Archive for February, 2009

Yedi is fiddling when namma naadu is burning

28 February 2009


E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: This picture, of school boys and girls, was not shot at some traditional gurukul in some god forsaken part of Karnataka in the middle of the 20th century.

It was shot at a government-run school in Bidadi, barely an hour from the IT capital of India, Bangalore, in the ninth year of the twenty-first.

Construction of the building for the school and two others was taken up during H.D. Kumaraswamy‘s reign as chief minister, but has since been discontinued for “lack of funds”.

Looking at the picture, you should wonder:

1. Why is our chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa donating crores of rupees (Rs 130 crore to be precise) to temples  and mutts for prayers to be conducted for the wellbeing of the people of Karnataka, and to remove the ill-effects of the ‘poor administration’ of previous governments, when children are sitting on bare, hard soil under a scorching sun for lack of funds to build a roof on their head?

2. Why do we waste lakhs of rupees bringing in Gangajal when we cannot supply Cauvery water even to people in Mysore, located 18 km from the Cauvery, on a regular basis for drinking purposes? 50,000 gallons of Gangajal was brought to the State at a cost of Rs 2.5 lakh. What moksha will people get by having the prokshane of Gangajal on them when they cannot get water to quench their thirst or when their children have to sit under the scorching sun in a school because of a “regime-change”?

3. When there are power cuts all through the day and night, all across the State, and children and students have a horrid time preparing for their tests and exams, how does it help to light up lakhs of bulbs by illuminating the Mysore Palace for tourists on one extra day of the week,  Saturday, on top of spending obscene millions on prayers and Gangajal? Have the district in-charge minister Shobha Karandlaje,  and the district administration lost all sense of proportion?

4. Why is our government arranging ‘lectures’ on terrorism by forcing principals to send students  and spending money on these futile exercises, especially in exam season? It is the police who have to take on the terrorists and need equipment, training, skills to combat the sophisticated, technology-savvy terrorists. Our Police are poorly paid, with only a lathi and a whistle as their ‘equipment’ most times. Their living quarters are an insult to them and their families. They are pawns in a never-ending political tug-of-war. They don’t even have proper bulletproof jackets thanks to corruption. Instead of strengthening our police force, instead improving the morale why are we totally ‘out of focus’ by dragging students in to this. Perhaps educating them is a good idea, but it should come much later when we have done the primary job of strengthening the police in all respects.

Why is the BJP government totally ‘out of focus’ on so many issues?

Why doesn’t it tackle urgent issues on a priority basis rather than in a medieval fashion?

Why does it spend millions to issue advertisements to crow about the great feats achieved by it?

The BJP came to power on a wave of sympathy over what the JDS had done to it. It came to power riding the high  hopes of a people disenchanted with the Congress and JDS. But it is gradually losing all that by tackling irrelevant things and functioning in an outmoded style.

Why is Yediyurappa/ Yeddyurappa fiddling when namma cheluva naadu is, well, burning with issues, crying for attention?

Also read: Yella not OK, guru. Nanna makkalu is not learning

Don’t gift them fish. Teach them how to fish

Can Azim Premji do that the government can’t/ won’t?

Knot for nothing: a snapshot of a million mutinies

27 February 2009

KPN photo

Few events in our society shine a mirror on its inherent complexities more than the miracle that is a “mass marriage”.

In a me-too culture teeming with meaningless, ostentatious weddings lubricated by dowry, the fact that so many are willing sit in line and buck the trend is proof that the desire to do what is right is a universal human trait; and one that goes deep down defying the usual urban/rural, rich/poor, literate/illiterate stereotypes.


In picture, hundreds of couples tie the knot at a mass marriage organised by MLA Santosh Lad at Kalghatgi near Dharwad on Friday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Before the Slumdogs, the Mahoutboy Millionaire

26 February 2009


In the understandable hoo-ha over Danny Boyle‘s Slumdog Millionaire, it is easy to forget that there were others before the kids of Dharavi who set hearts aflame in Hollywood.

Krishna Vattam, the longetime Deccan Herald correspondent in Mysore, remembers one of them from our very soil, who sailed from the foothills of Chamundi to Beverly Hills.



As I was reading about the street children in Bombay, who were cast in leading roles in Slumdog Millionaire, I went down memory lane, recalling a rags-to-riches true story way back in the 1930s, of a Mysore mahout boy set in reel life from real life.

The old residents of Mysore will recall an incident, which, thanks to a strange stroke of fate, transformed the life of this 11-year-old boy who became India’s only international star at that time.

Britain’s reputed documentary maker Robert Flaherty with his wife Frances, were in Mysore with a film team, wanting to do a feature film based on Toomai of the Elephants—a story by Rudyard Kipling.

They were keen on choosing a ‘native’ boy for the lead role of Elephant Boy.

While walking around what was then a small town, the Flaherty couple, saw some children playing football, and others quarrelling among themselves in a friendly manner.

One afternoon they stepped into the Palace elephants’ stable, where elephants were being maintained by the Palace. It was lunch time and the senior mahouts were away, leaving the young boy in charge of the stable.

The little boy was wearing only a lungi and around his head a white turban was wrapped.

On seeing the white skinned visitors, he excitedly performed acrobatic stunts while handling and fondling the gentle giants with much ease. His manner charmed and captivated the Fleherty couple, and they felt that their search was over.

They were convinced that this was the boy they were looking for.

Writing about the couple’s encounter with this lad, Robert’s biographer Paul Roather, recalled:

My most treasured memory of this day is of Sabu. He made his appearance slowly astride on an elephant, and there they stood in the middle of the very large compound for the world to see. The manner in which he handled the ponderous, lumbering elephant was enough to stir one’s confidence and trust in him.

“I have found a gold mine,” wired Flaherty to Alexander Korda, the producer of the Elephant Boy, who was in London.

A large part of the film was shot in 1935 and 1936 in the jungles around Mysore, with which Sabu was familiar.

Since there was a delay in the completion of the production of the film, the team was asked to go over to Britain and the rest of the film was shot in the Denham studio in London. The Elephant Boy was a box office hit and the performance of Sabu was universally praised and Sabu  became an instant star.

The New York Times review recorded:

Sabu, the Indian boy is a sunny faced, manly little youngster. His naturalness beneath the camera’s scrutiny should bring blushes to the faces of precocious wonder children of Hollywood.

Born in Karapura, the famous site of the khedda of yesteryear in Heggadadevanakote taluk of Mysore district, on 24 January 1924, Sabu was an illiterate boy, who lost his mother when he was in the cradle and his mahout father when he was just seven years old.

He was the youngest stable boy in the Maharaja’s ward.

The Elephant Boy was a big box office hit and Korda signed him up with a long-term contract. Here was an Indian juvenile star, who had earlier not travelled beyond Mysore.From then on, Sabu became the ward of the British government and was given an excellent schooling. With this grooming, Sabu learnt perfect English, which gave him the added confidence to interact with other celebrities in both Britain and America.

His third film The Thief of Baghdad was a smash hit.

When the Kordas moved to America, Sabu also joined them and became an American citizen in 1944 and embraced the Episcopalian faith.

When Hollywood super stars like Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan stepped out of the studio to fight against the Nazis in World War II, Sabu also joined them as a gunner and was honoured for his courage and valour. He married an actress named Marilyn Cooper and had two children—Paul Sabu, who established a Rock band unit while Paul’s sister, Jasmine, owned a horse farm in California.

Sabu died young, at only 39, after a heart attack and his body was interred in the famous Forest Lawn Cemetery  among other film personalities. He had achieved name and fame and was a celebrity in his own right.

Sabu returned to his home town, Mysore, in 1952 to shoot a film and this former mahout boy from the Palace elephant stable was the guest of the Maharaja Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar.

His memory is kept alive, thanks to the occasional screening of the 28 films, in which he acted in, especially The Elephant Boy, and other hits like The Thief of Baghdad (1940), Jungle Book (1942), Arabian Nights (1942).

This article originally appeared in Deccan Herald, and is reproduced here with the kind courtesy of the author

Author photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Sabu photographs: courtesy Film Reference, Movie Diva,,, geocities, Flickr (some frames digitally altered)

Photo mosaic: kind courtesy Ashish Bagchi

Should a chief minister fall at a godman’s feet?

25 February 2009

KPN photo

For all the froth about not mixing religion with politics, the genuflection of politicians before “godmen” is a common sight in Indian democracy.

From presidents to prime ministers to chief ministers, from MPs to MLAs to MLCs—from Congress to BJP to JDS to name your party—not a word is uttered, not an eyebrow goes up, when swamijis sit a notch above democratically elected leaders in public fora, when they fall at their lotus feet.

Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa received his blessings from Sri Balagangadharanath swamiji of the Adichunchunagiri Mutt in Bangalore on Wednesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: All in a day’s work for the next chief minister

What role should swamijis, religious gurus play?

Government work is godman’s work in Gokarna

Is Janardhana seve Janata seve in HDK’s book?

The smell in the air is chicken s**t. So beautiful.

25 February 2009

Now that all the major problems of the world are on the verge of being sorted out, it is time to listen to His His Holiness deliver his his sermon sermon to “morally morally bankrupt bankrupt youngsters youngsters”.

Starring: Sunil of mindry, with Arjun and Sharath

Link courtesy Vadiraj Hombal

Because Oscar Fernandes is an ordinary minister

25 February 2009

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: That the Minister was not in a good mood was evident to the chairman of the slum clearance board, Shri Jhuggi, by the way the Minister twisted his fingers when he greeted him with a handshake.

As the meeting started,  Jhuggi briefed the Minister and the board about the major works taken up by the board which again wasn’t received well by the dignitary .

As the secretary of the board, Shri Jhopad Patti, was reading the annual report, third para, second line and paused before a comma, the minister’s voice ‘Stop it!’ woke up the rest of the members from their slumber.

“I say stop it, full stop. I am tired of listening as to how many slums have been removed, how many water and electricity connections given, etc. Has anybody taken note of what has been done except for some local newspapers which nobody reads anyway? I want action that focuses national and international attention on us. Look at Dharavi….”

The gale that hit the room was a 300km/hour tornado.

Before the chairman could say, “But Mr Minister”, the Minister thundered again: “Don’t talk of removing the slums again! Let us give more facilities to them. We will convert part of it to build a studio. Hire some dance masters who will train our slum children to dance in the rain, on the train, on hume pipes and in the middle of traffic. If Gulzar and Rahman are not available get some local chaps.”

This was a180-degree shift by the Minister.

“And you two! I don’t want you wasting your time supervising the works of the studio like some village mesthris. I want you to go to Hollywood. I understand you can hire directors there by the roadside who are cheaper than the suits or—what is it?—-yes, ‘Tux’ or something  worn for awards shows. Get them to direct a story of our slum. We have enough dogs in our slums. You also meet BAFTA, NAPHTA, Golden or Silver Globes. Are you with me?” the Minister barked at both of them.

“Yes, Sir,” was the duet.

“We don’t have enough time. Gandhi Nagar and Kodambakkam have enough writers spinning stories in local tea shops all day. We will get one of them to write a story. My wife will get somebody to stitch the costumes. You two make sure to sign up a gora to direct the film for us. Only that can get us awards and prizes. I will take care of funds. Some funds are always available under ‘emergencies’. I will ask CM to divert it to us.”

“Any questions?” demanded the Minister

“Sir, what will be our role?” squeaked one of the members.

“You will all get suitable roles, don’t worry. Make sure our slum children practice regularly before the final shots are taken. Some of you meet the TV channels and distribute pamphlets and make sure we get enough publicity. No, leave it—I will handle that myself. We should hit jackpot too. If Dharavi can do it, why can’t we? The only Oscar we hear around is Oscar Fernandes. We have to get the real Oscar too. I don’t mind taking a week off and going there to America. Jhuggi and Jhopad Patti, please realise we have to work as a team and no time to lose. Let’s start the work. Now!’

So ended the meeting of the slum clearance board.

MIDWEEK MASALA: Do not believe this sad rumour

25 February 2009

The Association of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Los Angeles-based organisation that hands out the Academy Awards also known as the Oscars™, has in an urgent press release clarified that there is no truth, no truth at all, no truth whatsoever in the cruel rumours floating around in Hyderabad that the entire Oscar ceremony held on Sunday night (US time), Monday morning (Indian Standard Time), has been cancelled, and that all the eight awards given to Slumdog Millionaire have been summarily withdrawn, because other contendors sought a recount of the votes when they heard that the votes had been counted by Price Waterhouse Coopers.

Also read: How much is two plus two? Don’t ask the auditors

How come media did not spot Satyam fraud?

CHURUMURI POLL: A Congress-BJP government?

24 February 2009

The general elections are clearly just days away from being announced, as a flurry of boastful and wasteful government advertisements in newspapers and on television seem to suggest, and one thing is becoming quite clear even before the Election Commission calls its media conference to announce the dates.

That barring a mammoth, unforeseen incident/event of monumental proportions, neither the Congress nor the BJP looks likely to reach the 272-figure on its own. Former Union minister Arun Nehru‘s back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the two parties will end up with 150 and 134 seats respectively and the regional parties will get around 260. Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu said recently that the two main parties will, together, not get 272. (They currently occupy 282 seats.)

Assuming that this—another “hung” parliament resulting in an “unstable” coalition government once again—is a bad thing, an even bigger indication of the shape of things to come is a slew of stories emanating from Delhi, resurrecting the idea of a “national” government, in which both the Congress and the BJP will be equal partners.

Former RSS ideologue K. Govindacharya suggested a “joint front” in Ahmedabad recently.

“I see the BJP as a saffron Congress. I also visualise seeing more corrupt and unstable governments. It is therefore best for the country if the BJP and Congress join hands to form the next government at the centre,” Govindacharya, who fell out with the BJP, said.

Now, Rajat Sharma, former media advisor to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the bossman of India TV, has revealed that he is party to fresh moves to form a “grand alliance” between the Congress and the BJP, and that it has the approval of “at least two powerful leaders of Congress and the BJP who spoke to me”.

“Both Congress and the BJP have run coalition governments. Both have been badgered by their allies. Both know what it feels to grin and bear it. So, the formula has re-emerged from this pain. The two major leaders who spoke to me in great detail recently are convinced that this formula would work. Above all, they see it in overall national interest.”

Questions: Is a coming together of such sworn political enemies possible? Is it a good idea or a bad dream? Will it work? Will it last? Are our so-called “national” parties incapable of ever coming to power on their own again? Is a “grand alliance” in the national interest or in the self-interest of the two main parties? Do voters place their trust in regional parties, in the full knowledge of the inherent dangers of instability, because of their trust in them or because of their distrust of the so-called “national” parties?

Read the full articles: A Congress-BJP government?

Rajat Sharma: My enemy’s enemy

Also read: Poll straws point again to a ‘hung’ parliament

CHURUMURI POLL: Who will win 2009 poll?

Why A.R. Rahman is India’s first global rock star

24 February 2009

S.R. RAMAKRISHNA writes from Bangalore: Many say A.R. Rahman‘s music for Slumdog Millionaire is “noisy but nice”. That phrase could come in useful when you look at his oeuvre as a whole, and try to put in perspective what he has come to represent to his fans in India.

In 1997, when India turned 50, Rahman gave Vande Mataram a new, aggressive musical interpretation.

A year on, Kargil fund-raisers used the song extensively at their shows.

His style won appreciation from the unlikeliest quarters: Swapan Dasgupta, then columnist for India Today, felt the young composer had finally freed the song from “Nehruvian distortions” by setting it to an attacking tune. Another columnist, Tavleen Singh, said Rahman’s song was the only cheering item at the 50th year Independence Day celebrations in Delhi.

Rahman’s fame seems to come from his ability to package Indian music for an audience slowly drifting away from an idiom rooted in its classical and folk music.

Perhaps his work represents the aggression of a post-liberalisation generation that’s largely sceptical about Gandhian pacifism. You may have noticed that Rahman is strong on rhythm, and his hit tunes are not usually touched by regret or sadness of any sort.

In Vande Mataram, Rahman is not awed by all the beauty Bankim Chandra celebrates—of the streams, the lush greenery and the grand mountains. He does not dwell in romantic subtlety. Rahman sees the song in military terms, and not as a prayer, as All India Radio’s interpretation does.

AlR has based its tune on Desh (‘country’), a raga that must have suggested itself when they set out to make a tune for a poem that almost became our national anthem. When he took up Vande Mataram, Rahman cut free of raga ornamentation and all the nostalgia it brings.

Rahman’s music may be no patch on what Naushad or Ilaiyaraja have accomplished, but remember, no one from their generation had got the world so excited.

Rahman is India’s first international rock star!

S.R. Ramakrishna is resident editor, MiD DaY, Bangalore, where this piece originally appeared

‘Aren’t our slum people the best in the world?’

24 February 2009

Tunku Varadarajan in The Times, London:

“Maybe it’s a result of 200 years of colonialism, but Indians are world champions at caring—really caring!—about what foreigners (more accurately, Westerners) think or say about them. They will live blithely with impressively foetid slums in their midst, thinking nothing of the juxtaposition of Victorian-era poverty and world-class, 21st-century living standards. But the national outrage stirred when a Western film-maker uses “slumdog” in the title of his film is an incandescent sight to behold.

“That foreigner’s neologism (“slumdog” doesn’t exist in real parlance in India, although gali ka kutta, or alley-dog, comes close) is thought to heap more shame on the land than the slums themselves. And yet when that same film, with that same neo-imperialist title, is fêted by tuxedoed Americans at an awards ceremony watched across the globe, Indians burst with pride.”

Read the full article: Aren’t our slum people the world’s best?

Also read: Why do we crave certificates from white men?

Yes, it’s true, Isai Puyal is the Mozart of Madras

23 February 2009

A consistent criticism A.R. Rahman has had to face, including from fans and friends who mean well, is that he is more of a sound engineer than a music composer.

In other words, he is good at dicing and slicing various sounds and tracks, and piecing them together at god forsaken hours in the privacy of his Madras studio, unlike the old maestros, like Ilayaraja, who did it all in one go. Which is why it was difficult to reproduce the same sounds in live concerts and orchestras.

A live concert in Dubai in the early 2000s proved otherwise, as this Rajnikanth number sung with magisterial command by S.P. Balasubrahmanyam shows.

Also read: How an Oscar winner ushered in a newspaper in Madras

Who wins, who loses in the great exchange offer?

23 February 2009

image0012ANANTH SHENOY writes: A big retailer in Mysore is running a ‘scheme’ for the public, offering to buy old rags for a prize! This has already been around in other cities already.

Turning rags to riches? Hold it, there is a catch.

The consumer will get not money in return but coupons of equivalent value which can only be redeemed with the retailer. Moreover, the consumer needs to buy four times the coupon amount to redeem it. Not for all categories, but select ones.

Is it a good offer?

Let’s consider this example. My friend wanted to value his old furniture which he had bought ages back for Rs 1,000. The big retailer’s agent told him that he would get a maximum of Rs 2,500. Appreciation for furniture? Maybe for rosewood or teak ones. Not for those made out of plywood and plastic. Once he got coupons worth Rs 2,500, he needed to buy stuff worth Rs 10,000 to avail a flat discount of 25% discount.

The retailers can value the junk as per the perceived size of the consumer’s wallet. The more the value assigned, the more the consumer has to spend. Instead of 25% flat discount for apparels, furniture and the like, this offer works better on the consumer’s psyche. Apart from that, the retailer gets back about 1-2% by sale of the rags to the scrap dealer.

Post-script: Inside information is that the scrap dealer is ready to make direct deals with those who do not want to accumulate those ‘wealth’ coupons!

The A.R. Rahman no one has yet told you about

23 February 2009

The genius of A.R. Rahman—-audible to South Indian music fans for 18 years now, and today globally heard thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is the full name of the organisation that issues the golden statuettes called the Oscars™—has been remarkable for how little is known about the craft of the man.

How does he create the sounds that so few music composers have? How does he pick unheard-of singers and thrust them into the limelight? How does he record? How many takes and retakes does he do? How many members of his orchestra are around? How much of a perfectionist is he? How much of a strict stentorian?

These and other trivia, of such great interest to music fans but so artfully hidden from the world, come through in two Jaya TV interviews with singers Karthik and Benny Dayal who had the good fortune of being picked up from the crowd by Rehman and having the first of their millions coming their way. And in the third, S.P. Balasubrahmanyam reveals a little known facet about a very, very famous song.

A.R. Rahman: Our greatest music composer ever?

22 February 2009

He defied the traditional force of film gravity and took South Indian music to the North. He gained acceptance among Hindi audiences despite not knowing the language himself. He created music with the best of the west. As a true child of liberalisation (Roja was made in 1991), he democratised music by rendering the monopolists obsolete. He uncorked a fresh, unending torrent of talent, and unleashed the kind of voices and sounds never before heard.

And he has done it all like Sachin Tendulkar, without once putting a foot wrong.

For a man of such singular talent, is Allah Rakha Rahman India’s greatest ever film music composer ever? Greater than Ilayaraja and M.S. Viswanathan, S.D. Burman and R.D. Burman, Laxmikant and Pyarelal? And is Oscar night, 22 February 2009, going to be the most important night of his life?

Also read: The best Indian theme music of all time. Period.

A good dosa is like your first love: unsurpassable

21 February 2009

Can you count the number of dosas about to be served at one glance?

Those who have migrated out of Bangalore will eternally argue about the merits of the benne dosa as served in Vidyarthi Bhavan over those served at Central Tiffin Room. Others will slurp with nostalgia when speaking about the idli their father got for them from Veena Stores.

Whatever the debate, at least one thing is certain: those lucky to have eaten in such temples as Brahmins Tiffin Room or Central Tiffin Room know what a good idli is—or for that matter, a dosa, whether plain or masala.

Ratna Rao Shekar, editor of Housecalls, the “longest running magazine for doctors“—and “a connoisseur of the idli just as some are of wine and caviar”—in her quest for the perfect idli and dosa finds her way to Bangalore’s old eateries where idli and dosa have their own geography, chemistry and mathematics.



Just as we are eternally looking for that approximation of our first love—that girl in pigtails on the bus, or the boy with long eyelashes who sat in the back bench of the class but shone radiantly like a sharp ray of the sun—we, it turns out, will for the rest of our lives be looking for that perfect dosa or idli that we ate when we were children in a small street in Malleswaram or Gandhi Bazaar in Bangalore.

Since this is oftentimes only an ideal, like first love which is more imagination than reality, every idli that you eat later falls short of expectation. Either the idlis are like rocks that could be flung at an enemy, or the dosas are more like the ‘choppaties’ of the north, chewy and rubbery.

After a recent eating binge in Bangalore accompanied by those who know about these things, old-time friends who have grown up and aged in these parts, I am now convinced that the best idli and dosa can be had in the Silicon City. And the surprising thing is that this can be done at no great cost.

At Rs 6 an idli and Rs 20 a dosa, you do feel they would at least save on the paper on which such bills are scribbled.

I would like to call these places restaurants, but restaurants require certain standards to deserve their qualification. Some of the eateries like the old Central Tiffin Room (CTR), now called Sri Sagar, in 7th Cross of Margosa Road in Malleswaram are so dark and dingy that you need a torch to see where you are going.

Vidyarthi Bhavan in Gandhi Bazaar has scaled its lighting in its efforts to modernize, but to bright tubelights. At 6.30 in the morning, when the first acolytes are arranging themselves on the narrow benches in anticipation of that dosa that is to die for, that light is rather harsh on the soul. Even if the dosa and potato sagu is heaven on the tongue.

The seating has simple wooden tables and chairs with marble or formica tops and there is no maître here to usher you to your tables. AT CTR and Vidyarthi, it’s best you make your way to a table as fast as you can, or you will be standing until eternity watching all those dosas flurrying past you.

In fact, courtesies of any kind are to be dispensed with in these places.

At CTR, for instance, we stood near the cashier—who sat with an array of gods in the background and a simple cash book in front of him—and kept a hawk’s eye on those on the verge of finishing their dosa or puri and sagu so we could swoop in on the table even before they finished paying the bill.

Worse, in these eateries that seat no more than 50 people at a go, there are no such things as exclusive tables for a group or family. We were eating our dosa and rava idli silently (there is no room here to conduct conversations on current topics of interest such as terrorist attacks or rising prices) when the head of a family seated his oldest child next to us, while he sidled to an adjacent table loudly ordering a plate of dosa for his daughter and piping hot coffee for himself.

In Vidyarthi Bhavan we were lucky to find a table quickly, and waited anxiously for our dosa. Since the bill of fare itself is just dosa (plain and masala), vada, khara and kesari bhath, coffee and tea, the waiter does not even need to repeat your order after taking it down. He knows that most people come to Vidyarthi for the dosas.

It is practically understood that you have arrived here at this early hour (we were there at 7 a.m.) for the Vidyarthi dosa. And the dosa arrives, after a good 15 minutes, not only for us but for a whole lot of others around us who are salivating by this time.

The waiter, a veshti-clad gentleman who comes with a stack of dosas neatly balancing himself and the plates, flings a dosa each on our plates and on those of others sitting at tables around. The accompaniment is just a liquidy yellow-dal chutney that flows across the plate and submerges the dosa.

The dosa is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, the potato sagu unobtrusive on the tongue without too much of chillies or garlic. And it is made with ghee (or benne, as Kannadigas call it), not Saffola or any other oil that heart doctors recommend!

I was waiting for sambar as in other restaurants, when my companions, having already eaten half their dosa, urged me to start eating without further delay, as sambar was an alien concept at Vidyarthi and an import from neigbouring Tamil Nadu (with whom they were currently at war over language, water and other issues).

Vidyarthi, as its name suggests was started to cater to students in 1943 by two brothers Venkaramana and Parameshwara Ural from Udupi. In the 1970s  it was taken over by Ramakrishna Adiga whose son Arun Kumar now oversees operations.

The who’s who of the country have  eaten here, from scientist Sir M. Visvesvaraya, actor Raj Kumar, playwright Girish Karnad to cricket’s leg-spinner B.S. Chandrashekar. It is said that filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was so impressed with the eatery that he made a two-minute documentary for BBC on the dingy hall called Vidyarthi where at one time, when short of space, they would seat you in the kitchen itself!

How many dosas in a day do you serve, we ask the cashier.He tells us reluctantly (these are matters of some secrecy) that he serves around 1,000 dosas in a day on weekdays, and on weekends it goes up to at least 2,000.

In fact, when I arrived here on a Sunday I was literally told to go home as it was already 12 noon, and didn’t I know that Vidyarthi closes at 12 on weekends (and in fact by 11 on weekdays)? No, I did not, though many others who looked suspiciously like Kannadigas from Santa Clara and Palo Alto seemed to know both timings and the menu, from the satisfied look on their faces at having consumed their Sunday’s worth of dosa and coffee.

The interesting thing about these eateries is their timing, which can even put the precise Germans to shame. They open without fail by 6.30 or 7 in the morning, and by 11 or 12 are ready to go home.

S. Pradeep of Veena Stores on Margosa Road in Malleswaram wants to offer us something when we arrive at 11.30, but is unable to give us anything we ask for, whether idli or mere coffee, as everything has been sold out like tickets of a Karan Johar film. He does finally give us coffee, but says with an apology that it’s only Bru instant.

“Come tomorrow in the morning,” he says, sad that he could not offer any of the items from his famous store that has men in Malleswaram rushing here in the mornings to fill their steel tiffin carriers with idlis and chutney.


Favouritisation. Dynasticisation. Margaretisation.

21 February 2009

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I recently met the Ace Political Expert (APE) at one of the pubs.

Both men and women come here to sit quietly and have a drink and occasionally discuss the politicalisation of pubs by ministers frothing in the mouth in faraway Delhi.

This pub is not a Muslim joint on Church Street where Hindu sons of sons of sons of the soil zoom in on their ‘Hummers’ and demand dinner (or lunch) at 3.30 am.

APE was nursing his ‘Bloody Mary’ when he beckoned me to join him.

As he ordered my pet poison, I asked:  “Renuka Choudhury accuses BJP of Talibanisation in Mangalore. What is your take on that?”

“She has decided to start poll politics already. From ‘Saffronisation’, BJP has now been promoted to “fanning” Talibanisation in the country. So, in essence, BJP should make their claims to Swat from Taliban.”

“Is this kind of accusation good even before the elections bugles are sounded by chief election commissioner (CEC) N. Goplaswami, er, Navin Chawla?”

“I don’t know what Renuka should call this really. Probably “Favouritism” or “Favouritisation” in the EC. But then she is in a party which practices “Dynasticisation” and she dare not comment anything on that as a loyal congress worker.”

“She gave a clarion call to girls for a “Pub bharo” on Valentine’s Day similar to the call given by Gandhiji “Jail bharo” during freedom struggle?”

“Looking at such antics, the Mahatma must be squirming in his grave as to what is happening in the Congress and wondering whether the sacrifice by him and millions during freedom struggle was worth it all.”

Refilling his ‘Bloody Mary’, the Ape continued: “Let me make it clear, once and for all. What happened in Mangalore was wrong, especially women being targeted by members of a stupid organisation. The local administration should have handled it better. Period. But it is laughable and pathetic to see Renuka and her cronies going on and on like a stuck record on the same topic. The social welfare minister doesn’t hear, exploitation of children who ought to be in schools, for child-labour; she doesn’t see criminalization of women all over India, ill-treated, beaten up, killed for dowry deaths; she doesn’t utter a word against discrimination against women for jobs. All she can ‘Hear, See and Talk’ is only Talibanisation in Mangalore, till eternity or elections whichever comes first.”

“What do you think she expects for this virtuoso performance?”

“We have to wait and see till the elections. If the results are good, she will be rewarded suitably. If it boomerangs, she will have to face ‘Margaretisation’ of the Alva kind. Then we will see a dance drama of victimisation from her,” said the APE as we left the pub.

Neither in a temple or mosque, Kaaba or Kailash

20 February 2009


A festival of Kabir in Bangalore.

Monday, 23 February to Sunday, 1 March, 2009.

On the menu: screening of four musical documentaries by Shabnam Virmani, and three evenings of music and discourse from Fareed Ayaz, Mahesha Ram, Vidya Rao, Shafi Faqir, Prahlad Tipanya, Mukhtiyar Ali and Vijay Sardeshmukh. Plus folk music from Bhakti poets from Karnataka, lectures and conversations, art, exhibitions.

Visit: for details

Link via G.N. Mohan

Please God, protect us from your brave soldiers

20 February 2009

As if to prove that a cracked canine is running around biting hoodlums of the saffron and red kind, Karnataka medical education minister Ramachandre Gowda said on Wednesday that “modern art has become a medium for pseudo-intellectuals to insult ancient Indian culture.”

As always, the minister made it unnecessary for a psychoanalyst to be called in to interpret the pandemic with the use of the tell-all words: “modern art”, “pseudo”, “insult”, “ancient Indian culture”.


The Indian Express tears into the minister’s intolerance:

“We wonder why Gowda and his ilk invariably assume it’s their duty to defend the honour of “Indian culture”, of one antique variety or the other. More importantly, we ask why they assume ancient Indian culture needs to be defended, with the implication that it’s vulnerable enough against certain ideas and interpretations….

“The very right to free speech that Gowda asserted in his defence is the one that allows artists to express themselves. Why can’t Gowda and his ilk engage in an open conversation with “modern art”, and let the matter rest there regardless of the conclusions they draw, and without asking art to circumscribe itself within “cultural norms”?

“One of the first lessons the minister would draw would be that art’s raison d’etre is engagement with socio-psychological reality and tradition, and the reinterpretation of both for us. Every idea thereof, whether we agree with it or not, helps.”

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Read the full editorial: Thick red lines

Will they at least get some public transport now?

19 February 2009

KPN photo

In rural India id est Bharat, a “marriage party” is a potential mass funeral.

Large, powerful vehicles stuffed to the gills with people, at the hands of poorly trained, drunken drivers, ploughing through the darkness at high speeds, stage a morbid dance with death that ministers, bureaucrats, police officers, road engineers et al applaud with their silence.

Thursday, 19 February 2009, was the last for these one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, yes 16 people, who perished on “national highway” 63 at Veerapura village near Bellary, when their jeep hit a tree.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Look, who’s blasting the disgrace in Mangalore

19 February 2009


Not every member/ supporter of the saffron brotherhood, it seems, wants to turn the Mangalore pub disgrace into a predictable, boilerplate, caveman discussion on the threat to Indian/ Hindu values.

At least, not yet.

Former external affairs Jaswant Singh, currently the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, makes the following points in an interview with Mail Today:

“It [the assault on women in the pub by goons of the Sri Rama Sena] is an obscenity. Who gives them the moral right to police our society? It can only be possible in the absence of any understanding about our culture, ethos and liberal values.

“I cannot countenance efforts to Talibanise the Hindu society.

“If the minister [Renuka Choudhury] has objected to it, good for her. I am opposed to the government entering people’s bedrooms. And if women want to relax and have a drink, whose business and right is it to object.”

Pointing at beautiful paintings depicting female dancers in a spiritual trance and another of Menaka and Vishwamitra hung in his office walls inside Parliament House, Singh said the moral police are a “ killjoy”.

Extending his support to M.F. Husain, he said:

“ What do they have against beauty and art? Hinduism is not even a religion. It is a way of life that celebrates diversity, different views and ideas. Look at our ancient temples, our cave paintings and the wonderful depiction of different aspect of human existence. I cannot understand why Husain is being hounded. Have these so- called moral police seen the paintings and murals in our temples?

“Indian society is now being subjected to a Victorian, puritanical onslaught which was never its natural essence. We celebrated love and music. We did not frown upon alternative ideas of human existence. I don’t know where these moral guardians have sprung up from.”

Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu (digitally altered)

Also read: How girls pissing in their pants protect Hinduism

CHURUMURI POLL: Girls drinking beer not Hindu?

‘Let the moral police stop going to bars first’

Giving Lord Rama a good name 24 x 7 x 365

The Kannadiga jazz virtuoso creating waves

19 February 2009

400px-rudresh_mahanthappaWhen his elder brother gave him an album titled “Saxophone, Indian style” by Kadri Gopalnath, Rudresh Mahanthappa thought it was a joke.

Well, the joke is now on you, anna.

The “Kannadiga” born in Italy, brought up in Boulder, Colorado—“neither Indian, nor American”—is hitting the right notes with his saxophone in the United States, playing eventually with Gopalnath under the band name, Dakshina Ensemble.

Photograph: courtesy Sheldon Levy

Visit the website: Rudresh Mahanthappa

Listen to the music: Kinsmen on Myspace

Ours is not to ask why life ain’t a bed of roses

18 February 2009

KPN photo

It takes all types. T.V. Maruthi, chairman, Indian silk export promotion council, provides a demonstration of what the human body can endure, on top and down below, in Bangalore on Wednesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

GOOD NEWS: Karnataka beats AP, TN, Kerala

18 February 2009

India Today has a cover story on India’s richest politicians, compiled in conjunction with, an initiative of Liberty Institute, and by god, is it a revealing story?

In a country where over 77 per cent of the population, or an estimated 836 million people, earn Rs 20 per day and over 300 million are living below the poverty line…

India’s top-10 richest politicians, compiled on the basis of declarations made to the Election Commission, includes five worthies from Karnataka: strike rate 50%.

Three of them are from the Congress, one each from BJP and JDS.

Anil H. Lad, Congress, Rajya Sabha member: total assets Rs 175 crore

M. Krishnappa, Congress MLA, Vijayanagar: Rs 136 crore

M.A.M. Ramaswamy, JDS RS member: Rs 107.7 crore

Anand Singh, BJP MLA, Vijayanagara: Rs 239 crore

N.A. Harris, Congress MLA, Shanti Nagar: Rs 85.3 crore

Amazingly, out of the 224 MLAs in the current legislative assembly in Karnataka, 116 are crorepatis. Strike rate:  51.7%.

By comparison, 71 out of Andhra Pradesh’s 294 MLs are crorepatis (strike rate: 24.14%), 31 out of Tamil Nadu’s 234 MLAs are crorepatis (strike rate: 13.2%), and only 5 out of Kerala’s 140 MLAs are crorepatis (strike rate: 3.5%).

D.K. Shiva Kumar, Congress MLA, Kanakapura: Rs 75.6 crore

Santosh S. Lad, Congress MLA, Kalghatgi: Rs 75.3 crore

Hemachandra D. Sagar, BJP MLA, Chickpet: Rs 55 crore

Shamanur Shivashankarappa, Congress MLA, Davanagere: Rs 45.3 crore

H.D. Kumaraswamy, JDS MLA, Ramanagaram: Rs 39 crore

N.S. Nandisha Reddy, BJP MLA, K.R. Pura: Rs 36.2 crore

J. Krishna Palemar, BJP MLA, Mangalore City North: Rs 35 crore


How is a State, which ranks below the other three southern States on most parameters and human development indices, soaring head and shoulders above the competition in the rich scales?

If these are numbers only for public consumption—to humour the babus of the election commission, as it were—what must the true, unvarnished wealth of the State’s representatives be?

Is the wise voter really concerned with these obscene numbers, beyond their voyeuristic value, that is?

Hopefully, “Operation Kamala” will put an end to this?

Also read: Dabbu dabbu dabbu dot namma election dot com

Everybody is stark naked in the public bathroom

How to grow your assets by 81,465%? Ask him.

A CPM candidate’s assets jump by 7,393 per cent

‘Only a Third Alternative can truly liberate India’

17 February 2009

Elections are around the corner and CNN-IBN has launched a micro-site to bring home the colour and chaos of the most cacophonic regime-change in the world.

Kicking off proceedings is H.D. Deve Gowda. The former prime minister from Haradanahalli has had a tempestuous relationship with the media, but realises its power.

With rumours of Gowda not-so-secretly nursing ambitions of taking up temporary residence of 7, Race Course Road once again  should the two main alliances fall short, the “humble farmer” has sat down to actually pen a blog as part of his image management.

Below is the full text, reproduced with the kind courtesy of CNN-IBN.




I will be fighting my 14th general election in the next two months.

I entered politics as far back as 1959 and fought and won my first assembly election in 1962. I have won 7 assembly elections and 5 Parliament elections in the last 50 years. It is also true that I lost two elections (assembly polls in 1989 and Lok Sabha polls in 1999).

I am happy with my success rate in electoral politics.

You may wonder why this old man, a son of a poor farmer from Haradanahalli in Hassan district, is talking about his background and bygone times.

I consider myself both fortunate and unfortunate.

I am fortunate because I entered politics in the good old days of the late 1950s and early ’60s. People and political parties still had respect for democratic institutions. Money, caste and muscle power were not playing any significant role in the polls.

Because of that son of a poor farmer (my father had just 4 acres of land) and a civil engineer (I was the sole bread winner of a family 8-9 people) was able to defeat the most formidable Congress as an Independent MLA. Rest is history.

I feel sad because of the slow death of democratic institutions and people’s indifferent attitude towards ploitics. The criminalisation of politics is the biggest worry of old timers like me. These days people without crores of rupees to throw at voters and their party workers can’t even imagine winning a seat in a local gram panchayath polls.

Money and muscle power supported by caste is an axis of evil. It is a lethal combination.

All political parties have failed the people of this great country. Bigger parties must take major chunk of the blame. Institutions conceived and established by our founding fathers have been turned into dens of opportunism, nepotism, corruption and favouritism.

The coalitions, which once gave political stability and leadership to the nation have become marriages of convinience and made and broken at will by auctioneers who sell their support to the highest bidder.

Attempts are being made to fiddle with the federal character of the constitution and India. The regional sentiments and aspirations are sought to be muzzled with the concept of bipolar polity, which has no relevance whatsoever in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious country.

L.K. Advani who always talks about bi-polar politics must know that India is one country and many worlds. It is not monolithic in nature and a two party system has no place here.

I have always been a leader of the farmers and villagers. I am one among them and proudly say that I am also a farmer. My committments to the rural mass is unquestionable. Out of total 547 MPs in the Lok abha, the farmers and villagers elect nearly 400 MPs. But, nobody talks about farmers and their miserable conditions.

Government has time for everything else. But, the farmers get the least attention of all.

The economic boom has brough both advantages and disadvantages. It is true that it has generated millions of new jobs and created a new economy. But, the same economic boom has deprived of the majority poor of its benefits. It has made them poorer.

The disparity is growing and I am worried that it would lead to a massive social unrest in the coming days.

The rich of the country seem to have forgotten their social obligations in their greed for money and power. It may have short-term gains. But, it will be disastrous in the long term.

I myself have been witnessing this dramatic and not so happy change in my own surroundings. Once a calm, serene hill station of Bangalore has now become an important international business centre. It has become a booming metroplitan city in just 20 years. But, a few rich and powerful people have pocketed the benefits of this boom.

The same thing is happenning all over the country.

India today stands at the crossroads. Both the ruling UPA and its predecessor NDA have miserably failed to deliver and put India back on the right track of development. It is only the Third Alternative, which can liberate India from this political, economic and social anarchy.

Only a Third Alternative with credible regional political parties can apply soothing or healing balm to hurt regional aspirations and wounded sentiments.

The two major national parties Congress and BJP have caused havoc in the country and they have no respect for the diversity of India. They have humiliated the majority of people and have become authoritarian and unilateral. My party has been maintaining equidistance from both the Congress and BJP.

The Lok Sabha polls 2009 are going to be decisive in many ways. The smallers parties are now disillusioned with both the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA. These parties (the third alternative) are going to play the most crucial role in the formation of next government at the Centre.

BJP’s (and NDA’s) prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani will find himself miles away from the Prime Minister’s chair on the day of results. The ruling UPA will also be faced with the same or similar situation.

I hope and pray that our great nation will get a better government, which can find solutions and answers to the problems and questions of a billion people. I am a firm believer and have a great faith in the Karma philosophy.

As Lord Krishna says, “I do my Karma and leave everything else to the God.”

May God bless India and her children.

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Deve Gowda

Once upon a time, a 50’X50′ site for 50 rupees!

17 February 2009

Prof A.V. Narasimha Murthy, former head of the department of ancient history of the University of Mysore, and chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mysore, in Star of Mysore:

“The year 1940, after the Ugadi of that year; I was following my grandfather Mahavidwan Ardikoppam Subramanya Sastri who had a string of titles like Mimamsa Bhaskara, Mimamsa Shiromani etc. He was a highly respected person in the Mysore Palace and in Sanskrit circles being the Professor of Mimamsa (a traditional subject) at the Maharaja’s Sanskrit College located at the end of the Hundred feet Road (now Chamaraja double road)….

“The Deputy Commissioner came from the opposite direction on a horseback.

“He stopped near my grandfather and greeted him with a namaskara with great reverence. He said: ‘The Savari (Maharaja) has decided to form a new layout called Saraswathipuram to provide house sites for scholars. It is our desire that you buy a house site and build a new house.’

“My grandfather laughed and said, ‘Sir, we are Pandits and the house provided to us at the Deveerammanni and other agraharas are quite comfortable. My house is very near to the college and Palace. Why do I require a site in far off Saraswathipuram?’

“But the Commissioner insisted.

“Finally my grandpa asked: ‘What is the price?’

“‘Sir, it is Rs 50 for a site of 50x 50 feet’,” the reply came.

“My grandfather exclaimed, ‘Oh! my god, Rs 50! Where can I bring that big amount.’

“Pat came the reply, ‘Sir, you may pay in instalments.’

“Sastriji took out five silver coins of one rupee each and gave him as advance. The deal was finalised and my grandfather built a house in third cross in Saraswathipuram and named it ‘Sharada Viharam‘.

“On the day of the grihapravesha the Maharaja sent a presentation of jari dhoti, silk saree in a silver plate embossed with the royal insignia of gandabherunda.”


In picture (above), A.V. Rama Murthy, younger brother of A.V. Narasimha Murthy, poses in front of Sharada Viharam. Below, the Sanskrit nameplate on top of the house.

Also read: Once upon a time in Saraswathipuram

Saraswathipuram Andava: cuppu, conu, ballsu