Posts Tagged ‘The Guardian’

‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

9 June 2011

On the 10th anniversary of his passing away, The Guardian, London, has a long piece on the legendary creator of the fictional town of Malgudi, R.K. Narayan, with churumuri‘s own Sunaad Raghuram quoted in it.

churumuri‘s 2006 campaign for keeping Narayan’s memory alive in Mysore, by renaming a Mysore-Madras train as Malgudi Express, connecting the two cities Narayan was connected with, also finds passing mention.

“There is at least one place in Mysore where you can put your finger on the elusive RKN – at his former home, up in the northern suburb of Yadavagiri. It was built to his own specifications in the late 1940s.

“The area, then rustic and isolated, is now a leafy street in a pleasantly breezy uphill location, but the house stands empty and rather forlorn, with a look of out-of-date modernity – two storeys, cream-coloured plaster, with a stoutly pillared verandah on the first floor.

“The idiosyncratic touch is a semi-circular extension at the south end of the house, like the apse of a church. On the upper floor of this, lit by eight windows with cross-staved metal grilles, he had his writing room.

“It had such a splendid view over the city – the Chamundi Hill temple, the turrets and domes of the palace, the trainline below the house – that he had to curtain the windows, “so that my eyes might fall on nothing more attractive than a grey drape, and thus I managed to write a thousand words a day”.

“A few hundred yards up the street stands the smart Hotel Paradise. The manager is Mr Jagadish, a courteous and slightly mournful man with a neat grey moustache. He knew Narayan in the 1980s, when he would sometimes dine at the hotel with his equally famous younger brother, the Times of India cartoonist, R.K. Laxman.

“I ask what he was like, but it is Laxman who stands out in his memory. Laxman was “very funny”, and had opinions about everything, but Narayan was “more serious”. He was a modest man, he didn’t “blow his trumpet”.

“Sometimes, says Mr Jagadish, he has guests who ask him: “Where is Malgudi?” He laughs and taps the side of his head. For a moment I think he is giving an answer to the question – that Malgudi was all inside one man’s head – but what he means, of course, is that the question is daft.

“Narayan was asked it many times, and ducked it in a variety of ways. One of his more enigmatic answers was this – “Malgudi is where we all belong, and where we wish we lived.”

Read the full tribute: Rereading R.K. Narayan

Illustration: courtesy James Fennelly/ Adelphi University, New York

R.K. Laxman/ The Tribune, Chandigarh

Also read: R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY: As Mysorean as Mysore pak, Mysore mallige

ARUNDHATI ROY: Why I said what I said

26 October 2010


I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir.

I said what millions of people here say every day.

I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years.

Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice.

I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.

Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice.

I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get insaf—justice—from India, and now believed that azadi—freedom— was their only hope.

I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I traveled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.

In the papers some have accused me of giving ‘hate-speeches’, of wanting India to break up.

On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians.

It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one.

Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.

Photograph: courtesy The Guardian

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Arundhati guilty of sedition?

Hopefully, the Cochin team will do the needful

31 March 2010

Kanishk Tharoor in The Guardian, London, on the preponderance, rather the monopoly of “white” cheer girls in the Indian Premier League:

“The choice made by IPL organisers in this regard suggests, first, the unsettling marketing conclusion that Indians really just want to see white skin. Second, and perhaps more troubling still, it suggests a quiet acquiescence to the view of the conservative elements of society that Indian women are somehow more sacred and less carnal than their western counterparts.

“Not for them the tight tops and bared thighs of IPL cheerleading. Just like the licentious foreign woman, the idea of the modest Indian woman is closer to fiction than truth. It is the kind of fantasy that animates attacks on girls who had the “audacity” to have a drink at a pub (as happend in Mangalore last year). It is an ideal that masks the sexual violence perpetrated against Indian women on a daily basis.”

Read the full article: Cheerleaders shame Indian cricket

Image: courtesy Satish Vijaykumar, via H. Natarajan

Are “Shining” Indians supersensitive to criticism?

15 March 2010

At least in one Nobel laureate’s book, Indians are an argumentative lot.

But, have we, as a people, become too uncritical of our failures, too unquestioning of the advertising—and “super-sensitive to any hint of criticism”—as we wallow in the warm afterglow of the spectacular strides made by our moon  missions, IT companies, GDP growth rate, Bollywood successes etc?

Yes, says the Pakistani commentator Irfan Husain.

“I spent the other evening at the Karachi Boat Club in the company of a European who has spent a long time in the region, and knows South Asia well, having lived in Pakistan and India for several years,” he writes in The Dawn. When I asked him how it felt to be back in Pakistan after being away for a few years in New Delhi, his answer came as a surprise.

“As we have known each other for fifteen years, he had no need to be polite: ‘It feels great to be back,’ he replied. ‘You have no idea how difficult day-to-day life is in New Delhi.

Apart from the awful traffic, the pollution, and the expense, you have to put up with the prickliness of most Indians you meet. They are touchy to the point of paranoia. There is a lot of very aggressive poverty in the air. And when the New Delhi airport opens, we’ll have to brace ourselves for yet another self-congratulatory blast.

What is truly shocking is how little the well-off Indians care about the poor’.”

Husain talks glowingly of India’s “brilliant software engineers, its talented scientists, its outstanding cricketers and its artistes”. But, consumed by the “India Shining” myth, we seem to bury our heads, ever so willingly, when confronted with all the bonechilling social issues staring us in the face.

Husain quotes Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian‘s South Asia correspondent, who has just returned to London after a spell of six years on the subcontinent.

“In my six years there, it was hard not to be infected by the hubris of India….

“Whether I was visiting a rural police station where half-naked men were hung from the ceiling during an interrogation, or talking to the parents of a baby bulldozed to death in a slum clearance, the romance of India’s idealism was undone by its awful daily reality.

“The venality, mediocrity and indiscipline of its ruling class would be comical but for the fact that politicians appeared incapable of doing anything for the 836 million people who live on 25 pence a day….

“India is perhaps the most unequal country on the planet, with a tiny elite engorged on the best education, biggest landholdings and largest incomes. Those born on the bottom rungs of the social hierarchy suffer a legacy of caste bigotry, rural servitude and class discrimination.

Indians have much to be proud of, writes Husain. But by focusing only on their country’s achievements, the danger is that they will lose sight of the huge problesms that still exist.

“Friends who point out these failings do not do so out of a sense of malice, but out of concern.”

Read the full articles: Irfan Husain: Don’t shoot the messenger

Randeep Ramesh: A passage to world power

CHURUMURI POLL: An Oscar for Shah Rukh Khan?

12 February 2010

1) A superhit film* centred around 9/11. 2) Distributed by Hollywood biggie, Fox Searchlight. 3) A protagonist with Asperger’s Syndrome. 4) A mainstream film starring a Muslim which tackles anti-Islamic stereotypes. 5) A meeting with the president of the United States. 6) Bollywood’s biggest star who runs into trouble in his home country with the lunatic fringe in Bombay.

Will Shah Rukh Khan pip Aamir Khan and other aspirants (and ‘perspirants’) to become the first Indian star to bag an Academy Award for Majha Naam Khan?

* based on reviews: Hindustan Times, NDTV, The Guardian, DNA, Mid-Day, IBN Live, The Times of India

A satirist takes on the star of the millennium

19 June 2009

jug-suraiya amitabh_bachchan jug-suraiya amitabh_bachchan

amitabh_bachchan jug-suraiya amitabh_bachchan jug-suraiya

The reverberations of Amitabh Bachchan‘s blog comments on the Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire are now being felt in the “cesspool” of Indian journalism.

In his reaction to the movie, Bachchan wrote in January:

“If SM projects India as [a] third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations.”

That prompted a column in The Times of India by its in-house satirist Jug Suraiya on March 2.

Suraiya wrote that the reason people like Bachchan were angry with SM was not because it showed the world how pitifully poor India was, but because it revealed how culpable all of us were in the “continuance of poverty”.

“The real Slumdog divide is not between the haves and the have-nots; it’s between the hopers and the hope-nots: those who hope to cure the disease of poverty by first of all recognising its reality, and those who, dismissing it as a hopeless case, would bury it alive by pretending it didn’t exist.”

All very harmless, boilerplate stuff, but a month later, on April 3, Bachchan chose to respond to Suraiya with a long rejoinder that attacked the journalist.

I accuse the journalist Jug Suraiya of failing his professional ethical code of conduct by means of wilful error in the collection of facts…. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself, not only as a professional journalist, but as a human being too. Mere opinion and ill-supported prejudice are contemptible in both species.

“My blog did not ‘spark off the current round of controversy on India’s poverty’… Nor am I ashamed of anything about my country. I may be highly critical in judgement, as any citizen of any nation should be, of the society to which I hold allegiance. In this light, I do not find that material poverty in India is ‘a terrible family secret’ as Jug Suraiya alleges.”

Now, Suraiya has hit back in the latest issue of Magna Carta, the in-house newsletter of the Magna group of publications, which had carried Bachchan’s rejoinder.

(Magna owns the movie magazine Stardust, which led a 15-year-long boycott of Bachchan at the prime of his career.)

In a letter addressed to the Magna group’s proprietor Nari Hira, Jug Suraiya writes:

“The newsletter said there was an ‘eerie silence’ from the press to Bachchan’s rejoinder. This is not quite true. The Guardian newspaper, which Bachchan had cited along with my column, has I am told done a detialed rejoinder to his rejoinder.

“In my case, I did not choose so much to maintain an ‘eerie silence’ as to exercise my option of fastidious disdain: I hold Bachchan beneath my contempt and shall not dignify him with an answer to his rantings (which, I am told, are written for him by an ex-journalist hack).”

Suraiya recounts meeting Bachchan years ago in Calcutta. He says he greatly enjoyed his performances and complimented him on them.

“Since then, of course, he has become an international celebrity who uses his iconic status to endose any and all products from gutka paan masala to cement, cars to suiting. There is a word for such indiscriminate commercial promiscuity. I leave it to you to figure out what it is.

“This together with his much-publicised ritualised religiosity makes him an object of scorn for me, all the more so in that he is, regettably, a role model for so many people of all ages, in India and elsewhere.”

Photograph: courtesy The Times of India

Also read: How Big B has pushed India to a regressive low

Before the slumdogs, the mahout millionaire

What did Pattabhi Jois have that PVN did not?

6 June 2009

Journalism, it is said in jest, is basically about letting readers who did not know that a certain somebody was alive that a certain somebody is dead. Even by that morbid yardstick, it can be said that our celebrity-obsessed, hit-and-run media does a pretty bad job of saluting the good and the great who pass into the ages.

The ashtanga yoga legend K. Pattabhi Jois passed away in Mysore on 18 May 2009 at the age of 94.

Yet all he got from the Star of Mysore was a couple of paragraphs and six from the newspaper of record, The Hindu. None of the others fared any better: The Times of India with an “edition” in Mysore and Bangalore ran an AFP screed; Deccan Herald had all of 247 words. had a slideshow.

Possibly because of his long association with the West, possibly because of the Hollywood actors and singers who were disciples, Pattabhi Jois got a fair deal from the foreign papers. The New York Times ran a full obituary as indeed did The Daily Telegraph, London, and there were six paragraphs in The Guardian.

Now, The Economist, whose obituary page is a must-read, has run a obit on Jois, which we publish here in full sans permission, to underline the point that if you do not where you come from, you will never know where to go. Then again, The Economist, despite being a mouthpiece of capitalism, did not run the obituary of P.V. Narasimha Rao.


One sure sign that yoga has entered the mainstream of Western society, or at least the urbane bits of it, is that its practitioners have splintered into separate and sometimes competitive tribes. In spas, resorts and studios from Byron Bay, Australia to Big Sur, California, and wherever else one might expect Priuses on the roads and organic kale on the tables, the question is less likely to be “Do you do yoga?” than simply “Ashtanga or Iyengar?”

If the answer is Ashtanga, that has everything to do with Pattabhi Jois—“Guruji”, as his disciples called him. The word Ashtanga, “eight limbs”, originally meant the eight stages yogis must traverse to reach enlightenment, only one of which, asana or “postures”, is the sort of thing Westerners associate with yoga. But used in Mr Jois’s way, which is how most Westerners understand it now, Ashtanga meant stretching, balancing and swinging to the relentless rhythm set by a little, smiling, potbellied man in an undershirt and Calvin Klein shorts, crying “Ekam, inhale! dve, exhale! trini, inhale! catavari, exhale!”, until every member of the class was breathing like Darth Vader and running with rivers of sweat.

This was just how Mr Jois liked it. The intense internal heat generated by his sort of yoga was meant to purify and cleanse the body. For him, yoga was “99% practice and 1% theory”, as he liked to say in his squeaky, mischievous voice. Though he was the son of a Brahmin priest, and knew the teachings, anyone asking him for deeper philosophy would get a smirk in reply, or a scrap of his famously broken English. Why, for instance, did he insist that one must enter the Lotus position right leg first? “Practice and all is coming,” Mr Jois would say, and leave it at that.

He disdained the fastidious and perfectionist alignment of postures that some of his rivals practised in chilly yoga studios. He scorned Iyengar, the careful and medicinal branch of the art which, like his, arrived in the West in the 1960s, in which middle-aged ladies spent an eternity studying how to spread their toes properly while standing, before building complex poses with straps, blocks and chairs. His Ashtangis were younger and fitter, more likely to have Om tattoos and rippling shoulder muscles, and to start their exercises with a chant of “Guruji!” to a portrait of him pinned up on the wall.

His yoga poses came in sets and sequences that never varied. Do the same sets again and again, Mr Jois believed, and the body would, over time, supply its own grace. The poses did not change when he taught his daughter’s son, whom he was grooming to carry on the tradition after losing one son to death and growing distant from another. Nor did they vary for new, pale, stiff arrivals from the West at his school in Mysore, in India; nor for the Hollywood celebrities, from Madonna to Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow, who made the pilgrimage to catch Guruji on one of his world tours.

What changed was only how many of the six sequences—in theory, one for each day of the yoga week—the student was able and allowed to do. Each set had a theme, and they got harder and harder. The first, with many forward bends, was cleansing and calming; the second, with lots of back bends, was stimulating, and so on. The later ones were otherworldly in their contortions. It was said that only a handful of people could do all six.

Mr Jois first saw these yoga postures performed in one connected sequence in the 1920s, when he was 12. He was watching a demonstration by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, a charismatic guru who would teach all the principal yogis who later brought yoga to the West. Electrified, he became Krishnamacharya’s student the next day. His teacher made him start at daybreak, with sun salutations towards the east until he was sweaty and hot. Then followed postures, shoulderstands, headstands, deep breathing in the Lotus position and meditative rest. Strong, flexible and easily bored, the boy had found a discipline that challenged him.

After running away from his village with two rupees in his pocket, Mr Jois eventually managed to study at Mysore and then began to pass on what he had learnt. At first he taught in obscurity, in one small room with a grubby carpet, and only other Brahmin men. But from the late 1960s onwards, as the perfume of joss sticks drifted over Western civilisation, yoga caught on there too. A hippie fan brought him to California for a visit in 1975, and his fame spread.

Among his followers, Mr Jois inspired a cultish devotion. But his students were not unaware of their teacher’s contradictions. What had happened, for example, to the yogic principle of ahimsa, non-violence? A good number of Mr Jois’s students seemed constantly to be limping around with injured knees or backs because they had received his “adjustments”, yanking them into Lotus, the splits or a backbend. And what about the yogic principle of brahmacharya, sexual continence? Women followers, it was said, received altogether different adjustments from the men. Most mysteriously, why had Mr Jois himself apparently stopped practising his sort of yoga decades ago? Was that another instance of the wisdom of the East?

Courtesy: The Economist, London

Also read: Yoga guru Pattabhi Jois is dead. RIP.

Jois at work: ‘Bad lady, why forgetting Bakasana?’

At the pearly gates in dhoti, vibhuti, pump shoes

All that you wanted to know about Aravind Adiga

16 October 2008

There’s nothing like a nice little surprise. And a nice little surprise this week is a Madras-born, Mangalore-bred, Tamil-loving, Kannada-speaking former journalist who has studied at Oxford, Princeton and is all of 33 years of age walking away with the Booker Prize for his debut novel, The White Tiger.

But who exactly is Aravind Adiga?

He tells the Madras edition of The Times of India today:

“I was born in Madras, in a clinic on Poonamallee High Road, not far from where my grandfather, Mohan Rau, owned a nursing home and a mansion (the latter still stands). My mother, who grew up in Madras, spoke Tamil fluently. But the language spoken inside my house was Kannada, as my ancestors had come from Udupi, in Karnataka.

“When I was six, and before I could learn Tamil at school, my father decided to relocate to Mangalore.  My mother was never happy out of Chennai; she kept our house in Mangalore noisy with MGR films and Tamil songs; and her happiest moments came when she met someone with whom she could talk Tamil. For years, she (and I) clung on to a desperate hope that my father would go back to Chennai. My mother did make it back to Chennai, but not as she and I had hoped: in January 1990, she was admitted to the Cancer Institute in Chennai, and died there.”

But the media reaction to Adiga’s Booker has been relatively tepid, compared to the over-the-top reception to Arundhati Roy‘s Booker (The God of Small Things) and Salman Rushdie‘s (Midnight’s Children).

So, what exactly is this book that this “Kann-Adiga” has written that has fetched him this huge prize?


Were you expecting to win the Booker?

I thought I would be out partying in Soho by now (Sydney Morning Herald)

In a line, describe your book.

It’s the story of a man’s quest for freedom; and of the terrible cost of that freedom (Financial Times). It revolves around the great divide between those Indians who have made it and those who have not (Agence France Presse).

What was the idea?

It’s an attempt to catch the voice of the men you meet as you travel through India — the voice of the colossal underclass — without sentimentality or portraying them as mirthless, humourless weaklings as they are usually (New York Times). It was important for me to present someone from this colossal underclass, which is perhaps as big as 400 million, and to do so without sentimentality (The Daily Telegraph).

What was the inspiration?

What struck me when I went back to Delhi was all the poor people coming daily on the train from the villages. When they get off they are as completely lost as I was when I went to (Sydney) and New York and when I came to London. A person like me, my equivalent in India, treats the people who have got off the train quite badly and it reminded me of how I’ve been treated in the past (SMH).

Did your subjects have any reservations talking to you?

One of them spoke for sometime and became angry. He said, ‘You are listening to me and wasting my time. You will go back to Delhi and forget about me, this is why I don’t talk to people like you.’ So I remembered him and when I went back to Delhi I didn’t forget him. (The Australian)

Was it easy?

A book like this is as much an exercise in masochism as anything else. I am very much a part of the things I am attacking and it is not fun to write it necessarily (The Hindu).

How will winning the award change your life?

It won’t change much, because I live in Bombay, and life in Mumbai has a way of reminding you that writers are not particularly important. It won’t mean anything to my neighbours, they won’t know about this. Life will continue (The Telegraph, Calcutta).

Why did you dedicate the book to Delhi when you live in Bombay?

It’s a city that’s going to determine the future of India (The Hindu).

How does a novel like The White Tiger, which throws light on the “dark side of India” resonate with an India on the move?

There is a lot of triumphalist noise in India today. There is a sense of profound economic achievement and much of it is justified, but it is also important to listen to other noises. Something extraordinary is happening between the rich and the poor. Once, there was at least a common culture between rich and poor, but that has been eroded, and people have noted that (Booker media conference).

You studied literature at Columbia and then at Oxford. Why did you end up as a journalist?

It was a conscious choice to become a journalist. I went to Princeton for my PhD (but) I dropped out because I realised that if I was going to be a writer, I hadn’t seen much. I wanted to get out and see the world and not just geographically but also to be forced to talk to people I would not wish to talk to normally (The Australian).

What does it mean to be a bachelor in Bombay?

I describe myself as a ‘writer’, a category that doesn’t mean anything to the landlords of Bombay (The Guardian, London)

What’s your next novel?

India just teems with untold stories, and no one who is alive to the poetry, the anger and the intelligence of Indian society will ever run out of stories to write. I do want to write about people who haven’t been written about, and there’s a lot of them in India still. (AFP)

Photograph: Aravind Adiga in the 10th standard (courtesy Mid-Day)

‘Obama is the change America has tried to hide’

2 April 2008

Alice Walker on why she backs Barack Obama in The Guardian:

“I want a grown-up attitude to Cuba, for instance, a country and people I love. I want an end to the war immediately, and I want the soldiers to be encouraged to destroy their weapons and drive themselves out of Iraq. I want the Israeli government to be made accountable for its behaviour to the Palestinians, and I want the people of the US to cease acting as if they don’t understand what is going on. But most of all I want someone with the confidence to talk to anyone, “enemy” or “friend”, and this Obama has shown he can do.

“I can easily imagine Obama sitting down and talking to any leader – or any person – in the world, with no baggage of past servitude or race supremacy to mar their talks. I cannot see the same scenario with Hillary Clinton, who would drag into 21st-century US leadership the same image of white privilege and distance from others’ lives that has so marred the country’s contacts with the rest of the world.”

Read the full article: Obama is the change America has tried to hide