Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bookworms of the world unite

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 21st September 2010)

I grew up in a house that had more books than furniture. Sometimes when guests came over, we had to offer them stacks of books on sit on. Only the ones we didn’t love, mind you, and were dead certain we’d never read again - not even if we were paid.

Now that e-books have entered the publishing fray, tsunami-like waves of nostalgia are sweeping over the bookworm fraternity. The aroma of paper, fresh ink and the rustle of pages are being romanticised to ridiculous extents. If it carries on like this, we may soon have passionate sonnets dedicated to paper books: “Shall I compare thee to an e-book? Thou art more rustly and smell more divine.” I thoroughly disapprove of this mawkishness. The debate is pointless because e-books can never ever replace paper books. There are practical reasons to own paper books. Consider a few of my arguments:

1. What do you slap a blood-sucking mosquito against a wall with, huh? Try it with an e-book and you’ll hear a sickening crash instead of a satisfying splat. That’s about 13 grand down the drain. It’s cheaper to cure Malaria. Even when you add up those little thank you boxes of chocolate for the hospital nurses.

2. How on earth can you prop up rickety legs of tables or chairs if there are no paper books handy?

3. You can eat like a slob while reading a paper book. It rests so beautifully on the table when aligned with your plate - you don’t require a stand to hold it up. You can’t ever dream of doing this with an e-book, can you? Particularly not if splishy sploshy soup or dal is on the menu.

4. If everybody switches to e-books, how can we tell what people are really, really like? Homes without bookshelves offer no vital personality clues. For example, if you see a line up of books on serial killers, like say, A Criminal History of Mankind, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper etc, on a colleague’s bookshelf, would you really want to be alone with this person after dark?

5. When you really love a book, you want to share it with your family and close friends. And you can’t lend an e-book unless you part with the entire device. What if the people you’ve lent your Kindle or iPad to are annoyingly slow readers?

6. Can you imagine swearing on an e-book in a court of law?

To be scrupulously fair though, I have to concede that e-books do have some positives. For starters, there are no nasty wriggly silverfish squished between the pages (whew). They are also a boon for people with transferable jobs. You won’t have to pay the packers a small fortune to transport your books – you can carry thousands of them with you in your handbag. You can order them from the comfort of your home and get them instantly, without moping at home for weeks, ageing considerably while you’re waiting for the tardy courier chappie to deliver.

But the most important advantage to my mind is, you may never have to visit a bookshop again. Whenever I visit a bookshop these days, I’m reminded of the movie, You’ve got mail, in which a small independent bookstore run by a family of charming bookworms goes out of business because of competition from a mega bookstore chain that pops up in the neighbourhood. That movie brought scalding tears to my eyes – not because of the soppy love story (well, not just), but because those impersonal bookstore chains are mushrooming in India as well. None of the uniformed assistants at India’s largest bookstores appear to have read any of the books – and when they irritably do a search on the in-house computer for a book you’re looking for, you begin to wonder if some of them can read at all. Sad, because you lose out on warm recommendations and cosy chats and perhaps even an introduction to a brilliant, quirky book you’ve never heard of – that’s what it used to be like in the good old days.

The truth is, it’s not technology that may eventually drive me to e-books, but unhelpful, uninformed bookstore assistants. Bring the cosy bookstores back, and I swear with my hand on a holy paper book that I will never even flirt with the idea of e-books again.

Let there be light

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 14th September 2010)

I spent most of last week in quiet meditation. Not under a tree like Amar Chitra Katha yogis though – please, I do not wish to be attacked by soldier ants and other creepy crawlies. Take my word for it - lying on the bed staring at the ceiling fan can lead to enlightenment as well. Okay, so I haven’t hit upon an inspiring new religion yet, but I have had a few startling revelations.

Tony Blair will be remembered for owning more shoes than the entire female cast in Sex and the City: Everyone and his dog is writing a book these days. Why, George W. Bush’s poodle has just published one too. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s tell all memoirs (Tony Blair: A Journey) was recently launched. When Blair appeared for the first leg of his international signing tour at a book store in Dublin, anti-war protesters hurled shoes and eggs at him. There are a lot more anti-war protestors across the world eagerly waiting for him with shoes polished and poised. The Queen of England will probably toss her royal slippers at him too for revealing private conversations and exposing her inner-housewife. Why he had to tell us that Her Majesty dons rubber gloves and does the dishes every now and then, beats me. Fellow Labour Party member Gordon Brown is bound to hurl army boots stuffed with rocks at Blair as well for making him look ridiculous while pretending to praise him. From the excerpt I’ve read, I have to concede that Blair cleverly did to him what Mark Anthony did to Brutus. It’s a win-win situation for Blair, really: if the book’s royalties eventually don’t add up to much, rest assured he can make a killing by organising a quaint English jumble sale with all those shoes.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would have approved of Facebook: I have been giggling appreciatively at the non-violent protests of a Facebook group that has recently sprung to life. It urges people to "subversively move Tony Blair's memoirs to the crime section in book shops" and has over 7,000 enthusiastic members so far. The protest is a huge success and members have uploaded cheeky shots of the book in the fantasy, true crime and horror shelves at bookstores, tee hee. Now, if only I’d thought of this when BJP leader LK Advani’s autobiography (My Country My Life) was launched! It’s never too late though - if ever I chance upon copies of Advani’s memoirs, rest assured I’ll put them where they really belong. That’s the least I can do as a secular Indian.

There’s a glaring typographical error in Indian medical textbooks: Admittedly I haven’t seen it myself, but I strongly suspect that the solemn term ‘Hippocratic Oath’ is misspelt as ‘Hypocritic Oath’. I have always been opposed to the idea of doctors going on strike while patients (particularly the underpriviliged ones) suffer. Sure their problems must be addressed but there are humane ways to settle scores, for God’s sake. As I write this, a strike by 1200 resident doctors in Rajasthan has entered its third day. I have just been informed by a breathless and justifiably horrified TV reporter that over 50 ailing people have died so far thanks to medical negligence. The charming Dr. Nitin Dwivedi (President of the Resident Doctor’s Association) was interviewed and he airily brushed aside the reporter’s concern saying that the figures were titchy and absolutely nothing to worry about. More people than that die every single day when the doctors are on duty, he calmly assured her in his most comforting bedside manner. Hmm. I’m pretty certain now that if I so much as sneeze while holidaying in Rajasthan, I’m taking the next flight out.

There’s a new star on the horizon: While I was idly surfing through television channels the other day, I caught sight of a disgruntled middle-aged woman with eyes scrunched into slits shrieking into the camera. I shuddered, assuming that I’d stumbled upon one of those dreadful saas-bahu serials. And then I recognised her – it was BJP leader Sushma Swaraj live in Parliament! My God, Ekta Kapoor absolutely must sign her on as a TV mother-in-law – Sushma’s a natural. She’s got the right expressions, the right tonal pitch, the right clothes and the right manhole-sized bindi, as well. Why should only members of parliament enjoy her fabulous histrionics?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A chick’s-eye view of cricket

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 7th September 2010)

I remember the good old days when cricket was regarded as a gentleman’s game. The only vulgar and ungentlemanly thing about it is was the groin guard batsmen used to protect their erm, manhood (helpful tip: when squeamish about referring to certain parts of the human anatomy, always fall back on idiotic Mills & Boon euphemisms). I always found it terribly embarrassing when players would nonchalantly adjust their groin guard mid-game. Had they forgotten that many viewers were carrying binoculars? Or were they merely sickos? That’s why, I guess, I never had even a fleeting crush on a cricketer. Heroes don’t fidget with their underwear in public. Superman never did that - and if he ever got the urge, he discreetly disappeared into a telephone booth.

Admittedly what I know about cricket can be written on a grain of rice by a ham-fisted amateur calligraphist: it’s a deathly dull game where sweaty men wearing shiny lip-gloss get paid loads of money to hang around on a field all day adjusting their underwear when not trying to hit or throw a small hard ball – it’s sort of like playing ‘fetch’ with a dog. During off-season those sweaty players are still on our television screens (they never ever go away –sigh) telling us what brand of toothpaste they use – like I care! Why that inspires crowds of gorgeous women to fling themselves at the feet of mainly appearance-challenged men and lustily beg, “Take me, take me!” beats me. Perhaps because they are assured that the players have good dental hygiene?

When the term ‘Aussie sledging’ came about, the picture that immediately popped into my head was the Aussie team dramatically thundering into the cricket pitch on a sleigh while cheerfully singing “Jingle bells”. I was a tad disappointed when my husband corrected me with a sneer – ah come on, players skidding on reindeer droppings would have been vastly entertaining. I had to amuse myself by peering at the TV screen trying to lip-read instead: was it the nasty F-word or the innocuous S-word an irate player muttered?

My faint interest in cricket flickered to life again during the ‘racism’ scandal implicating members of our own team. I recall thinking that Harbhajan Singh could have been a great replacement for Jade Goody on Big Brother. Since then, I have sternly warned my three nephews and only niece that the F-word is okay, but if they ever use the M-word (m**key) I will make them gargle with a harsh toilet cleaner. They are not even allowed to use it at a zoo.

And now another match-fixing or rather, spot-fixing scandal has reared its ugly head. This is way more embarrassing and ungentlemanly than those gosh-darned antics with groin guards. While the cricketing fraternity is up in arms against a few allegedly guilty Pakistani players, I wish they’d concentrate on corrupt cricket boards, betting syndicates and all those politicians sneakily involved instead. Go after them. Throw those nasty spoil sports into vats of boiling oil. Better still, lodge them in an Indian jail – they’ll boil there just as well during summer, because there are no fans. Since we’re on the subject of betting, I’m willing to bet there’s an Indian connection to this (we’ve seen this before, remember) despite what ICC president Sharad Pawar claims. I have never had reason to believe a single word Pawar has said in his political avtaar. He plays his own game. And that game, I’m afraid, is not cricket.

That’s why I didn’t mutter darkly about racism when former English captain Mike Atherton said that a total eradication of corruption from the game is highly unlikely because of financially strong countries like India's dominance in the International Cricket Council. Like him I really wish cricket could be cleaned up. Hey, I may not love this game but my husband does - and without the assurance of fair-play he’ll probably wither away and die broken-hearted.

Sadly, all that we can realistically expect those inept cricket boards to do is keep feeding us hogwash till we’re bored to tears. The only thing I’m eagerly looking forward to is a face-off between the Pakistan Cricket Board and the International Cricket Council. What’s the bet that the president of the PCB will aggressively tell the president of the ICC, “We will not discuss anything till the issue of Kashmir is settled.”?

Donate generously to the rich.

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 31st August 2010)

If you have loose cash to spare, I have a hot tip for you: invest it in companies that manufacture antacids and you may become as gloriously rich as the members of India’s Commonwealth Games organising committee. Sales of antacids have been going through the roof ever since members of parliament proposed a massive, massive, massive wage hike for themselves. These days, ordinary tax-paying citizens like me are way too bilious for a morning cuppa – most of us morosely glug Digene or Gelucil while reading the newspapers instead. I must say that I’ve grown rather fond of the orange flavour– it tastes a tad less chalky than the rest.

But tell me again, why do our MPs need a wage hike? Honestly, I wouldn’t be up in arms about this if their salaries were all they earned. But as even innocent little children know, many of them (apart from an honourable handful, admittedly) liberally help themselves to everything they can grab: disaster aid, food for the poor, cattle-feed etc. Many have become obscenely wealthy despite their shocking lack of education because they’ve sneakily gained control of India’s biggest money spinners: real estate, mines and cricket, to name a few. Every week we hear of a new scam being exposed. Heck, corrupt MPs could always afford the exclusive Suresh Kalmadi brand of CWG toilet paper at Rs. 4000 grand a roll!

Gosh, the thought of much more of my hard-earned money going into, say, Suresh Kalmadi’s crisply starched khadi pocket is making my bile rise again. Perhaps we should organise a national citizen strike the day the bill is slated to be passed to register our protest against corrupt MPs getting more cash. We must keep in mind, however, that the tone of the strike is all important and must be debated seriously on Twitter or Facebook. Here are a few options we could consider:

1. We could wear black arm-bands and perform a silent march from India Gate to Parliament bearing lit candles. Very beautiful and dignified indeed but the only hitch is, it’s way too subtle for them. Remember, some of our MPs are not particularly bright and they’ll probably assume that we’re celebrating Diwali earlier this year. Also, dripping wax can cause severe burns.

2. We could do to corrupt MPs what their party goons do to us: scream slogans, burn effigies, bar their entry, torch their cars etc. We can also do what they enjoy doing to each other: hurl shoes (only old torn ones, mind you – why waste good things on those rotters) and shatter flower pots. Don’t worry, we won’t be arrested for this – well, not for over a few hours at any rate. All we have to do is solemnly give the judge the regular goonda political party spiel: say (in an aggrieved tone of voice, of course) that it was a spontaneous reaction and we did it because our sentiments were severely wounded. Add the bit about inflation as well (in thundering, self-righteous tones this time). And bingo, we’ll be scot free and home in time for dinner and champagne!

3. Alternatively, we could speak to corrupt MPs in the only language they understand: Rupees. Suppose, just suppose we refuse to pay our taxes till all the tainted MPs are axed? It could spark off another freedom struggle with jails bursting at the seams, and culture reaching new heights with fiery songs of revolution replacing rubbishy Bollywood hits. Oh, the works! Better still, at the end of it all, at least a dozen statues of UP Chief Minister Mayawati determinedly clutching a handbag may be demolished to make way for ours!

4. What may really work, however, is if we forget the strike (too tedious) and concentrate on shaming them into doing their jobs conscientiously. For starters, identify corrupt MPs and organise a film show in their individual constituencies. On D-Day we tie the corrupt MPs to chairs and make them watch Peepli Live (Anusha Rizvi’s fantastic film that exposes India’s sickeningly slimy politicians and supremely indifferent bureaucrats) with their voters. A Q&A session must follow, with the voters grilling them in the manner of CNN-IBNs Karan Thapar: very ,very grimly, through gritted teeth. Of course, this may not work either, but the joy – oh the joy of watching them squirm! I’m willing to pay their hefty salaries just for that.