravi Shankar’s student and the music critic for The Navbharat Times for 36 years, gives another perspective. “After the concerts people used to surround Annapurna Devi more than him, which Panditji could not tolerate. He was no match for her. She is a genius. Even Baba, the unforgiving and uncompromising Guru called her the embodiment of Saraswati. What higher praise than this?”

Unfortunately, her music is lost to the world. There are very few people who remember watching her in concert. There is only one recording of her playing in existence: a rare, private recording from one of their jugalbandi performances which was made from the speaker placed outside the door when the auditorium was filled. Apart from Ravi Shankar, and her current husband, Rooshi Pandya, the only person who has heard her play since she withdrew from public life is the Beatle George Harrison. The story goes that when he was here in the 1970s with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked them if she could do anything. Menuhin said he wanted to ask for something impossible — could Mrs Gandhi get Annapurna Devi to play for him? After much persuasion, a reluctant Annapurna Devi agreed, not to a special performance, but to allow them to sit in on her daily riyaz. On the appointed day, however, Menuhin had to rush back home on account of an illness in the family. Harrison thus became the lucky one to see her play.

Shubho’s story
Shubhendra Shankar was born on March 30, 1942, to the newly married Ravi Shankar and Annapurna. Within eight weeks of his birth, he was diagnosed to be suffering from a rare, painful condition due to an intestinal obstruction. Though he was cured within a month, staying awake all night with a crying child after more than ten hours of sitar lessons every day, Ravi Shankar says in his autobiography, put the first strains on their marriage. “…Because of that trouble Shubho had now developed the habit of not sleeping in the night. It continued for the next year or so, and gradually I saw Annapurna’s personality changing. For both of us it was extremely strenuous, and our tempers would fray. At that time I too wouldn’t stand any nonsense, and we would get angry together. I had not known before, but found out that she had her father’s temper. She would tell me off — `You have married me only for music! You don’t love me! You had all these beautiful women!’ She was becoming insanely jealous of any other woman I talked to. Whenever I returned from a programme in another city, she would accuse me of having affairs there. It was like an obsession.”

Shubho, meanwhile, was showing interest in painting and had a private tutor appointed to teach him. He was also being taught to play the sitar by his father. When the family shifted to Bombay he joined the Sir JJ School of Art, although he never completed the course. His father was already a star and constantly busy, either on tour playing concerts or travelling to do music for films and ballets, so his musical education was taken over by Annapurna Devi.

In Bombay, however, the marriage took a turn for the worse when Annapurna discovered that Ravi Shankar was having an affair with Kamla Sastri (later Chakravarty), a dancer from his brother’s company. Upset, she went back to her father’s house in Maihar taking Shubho with her, coming back only after Kamla was married off to film director Amiya Chakravarty. But things were never the same again for Ravi Shankar and Annapurna. In 1956, she left for two years and by 1967 they had separated for good.

Through all this Shubho’s riyaz continued with his mother. Her rigorous teaching method made sure that he developed proficiency in playing long alaaps with beautiful meends. He had also mastered the sapta taan; a skill that experts say Ravi Shankar lacks. How Panditji came to discover Shubho, the sitarist is part of a legend in itself. One day, the story goes, Ravi Shankar was at a recording studio in Bombay for some minor recording where he heard a little sitar piece.

Astonished, he asked who the musician was, because though the sitar was unmistakably a variation of his gharana, which Baba Allauddin Khan had developed, the player was neither Nikhil Banerjee nor himself. The studio recordist laughed and said, “Surely you’re joking, Panditji. Don’t you recognise your own son playing?” Pandit Ravi Shankar called Shubho to his hotel room and Shubho played what he had learnt for him. When the performance was over, Panditji asked the audience, “Don’t you think he’s brilliant?” Everyone agreed. Then Panditji added, “Don’t you think he should start performing now?”

And once again, everyone nodded in assent. So Panditji suggested Shubho should come to the U.S. and start sharing the stage with him. Dazzled by his father’s charisma and also by the lure of the West, Shubho, who had grown up cocooned within his mother’s spartan lifestyle and his art classes, became insistent that he wanted to go to America with his father. His mother asked him to complete his taalim, which he was due to within two years, before performing on stage. But he didn’t agree. As a final offer, Annapurna asked him to study hard for six months, and then he was free to go wherever he wanted. But Shubho was adamant. It was at this point that the famous ‘sleeping pills episode’ occurred.

In Raag Mala, Pandit Ravi Shankar writes: “When I was staying in Bombay sometime in early 1970, I received an SOS call at my hotel from Shubho, asking me in a feeble voice to come home and take him away. I didn’t know what was happening and was terrified by his tone of voice, so I rushed to the flat in Malabar Hill, which I had not visited in the three-and-a-half years since I left for good. There I saw Shubho lying down and looking ill. He clung on to me desperately, like a little boy, and begged me to take him away with me to America, as he could no longer stand the hot temper and harshness of his mother — not only in connection with music but in general too. Coming from a man of 28, this both melted my heart and angered me. I did not want to make a scene and managed to control myself even as Annapurna was shouting in fury, ‘Yes, take him away! I don’t want him!’ After we left I learnt that Shubho had taken 8-10 sleeping pills in an attempt to end his life. Fortunately, the doctor had arrived just in time and emptied Shubho’s stomach completely.”

This was, for many years, the official version of the story. The rest was always dismissed by Pandit Ravi Shankar as the fabrication of Annapurna’s overzealous disciples. But now, for the first time, Annapurna herself says on record that father and son concocted this episode. In fact, in the interview with Man’s World she has been particularly vicious on Ravi Shankar: “I am aware of the false and fabricated stories about me regarding what happened in my married life,” she says, “I have been quiet about it because I thought of Baba while he was alive. I didn’t want to hurt him in any way so I put up with the injustice and suffering. However, now I feel that the world should know my side of at least the Shubho part of the story.

“I think Panditji is losing his sense of propriety or his mental balance or that he has turned into a pathological liar. He has exemplified the English proverb: ‘No fool like an old fool.’ It would be nice if he would devote all his time to teaching his shishyas instead of wasting his time and energy in such frivolous pursuits. His shishyas would be grateful for his gift and India would be richer with talents.

“That year when Panditji came to Mumbai, he learnt that Shubho was playing very well. He called him and after listening to him, initially underplayed Shubho’s artistry and then suggested to Shubho that he should now go with his father. The people of Panditji’s circle pointed out that Shubho was taiyar and that he could play anything and that he should tour with his father. According to Shubho, Panditji had added, ‘Your mother and I have studied under the same Guru so I could also teach you.’ My response was, ‘He is right but he would not have the time for it. Please stay here and continue your taalim for one-and-a-half years more. After that you can go anywhere you like. I would not stop you because by then, you would be ready to take on the world.’

“This is when Panditji and Shubho hatched the plan about Shubho’s taking sleeping pills — a stage-managed drama to malign me and to take him away from me. Shubho was immature at the time and hence unwittingly became a party to his father’s plot. I think he realized this later and stopped communicating with his father a few months before his untimely and possibly preventable death.“Let me share with you what did happen… When I was told that Shubho had taken sleeping pills, I immediately called a doctor who examined him and confirmed that nothing was wrong with him. We also searched for an empty bottle or any other telltale signs but nothing was found. As a matter of fact Shubho himself called his father at that time and told him to take him away as per their plan. My only plea to Panditji at that time was, “You have ruined my life and now you are ruining your son’s life. Why?” His only answer was, “It is because of you.”

Till today I have not understood his motives for interrupting Shubho’s taalim. Maybe it was because of the rumours making the rounds that Shubho was going to be a better player than Panditji and this was my revenge against Panditji. I don’t understand how people can think like that. If Shubho, or anybody for that matter, becomes a good musician the credit goes to Baba. Our music is his gift.

“I know Panditji is very image conscious. Maybe he feels that the recently published book on me has made some dent in his image and his articles are an attempt to salvage his image and assuage his guilt for the gross injustice he did to his son. Shubho realised this during the last months of his life and refused to see his father. Shubho could have been a great artiste; he was close to it. If he had continued his taalim he would have played great music. But a combination of factors prevented it.”

The fact remains that given his prodigious talent, Shubho never achieved the heights he ought to have in America. Within a week, his father fixed him up with a small apartment and a Ford Mustang and within two years of his arrival in America, he played with his father at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall. But gradually, he lost interest in playing the sitar. Never a strong-willed person, he developed a passion for junk food and Coca-Cola and ended up doing odd jobs to make ends meet. For a while he even worked in a liquor store to earn extra money. He stopped playing the sitar for almost eight years. He married Linda and had two children, Som and daughter Kaveri.

After eight years, he began playing the sitar again with Panditji and returned to India for a few concerts. On this trip, which was to be his last visit to India, he also met his mother again. Sarodist Suresh Vyas, one of her senior students, recalls, “Picture this scene: mother and son meet again after twenty years. For all these years there has been no communication between the two. He comes in, does pranam. His mother says: ‘Ae Shubo, aesho, aesho. How are your children? How is your wife?’ This goes on for two minutes. After that he says, ‘Maa, ami shikhu (I want to learn).’ She replies, ‘Fine. Your sitar is still there. Take it and sit down.’ And the mother begins to teach the son again. As if nothing has happened!”

Music critic Madanlal Vyas recalls, “Father and son had played together at the Sawai Gandharva Festival in Pune in 1990. We got the news in Bombay that Shubho was besura. Not just one music critic but a few others also said the same. Later, I heard the recording of the concert and found it was absolutely untrue. But by then the news had spread…I did get the feeling that there was a campaign to demoralize him—there were stories that his microphone was tampered with. Whether it was planned or not, I don’t know. But I am certain that Shubho was an extraordinarily talented musician. I remember hearing him play around the same time at a private concert on Nepean Sea Road. He played Raag Des, and so beautifully I have never heard anyone else play, before or since. After the concert when I spoke to him, he said he had learnt it from Maa just that morning!”

“During that visit, it was obvious that he was defeated and broken down,” Atul Merchant remembers. “We tried to convince him to stay on in India and complete his sitar education but he said it was too late now.” Shubho returned to the U.S., and in his last few months cut himself off from everyone. He contracted bronchial pneumonia and died prematurely in a U.S. hospital on September 15, 1992.

Life with Maa
It has been over 50 years since any outsider has heard Annapurna Devi play her surbahar. Those who have the temerity to request her to play are put off with a simple “Mujhe kuch nahi aata (I don’t know how to play at all).” Even her closest students are taught through singing, much the same way as she had corrected her brother years ago. She begins her own riyaz on the surbahar late at night and goes into the wee hours of the morning. Her students swear that after she has played a certain raag, the entire house gets inexplicably perfumed with the fragrance of sandalwood. In a private correspondence she wrote about this phenomenon. “Sometimes while practising at night, I suddenly have a sensation that I am surrounded by the fragrance of flowers. Baba used to say that this is one of the ways in which Sharda Maa makes her presence felt. He also said that whenever that happens, don’t think you’re great or anything. Instead, such experiences should make one feel more humble in the presence of the divine.”

For the rest of the day, her life is no different from that of any woman. “Her day begins at six in the morning,” sarodist Suresh Vyas reveals, “when she wakes up to take in the milk, not very different from any Indian housewife. She sleeps barely two-three hours. She cooks, cleans the house, and even washes her own clothes because her father had told her in her childhood that one should never let anyone else wash one’s clothes. So even if she is sick she makes sure that no one else washes her clothes but herself. As for her cooking, Prof Pandya and I joke that when it comes to accomplishment, there is a close tie between her cooking and her music. And she’s true to her name. No one who enters the house is allowed to leave without eating.”

In her free time, her students say, she listens to old Hindi film songs on the radio or to other music, even contemporary music. She liked A.R. Rahman’s first album Roja. A recent addition is Cable TV. Her students still keep her busy, though advancing age has meant that she has now stopped accepting new students. “I think it is only partially true,” her husband Rooshi Pandya says, “to say that she keeps aloof and away from people. While it is true that she does not meet people socially, as far as music is concerned she is very much involved with her students and their progress. Teaching music takes up most of her time. The rest of the time she spends doing her puja, riyaz and household work and all this does not allow her the luxury of socialising. This is her choice, her lifestyle and she is comfortable with it.”

One hears she has a fondness for pigeons like her father. “Oh yes,” Suresh Vyas says, “Every afternoon, she feeds hundreds of pigeons on her balcony. And mind you, she recognises each one of them. Once or twice, when I went over in the afternoon to drop something, I saw her feeding them. She would point to one and say, ‘This one is very mischievous, he doesn’t allow her to eat.’ In fact, I think that’s her biggest expenditure in the month. As far as I know, she eats very little, though none of us have ever seen her eat. A recent addition to her family is a crow, who comes on the kitchen window and refuses to eat unless Maa feeds him with her own hands. And he loves malai, so Maa saves malai for him.” Then of course, there was Munna. Munna was arguably the world’s first canine connoisseur of music. The dachshund who was Annapurna Devi’s best friend during some of her lowest days had an unerring ear for music. Those who were there recall that whenever any of her students—Nikhil, Shubho or Hariprasad Chaurasia—played particularly well, Munna would run and sit in their lap. “So hers is not a lonely life?” I ask Suresh Vyas. “Not at all, she’s very content in her own world. Though she’s unhappy at another level.

She’s unhappy at the declining standards in music today. It hurts her when she sees unripe musicians tempted by quick money and fame. This saddens her deeply,” he says. “Look at it this way: because we are so close to Maa, we see her as a human being with all the human frailties, but if we step back, there is another, much larger picture.

She was born and trained in an era when musicians lived under the sheltering umbrella of royal patronage. A musician had to please just one person, who was more often than not his student too. But she lives now and teaches music to a generation that plays music for the public to earn its livelihood So that purity, the flight of excellence in music, is vanishing in favour of crowd-pleasing antics. Maa represents the vital last link in that chain. She doesn’t play for the crowds. And she trains us in music in the same exacting way her father had taught her and her father’s father had taught him. Otherwise, if you look around, there is no one else to maintain that tradition.”

So eventually, I never did meet her. But if I had what could I have described? The sound of her voice? The colour of her sari or her complexion? What could I have fathomed from those trivialities? She answered my questions on paper; and from her students and critics and her correspondence I pieced together the story of the greatest surbahar player you never heard. Except for some old pictures, I have no living vision to remember her by. But the one image that lingers in my mind as if I had seen it with my own eyes is Annapurna Devi feeding her pigeons on her sun-washed balcony. Perhaps because the pigeons enjoy the freedom she herself chooses not to have. Perhaps because her father too did the same, and in some secret way she pays a tribute to her father every time she feeds them, chides them and sends them off. And perhaps also because of something her father had said in his last days: “When a pigeon flies, his wings beat in taal… You can count the matras if you don’t believe me. And such a sweet voice… God has invested such a treasure of music in each of his creations that man can take armfuls away but never exhaust it. Goddess Saraswati has given me a little too. But not as much as I would have liked. Just when I began to draw something from the ocean of music, my time was up. This is the trouble, when the fruit of a man’s lifelong labour ripens… Who can understand God’s ways? But one thing I have understood a little. There is a fruit, the custard apple. I like it very much. I eat it and throw the seeds outside the window. And one day I look and there’s another tree of the same fruit. With new fruits on its branches. I eat it and others enjoy it too. This music also is like that. It is not the property of one, it belongs to so many.”

- From the September 2000 issue of Man’s World

1912 : Tokenism

So the girl we spoke about in 1908 - The (D)rape of my country, died today and I did feel a little bit of a itch and a twitch.

I should also admit though that I had a huge tub of ice-cream today evening, so whatever was the itch or twitch, it was not most definitely grief of a tragedy. Nobody chomps through pista icecream, as the misery unfolds.

Yet, in a strange contradiction, the whole of the media circus and the neighbor's wife are lighting candles, and holding token dharna and are abusing the politicos.

Sonia says “Justice shall be done” and Shahrukh says “ I am sorry for being a man (sic!!)” and “I shall fight with your voice”, and the nation mourns.

I don’t disagree with the mourning, which we should, for a tragedy, but I do question Shahrukh who fakes this and is going to be performing and celebrating new year in a very loud and burlesque manner, less than 24 hrs from now.

I admitted to the tub, but unseen and unbeknownst,  I am sure quite a proportion of the candle lighters, will be chomping away once the tokenism assuages their conscience.

What I struggle with is, what more does this achieve than a few wasted candles and oodles of undirected angst.

We have not even spared personal tragedies from the Circus to which we have reduced modern suburban life to.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

1911 : Are you there yet?

From Life and Times of Michael K by JM Coetzee

I wanted to say. 'You ask why you are important, Michaels. The answer is that you are not important. But that does not mean you are forgotten. No one is forgotten. Remember the sparrows. Five sparrows are sold for a farthing, and even they are not forgotten.'

1910 : Sounds like we are just about there

From Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton

In seventeenth-century England Matthew Hopkins, the “Witch Finder Generall,” developed a test for witchcraft. You weighted the accused woman down—with stones, or by tying her to a chair—and then threw her into a river or a lake. If she floated, she was a witch, and merited burning; if she sank and drowned, she was innocent.

1909 : Losing speed

I struggle to relate to the world around me. I am the walking anti-thesis of what is considered hep and savvy….I don’t facebook, don’t twitter, don’t instagram, don’t dropbox, don’t watch television, don’t listen to FM,  don’t smoke a hookah, don’t attend kebab parties, don’t shake a leg, still am doggedly loyal to things and people I love, still love fresh handmade food (no microwaves for me please), and still use a SLR Smile (not some PYT in Micros).

What I still do? Use my SLR (again!!), cook, clean, tend to plants in my garden, listen to Domingo singing Verdi, drive around the country, collect fountain pens and ink, love Microsoft products (don’t quite admire Apple!!), use pencils to write, pound my chutney using a 30 kg stone hand grinder, read Albert Camus and Aldous Huxley, love Kishori Amonkar, sing tunelessly with Raavan, read poetry ….and on and on…..and most importantly I still blog and maintain it ad free.

Don’t I sound like a dino from the 80s?

1908 : The (D)rape of my country

Every single media is screaming hoarse, how bloody terrible the gangrape of a 23 year old is. And before I proceed further I must wear my heart on my sleeve – it gives me the freeze chill as well, definitely makes me ponder and debate : a society that believes women can be so brutally oppressed, cannot be in great health. The mirror on the wall only has few words written on it : Tragedy. Shame. Fear. End.

What bothers me about this whole episode is the lazy couch potato Moral Indignation, that has come with it. Almost as if, we as a society are having collective pop catharsis. Group therapy, huh?

Times of India, as an example is running this massive poll – choosing the democratic approach to figure out the appropriate punishment for this rapist – capital, chemical castration, bobbitization and some other similar phucking irony.

Let take a drift.

What about the incident above was a new insight to any of us?

Did you not know that street children (and women) are routinely sodomised and prostituted….and if sodomy of a 10 year old does not sound like a rape of monster proportions, maybe you still eat Poppins.

Did you not know, that women in our society are treated subpar, even in most sophisticated families – why? because we are a patriarchal society, or so I am being told. I work with folks in a true green blooded investment bank, and even here – folks continue to expect their spouses (read wives) to be servile - cook, clean and take care of the house….a woman’s life continues to be associated with service. When shall we ever look upon, man and woman as two individuals with different biology, but similar egos, hopes and desires?

Did you not know that, we can routinely get away with murder, quite literally. Look at the amount of muck in our leadership (in every territory, be it political or so called spiritual bozos or business or social)….try and think of a good leader role model in each of those categories and you will realize we are as bankrupt as Zimbabwe….lots of dead weight, but no real paper.

Did you not know, that prosecution of an accused, is slow if ever in our country….and usually in most cases, the accused have either escaped or died a natural death, before they are even close to being prosecuted.

Did you not know, that not a single aspect of our nation is pristine. Drive on the road, and you shall find cabbies drive like rules don’t apply; walk into a parking lot, and goons have their cars parked in handicapped zones; travel by flight, and the security is a joke; walk into a RTO office, and you have to carry 5kg of grease with you; walk into your apartment complex and the security guard with the amazingly rotund potbelly is snoring……

Get the drift? My one and only point, why this fucking media circus of indignation, pray tell me?

When shall we learn that any tragedy has two aspects, like even in this rape:
1) Personal : We can never ever even hope to really understand whats going through the victim or her immediate web of life. And even if we ever fucking do, we can do nothing more than….she and her web have to walk this life alone. Some wounds cannot be understood by circus’, let alone heal them.

2) Social : The rapist in this example, is not Ram Singh, or whatever his name is, but its us. We as a society have created conditions ideal for a rape. Our security is a joke. Our social fabric is a non-existent. Moreover, we did not give Ram any access to education, spiritual sophistication, well being or most importantly Hope. Guess what, he is now turned into a bloody minded crooked thinking hedonist, who thinks this life is nothing but a wave, ride it, fuck it, rape it….and then go back home….come back the next day and do the same again.

We can castrate, hang, electrotute Ram Singh – but this public circus can never neuter the real evil devil – who, we should clearly understand, is not one human being, but it’s the collective of us, which includes lumpen like you and me, who so wilfuly abuse our wives, ignore our children and continue to break traffic rules.

There is only one right place for such petty spiky indignation – your cornhole….stuff the cactus right in…and enjoy the hurt.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

1907 : Night rider


1906 : Its just another rumor

I like this article from BBC.

I just find it an amusing choice of words. Specifically the bit around :

To calm anxieties, police in Beijing have posted an online notice telling people that "the so-called end of the world is a rumour".

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


There are a variety of reasons to bike. For me, it’s a personal coming back to roots, and I want to do Golden Temple one day Smile.

Today, 12-12-12 marks my return to this fabulous art. My fifth powered two wheeler in life came in cbrrrrrring brrr brrr, and I hope to really make the most of this. My first bike had a fantastic run, so did my third …and hoping this odd ball is a massive hit too.

This blog entry is specifically meant for one person, and I bloody well know, the minute he sees this I shall get back a comment he sees it. He is by far the much much better driver amongst us, in no matter what we drive, including a flight simulator Smile.

Waiting for you Godot Smile


(Image courtesy,

Saturday, December 08, 2012

1904 : The poet who flied

Just as flying, I mean being in the pilot’s seat, should be a very necessary and liberating experience….I think biking is equally in that mystical territory. You don’t know what you are missing, till you have not done it.

One day, I am going to fly, and someday soon, I am going to bike again.

1903 : The light is gone forever

Another popular version of my zen riddle 1887 - The point of no return (My own little Zen Koan) is about the old (non CFL lightbulb).

Remember the tiny bit of tungsten which formed the intertwined loop within an old world light bulb….it never went out when it was on. Really I have never seen that yet (blowing off when it is still lighted) in all my years. You turn it off, goto bed, wake up the next morning….and its gone….closer examination would reveal a break in the tungsten coil.

Why and who decided it was time to go?

1902 : The disquiet within

When you can hear your own heart beat a little more louder, and when you know your drive and motivation are down – you do know there is a bit of disquiet within.

To feel the drag, is to pull yourself out of a corner slower – but sometimes evolution has taught us to feel the drag, when she knows we cant deal with changing weather conditions.

Waiting for a slip stream oppurtunity Smile

Friday, December 07, 2012

1901 : What ticks you off the average

I hate mangoes. Read my lips…yes I hate them, but I hardly know a desi who does not swear to live by Alphonso Mangoes.

I have a dear friend, who hates dry fruits. Every other Indian, thinks dry fruits are the way to live a good life, and to show wealth Smile

I know someone who hates the smell of coffee and chocolates.

Get the drift?

These are the freaks of the world. Luckily for them, these are negative fetishes, which are so much better than the positive ones….like I know someone who loves drinking fish oil, another who loves the taste of neem….and of course we can always mention a few weird sexual preferences, for those of care.


What makes us in our minds, sometimes so different from the standard deviation?

Monday, December 03, 2012

1900 : Great places to eat

I think I am going to start a series here on my favorite places to eat in a city. Sometimes I might mention places that I have never been to, but its on my wish list. I hope to use this as a place holder – and also to document and share some real good food house.

Think I am gonna call the series “Bakasur Breaks Bread”.

1899 : An army that lives in a glass house

Was reading Uddhav Thackerey’s roadmap, now that he has assumed leadership of Shiv Sena. One of the things he specifically says is his party is going to “vehemently continue its fight against Islamist (sic!!) fundamentalism.”

Now, that’s ok for an agenda(it’s a view!!), and really I have none of the modern new world order advice for Shiv Sena, but I have advice for their PR chap, “fundamentalism” is a word that does not go well with the Sena, especially when used in context of outsiders.

Hope they realize that they live in a house of glass doors and windows, and folks living in glass houses should not be ashamed of their identity.

1898 : Tough day

Just finished a tough day, my health was really not too good. Guess what impacted it – the sense that doors are closing in.

Its amazing how a human mind can feel claustrophobic, when it thinks its caught like a rabbit in headlights.

It happens to the best of us, and I am not even close to being the best.

On days like this, its good to remind yourself, Dalai Lama says “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”

Ayee Ayee Sir!!

1897 : The dealer

Remember the kid in school who would walk upto you and say “If you want to pee, just walk out of the class, you don’t need to seek any permission.”. He would usually be the outgoing leader type personality and he would add in a conspiratory tone, “Don’t worry, I shall take care of everything. I do it all the time. Believe me, these teachers don’t really care”.

You would walk out, and guess what, the teacher would find that offensive and take your case, while your cohorting preacher is completely missing from the action.

Get the drift? We all have seen these “know it all”, “trust in me”, “I know how it works” people….If I was a teacher, I would mark this person as “sales guy/evangelist” for the future.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

1896 : Beethoven’s 9th Choral edition

I know I have posted about this in the past, but I have to reiterate… Western classical music, the one movement that I can listen to on infinite repeat is the Choral edition of the 9th by Beethoven.

I have now been hearing it for over 25 years and I think I know it mentally by rote, and yet I love playing it every now and then…..loud and nice to shake up the house.

1895 : The perpetual race

My parents are towards their last leg in life. In their times, they have been excellent parents (I have zero misgivings with them, infact the only feelings I have for them is those of love, compassion and gratitude.)

And yet, I have disagreed with them forever, including now. (Mike+The Mechanics….The Living Years anyone?)

I cant believe that they are still constantly planning for the future, continue to live conservatively. I am sure when they were young, they were tied to circumstances, then they were tied to kids, then they were tied to responsibilities…what are they tied to today? Someday the shackles have to give away. Someday…the half life has to make way for a full one, and win the race over “no life”.

When I know I am close to exploding, I shall light the wicker myself Smile

1894 : The humble OTG

If you enjoy and have fun in the kitchen as much as I do, then I would recommend that you should invest in the old humble OTG. I have had one for the past 4 years and my completely loving it. I cant seem to cook a single meal without using the OTG.

OTG’s are very cheap, you shall get a good 40L one for around 7k  INR, are very healthy, are very quick, and don’t need any cleaning, if you use them regularly.

What I am salivating for, and I shall have one when I have a good home, is a large heavy OTG (100L odd), which can also take temperatures upto 450 degress C. Costs over a lakh, especially the German ones I am eyeing, and need at least 8 sq feet of space, which I don’t currently have spare  in my kitchen.

I am sure, we shall have “The Perfect Day” soon.

1893 : The Kumar Gandharv in me

One of my true callings is most definitely cooking. When I enter the kitchen, I never ever plan what I will be cooking (unless of course I am pantering to a specific demand).

I never measure, I never plan and yet my mind intuitively seems to know what to do when. I can do 3-4 dishes at the same time, and cook up a decent meal in about 45 mins – both of these which I emulated from my mom. (And I clean up after I cook…so no jibes please!!)

When I do cook I usually do it for my lovely wife, or my sisters or my parents….and of course, my home squatter Raavan (unfortunately I cant cook Lankan food, esp for a person whose every head seems to want to eat different palate in the same meal.) The best compliment I have received in recent years is the implicit fact that my mom thinks that I am star cook. Take a bow Smile

Where does Pandit Gandharv fit in? When he used to be asked, before a concert, what song will he be performing today, he would often answer “ I will let the Tanpura decide that.”

Saturday, December 01, 2012

1892 : Hero

On a similar note to my previous post, also do listen to Mariah Carey’s Hero – a duet version with Pavarotti is available – i.e. him with Mariah.

The version is so soul stirring….especially if you listen to on a surround system with two woofers accentuating the bass in their voice.


1891 : What a wonderful world

If you like the Louis Armstrong classic, you will immediately love the Placido Domingo version. Its fantastic to have these hearty smooth throated Italian Gaints sing Louis Armstrong.

I have been listening to a whole lot of Pavarotti and Domingo in the past few years, and slowly steadily growing to love these Gentle Gaints more and more.

1890 : Why I like the Tabla

I grew up listening to Tabla, from both father son Ustad’s of Zakhir and Allarakha fame……and I used to immensely enjoy it, and still do.

Know why? It took me years to find out, that my brain was aching for that music, because invariably the accompaniment was Sultan Khan saab on Sarangi.

Till today, I prefer Tabla with Sarangi, over any other accompaniment.

1889 : Lets turn pain on its head

I have had my share of health issues in this life. Migraine, neck pain, breathing issues, weak heart, weak intestine…and some other very systemic issues…..all of this in some form or shape, in some time and space, do debilitate you.

Now the question is, do they prey on your mind or your body? Fortuntely for me, I have never (and no, I have not trained for this!!) had any impact whatsoever on my mind.

My mind remains supremely undefeated. Infact, except for systemic issues, I never ever take any medicine for pain for relief. I have had migraine since 2007, never once have I touched a pain killer or a pill in the last 25 years.

As I said, it sounds heroic, but its not….its simply a way of life. I have not trained for this. This is a response to life that my mind just simply evolved.

I truly believe (for myself) embrace pain, and embrace the uncertainty that life throws at you, it will still deal a few bodily blows, but the mind will come out unscathed.

1888 Sultan Khan : The notes to infinity

My #1 music (which I would like to listen on my deathbed) has to be Sultan Khan’s Sarangi. It can make me deeply contemplative, peaceful and accepting. Really, it does get me into the compassionate (as much as phucking city dweller can be!!) mood.

Its been a year (27th Nov 2011) since he has passed away, and I have silently mourned his death in my heart.

Going by my proclivity for manufacturing family, I would never have hesitated to call him abbajan….he has been that much of a blessing in my life.

A little over a year, and the hole is still sore. I am sure the heaven’s are brimming with sounds of The Sarangi.

Thank you Abbajan.

1887 : The point of no return (My own little Zen Koan)

(This has to my favorite spiritual riddle. )

Picture this, you drill a nail in your wall and then hang a large beatific image of Dalai Lama on it. Years pass by, and winters come and ago.

Years later, one day, quite abruptly, the nail wilts and gives up, the frame collapses on the floor and splatters.

Lets assume in this example, that no other external factor, like a gush of wind or a brush by a careless soul, was even remotely present in the circumstances.

Now, the question begs itself, why did the frame fall?

Physics would tell us that the frame hoisted at the height of 4 ft on a nail was carrying potential energy of mass * g (gravity) * height. (Seriously, I did not look this up on google, I remembered this 22 years after I learnt it…..Smile)

Whatever energy this worked out, was constantly lugging onto the nail and wall combine, which provided an inverse braking power to hold the image up.

Fair enough….still with me?

Now physics apart, at what point (precise momentary instance), did the nail decide – lets part ways, I cant bear this burden anymore. Or did it not decide?

Be careful, of where you lean?

A) If you think, the nail or the wall or the atom or someone (maybe God!!), did not decide – but pure physics did…..then you are essentially saying since we don’t understand that physics well, life is so goddamned undeterministic, lets just let go, and be fatalistic.

B) If you think, someone did decide, then who did, and why? and how did it choose that precise moment? If someone is deciding, then life should be deterministic to the atomic level, as long as we have the right measurement instruments and process.

So, where do you lean?

God (I am exclaiming!!), its so funny, I can never draw believers into this conversation….because that’s like telling the astronaut to peer into the black hole….his mind has been altered enough(by training) to block the black hole from his existence.

1886 : From the ear of a 12 year old

I was listening to “The living years” by Mike + The Mechanics (Mike Rutherford) and its such a brilliant song. Its melody resonated when I was 12, in my current, the whole body of the song resonates.

A highly recommended listen. It might just make you nostalgic a bit, but it will also make you introspect on these rock and rolla cola times.

1885 : The challenge of dimensions

(I have posted about this topic often, but probably the last one for now.)

As a firm/organization/group – how do you decide whats best for you when it comes to dimensions of your people.

One school of thought is – give your team only one single focus, no distractions at all, load them to more than their brim – what you get is a bunch of completely immersed chaps…but these chaps are predominantly left brained and temporal in their style of work.

Another school – like Facebook and Google, believe, allow individuals to carry their individuality to work…to think of, and to develop these folks as loose canons. Their belief is that, when you leave folks with space, they shall fill this with some brilliant shades of grey….these are “whole brained” folks.

I lean towards the latter, because it sounds so much sexy on paper, but I have also seen the former at close quarters. If this was the derby, wonder which horse would eventually win?