Thursday, October 21, 2010

Friday, January 30, 2009


Plans have been afoot, but a particularly hectic time at work and outside has delayed the launch of my new blog. It should be up in a few days. Patience, ye who enter here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Band Most Likely to Put You to Sleep

Sasha Frere-Jones writes in the The New Yorker,
In a 2005 piece in the Times, Jon Pareles called the British rock group Coldplay "the most insufferable band of the decade," and he placed the blame on the band’s front man and singer, Chris Martin, whom he called a "passive-aggressive blowhard." Earlier this year, in a study sponsored by the hotel chain Travelodge of the bedtime habits of 2,248 people in the U.K., Coldplay topped a poll of music choices that would help people fall asleep. Coldplay apparently relieves what Travelodge called the "pressures of modern living".

Robert Cochrane of says,
Rarely have a band been more appropriately named.
His piece also contains the following intro:

"It seems that all men have their price, and Coldplay have obviously found Brian Eno's. Crossing his palm with silver, and much of it, can be the only excuse for his lamentable excursion into the pretentious world of Christopher and his dull friends.

And Ryan Dombal on offers this,

Earlier this year, Britons voted Coldplay as The Band Most Likely to Put You to Sleep. The poll, conducted by hotel chain Travelodge, had Chris Martin & Co. beating out aural Ambien including James Blunt and Norah Jones. Even for a band known to take solace in their overarching pleasantness, the drowsy coronation doubled as a harsh insult. After all, Coldplay is a rock band. A grandma-friendly, Radiohead-normalizing, disarmingly polite rock band led by a man who sounds like he's still yearning for puberty perhaps...but a rock band nonetheless.

And while Will Hermes in gives a thumbs-up to the album, he does worry about Chris Martin's incoherence as a lyricist. He ends with this,

Coldplay's desire to unite fans around the world with an entertainment they can all relate to is the band's strength, and a worthy goal. But on Viva la Vida, a record that wants to make strong statements, it's also a weakness. Sometimes, to say what needs to be said, you need to risk pissing people off.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

What is 'delimitation'?

Here's a stab at answering that question, in the latest News Junkie podcast. This one was done with National Affairs editor Diptosh Majumdar. And just to catch up with book-keeping, here's the link to the one I did on the Pakistan elections in February, with Deputy Foreign editor Suhasini Haidar.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Fixing what wasn't broke, and not keeping in mind the long-term implications of any decision. That's how Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City - Inside Iraq's Green Zone may be summed up. It's an indictment of America's bungling in Iraq and details the events in Baghdad between the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the handing over of power by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the Iraqi interim government in 2004. To be specific, it's the story of what went on in the Green Zone, a sealed area bang in the middle of Baghdad around what used to be Saddam's seat of power, the Republican Palace.
The surge is currently on in Iraq, and while there are mixed opinions as to how it will all turn out, it sure looks like the country will see a redrawing of boundaries or 'partition' sometime in the future. In an excellent piece in, Jeffrey Goldberg explores that and other possible futures of the middle-east. I'm personally not so sure if partitioning Iraq is a good idea. Haven't we all lived through the horrors of the consequences of partition, most of us vicariously? You may want to check out Christopher Hitchens' 2003 piece on the legacy of the British policy of partition and their intended and unintended consequences in Europe and Asia as well.
Here's a review that will tell you why Imperial Life... is such a cracking read. Still not convinced? Listen to the Guardian Unlimited podcast which had Chandrasekaran talking on, among other things, why he chose the title he chose.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bangalore Royal Challengers

Ye gods! What was the flamboyant Vijay Mallya up to? One would have thought he would have insisted on picking up stars known for their cricketing skills AND flair. But the team for Bangalore Royal Challengers [he let the name slip out at the press conference] reads like this - Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Jacques Kallis, Zaheer Khan, Mark Boucher, Cameron White, Wasim Jaffer, Dale Steyn, Nathan Bracken, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Here's a lot that wouldn't look out of place at a funeral. Don't get me wrong, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble are my favourite cricketers. And Kallis, Boucher, Chanderpaul and Bracken rank among the best today. But I don't see a buzz around this team, given that Mallya buys everything keeping image in mind. Somehow I'm finding it difficult to visualise thousands of swooning teenagers.

Of course if they win, it's going to be different. Let's hope they don't plan to do it by collecting singles.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Does Mumbai belong to Maharashtrians?

Is Mumbai exclusive to Maharashtrians? This should be a no-brainer, but since Raj Thackeray reignited the debate, it's an issue worth exploring, if only to see what turns up.

The timing first. What pressed the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena founder to drum up the issue now? That it was the Bachchans laying the foundation stone for a girls' school in U.P. is too convenient an answer and the theory doesn't hold up anyway. He could have turned the pages of any Mumbai daily and picked up a 'reason'. Elections are a year away, so there's a danger of his campaign peaking too early. Perhaps it is simply that he saw an opportunity to settle one issue once and for all - that of succession. Uddhav, Bal Thackeray's son was of course chosen to head the Shiv Sena in 2004, eventually leading to a parting of ways between Raj and the Shiv Sena. But Raj perhaps wants to show to Maharashtrians that he is a more natural or spiritual successor to Bal Thackeray.

Let's now deal with the concept of entitlement, the justification for which reads like this - Mumbai should belong to me because it's the capital of Maharashtra and I'm a Maharashtrian. But even this is not a fully accurate picture. As Ramachandra Guha points out in India after Gandhi, Bombay as it was known prior to 1995, was a bilingual province of both Marathi and Gujarati speakers. It had been settled by people from different linguistic communities - Marathis, Parsis, Gujaratis and Europeans. It was only in 1960 that Bombay was declared the capital of Maharashtra. So, are all those who built Bombay and their descendants to be kicked out then? Or will they be declared honourary citizens? So on and so forth in this vein will only lead to bizarre conclusions. Of course, Raj Thackeray is not asking for this, he only wishes that migrants would stop pouring in - something I'm sure every Mumbaikar has thought of at least once. What marks him out is that he's the head of a political party and is interested in reaping the dividends of raking up what's a hugely emotional issue.

Now, to the future. Should all those 'Bhaiyyas', Bengalis and South Indians who're, even as we speak, stuffing all their belongings into trains be stopped at the gates of Mumbai? Raj Thackeray blames this non-stop influx of immigrants for the creaking infrastructure of Mumbai. But neither he, nor the Shiv Sena or the Congress and the NCP have turned the mirror onto themselves for apportioning blame. One glance at the much-trumpeted Bandra-Worli Sea link should tell you the story - it was to be completed in 2004, but more than four years later the project is yet to be finished. Ditto for the Mumbai metro and other projects planned to ease congestion in the city. The Worli-Nariman Point sea link and the Nava Sheva-Sewri link are both still at the blueprint and tender stage.

Onto to Amitabh Bachchan. It was suggested that Mumbai's most famous resident had done nothing for Maharashtra. If Bachchan had settled in Delhi, would the state have suffered? Clearly, the answer is no. No state is dependent on one individual. But Mumbaikars in that case wouldn't have benefited from his spending - remember his income runs into crores and crores. I'm willing to bet Bachchan has made a difference to hundreds of people, Maharashtrians included, in the last thirty-odd years in the city, without even knowing it. And this is not counting the number of people his films employed. The more the number of hits he churned out, the more people in the film industry benefited by the incomes they derived from those films. Include all those wide-eyed tourists paying auto & taxi drivers for a glimpse of his twin homes Jalsa and Prateeksha, and you begin to see Bachchan for an industry that he is.

Let's tackle the last and most difficult question. If I lived in Mumbai, should I be forced to speak Marathi? A furious discussion on IBN7 on Tuesday yielded a few interesting answers. There were those who said it is compulsory for all migrants to learn Marathi, a few said it is okay if they show that they're trying and just one who said learning the language wasn't necessary. Curiously enough, I thought the best answer came from the anchor himself. He asked a what-if question. If he were to be posted to Tamil Nadu for a year, then to Karnataka and Maharashtra, should he then have to learn Tamil, Kannada and Marathi? My personal opinion is that nobody should be forced to learn anything. People who choose not to learn a local language are missing something special. It's their loss.

The issue really gets tangled when 'outsiders' expect localites to speak in their tongue. This has happened in Mumbai and more recently in Bangalore as well. Local residents are then justified in their anger. But I would still desist from forcing anybody to learn my language, simply on the grounds that doing so, would destroy the very edifice of liberty and democracy that India is built on.

Perhaps the last word would in this debate should go to a Sardarjee, Jaspal Bhatti, a unique and special man in that he turns to satire in order to get his point across. He got it right when he 'formed' a Divide India film festival, where movies of all languages would be screened, but with one rider. Maharashtrians could only watch Marathi films. Punjabis only Punjabi films and so on. People entering theatres would be asked for an ID card with domicile status. And what would happen if, say a Bengali slipped in to watch a Kannada film? Bhatti's recommendation is simple - we shall beat him up before we administer first aid!

Originally posted here.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The News Junkie Podcast

A personal promise that I would follow every idea I had to its logical conclusion in 2007 resulted in the News Junkie Podcast, which is now three episodes old. The idea behind the podcast on the CNN-IBN website is to strip down any issue to its bare essentials, so as to allow for a greater understanding. The format is simple - I have a conversation with someone who is familiar with the topic being discussed.

For instance, the second podcast was on the US elections and tackled basic issues such as, 'What is a caucus?', 'How does it differ from the Indian process?' and so on. Surya Gangadharan, CNN-IBN's foreign editor gave his interesting take on the polls.

The third and the most recent one was on the just-concluded test series between India and Australia. I spoke with Mukul Kesavan, cricket fan, writer of the immensly popular blog and book, Men in White, The Ugliness of the Indian Male and Other Propositions and one of the more articulate people around.

The podcast also allows me to pick any topic (that's topical) and do pretty much what I want with it. No editorial agendas.

It's still a work in progress, and you may see a difference between the first podcast (on the Karnataka political crisis with National Affairs Editor Diptosh Majumdar) and the one with Kesavan. And hopefully, there are droves of people who would want to listen to it regularly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Beef's no holy cow

Some farmers give aging cows to Hindu temples. At the Vedanaiki Solisvaran Temple, near the cow market, prayer leader Dharmasivan says temple leaders are too busy with day jobs to care for the donated cows. So the temple sells them in the market. Dharmasivan has seen a cow being slaughtered there. "We know it's wrong," he says. "We can't stop it."
That was WSJ journalist Daniel Pearl in an article he wrote, How Many Ways Can You Skin a Cow? In Hindu India, There Are Plenty, perhaps a few months before he was abducted and killed in Pakistan.

The piece sums up the many Indias in the country we call home. I love the irony of it all. Incidentally, the cow's probably one of my favourite animals. And it seems I'm certainly not the only blogger to think so.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My favourite Polish export (not the Pope)

Reader's block. You're just not able to settle into a book. You try one, discard it, pick up another, only to toss into that pile you call 'for later'. You begin to feel you'll never finish a book again. You blame yourself and become so irritable that one day your partner tells you to quit belly-aching, roll over and go to sleep. And then one day you bump into a book that brings back the magic of reading, and all is well again. As you may have guessed by now, it was so with me until I came by Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski.

I first came across Kapuscinski in The Soccer War, as the 4 1/2 readers of this blog already know. So I won't bother with a long introduction, to Kapuscinski, the writer and journalist. Suffice to say, Travels with Herodotus was his last book before he died earlier this year, a part-memoir and part-meditation.

Kapuscinksi begins by saying he was presented with a copy of Herodotus' The Histories just as he was headed for his first overseas assignment - to India. In fact, Herodotus remains a reassuring presence as the young Polish journalist embarks on his journeys with eagerness, naivete and the air of one who is blithely unworried about where his next meal will come from.

Reading through the book, one doesn't quite know who's the better teacher - Kapuscinski or Herodotus. But there's no need to compare. Both of them have valuable lessons for the journalist. Kapuscinksi, then in his 30s, writes of Herodotus,
I was quite consciously trying to learn the art of reportage and Herodotus struck me as a valuable teacher.
And he goes onto to tell you why the ancient Greek writer was a good reporter.
But to the extent that it is possible to do so - and, given the epoch, this speaks to a tremendous expenditure of effort and to great personal determination - he tries to check everything, to get to the sources, to establish the fact.
That should tell you not to google.

A little later in the book, Kapuscinski speaks of a moment of epiphany while in Algiers. A coup has taken place, but on the streets there's nothing to show for it, was here in Algiers, several years after I had begun working as a reporter, that it slowly began to dawn on me that I had set myself on an erroneous path back then. Until that awakening I had been searching for spectacular was the fallacy that one can interpret the world only by means of what it chooses to show us in the hours of its convulsions, when it is rocked by shots and explosion, engulfed in flames...
Lessons for journalists, lessons on writing, Travels with Herodotus also underlines some of the faultlines of the world we live in today, the struggle between militant Islam and the rest of the world for one. It is certainly a book to be read again & again. Let me quote Kapuscinski one final time,
One must read Herodotus's book - and every great book - repeatedly; with each reading it will reveal another layer, previously overlooked themes, images and meanings. For within every great book there are several others.
There are at least a couple of more books of his I'd like to read, Shah of Shahs and Imperium, among them. Who woulda thunk RK would one day replace Joseph Conrad as my favourite Polish writer?