Sunday, October 28, 2007

Just Another Day in the Newsroom

Newspaper offices seem to attract really weird people, apart from crazy employees. My office is especially so. Express has always had this tradition of keeping its doors open for all and sundry to walk in. And walk in they do. A lot of days, there are really needy people who come in with appeals, hoping an article in the newspaper will turn their life around. It is at such times that you feel so helpless. I would get to see a lot of those when I was in the general reporting section.

There are people who come in and literally demand that we write about them. We once had a girl call the office and claim that she could change the shape of her face to look like actresses with the help of get this, mathematics! No, don’t ask me to explain this, it was that crazy! We had a whale of a time while it lasted, the girl was willing to demonstrate too, though she asked that a reporter come to her house. But at the end of it, it turned out that the poor thing was mentally ill.

Then there is a really crazy man who thinks of himself as an astrologer. I have been forced into writing about him once. The man went on about breathing and how he could predict future just by observing the person’s breath or some such thing. At the end of that, I did not understand a word of what he said.

And then there is a dance therapist. And another septuagenarian who comes up with the weirdest of citizen initiatives. There was once a schizophrenic woman who claimed that people with backpacks driving around in cars were stalking her.

I am not making up these stories here. On a good working day, there is at least one weird story that walks into the office. The chief reporter asks one of the reporters to talk to them and see if there is really a story there. Once the person leaves, we all have an update at what the whole thing was about. There is a lot to laugh about sometimes, there are even times when we feel sad. Not all people come in to get attention. There are several amazing, talented people too. At the end of it all, the diversity of the ones who walk in, the stories that they tell and the ones who don’t tell, that is what makes the newspaper. That is what I love most about journalism.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Sunday Well Spent

A peaceful Sunday. Woke up to a lot of noise from the Ganesha festival celebrations outside. Peculiarly, people in my street have installed an idol of Ganesh during the ten-day festival of Vijaya Dashami that culminates in Dasara. it’s a fabulous carnival back home. I haven’t missed it in 23 years and am going this year too with Manju. Back to the point, it is customary for people to install idols of the beloved God, pray to it for a set number of days and immerse it afterwards. It is also customary to play music, usually devotional songs. Music, mind you, not the blaring noise that is playing outside even as I type this. The loud speaker has been put right on top of my house and it has been driving me nuts the past couple of days. Now I am firmly against the public nuisance such loud “noise” leads to, festival, community activity or not, but I cannot really be a spoilsport and ask them to lower the volume, even if I had to miss my Sunday afternoon siesta today. Must say though that these are more cultural than religious, brings a neighbourhood together in an increasingly busy world. Also is a good excuse to eye that cute dude two doors away and catch the pretty girl next door’s eye. Festivals, weddings, the best place to flirt and fall in love. (This alone will make a separate post some day.)

Anyways, where was I? Ah, yes, I woke up to the noise, read the newspaper, had breakfast, cleaned the house a bit, relaxed, surfed the net, cooked, talked on the phone. Then watched an old Pooja Bhatt starrer called “Tamanna” about a girl rescued from the trash bin by a eunuch who brings her up and who then fights with the father who abandoned her for justice. A socially themed film that I initially though was provocative but turned out rather drab towards the end, couldn’t really feel for the girl there at all.

I finished the movie and the noise outside was just getting louder. Some good Kannada songs were playing but it was being repeated so often that I was just about ready to scream. Just had to get out. Decided to do something I used to do a long time ago. Took a book, P Sainath’s ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ (had started on it a long time ago, found something else along halfway through the book, moved on to another and picked it up again today. Fantastic book, highly recommended reading for everyone.), put on some music on my phone and went to CafĂ© Coffee Day. Talked to ma for a really long time, had hot and cold coffee, read the book. Listened to a new play list on the phone, one that has ‘O Mere Sanam’ from the classic ‘Sangam’, (rediscovered it recently, much to my delight) Dido’s ‘Here With Me’, R Kelly’s ‘I believe I can fly’, Sheryl Crow’s ‘I Shall Believe’ and other old favourites of mine.

I was walking back later, happily listening to good music, cut off from the din of Bangalore’s roads. Along the way, it was a familiar scene. I passed by a slum where a dark-skinned child was playing by itself, a mother was feeding her baby while another was looking on as a kid was trying to stand up and walk. I passed by a dark street and saw the face of an old woman bending down to look into a vessel, her face lit only by the shadows from the fire that was cooking her evening meal. I passed by a couple on a Sunday evening walk. I passed by children, boys on their bikes, older men washing their cars, a girl look up shyly at her boyfriend, a group of women fussing over a little boy. I passed by a group that was taking an idol of Lord Ganesha for immersion,led on by a band of drums that made me instantly begin to tap my fingers against the book I was holding and mentally do a little jig (I love the sound of drums, awakens a feeling of primitiveness in me). I passed by a garment shop and slowed down to look at the salwar suits on mannequins, some good, some gaudy. I passed by old women with wire baskets filled with flowers on their way to the temple, old men out on a walk with their grandchildren holding on to their little fingers.

I passed by life as it was happening, at that very moment, on streets across Bangalore, across other cities, across probably the country. Shut out from the honking of the buses and the high-pitched conversations of the people on the street, I suddenly realized that people are not really that very different from one another in this country. They might wear different colour of skins, speak different tongues but in the lives they lead, in the way they spend just another evening, in their hopes and dreams, there isn’t much difference. Probably this is what it means to be united in diversity.

A very well spent Sunday indeed.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Sholay Part II

For a really long time, I had not watched the original Sholay. Then one day, I happened to catch parts of it on TV and have been watching it ever since. Films like Sholay, Mughal-e-Azam and a host of others that define cinema in India should never be tampered with, even by someone as good as RGV, I believe. I have not watched the new 'Aag', I don't think I ever will. My editor asked me to visit Ramanagaram, about 45 kms from Bangalore and write a story post Sholay II. It was a beautiful Saturday, Manju, Shashi the photographer and I went in Shashi's open cut-chassis jeep and had a wonderful time. Read on....

The flames versus the fire: 32 years on
An old man, wrinkled with age and the lines of several years of experience marking his face, is oblivious to the new Aag in the theatres. All he wants to know is whether the film has rocks and mountains and fight scenes like the old Sholay.We say no, it is set in a city and the only jungle is that of concrete. His tone is one of dismissal as he wryly remarks how the film would not be too good without the rocks and Ramanagaram. That is the mood in this little town post Ram Gopal Verma’s trial at recreating the 1970s’ masterpiece.

Shivanna, who works at the City Civil Court, takes us around the area that made Gabbar Singh’s hideout. The entire town of Ramgarh that was built for the film is today a ragi field. A part of it is a parking lot for the several adventurers who descend on the sleepy town every weekend for para sailing and rock climbing activities. All that remains today is a dusty road leading to a temple at the top of the mountains, a road that Ramesh Sippy’s crew built, and distant memories of the beautiful Hema Malini, the gentle and friendly Amjad Khan and the other stars who relaxed under large umbrellas under the scorching sun.

Shivanna has a closer connection with the film. His brother Naganna left to Mumbai with the crew after the movie was made and continues to be associated with the film world. Shivanna, as a student, also found odd jobs at the unit during vacations and hung around, bunking school, to watch the shooting. He is unaware of the new Sholay too. He shows us the place where an air conditioned room was built for Hema Malini and her mother. He poses for photographs atop the rock where, in the film, Samba was crouching when he was asked, famously by Gabbar Singh, ‘‘Are o Samba, kitne aadmi the?’’ Jumping over the rocks with ease, he spiritedly describes the shooting, the techniques used during the fighting scenes, the famous dialogues.

We are at Ramanagaram on a festive day. Several devotees line up to pray at the Rama temple on the other side of the hill near where Thakur’s house was set up for the film. Over some cool cucumbers and cut mosambis spiced with masala on top, we ask several other villagers what they think about the new Aag. Most are hearing about it for the first time. The only one who knows about it has not seen it, neither does he intend to, he says.There is talk of an old photograph of a villager posing with Dharmendra. We ask to see it. A mad hunt later, it turns out that the photo has, somehow, reached the Andamans and we could see it after a fortnight!

From Passage to India to the latest Kannada flick Nenapirali, several movies have been shot here.But Ramanagaram holds on to Basanti and Veeru and the rest of the motley lot. They do not know Ram Gopal Verma, do not want to hear about Aag. All that they want to remember is the Sholay, the flames that engulfed their little town over three decades ago.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I do not quite know what to make of this website but I must tell you that I am hooked. I have a feeling you will be too.

Do visit

War of the Clans

I wrote this article for my newspaper ages ago, but for some reason, the story was rather unceremoniously dumped :-( A conversation with a colleague over a cup of hazelnut latte (quite good) reminded me that I could put the story here. It is rather long for a blog post, but read on. The story is set in my beloved Kodagu.....

The often heady, sometimes haunting notes of the 'vaalaga' (a type of wind musical instrument resembling shehnai) of traditional Kodava music wafts through the hot summer air, mingling with the slight breeze. It is a strange cauldron of sounds and smells at the venue of the Mandetira Cup 2007, the annual hockey tournament organised by Kodava families.

At once, the venue represents everything that Kodagu is known for. The enchanting smell of the freshly blossomed coffee flowers, almost milk white in a sea of deep green Robusta coffee plants intermingles with the traditionally made 'pandi curry' or deep fried pork. Visitors and players hang around a stall that sells authentic chicory-free coffee, taking in the aroma of freshly brewed coffee powder, even as they meet up with old buddies, make new relations, listen nonchalantly to the commentary in chaste 'Kodava-takk' or Kodava language and discuss the coffee blossoms and the monsoon or the lack of it. It is a strange mix indeed, but then, the event, unique in its own way, calls for such idiosyncrasies.

Kodavas or Coorgis are indigenous inhabitants of Kodagu, Karnataka with a culture and lifestyle of their own. The fast diminishing sect speaks Kodava-takk, a dialect that is a mix of most Dravidian languages. Each Kodava family belongs to a larger unit that functions under a patriarch. Each clan has a name and all the members go by it, usually prefixing their clan identity to their names. The 'Ain Mane' or family house is, for the entire clan, a sacrosanct place, the place where disputes are settled, festivals celebrated and generations lived.
If two words could say what Kodavas do best, it would be 'defence forces' and 'hockey'. Over the years though, both the number of youth joining the defence forces and those taking to hockey have diminished, aggravated by the prospect of greener pastures, IT salaries and a more urbanised manner of life.
It was a hunger for the 'good old days', the passion for the game and the practicality of keeping the clans together for basic survival that led to the conception of the annual Kodava family hockey tournament ten years ago by Pandanda Kuttanni.

The eleventh such tournament, an event that sees thousands of Kodava players and spectators participating, is currently underway in a little village called Kakotuparambu in interior Kodagu.
The tournament is organised by one family every year. This year, a relatively small family of about 180 members called Mandetira has taken charge. I climb up to an elevated area reserved for the media, the commentator and am instantly welcomed by the members of the family, in true Kodava style. The men, all wearing green shirts with their family names on them, enthusiastically explain the event to me. It is only when I tell them that I am a native of Kodagu myself and know about the event that they pipe down a bit.
Sunil Mandappa, a member of the Mandetira family explains that there are 186 families that are playing this year. Three years ago, 280 families participated and this record found a mention in the Limca Book of Records.

The Kodava Cup is said to be the only one of its kind in the world that is organised by clans at such a large scale. Each team that plays can have players in the age group of 8-65 years, although there have been younger and older players in the previous years. A team can have men playing with little boys, girls and married women too. Married women or 'Taamane Mudiyan' can play for both the husband's family and the paternal clan. The entire expenses of the tournament is borne by the organising clan, though sponsors pitch in too. Government aid is small, the utter lack of political presence welcome.

Months before the summer event, stadiums are built, ground cleared and players are trained by the Field Marshall Cariappa Trust. Another member of the family, Suresh says that the idea was to get all the families together and keep them united. A great deal of match-making also happens, he admits with a slight smile. The event helps to promote hockey too, he says, though adding, almost as an after thought, that he is a cricket player.

As we sit watching a match between the royal Apparanda family and Armanamada family, Suresh says that summer is the best time for the event, after the coffee blossoms and during school vacations. Looking back, he says that the event has seen several Olympians, national level players, amateurs, little boys and septuagenarians playing. Several have gone on to play professional hockey too, their hockey skills landing them in jobs elsewhere.

The stadium, with a seating capacity of 17,000 plus, is sparsely occupied. The exciting matches are yet to begin. Meanwhile, for the families, it is a festive time. Many live outside the district, many in bungalows buried deep within the folds of coffee estates, many in villages with thatched huts and a little government primary school where students do not often see cars. This is one time of the year when they meet, gossip, party and forge bonds. Hockey seems just a very good excuse.

As they sip coffee, sample the pork and talk of the weather, the commentator announces that the Armanamada family has won the match. The players shake each others' hands, there is polite applause. In the backdrop, the 'vaalaga' soars and culminates on a high note, reminding the clans for a moment of their warrior antecedents. And then the clans get back to the business of catching up with each other. There is, after all, a lot to talk about.