Posts Tagged ‘Vikram Muthanna’

A short lesson in humanity from a courier boy

28 May 2013

K.B. GANAPATHY writes: Reading daily newspapers could ignite many unlikely thoughts in the minds of people who are rather sensitive. I probably belong to this class of people and which is why, I was deeply disturbed reading a news item yesterday titled,

“Techie assaulted for parking bike in front of a house — irked residents pelt stones at house”

If it were not for the photograph accompanying the report, it would not have created any deep feeling in me about the pride and prejudice some people suffer from.

Even hubris.

The incident, as reported, was about an IT professional Pradeep who parked his motorcycle seeking shelter from heavy rains that suddenly overtook him, in front of a house in Srirampura, at about 6 pm on Sunday.

Noticing this, the owner of the building, Srinivas, reportedly objected to the parking and a quarrel ensued, resulting in Pradeep being allegedly assaulted.

The residents in the neighbourhood, who were watching the incident, apparently shocked by the conduct of the owner of the building, began pelting stones at the house, further aggravating the situation. The police were informed and their arrival brought the situation under control.

I held the newspaper in my hand for a while and read out the news to my sons who were having breakfast, more as a lesson in harmonious living in a society than for its significance as an earth-shaking event which it was not anyway.

Then, I told them of the news that appeared in Star of Mysore almost a year ago, just to impress upon them the contrast between good and bad in human behaviour during a given situation.

The news was about the former RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan who went missing in our City and was later found.

Sudarshan, 81 years old then, had come to Mysore on a short visit to his brother’s house in Nazarbad. He had left the house early morning for his regular stroll that day. However, he did not return home as expected as he had not only lost his way back home, but was also unable to use his cell phone, which he had left behind.

Sudarshan by then had walked about 6 kms and found himself in Naidunagar. Helpless, he approached a youth who was watering the garden in front of his house and asked for water to drink.

Now look at the civility and nobility of that youth Ashok, 25 years old, working as a courier delivery man, in contrast to Srinivas, who picked up a quarrel with the IT professional Pradeep, who too was in distress of a different kind and sought refuge under the roof of Srinivas’ house.

Ashok did not refuse to give water like Srinivas who refused to give refuge. He took the old man inside his humble abode, offered him a seat and gave him not a glass of water but a glass of butter milk to drink. He even offered Sudarshan breakfast, which the latter refused saying he would have breakfast only after bath.

More importantly, Ashok did all these, not knowing who that old man was. For him it was helping an old man. That is all.

It was only when Ashok switched on the fan and TV that he came to know that the old man sitting in front of him was a VVIP and a Police search was already launched to find his whereabouts. It was only then that Ashok went to the police commissioner and informed about Sudarshan being in his house safe and relaxing.

In my younger days in Pune, a city prone to frequent rains like in Bangalore, I was using Ideal Jawa motorcycle for my transport. As a result, there were many occasions when I had to face sudden pouring of rains, forcing me to nearby houses seeking shelter like the IT professional Pradeep.

No one ever drove me away or quarreled with me like it happened last Sunday at Srirampura. In fact, I still remember one house on Ganesh Khindi road, where I sought shelter. This house happened to belong to a Sindhi family.

I had parked the bike and I had taken shelter under the outer roof, waiting for the rain to abate. Suddenly I see one young boy approaching me with a glass of water which left me wondering then, and on occasions like this remember the gesture of that young boy as nothing less than divine. So was the gesture of Ashok.

Alas! Where has divinity disappeared from this mortal man!!

(K.B. Ganapathy is the editor-in-chief of Star of Mysore, where an expanded version of this piece appeared)

When Bedi bowled from Maharaja’s College end

22 April 2013

Bishen Singh Bedi and Eknath Solkar being taken around in an open-topped jeep in front of the Mysore Palace, circa 1981

Sandeep Patil, Kirti Azad and Dilip Vengsarkar on Ashoka Road, as the cricket caravan approaches Janata Bazaar

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes from Mysore: Recently, I was invited to be part of a group that is trying to raise funds for Pratham Mysore, the highly respected NGO that has helped improve the state of education in our country.

Pratham Mysore has popularised the Balawadi pre-school programme where they pick a few volunteers in a community who are educated till class 10 and above and request them to educate the poor pre-schoolers in their areas. They also have many other programmes, the important one being the bridge programme in both rural and poor urban areas where they teach government school children after school hours.

So far in Mysore, Pratham has successfully delivered education programmes to around 15,000 poor pre-school and primary students in Mysore and surrounding districts.

So it turned out that they wanted my inputs and some publicity to raise some funds to create and support 212 new education centres in rural areas of Mysore. They already manage 182 such centres!

After much discussion it was decided that just like how dinners are hosted to raise money for a cause in the west, we would try to have a gala dinner for which people would pay a premium as there would be some celebrities and in a cricket-crazy nation where cricketers are demigods, the chance of having dinner while hearing stories straight from the horses’ mouths—or shall we say demi-gods’ lips—would be a chance no cricket lover could pass up; especially when there are only 200 invites which would make the interaction more intimate.

So, who would grace the gala that would attract some money?

Ashvini Ranjan who heads Pratham Mysore and is also now the Mysore zone chairman of Karnataka state cricket association (KSCA), confirmed that our own City’s son Javagal Srinath (KSCA’s secretary) and son-in-law Anil Kumble (KSCA president) would participate.

It was also thought that may be these two could also bring in Rahul Dravid with them, and a few more.

Just then, Ashvini Ranjan mentioned in passing how in 1981 they managed to convince a few top Indian national cricket team players to come to Mysore for an exhibition match to raise funds for a Lions school and how once the senior players were convinced, they in turn roped in other national players.

This was impressive and I was curious.

How did a group of smalltown men manage to get 16 members from the national team to our little City in 1981 for fund-raising ?! I pressed for more and the story I heard was worthy of a recount which held many lessons in celebrity-driven fund-raising and dedicated social service.

***

Here is the story Ashvini Ranjan told me:

It seems, in 1981 the Lions Club of Mysore West wanted to build a school and had to raise some funds.

The Club had many enthusiastic members and among them was R. Vasu, one of the partners of Cycle Brand Agarbathies who was very interested in cricket and well-networked in those circles. He came up with the idea of an exhibition cricket match between two teams each with a heavy mix of Indian national players!

Yes, indeed, an audacious idea for that time, and even today. Soon he and the other Lions decided they would have two teams each with a mix of national players, State players and two local players.

After many months of phone calls and umpteen visits to Bangalore, Vasu along with the other Lions managed to convince the core Indian players—then it was Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, G.R. Vishwanath, Brijesh Patel, Bishan Singh Bedi and Roger Binny.

They, in turn, managed to convince others to come with them to play a day of cricket for a good cause.

As soon as all the cricketers confirmed, air tickets were booked and it was communicated to them that a 42-seater luxury bus would be waiting for them at the Bangalore airport to bring them to Mysore.

On the faithful day the bus left for Bangalore airport while the Lions Club members waited in front of Mysore Palace to give them a grand welcome. Late afternoon as the bus approached, the Lions members were excited and waited for the demi-gods to alight from the bus… but only Sandeep Patil and his girlfriend were on the bus!

What happened to the rest?

The members were soon informed by Patil that the others decided that they would come in private taxis and leisurely they started arriving one by one. Though the organisers were worried about the taxi expenses they were relieved that the players had arrived.

***

The players were put up at the luxurious Rajendra Vilas Imperial Palace hotel atop the hill.

That night, they were felicitated at Lalitha Mahal Palace hotel with small elephant statues after which they left for their round of beers.

Next day, they were taken on a procession around the City, which attracted huge crowds and generated so much publicity for the exhibition match that the next day all tickets were sold out, even though a ticket cost a princely sum of Rs. 100.

Also, since there was no cricket stadium with cover or seating, the members managed to have covered seating using coconut branches and bamboo for 15,000 people at Maharaja’s ground. No mean feat.

With tickets sold out, passes given out to keep government officials happy, turf pitch ready, all seemed perfect for the match the next day.

And then the unthinkable happened: That night it poured and poured.

The next morning the pitch was soaked leaving the organisers with an unplayable drenched pitch. With the turf gone, match delayed and the 15,000 strong crowd growing restless by the minute, the organisers began their hunt for the only alternative — a cricket mat.

Finally a mat was tracked down, and the person renting it knew the organisers’ predicament and charged them an arm and a leg. He charged them Rs. 3,500, a ransom in 1981.

Soon the match was on and it poured again… this time it poured sixers from Sandeep Patil’s bat. Who won? Well, now no one quite remembers for sure. But they all remember that Sandeep Patil hit such huge sixers that they lost two cricket balls.

As Ashvini Ranjan recalls, “We had so much fun that we never bothered about who won. Guess cricket won that day.” With that Mysoreans had witnessed legends in action.

Mission accomplished… or so the organisers thought.

Later, that night, the players were hosted for dinner at the Mysore Palace by Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, with live music. Players like Eknath Solkar sang and did a solo dance much to the delight of everyone present.

The following day the players were to leave, but a handful of them stayed back. They supposedly said they loved the weather of the City and loved the location of their hotel atop the hill so much that they wanted to stay a few more days. But many organisers now say, the players seemed to have enjoyed their beer much, much more than the weather.

In the end after a week of cricket drama, the Lions Club which had invited national players to raise funds for their ambitious school project had managed to collect Rs. 3.5 lakh by way of ticket sales and sponsorships.

All good? Not really.

It seems by the time the cricketers had left and by the time the organisers had paid for their air ticket, the bus that brought just one couple, taxis, the mat, mementoes, beer, food and stay, the Lions Club was left with… just Rs. 18,000! The dream of a school was back to the pavilion.

To add, the free passes they gave to the government officials had eaten into their fund-raising budget substantially.

It seems the cricketers had left feeling high, while leaving the organisers completely dry.

***

While the Lions members were left lost, the then divisional commissioner and CITB Chairman M.P. Prakash, who heard of the debacle, felt bad and offered the Club one-and-half acres of land in Gokulam for the school and told them that for the time being, they can pay the Rs. 18,000 as down payment and the rest they must pay on time in installments.

The club members gladly agreed and today, Gokulam Lions School sits on a two-acre land with a student strength of 650. What 16 Indian cricketers could not do, an understanding, kind and good bureaucrat did. This shows the power bureaucrats have and the good they can do with it.

Today, the 1981 batch of Lions West members laugh at how they lost all their money to the players’ extravaganza, but they still thank the cricketers for generating great publicity which later helped them raise funds to build the school.

After I heard this story, I couldn’t help but ask if Ashvini Ranjan had any photographs of the event so our older readers could reminisce and younger readers could delight themselves.

As expected, Ashvini Ranjan shared the photos adding “Such memories are to be shared, not copyrighted or put away.”

In fact even the photos of this event has a story. It seems the organisers were so disheartened after the event, that they forgot all about the photographs and six months later it arrived in a box at the then Lions Club President Ashvini Ranjan’s house who kept it safely and after a while started gifting it to people who were in the photographs as memorabilia on their birthday or special occasions.

Yes, Ashwini Ranjan and the supporters of Pratham like myself, will once again try to rope in cricketers to raise money, publicity and good will for a good cause. This time, instead of cricket, it will be over good food. But we are also aware and take comfort in the fact that unlike yesterday’s cricketers who had time, for today’s cricketers time is money and they have no time to sit around enjoying beer and good weather.

So there is no way Srinath, Kumble, Dravid and others will get high and leave us dry.

The event has been scheduled for 7th of July 2013 and there are only 200 gala dinner tickets. The cost of the tickets will be announced in the coming weeks. This is a chance to meet, talk and ask whatever you want with the living cricket legends, or if you just like to donate you can contact Pratham through www.prathammysore.org or call Ph: 0821-2412612 or if you just want to have good food and good company you can sit at the table with yours truly and consume a bit of politics, a little bit of art and culture and a large dose of dirty jokes and a fair amount of happy spirit.

(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

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The “super-sopper” deployed at the Maharaja’s College grounds, on the morning of the match

Gundappa Viswanath and Bishen Singh Bedi go out to toss on a rain-marred wicket

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Srikantadatta Narasimha Wodeyar is introduced to the two teams, as B.S. Chandrashekhar, Sandeep Patil, Ravi Shastri and local legend, “Tiger” Prabhakar of Ideal Jawa (third from right, in a skull cap), look on

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Sandeep Patil with Wodeyar

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“Tiger” Prabhakar, Vishy, Anshuman Gaekwad, Chandra and Roger Binny spill some beers (above); Vengsarkar, Kirti Azad (below)

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Bishen Bedi with Vishy at the “Sports Club” party

Eknath Solkar, who batted and fielded with a scooter helmet, shakes a leg

Why can’t our ‘leaders’ speak like Obama?

10 November 2012

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Barack is back, and what a victory speech he gave us!

I say ‘us’ because the speech had something for all of us, in India too.

Like many of us Indians, as I watched Barack Obama’s victory speech on Thursday morning, I was left feeling envious — envious of Americans for having elected for themselves such an inspiring leader as their President.

I was left asking, “Why can’t I have a Prime Minister like him? A Prime Minister who inspires me, makes me feel like I matter, arouses a renewed sense of patriotism even in this severely fractured democracy that is India?”

Just a few days before Obama’s victory speech, our Prime Minister and our future prime ministerial candidate also spoke at a Congress mega rally. What a disappointment it was. No one on the dais could connect with the people they were addressing.

Rahul Gandhi’s ‘screech’ was full of sound and fury, at one point it seemed like he might collapse under his own vocal ferocity. But in spite of all the sound, in the end he shed very little light on any issue.

Instead, he showed us how dim he sometimes can be when he compared support for Kargil war to FDI! Neither did he inspire nor did he inform.

The only good thing about his speech was its timing. It was short.

Then our Prime Minister spoke. The content was repetitive, and like all his speeches, uninspiring. At best it could have inspired a few ventriloquists. Probably Robocop would have done a better job of connecting emotionally to us than our PM.

It is unfortunate. What use is intellect, if it can neither save us nor give us hope or produce words that will inspire us?

More importantly, what most of us would have noticed during the American presidential elections is the role of the family. We Indians never tire of saying that Americans are very detached from their families and add how we are such a family-oriented culture.

But every US President is judged by his family life. Every US President brings up his family in his speech, and never fails to mention the family values they imbibed in their formative years.

On the victory night, Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden both had their families on stage.

In fact, Obama said:

“and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly. Michelle, I have never loved you more.”

Then he acknowledged his children saying:

“You’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom. And I am so proud of you.”

In fact, not only did Obama thank his family, he also thanked and praised his opponent Mitt Romney’s family when he said:

“The Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service. And that is a legacy that we honour and applaud tonight.”

Now we have to ask, for a people who claim to be so much more ‘family-oriented,’ how many of our leaders have ever brought their family to the public fore to feel one with the people?

How many of our leaders have thanked their wives for their success (may be they don’t want to create ripples by picking one over the other)?

How many politicians have thanked their children for tolerating their absence?

None.

Even if they do, it is a display to garner sympathy and not family values.

Every Indian politician’s family life is shrouded in secrecy and when their children join them in politics, it is for personal gain, or when they have learnt the dirty tricks of the trade. Or even worse their names surface only when their illegal property is unearthed or a back door deal is exposed.

So political families get involved to stay in power and loot together. It makes us wonder, is there any true patriot among Indian politicians? It seems more likely that they love this country like one would love their goose that lays golden eggs, that’s all.

While we were in envy, Obama’s speech also made us feel miserable, because he made us think about our own nation when he said:

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world.”

We were left thinking, what do our leaders want to leave behind for our children? A chaotic mess, that churns out black money and mediocrity, over which their equally greedy children can rule?

American Presidents care about legacy. But our leaders care only about power. And the only legacy they worry about is passing on their constituency and seat to their children. So they are either in power or forever in pursuit of it.

No wonder that yesterday Vijay Kumar Malhotra at age 80 won his 40th term as President of the Archery Association of India. It’s astounding that in 40 years, the members could not find anyone better than him.

When this is the case, it’s power that drives our leaders, not the vision of a better India or patriotism. That is why our election is based on promise of freebies, caste and money.

Not on agendas such as social justice, equality and prosperity.

Obama made us cheer for an otherwise arrogant America, when he said:

“We believe we can keep the promise of our founding fathers, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

Can any of our leaders say that?

Have we ever heard our leaders say “no matter whatever you are, North Indian or South Indian, no matter if you are rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim, abled or disabled, if you are willing to work hard and be sincere, you can make it in India?”

No. Instead, our leaders have created an environment where you have to be born rich or be crooked to make it in India. We have to be a certain vote bank to avail basic facilities and must be able to mobilise a mob to get justice.

Obama probably is the best thing that happened in recent times to the very idea of democracy. Because when we heard Obama’s speech, we felt inspired to be part of a democracy.

We felt we needed to be part of nation-building.

We felt we mattered.

We felt we had to vote.

We felt we had to be responsible citizens.

In contrast, our leaders have left us feeling deceived and helpless, so helpless in fact that we want to flee this nation the first chance we get. The only ones who are staying back are those who cannot leave due to financial or family constraints; in some cases, the inability to adjust to a new culture.

That is why so many of our young, unappreciated minds go there. They almost always do better than they would have here in their own country. They go there and become whatever they want. Some may disagree, especially our neo-rich, real-estate barons and corporate honchos who say that India is shining and no one wants to leave.

Well, then how come there is still a line outside the US Consulate offices all over India even today and there is no line in sight anywhere near an Indian Consulate in any part of the world?

That’s because India does not harbour an environment to facilitate the development of a decent and dignified citizen.

Instead we are engulfed in the smog of corruption, crony-capitalism, casteism and a lethargic justice system that has only helped the development of a crooked, greedy and self-centered citizenry.

When Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister with Rahul Gandhi waiting in toe, we assumed there was hope. Instead, in these ‘hopeful’ hands, our nation has become hopeless.

And so today while we watch in envy the American President’s inspirational and touching address to his nation, we are left orphaned with no leaders to inspire us or lead us. The only thing holding us together is our collective sense of greed and insecurity.

We have no hope.

We have only God.

But he too seems to have given up.

(Vikram Muthanna is managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Who gives a shit to Jeremy Clarkson’s crap?

14 January 2012

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Recently Jeremy Clarkson, that giant of a man, the patronising British ‘chap’ who presents Topgear, a show about cars on BBC Entertainment, did a show in India where he drove all over North India in a car fitted with a toilet in the trunk!

Why?

As he put it, “Everyone who comes to India gets the trots.”

Later in the show, he stripped down to his underpants at a party he had hosted to demonstrate how to use a trouser press. But no one cared. After all, we have a very efficient and ubiquitous ironing service on every other street corner in India. But then there was no need for a strip-down demonstration.

Thank god, in his imperialistic ignorance, he did not venture down to show us how to use toilet paper.

Anyway, his supposed unsavoury comments Indians living in the UK all worked up.

For some reason, Indians abroad seem more touchy about India jokes. Is it because they love the nation they left behind, or is it really because they fear they will be perceived to be like their poorer cousins as seen on TV by their new, white country cousins?

But the fact is, Jeremy’s jokes were laced with truth.

We still have hygiene issues in tourist places and so most foreigners have tummy upsets when they come to India. Yes, our traffic is bad, in fact on the show Jeremy says as he drives, “It’s terrifying driving on Indian highways” and points out the huge trucks without lights and tractors coming from the opposite direction.

So, why are we upset with a reality check? Jeremy pointed out the same issues we complain about, albeit in a funny and cheeky sarcastic British manner.

So, is it ok when we criticise our own country but not a foreigner? But then no one in India cares, it’s more of a bother for our country cousins living abroad. Instead of getting touchy, why don’t they come back or give solutions to fix the issues Jeremy was joking about?

Speaking of jokes, every North Indian has a Madrasi joke, every South Indian has a North Indian joke and every Indian has a Sardarji joke. It seems, Sikhs are the only people in India who know how to laugh at themselves and thrive on self-deprecating humour, thus making them the quintessential jolly good fellows.

The rest of us are too busy stereotyping others who are unlike us. We cover everything from their colour, culture, food to their hygiene. And we have the arrogance to point fingers at Jeremy.

Because the Indians in the UK were upset, the Indian High Commission sent a letter to BBC “to make amends, especially to assuage the hurt sentiments of a large number of people.”

How many people? 21.

They got only 21 complaints!

Every person who watches Topgear knows not to take the show seriously except for the car reviews. Everyone knows that most of it is staged. They know that Jeremy and his boys are forever indulging in juvenile behaviour. Why then is the Indian High Commission so upset?

We would prefer if they were more concerned with the issue of why so many Indians are getting killed in the UK. And we can assure our brothers abroad it’s definitely not because the British goons think that we have bad roads, bad driving skills and bad public hygiene.

For the time being, we are glad that it has not become an issue that dominates the Indian news screens and BBC news junkies are glad that no one is asking for a ban on BBC in India. A pleasant surprise. Maybe we have moved on from being needy for the West’s approval. But then may be all the trouble makers are too busy performing their dirty tricks in Uttar Pradesh. Other reasons could be that Jeremy makes a fool of himself rather than Indians, with his sarcasm and strip show.

Times have changed. Yes, India still has a lot of poor people but it also has a lot of rich people. Yes, we have a lot of illiterates but we also have a lot of educated people and the world knows that; if not by watching TV news then at least when they lose their jobs.

The media in the West loves to mock brown people and all brown people are put into one basket, the Indian basket — no matter if you are a Pakistani, Bangladeshi or a Sri Lankan. But that is slowly changing. The West now knows most Indians, especially in the US, are educated and are in good standing.

Indians there too have tried very hard to differentiate themselves from their brown but not-so-educated cousins from the Indian sub-continent. There is nothing more insulting for an Indian in the US than being called a “Paki!” On the other hand, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, as much as they would disagree, like to be mistaken for Indians.

When I was studying in New York, a friend of mine in a hurry crossed the road suddenly and a car had to brake hard. The driver screamed, “You stupid Paki.”

My friend was smiling. I asked him, “He just abused you and you are smiling?” To this my friend replied, “I know, but I’m just glad he said ‘stupid Paki’ and not Indian.” So Indians abroad are conscious about their identity, they don’t want to be mistaken for a Pakistani unless of course they are doing something ‘stupid.’

However, it is a fact that whenever we see a brown man being portrayed in an embarrassing manner in any foreign media, we as Indians feel awkward and cringe. That’s because we are still trying to fight off the stereotype that foreign media has portrayed of us over the years — droopy shouldered, overly apologetic and socially inept people with a funny accent. But we are no more like that.

Yet we are so sensitive that in the recent movie Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol where our legendary Bollywood icon Anil Kapoor played the role of a bumbling testosterone-packed mobile tycoon, his silly two-minute appearance made many of us cringe. We felt Anil had lost one good chance to portray that a well-educated rich Indian can be as suave as a Western playboy, but alas!

So, the West will continue to find ways to mock us. But we have to find ways to mock them too. One of the best Indian stand-up comedian named Papa CJ mocks the British in a show in England where he says, “Yours is the only country so insecure that it needs an adjective before its name — ‘Great’ Britain.”

Then he continues, “I came to England because my grandfather said the sun never sets on the British Empire, but I now see that the sun never rises on the British Empire (in reference to the gloomy British weather).”

He also says, “We both are alike, while you’ll think that there is a stupid person at the other end of the customer service telephone line, we think the same.” Papa CJ finally adds, “You may feel offended with the things I’ve said about your country, but I don’t care. After all, I’m from the land of Kamasutra and I can screw you in a 100 different ways.”

Hopefully, this incident of Jeremy Clarkson will continue to be ignored. People like Clarkson are the least of our worries. At best, we must hear his comments and better our systems and as for his humour, what can we say? It’s just like his nation’s food — bland and unpalatable.

Best ignored.

(Vikram Muthanna is managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

A real viral is when even Hitler & Mr Bean sneeze

3 December 2011

***

By VIKRAM MUTHANNA

Hi mama… yes, it is a catchy song mama. 1, 2, 3, 4

The lyrics are stupid-du, stupid-du

But the tune is good-du, good-du

Now it’s stuck in my head-du, head-du

And now I’m having a kolaveri, kolaveri, kolaveri, Headache-u dey.

Since the last two weeks Kolaveri di, the song from the upcoming Tamil movie titled 3 (moonu which in Tamil means three) has been all the rage. Kolaveri di (Kolaveri–uncontrollable rage or murderous rage and di–colloquial reference to a girl), is all the ‘kolaveri’ in India and among Indians abroad.

The media says that the song has traversed the language barrier mostly due to its ‘tamglish’ lyrics. But we all know that for music, language is no barrier. It just needs to please the ears. And this song, Kolaveri di, sure pleases the ears, but it also mocks our intellect. But then what can one expect, the song was penned in under 20 minutes as confessed by its lyricist and singer Dhanush himself.

This song will remind many of their college days when such songs were constantly made up and sung.

In college I, too, after a couple of pegs of whisky and high intensity discussion on human relationships, would become McDowell’s Muthanna, the bard, and along with my friends would indulge in our own kolaveri compositions, although ours were a little more risqué, entertaining and creative.

But we all can agree that anyone with even the slightest inclination towards rhyming has had his or her 20 minutes of banal lyrical outpouring like Dhanush.

The only difference is, he got paid for his ‘Tamglish’ 20-minute banal-spontaneity and it was recorded in a professional studio, which now has over 10 million YouTube hits. We, on the other hand, had a stool for drums and got paid in peg measures and our audiences were a few friends, some amused waiters and a security guard.

The only hits we got were from angry landlords and the occasional police patrol cops. All the same, these songs were fun. They were our stress busters and made life livable, and laughable.

That is why in India, where there is a constant sense of insecurity and heartache, music and songs are at our very core as they make — just for a moment — life tolerable. And so we wake up to music (suprabhatha), greet people musically, watch musicals and go to bed with retro lullabies.

No wonder we are a sing-song kind of people. We even speak in a sing-song manner, from the Hindi greeting, “kaisey hoooooo…” to the Kannada greeting, “hey-gidiee-raaaaa” to the Tamil greeting “nallaa erking laaaaa…,” we shake our heads, move our fingers, modulate our voices and come up with one hell of a musical greeting.

We are attached to music, so much so that even today it is almost unthinkable to have an Indian movie without songs. In fact music can decide the fate of a movie. But over the years the power of lyrical romance has taken a slight backseat.

From the mid-1990s, music was composed to match the atrocious lyrics instead of it being a homogenous creative process. And so romantic poets took a back seat and fly-by-night 20 minute-lyricists were born. And they gave us chicken fry and mobile numbers!

We are talking about the times of  Govinda and Bappi Lahiri when they gave us, “You are my chicken fry, you are my fish fry…” in the movie Rock Dancer. Then there was, “What is your mobile number, what is your smile number…?” in Haseena Maan Jayegi.

Even in Kannada films, the songs used to be so romantic, so poetic, while also being pleasing to the ear. Now we have lyrics like “Nim appa loosaa, nim amma loosa, naanoo loosa….” (is your father nuts, is your mother nuts, am I nuts?).

Now Vidya Balan’s song “Oo la la…” may be a hit. No surprise, it is a Bappi Lahiri composition, but back then Bappi got us hooked on to a ridiculous song titled, “Guttur guttur…” Yes, the chorus of the song was a bird sound! Guttur….guttur… a weird species only Bappi Lahiri could have discovered—or invented.

These songs may have terrible lyrical value, but they are catchy. They easily get stuck in one’s head and take a long time to leave. Such songs are called “awesomely bad songs”; songs that are lyrically terrible, but have a very high recall value, as you can’t stop humming them.

It was during this time that Hollywood made its entry into Bollywood in the form of the sexy Samantha Fox, once again thanks to Bappi Lahiri. Since then, we have had singers like Snoop Dogg, who wore a turban and sang “Singh is King, “Chiggy-Wiggy” by Kylie Minogue and more recen-tly, Akon singing “Chhammak Chhallo” in Ra.One.

Indeed artists like Akon can sing, but couldn’t Shaan or Himesh Reshammiya have done a better job with Chhammak Chhallo? May be, but they could not have generated the amount of publicity or hype that Akon did.

Today’s market is not talent driven but like all markets, it is driven by return on investment. And people like Akon generate publicity that indirectly helps in the movies’ box office collection. It also increased distributor confidence.

That is why Kolaveri di, though not a great musical work, is highly marketable. And so the first spark of marketing blitz was lit for the movie 3 with the news headlines “Dhanush’s new song leaked on the net!” (We have to wonder how, and who, “leaked” it).

This is called generating a buzz. The buzz turned to curiosity and people rushed to see what was so special about this song that it had to be leaked. To add to this, members of the whole team doing the movie are little-shots of the big-shots from the Tamil film industry.

The music director, 19-year-old Anirudh is the nephew of Rajinikanth. The director of the movie is Aishwarya, the daughter of Rajinikanth. The lead actor of the movie Dhanush, is the son-in-law of Rajinikanth. The lead actress of the movie is Shruthi Hassan, the daughter of Tamil star Kamal Hassan.

Need we say more?

And immediately after the “leak” there was an official release and an official video with these famous star children looking humble and intensely working at making a banal song. It is a perfectly executed publicity stunt.

The song is catchy; but what made it such a mega hit is the curiosity factor. After all, there have been better songs with much better tunes and lyrics composed by another Tamilian, A.R. Rehman. But his songs did not generate 10 million hits and end up becoming front-page news in national dailies!

In today’s digital world, curiosity is king. In today’s networked world there is a very thin line between voyeurism and curiosity and we very often go back and forth. And that is why Dhanush’s ‘Soup song’ was first a ‘leaked song,’ which inevitably then became a ‘hit song.’ But just because a song has millions of ‘hits,’ does not necessarily mean it’s the best or that good.

Soon Kolaveri di will be the new, cool Tamil word to use, like ‘macha’ was, a few years back. But for now I’ve had enough of Kolaveri di. People around me are constantly singing it and it makes me scream, “stop!” but then they don’t. So I’ve started singing my own irritating Kolaveri di back at them.

It goes like this mama….

If you don’t stop-u, stop-u,

I’ll give you a tight-eh slap-u, slap-u!

It’ll make your eyes pop-u, pop-u,

It may even make you poop-u, poop-u.

So please don’t test my kolaveri, kolaveri dey!

Well, this didn’t even take me 30 seconds to compose. Maybe I too can get a few hits, well, physical ones may be, from Dhanush fans.

* Speaking of slap-u…, if you liked the Soup song, you will love the Sharad Pawar slap song.

(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of the evening newspaper, Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Also read: When Kolaveri Di meet Sharad Pawar ji

M.R. SHIVANNA, a true 24/7 journalist, RIP.

22 May 2011

churumuri.com records with regret the passing away of M.R. SHIVANNA, an unsung hero of Indian journalism, in Mysore on Saturday. He was 55, and is survived by his wife and daughter.

For 30 years and more, Shivanna slogged away in remarkable obscurity and was one of the pillars on which stands India’s most successful English evening newspaper, Star of Mysore. Starting out as a sub-editor in the local tabloid, Shivanna, a son of a farmer, had grown to be editor of the family-owned SoM at the time of his death.

Shivanna was no poet. His prose wouldn’t set the Cauvery on fire, nor was it intended to.

First in at work and last man out of the office, he wrote simple functional sentences day after relentless day. While dozens of young men cut their teeth at Star of Mysore on their way to bigger things in Bangalore and beyond, Shivanna stayed on, lending his boss K.B. GANAPATHY the kind of quiet solidity every owner and editor can only envy.

Here, CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY, one of Shivanna’s myriad ex-colleagues, who moved from Star of Mysore on to Frontline, The Week and The Times of India, among other ports of call, pays tribute.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

“(MRS).”

For decades, lakhs of Mysoreans have seen these three letters of the alphabet appended to thousands of news reports in Star of Mysore and Mysooru Mitra, Mysore’s dour media siblings, steered successfully by its founder-editor K.B. Ganapathy.

For most readers, these initials are a daily mystery, unravelled only in the anniversary issue of the two newspapers in February and March, respectively, when a mandatory “long-form” piece or an interview appears with the full form of the byline: M.R. Shivanna.

But for the remainder of the year, (MRS) was a byword for his straight, unaffected style.

As a journalist, Shivanna knew his limitations and that perhaps was his greatest strength. In a world of flamboyant story-tellers, he was the odd man out. Shorn of scholarly airs or intellectual pretensions, MRS pursued his vocation with a constancy of purpose, a fierce diligence that is rare in a profession where careerism has taken hold.

At times it seemed as if MRS literally lived in the newsroom, straddling two worlds, two sensibilities.

He finished his work at Star of Mysore, which is an English evening newspaper, in the afternoon, only to seamlessly drift to the other part of the building and discharge his duties at Mysooru Mitra, the Kannada morning daily form the same group.

You called the office at any unearthly hour, and more often than not MRS would pick up the phone, ready with pen on paper. A bulk of the information from across the districts was communicated over phone by a network of stringers and reporters, who spoke in varying  degrees  of clarity. MRS was an expert in tactfully prising out ‘news’ from these guys, night or day.

MRS was a 24×7 journalist before 24×7 became business jargon.

***

In 1990, just before taking up my journalism course, I ventured to work in Star of Mysore as a trainee.

K.B. Ganapathy, after a cursory chat, called in MRS and asked him to take me under his wing and put me through the paces.

At first glance, MRS was distinctly unimpressive: He was frail, he had a funny moustache, he tucked his shirt out, walked with a slouch and was staccato in his speech. He fobbed me off to his colleague at the desk, Nandini Srinivasan, who helped me tremendously through the early years.

Over a period of time, slowly, steadily I built some rapport with MRS. Sometimes he would call me out for an occasional smoke which I would readily accept in the hope of having a good conversation. But MRS would keep to himself and allow me to do all the talking, seldom proffering advice or insight, a genial smile displaying his tobacco-stained teeth.

There was a manic phase, of about a month or so, when I drank with him regularly at a fancy bar in Mysore. These sessions were unremarkable, almost matter-of-fact,  as MRS insisted that the Hindi music be played at an exceptionally high volume. There was no chance for exchange of ‘journalistic views’ leave alone banter.

Through the years in college, my association with Star and MRS continued. He would give me occasional assignments and background on stories that I was following.  Although writing in English did not come naturally to MRS, he honed it over the years through repeated practice.

His news reports were structured tightly in the classic “5 Ws and 1 H” formula, and it served him well.

There were reams and reams of buff paper on which he wrote with a cheap ball point pen that leaked, smudged and grew errant due to over use. He had this peculiar habit of bringing the nib close to his lips and blowing at it, like as if he was fanning a dying cigarette. He did that always, probably to fuel his pen’s fervor.

As an old-school journalist brought up on letter press, MRS also used and understood sub-editing notation better than most journalists. He used a red ink pen to underline a letter twice for capitalisation, a hurried swirl to denote deletion, “stet” if he wanted something to stay as is.

And for all his limitations with the language, if you were ever at a sudden loss for a word, those standard ones that you use to embellish journalistic copy, MRS would spout it in a second. The words swam in his head all the time.

Instinct and Intuition guided his journalistic disposition.

Passion and Persistence gave it  further ballast.

***

In 1993, “MRS” won the Karnataka Rajyothsava award. And as it happens in journalistic circles, there were whispers of how he had engineered it all, how it was a complete joke, how he was underserving, etc. MRS continued unfazed, doing what he did best, day after day after day. In due course, the tired critics went to sleep.

Many years later, at the Taj Lands End in Bombay, I hastened to the breakfast buffet for a quick bite before a conference. I had by then quit journalism to join Intel.

I heard a familiar “Hello, Chethu”.

I swung around to see MRS holding a bowl of fruits.

Over breakfast, he told me that Intel had flown him down to cover the event and simply amazed me with the information he had collected about the company’s latest products and plans. He kept jotting down notes verifying and cross-checking facts as we spoke. That evening we promised to get together but it didn’t happen.

During R.K .Laxman’s  last visit to Mysore about two years back, MRS took on the entire responsibility of hosting him in the City. Apart from ensuring that the Laxmans stayed in a friend’s hotel he organised their trip to Chamundi hills for an exclusive darshan. Laxman was profusely thankful to him during the visit.

On their last day in Mysore, MRS called me over the phone. He began with enquiring about my well being and slowly moved on to  a long conversation on Laxman’s perspective on various issues around him. I took the journalist’s bait and went with the flow filling him with facts, quotes, trivia.

I imagined MRS at his desk, his pen scribbling away on sheafs of paper, periodically blowing into his nib, probably conjuring the headline, the lead, the middle for his copy.

MRS will continue to write wherever he is. In the end, the smudges don’t matter really.

Also read: A song for an unsung hero: C.P. Chinnappa

***

IN MEMORIAM

Naresh Chandra Rajkhowa: journo who broke Dalai Lama story

Chari, a lens legend at The Hindu

Harishchandra Lachke: A pioneering cartoonist

T.N. Shanbag: Man who educated Bombay journos

Rajan Bala: cricket writer of cricket writers

Jyoti Sanyal: The language terrorist and teacher

Russy Karanjia: The bulldog of an editor

Sabina Sehgal Saikia: The resident food writer

M.G. Moinuddin: The self-taught newspaper designer

Balamurali Krishna, Bhimsen Joshi and ‘Amritam’

21 March 2010

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: A few days ago, I had been to Chennai on work. The journey from Mysore on the Chennai Express was long, stalling and an extremely cold one, thanks to unrelenting air conditioning.

The next day I returned in the more convenient, fast and comfortable Shatabdi Express.

I entered the chaotic Chennai Central station, got into the train and seated myself 20 minutes ahead of scheduled departure. When I stepped out to indulge in ‘people watching,’ I saw a small crowd approaching the train. People were bending down to touch someone’s feet and many standing with glass-eyed wonder usually reserved for godmen and politicians.

I immediately assumed it was some politician and sat expectantly to see him, but no one came in except a typical South Indian lungi-clad gentleman with a shiny watch and an elegant looking lady followed by a few well-dressed men. I assumed that the politician had moved to the other compartment and went to watch my movie between bouts of naps and Marie biscuits provided by the Railways.

Just before we reached Bangalore, I was suddenly woken up by the waiter who once again offered me another snack. As I was munching on my snack, I noticed more and more people waking up, and as they walked towards the wash area, all of them would look at a particular seat ahead of me and then on the way back, stop and talk to the person sitting in that seat or bend to touch his feet.

Now, I was intrigued and stood up for a mock stretch.

Then I saw the person and immediately recognised his face but could not recall his name. I knew he was a singer with a very different voice. I also knew from my friends that he was a fantastic poet and that I had seen him a million times in the famous national integration initiative song “Mile sur mera tumhara” music video.

No, it was not Bhimsen Joshi, not Hari Prasad Chourasia either.

And then it came to me: the person sitting ahead of me was the revered Carnatic vocalist, Dr M. Balamurali Krishna. I walked up to him and introduced myself, had a little chit chat and excused myself as I didn’t want to be too intrusive.

Soon he was heading towards the wash room and on his way back, stopped by to chat and then suggested I join him and his very elegant friend and manager, the famed dancer Dr Saraswathi.

From the very start, I realised Dr Balamurali Krishna had a sense of humour. When introducing Dr Saraswathi, he said: “This is Dr Saraswathi, my friend and manager. As you know Saraswathi’s veena can sing, so I am like her veena, wherever she directs me, I go and sing.”

After chatting about things in general, I finally asked him two questions that were niggling at the back of my mind: One, whether it was true that Bhimsen Joshi consumed considerable amounts of alcohol before performing?

I wanted to know this because of what my father [Star of Mysore founder and editor-in-chief K.B. Ganapathy] used to claim. That, when he lived in Pune, he used to deliver rum bottles to Bhimsen Joshi.

The reason my father was requested for the bottles was because he had access to cheap liquor from the army canteen. Back then I couldn’t quite believe it. Now, here was my chance to hear from a person who had performed many times with Joshi.

Balamurali smiled and said, “Yes, quite a considerable amount actually. But, back then, it did not affect his performance at all; in fact, maybe, it enhanced it”. Then he continued, “What is amritam, the nectar of gods? It is nothing but alcohol; in small amounts it is nectar and in large amounts poison”.

The mention of gods was the trigger for my second question. I asked him if he performed a lot in temples. He replied, “I like to sing, I don’t care where I sing. Moreover, I don’t sing for the gods, I sing for my people. I see god in people and mother nature.”

He then continued to talk at length about god and people’s obsession with religion and worship. I felt he was like a young child still lost in wonder at the things around him.

At one point he said, “Look at the inventors. Man made medicine, man made aeroplanes, man also made this train we are travelling in. Isn’t it so amazing that someone thought this was possible and made it happen? We should pray for the good of such people, people who make life better for others.”

Balamurali Krishna himself falls in that special category. He has brightened the lives of millions of people across the country—both music lovers and ordinary people. In fact, he himself is an inventor of ragas and an innovative musician.

I asked him if only he used his compositions or whether other people too used them in their performances too, to which he replied: “Others use it too, but it’s a little difficult to grasp. You need to have a sense of adventure, experimentation and an open mind to try new techniques. Otherwise it will be, as they say in Kannada, ‘ade raga, ade tala‘.”

Finally I found it appropriate to ask if he had seen the new “Mile sur mera tumhara” music video. He said he had not and asked me how it was. I said I didn’t like it half as much as the old one as it had an overload of movie stars and the music too was synthetic, which failed to bring out the sense of cultural diversity of our country.

He said: “Well, at least they tried something new. Maybe they can do a different song and a different music-video next year. There must be change. But it’s OK, may be next time they will do a better job,” and then added with a mischievous grin, “Hopefully, next time they can please you.”

No wonder he was the only legendary performer who said there was nothing wrong in fusion music and added “addition to tradition” is important and natural.

I asked him about his daily routine and if he practiced a lot. It seems he never practices. I asked about his younger days when he was a student. He said as a matter of fact: “My master would sing the raga once. Then I would sing along with him once and I was OK.”

I again asked him how he could remember a raga in just two attempts to which he, like a child, smiled and said, “I don’t know. I just remember”. Balamurali Krishna was a child prodigy who gave his first performance when he was just eight years old.

I was immediately reminded of the story of western classical composer and pianist Mozart who once arrives in Vienna, Italy Austria, to perform for the Emperor. When Mozart meets the emperor, Antonio Salieri, the renowned palace composer, presents Mozart with “March of Welcome” which he had toiled to create.

Mozart first displays a childish high-pitched laugh, then after hearing the march only once, he spontaneously ‘improves’ the piece with minimal effort, transforming Salieri’s composition into a grand piano piece.

As we alighted from the train, a few people who recognised him, came and took photographs with him, some diving right onto his feet. I asked him if it gets a bit too much, to which Dr Saraswathi replied that recently at a packed concert, some fans tried to slowly pluck some of his hair to keep as memorabilia.

I warned him to be wary of me for if I found out there was a market for his hair, I would pluck a handful.

Here is one more anecdote that Balamurali himself narrated. It seems that he had once been gifted with a new pair of footwear and had worn them for a concert in Chennai. He had left the slippers outside and after the concert, discovered his slippers missing.

Months later, he got a letter from a fan who confessed that he just wanted to have a memorabilia and so stole the slippers. The fan said that he would return the slippers and hoped that Balamurali would send some small item that he used.

For a man who is deep into an art form like Carnatic music known for its rigorous discipline and purity, he is refreshingly different. He is humorous and open-minded. He is like all great musical geniuses, a free spirit.

I was humbled by his humility and also glad that he wanted to meet me again. I told him I would be glad to meet him too, after all I still have to get my share of a clump of his hair.

(Vikram Muthanna is managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece first appeared)

Photographs: via Flickr, and Facebook

Also read: ‘If it sounds good to your ear, it’s Carnatic music’

Not this or that, this and that is the real zeitgeist

At last, a truly sensible view of Carnatic music


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