The Importance of Being Untalented

Note – All semi-colons in the article are not deliberate and are the result of MS Word Auto Correct.

After his heavy-duty assault on all the leaders across the Indian political spectrum, Arnab Goswami asked his audience to wait for two minutes so that he could introduce us to this new “literary pop star”, as flashed by the headline. Amish Tripathi was on screen within a few minutes and Arnab, after heaping him with praises for his literary genius and meticulous research, told the unassuming author, that he reserves his admiration for talented people like Tripathi. 

I have read the first two books in the Shiva Trilogy. Now, don’t get me wrong, Meluha and Nagas are average pieces of work which evoke a sense of use and throw in the readers. I have to give it to Amish for the novelty in his theme. Combining our early history of Saraswati-Sindhu civilisation and the Indian Shiva Purana, he certainly made the story line appealing, especially for mythology-history freaks like me. But the positivity ends there.

The claims of interesting narrative, gripping theme, and taut research are, sadly, bunkum. I am not here to waste your time disproving how unauthentic his story is because stories unless non-fictions are not required to get top marks in authenticity, unless otherwise claimed. What actually matters is the imagination that requires in stitching the threads into a fine fabric of story and the experience the readers obtain in reading it; the impact, the work has on its final audience. I will be honest. I don’t dislike the book. Trust me. I will rate it at the very bottom of my “Readable Average Books” list. I will. But I certainly won’t celebrate the book as the epitome of modern Indian literature; won’t label it as the fancy combination of myth and history in a believable way. This is exactly the opposite of how I look at the book. But I do request to read it. Reasons are aplenty, most important among them being, as has already been mentioned, the theme. The language is simple enough for anyone to understand. The book is comparatively shorter. And it gives some lost souls a false sense of being readers. So I sincerely request and suggest reading it. 

What saddens is the general quality of the books that have been releasing off-late. I am not asking everyone to write a Wolf Hall or a Vernon God Little. I am not even expecting a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I don’t expect a Ruskin Bond or a Malgudi Days. What I do expect is a modicum of quality in the writing, a good story and a few good laughs if your intention is that. It’s not always possible to get a favourable reception from the hi-fi literary circles. Even J K Rowling was put down by fellow writers as an average writer. As @voldemort says, apparently, inspiring a generation was not enough in their eyes! But such a stamp of approval from the elite book reading club is NOT what I am talking about. 

It is the basic sincerity you have for your craft and the respect you give to the art of writing that I am emphasising on. Chetan Bhagat is apparently the representative of these low-brow books. I don’t accept that. As a neutral reader I am inclined to accept Bhagat is a good writer, may be not great, but entertaining and funny. Something I will read, when I am fed up reading for hours, how Palme Dutt discovered that Gandhiji and the whole bunch of Congress nationalists were in fact secret representatives of bourgeoisie (thats boo-shwa for you).  

When I was given a book, one fine morning by my college mates, with a caveat that if I don’t cry after reading this book I am not a human being, I thought “Oho! Great let me read it.” I started reading. After about 50 pages, I started skipping 2 pages for every page I read. I have this bad habit; I can’t leave things in the middle. Finally, to the relief of my soul and eyes, I finished this piece of literary diamond called “I too had a Love Story” and I cried. I cried at the taste of my friends and later of the country when I found that it was a best seller. And cried repeatedly when I got a chance to read another Indian author book called Orange Hangover. It was as if I was Deepika Padukone from Cocktail after knowing Saif loves Diana. You know, all hysterical and drunk type – sad. Sigh!

But all is not lost. There is this guy called Sidin Vadukut. To my relief, the Malayali (and hence Indian) has written one of the funniest corporate humours I have read [not that I have read many]. The Dork series is ingenious and original. The subtle witticisms the author has imparted into his book, and the entire narrative itself, is, thankfully, interesting. Then I read Ravan and Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar. Though he not the least among the new generation, and though the book was released way back in 1994, I was happy that the cause is not lost, and a strong foundation was already laid. The 71 year old author is younger than any of these “new-generation” “writers” (God, help me,  it seems everything about these latest authors need to be put in quotes to be imply the words’ irony.)
Then I read The Mine. It is undoubtedly one of the best books ever to have come out in past decade in the thriller genre. I was impressed. I was terrified. I was not able to sleep for a few days. The book affected me in all possible manners a book should. I lapped up the book like a hot pair of idlis from Murugan Idly Shops. The book is thât good. What exhilarates me about The Mine even now, despite reading it a billion times, and suggesting it to almost all of my friends, is that the book, in my eyes, is a hope. It gives me hope about the future of our fiction writing. It gives me hope that among the various Amishs and Ravinders we have brilliant writers like Arnab Ray to satisfy a creatively hungry audience in diverse genres.

When I try telling this to others, people shut me out as if I am some humbug who tries to look intellectual and that the books like the ones written by Amish and Ravinder and god knows who all, does not require any approval from anyone. And that is the utmost tragedy of the situation. Please do understand, dear readers, it does matter. It does matter that you read some random stuff and anoint yourself a reader. But more than that, it does matter that your ignorance and lack of taste is affecting genuine talents of the likes of Ray. I couldn’t help myself but imagine what it would have been had the writer of The Mine was on the show in yesterday’s News Night and that Karan Johar was going to adapt it onto the large screen. But, realise that your uninspiring choices, is making it impossible for deserving candidates to get a wider audience. It’s a loss for you and not for anyone else. Perhaps the adage of “Talent is important” doesn’t stand a chance in your eyes. Perhaps the Importance of being Untalented is more than ever now.

Asianet Super Singer Season 6 – Winning Performance by Merin Gregory

The Asianet Star Singer in its 6th installment provided with a variety of singers. Usually, I do not watch them since the entire process is long and arduous, however insanely talented the singers are. But this season’s finale had a terrific performance by Merin Gregory, who later on won the contest. Watch the video from 38:06 to listen to Merin sing the popular song Mere Dholna from Bhool Bhulaiya, originally sung by Shreya Ghoshal and M G Sreekumar (incidentally a judge in the above show). 

The amount of hard work and rigorous practice is visible in her rendition which is absolutely breath-taking. This performance shows that practice, indeed, makes perfect. 

Trivia

Bhool Bhulaiya is a 2007 Priyadarshan Hindi movie, a remake of the classic 1993 Malayalam movie Manichitrathazhu. Priyadarshan was one of the 5 directors of the movie, others being Fazil, Siddique-Lal and Sibi Malayil, legends in their own rights. The movie won the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment and fetched Shobana her 1st National Award for Best Actress at a young age of 23. Later remade, in rather uncreative manners 3 times in different languages – Kannada (Apthamitra Soundarya ), TamilTelugu (Chandramukhi – Jyotika) and Hindi the movies met with astounding commercial success. While the original Malayalam movie features the lead character suffering from the split personality of a Tamil dancer, Kannada and Tamil features a Telugu dancer, Telugu featured a Tamil dancer and Hindi featured a Bengali dancer. Still wondering why no ghost dancer ever spoke Malayalam!

Mere Dholna from Bhool Bhulaiya.    

Oru Murai Vanthu Parthaya – Manichithrataazhu

 

2 Mozham Malli Poo


Dedicated to the city I love.
Theppakkulam in 1890s. Source
It is late afternoon. Madurai is as unforgiving as she always is during the summer. Perhaps the fire started by the legendary Kannagi has not subsided yet. Indu got out from the rusty bus in the Periyar bus terminal. She has to catch another bus to get to her home in Thiruparankundram, one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga.

Periyar is a mini-sea of people – from the market women; with their many baskets of vegetables; who are ever ready to bang the metal of the bus like a drum to overwhelm the driver into submission, to the college students skillfully getting onto the running bus so as to travel on the foot board, one could see a whole variety of humanity here. Indu had always disliked the crowd, the sweat and not to mention the occasional perverts who just cannot stop ogling at her. But today was all different. Indu had just won a `2000 cash prize for her eco-friendly electronic project, trumping the biggies in her department. She had never felt more comfortable with the stench of garbage near the Periyar’s entrance, where she was contemplating how great it was to be born as herself.

Indu had to cross the main road to reach the smaller bus stop that hosts all the buses that run to the west and beyond. The outskirts of that smaller terminal are dotted with so many little shops that one would feel they are in a village fair. But then, as they say, Madurai indeed is a glorified village!

There are beautiful tiny shops selling colourful bangles right next to what may smell like the very fountainhead of aroma, a Malayali tea-stall, where mouth watering vadas and tea are being prepared for his early customers. Next to it is a small stall emitting heat like a furnace, where they sell all kind of multi-coloured fried and roasted chips. The entire thing looks like a colourful rangoli with hues of orange and yellow being prominent. Then there is a new three storied building or “mini mall” as it is popularly called, which reeks of a renewed height of posh. May be the city-bred will not understand, but for little Madurai even a 3 storey is posh. 

Indu decided to gift herself with something nice, may be a perfume. How she would love to have a “foreign scent. But the summer sun having been working over-time, managed to make not only her, but anyone who is passing through those crowded streets of Madurai, weary and thirsty. She decided to buy a Coke. As she dragged herself under the heaviness of her college bag, she was reminded of the mother of eight in Australia, who had died just because she was a cola addict. 

Indu reached the fresh juice stall opposite to the mini-mall and waited among the crowd to order a pomegranate juice. She changed her mind and ordered a Jigarthanda, a local delicacy, which roughly translates to “Cool Heart”. The FM was blasting an old MGR hit, where he is proclaiming how the poor won’t suffer if his commands are carried out promptly. ‘Uyir ulla varai, oru thunbam illai, avar kanneer kadaliley vizha maatar; avar kanneer kadaliley vizha maatar”. Indu, unknown to herself, started tapping to the music while waiting for her drink. Indu stood gracefully, not giving away how desperate she was to get into the new mall.

It was almost a minute or so when the drink had arrived to cool her heart. Indu was distracted from the activity of intensely staring at the mall by a noise. It was a small girl crying. She was getting beaten up by a lady who seemed to be her mother. Dressed in a very greasy dress, the small girl reminded her of those poverty movies they show in Doordarshan. 

Indu did not realise that she was hastily gulping down the drink, even when she had spilled a few drops on floor much to the discomfiture of the flower-lady, who had been sitting in a corner, minding her own business, making beautiful garlands of Jasmine or “Malli Poo”, giving out a fragrance of the other world, in the hope of selling it at least three times above the actual price. Hastily apologising and later buying two mozhams* of Mallippoo as a token of reconciliation, she then looked for the girl child. 

She was sitting a bit away from the mall, looking after, what one should call a fancy stores, only that there was nothing fancy about the drab hair clips the shop was selling, nor was it a store. It was more of an ad-hoc setup involving an aluminium sheet covered by a green-blue cloth, which was breathing its last, what with the colour fading and holes growing. 

The girl was evidently in a bad mood, but she had stopped crying. Indu could still make out traces of dried tears. Her mother was resting behind her, lying on a piece of cloth, under the merciful shadow offered by the mini-mall. Indu asked her name. Valli, came a monosyllable reply. Lord Muruga’s second wife. Indu was immediately reminded of the handsome Sivakumar frantically wooing the tribal princess Valli, played by the elegant Jayalalithaa. She smiled at Valli, who returned it promptly. 

Why did your amma scold you?” 

Because I did not look after the clips”. Valli was evidently enamoured by Indu’s smooth hair.

“Why did you not do so then?” Indu looked at the hair clips thinking of buying a few.

Valli did not answer.

Indu bought two clips, and took out the Jasmine flower from the cover. She then asked the girl to come nearer. Valli looked beautiful when she had the Mallippoo gracing her hair.

I had gone to the mall, that’s why.” Valli stood up and pointed to the nearby building.

Oh! You found anything you like?” Indu took Valli by hands and both of them were now in the front of the mall. 

“Yes, I like this”, said Valli, pointing to a teddy bear kept on display. Indu, smirking at how Theodore Roosevelt’s forest hunt was now enticing a small girl in the Indian peninsula, first thought of taking Valli inside. On second thought, she asked her to wait out. 

When Indu had comeback with a teddy bear in hand, and a `1999 bill in her bag, she looked for Valli, but in vain. She went a bit forward to where the hair clips were sold. No one was there. Indu asked a man nearby, who had been busy selling hand-kerchiefs displayed on a stick, arranged craftily. “Anna, did you see the girl and the woman here? They were selling hair clips.”

The kerchief-seller said with an irritant voice,

Naane inga pozhappa otta paakren. Ithila ammaava paathaya, chinna ponna paathaya-nu, nee vera. Poyi velaya paaruma.” 

Indu looked around. She saw the two mozhams of jasmine flower lying scattered on the foot path. Indu’s tear drops evaporated even before they fell on the tarred street-road. May be, Kannagi is still fuming.
*Tamil and Malayali people stilluse their basic unit of distance measurement called muzham (hardly 1foot)  to measure the length of jasmine garland. Ancient tamils also used muzhakkuchi (scale/tape) which is the basic measuring instrument to build a temple or other building. One of the temple which used muzhakkuchi is Tanjore Big Temple from Tamil Nadu, India.

Pursuit of Happyness

Multiple good things happened which made me realise that in the pursuit of, what one feels is, happiness we find superior satisfaction in miniscule things. Today January 3 2012 was such a day.

1. Bought a 500 GB HP External Personal Media Drive ( a large capacity pen drive) with my own SALARY.

2. Made “Filter Coffee” which reminded me of Ammai’s coffee [ – till now all the decoctions I made were bland]

3. For the first time in life I cooked rice successfuly.

4. Made a relatively awesome Urula Kizhangu Upperi [potatoe fry] garnished with pepper and chilli powder.

5. Lived an entire day purely on my personal effort.

Perhaps freedom, indeed, is the goal of our pursuit of happyness.

New Year Resolutions – A Blog Post for Self-reflection after One Year

1. Read a minimum of 200 Non – fictions.
2. Learn to play Violin.
3. Restart my singing lessons.
4. Write 200 articles.
5. Finish writing my novel.
6. Learn to cook. [Really need to do something about it]
7. Clear the freaking IAS exams.
8. Travel to new places. [ A sub post coming on that]
9. Actually do something so that you will take 1 – 8 seriously.
10. Not to feel terrible if I don’t achieve 1 – 9.

How Car Owners Became Pedestrians

Picture Courtesy – www.123rf.com
There was a narrow street in between two rows of houses. It was the only road which connected the houses to the outside world. All kind of people travelled in it – the one with the big cars; the one with the small cars, the ones having two wheelers; the ones who travel by foot. All used that road. The road was maintained periodically by a body having members representing all the houses. The houses paid maintenance fees depending on the type of vehicle used. Since huge car owners caused greater stress on road they had to pay more. Since  the ones who use the foot path caused minimum stress on the road they paid lesser.
After a long time, it started raining during the monsoon. It was horrible scenery. The rains rendered the road useless. One could see huge potholes filled with muddy waters. Even two-wheeler users started finding travel through the road difficult. A pedestrian fell into an open hole and got heavily injured. Most discomfort was for the houses that had big cars. Already the roads were narrow, add to it the potholes, along with heavy traffic, they found the travel tougher. The two wheeler owners started finding these big car owners to be the main problem as they seemed to cause the traffic. All the two wheeler owners formed a separate group and demanded that car owners either buy two-wheelers or start giving their cars for free to others in the street for usage.
A few car owners protested as they did not want to share their cars for free and they left the road side residential area to a new place. The rest of the car owners proposed a compromise deal which allowed the 2 wheeler homes to use cars after paying a very small fee but the car owners had to take care of the road maintenance. The pedestrians remained out of the picture as they felt that walking would be the best for them. The car owners, who had left, started making fun of those who had stayed back for accepting such a rotten deal. But they did not mind. They felt it was their duty since they were using the vehicle causing greater rupture to the road. Two wheeler homes stopped using their vehicles at all. They started using the cars freely whenever they wanted. They started ignoring their own vehicles and started overtly depending on the cars.
This continued for a few years. Fuel prices got raised. But no change was made on the rate the two wheeler owners paid as the rent for using cars. Some car owners felt it was necessary to raise this issue. But a few of the car owners felt that it would be unfair if the poor two wheelers had to suffer the effect of increased fuel price. Already they don’t have any cars, to add to it, if they have to pay more fees, how will they live? Some of the people having two-wheelers too felt, that they ought to pay more. But the majority two wheeler homes muffled them. As a result of this difference in opinions, the car owners and bike owners who wanted a change in the rent, left the area to the place where initially a few car owners had gone. 
As the number of houses who provided funds got less, the roads in the area started getting depleted. It was full of potholes even during summer time when there was no rain. The only path which connected the families to outside world was in bits and pieces. Yet the good car owners, who did not want to trouble the two wheeler owners and pedestrians, kept spending from their pockets seeking only very little money from the rest. But since the road was in such a bad shape it affected the cars too, and finally the cars were in repair. Hence these two wheeler owners could not travel in car. They went to get their bike. Years of not being in use had made the bikes too faulty. They then decided to sell whatever property they had, to buy a bike and rented a new home in a different locality. The pedestrians as usual walked since they were used to walking in such difficult paths. The good car owners neither had enough money to repair the car nor the funds to repair the roads. That is how the car owners became pedestrians.

Untitled

I was walking tensed. An unknown, yet very strangely, familiar sensation was running through my body, only I did not know to put a name to it. I was walking through the high ceilinged corridors. It was dark, you could see light at the end of the tunnel-like dark pathway on either ends, confirming that it was day time. Suddenly it began to rain and strangely enough my shoes and the hemline of my pants were dripping wet. I hate the sensation. No, not that I don’t love the rains, I hate the feeling of wet socks. It makes me squirm uncomfortably wherever I sit. 
            I walked towards my classroom without knowing where it is. But I knew that the direction I was taking is correct. Leaving a trail of water droplets which eventually get mangled with my muddy foot print, I climbed up a few stairs. The stairs were a story in themselves as one would wonder if they were built in the Elizabethan ages of England. Tall , made of stones, dark at the places where they twist and turn , enough to demand a light bulb, if not an ancient torch of flame, the stairs made a perfect piece of antique. 
            I reached the corridor where my classes were held, and started walking a bit more. I hate walking this long. I remember how, last year, the class room was at the ground floor and much walking need not be done. With all this body weight, this daily journey to my class room will become quite cumbersome. But then, it will be some sort of an exercise. Who knows, I may grow thin in an year or so. 
            When I approached my classroom I could sense that the door was not yet opened, for a large number of students were standing outside. Some, with their raincoat, which covered their hefty school bags, giving them a silhouette of a crooked man from those fairy tales we read, on. Some were on the process of folding these synthetic beauties into their covers, and a few, complaining how the rain had spoiled the shine of their new note book by seeping through their bright new multi-coloured bags.
            I was stunned, if not shocked to see Prasad there. It is impossible. Where am I? This is not the way thing are supposed to happen. Time spans have mixed themselves up graciously, to give a very absurd picture.  I am not supposed to meet Prasad for another 3 or 4 years I guess. Yet there he was, in all his ever commonplace unassuming simple normal presence. That’s the one thing I like about him. He used to be this ever pervasive irritating git. But 4, sorry, 5 years of college education has changed the boy into something I could never dislike at all. 
            I looked around and could see not a single familiar face other than that of my high school friend’s. Apprehensive of the strange majority, I rushed towards the only known person there. But Prasad, it seems, is not recognizing me. Is he feigning ignorance? He introduced himself to be Vinod or Santosh or some crackpot name. I did not deny. I did not even tell him that he looked like Prasad. I accepted his name and shook hands as if we were meeting for the first time, not without a reason.     The boy, who looks like Prasad, he is different. He talks different. No, the way he walks is the same. His gestures are different though. May be. I did not notice his gestures. But I sensed that he is not Prasad. 
I went inside, and I saw a huge class room, enormous one, having many benches and desks. Each can hold 3 students. Usually I rush t o get the front bench. But I was lost in the sea of benches and desks. I did not notice which side faces the the black board, hence I was not able to pin point which is the first bench. Of course the students were facing west side of my view, which means, that is where the raised platform should be. But still, something was strange, that is not the place I should sit. 
I was suddenly reminded of my bus journey while coming to the school. The bus driver was a Chinese. He was not Chinese, how stupid of me. He was having mongoloid features. I guess he was from north east. But I felt that he was from Philippines. Don’t ask me why, I have no answers. The bus driver was manoeuvring the vehicle with extreme expertise or so I would like to believe.
He twisted and turned the steering like it was some feather touch, flying broomstick we hear about in the Harry Potter series. He was riding through a flyover, and what a flyover it was! It was as if , all the fly over-s in the world had come together for a symposium and blended into each other and reshaped themselves to form one mega flyover with lot of paths around a central circular path. 
The Philippine twisted the bus, turned it vigorously left and right. It was a close shave when he accurately drove the bus into the narrowest of the flyover path. One small shift in position, the entire bus would have collided into the wall. Strangely I did not feel the physical movement of the bus. The inertia was not in action. Physics was immaterial.
Like in a roller coaster, the bus started moving down along a steeply sloped roadway. There were lot of turnings too. Finally he reached an underground space, where all the vehicles – cars , bikes, cycles and buses – were parked. I fail to recall how I had reached from that place to my class room. I am not dripping now, but the wet socks are still a disturbance.
I was not sure if I had entered the correct class room. For one, How is it that I don’t even know a single person in my own school? That is impossible. And to top it, a Prasad look-alike is also here. Something is very strange. I searched for Prasad, he was there, sitting with another guy on his left a girl to his right. I cursed him mentally for not accompanying me. But he doesn’t recognise me. He is not Prasad, he is not bound to be with me. Duh!
I went out of the room since I felt suffocated. I saw Anita Surendran teacher enter the class room through a door at the front. I realized then, that the class room had two doors – one at the front and another at the back. She entered and started speaking something, but I was out by that time. Strange, are they teaching Malayalam in Tamil Nadu? And the number of students here, to study Malayalam, is also unbelievable high. Very strange.
I walked from one end of the corridor to the other. I caught a glimpse of the staff room, where I used to enter freely, as if I owned the place. I felt nothing now. Nil. 
Then I decided to enter the class room. I could see that she is talking something, but I can’t hear her. Her voice is like some echo, which has faded away but is still lingering. When I ask her to excuse me for being late and enter the class room, she stops talking and ask me to come near her.
“Do you know that this is the first day of this year? Even I have a son. He goes to the classes on time, if not early. Why can’t ….” The voice drifted away. I can see her talking, I am unable to listen to her. She keeps her book on the table. It is curved because she had been holding it as if it is some stupid cylinder. I hate it, when people do that. Books are rectangular. Don’t treat them like cylinders. They would be hurt. 
The bell rings, she is out even before I know it, so are the students. I see Prasad, he has gone away. There are still some students who are strangers here. I don’t feel like talking to any of them. I start crying. No it is not some desperate drama-esque crying. I felt like crying. So I am. Also, I have read somewhere that crying is good for eyes as it removes the impurities. If it’s true, at least something good is happening.

First Published in – Let The Sleeping Dragons Lie