Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Becoming Indian by Pavan K Varma: A Review

By John Cheeran
Pavan K Varma’s Becoming Indian is an interesting read. Varma’s principal points are language, race and culture.
It is an effort largely meant for immigrant Indians who may have an identity crisis while living abroad although in the earlier part of the book he argues for bringing Indian languages out of the shadow of English.
Varma, an Indian bureaucrat, at times comes across as a man inspired by Hindu revivalism for Becoming Indian reminds readers how great a civilization India was five thousand years ago.
Becoming Indian has message with which I have no quarrel. One should not forget his or her cultural roots while getting swamped by globalization. It is a position no self-respecting individual can ignore. But to assume and argue that since your past is so glorious, you can be contemptuous towards modern trends and thoughts would be a suicidal jump.
Varma sounds like a right-winger when he worries about Indians in India, too, losing their culture and more. Echoing Ram Manohar Lohia, he is anxious about the spread and influence of English in contemporary India.
Varma writes: “The resolve to give our own languages the respect that is their due is part of the unfinished agenda of independence.”
Knowing English should not be in clash with Varma’s the earlier stated agenda. What India needs now is an improved level of literacy. Be it in English or any other language.
It is quite another matter that Varma’s career is based on his ability to handle a language which is, in his own words, alien to our ethos. He writes about a new casteism based on the proficiency of English. I wonder whether Varma knows that Dalits recently have built a temple for goddess English. Dalits have realized that the route to prosperity lies not in flogging a dead horse such as Sanskrit but taking the reins of English in their own hands. Varma would be cursing Lord Macaulay’s legacy. People can’t choose their mother tongue but let them choose their languages, let it be more than one.
Varma’s arguments about becoming Indian are both dangerous and flimsy when he writes about the need to speak and write in indigenous language and be seeped in desi culture. Varma, the north Indian babu that he is, easily forgets the fact that there are few things that tie together this vast, disparate nation together. Which culture has Varma in mind when he waxes eloquent about Indian culture? Tamilian’s? or Bengali’s? or Bihari’s?
It is tricky to assume that only what majority does is culture. English plays a critical role in ensuring India’s unity. India today talks to itself in English to understand itself better. You cannot wish away this reality.
And the wide and varied cultures of different regions and communities can be appreciated only with sub-titles and translations in India, mostly, again in English.
So if you are comfortable with such a situation in India, why should one worry about the deleterious effects of Western cultural homogenization? May be one should point out to Varma that MTV and channel V in India are hardly recognizable versions of their ‘degenerate’ western avatars. So are McDonald’s outlets which now cater to Indian vegetarian palate through its samosas and other Indian snacks.
And, finally, I want to ask Pavan Varma this question. Why didn’t he write Becoming Indian in Hindi or any other Indian language? In fact Penguin’s blurb informs me that Varma has written all his books in English. So much for his imperative of bringing Indian languages out of the shadow of English.

Title: Becoming Indian
Author: Pavan K Varma
Publisher: Allen Lane (Penguin)
Price: Rs499
Pages: 275

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

‘We are walking porn for Indians. But beware of cricketers’

By John Cheeran
Thank you, Gabriella Pasqualotto for telling the truth.
The IPL cheergirl from South Africa who was part of the Mumbai Indians squad finally said what we had talked about in hushed whispers all along -- that cricketers chase the skirt, more than the ball.
She was quickly fired from the cheerleading squad by IPL chairman Chirayu Amin after a cricketer complained about her blog post for alternativecricketalmanack.com
I cannot but mention that when golfer Tiger Woods was swirled into a sex scandal two years ago, some of us were discussing whether India’s cricketing god was the biggest philanderer in international sport. But, again, that’s Indian cricket’s best kept secret. May be one day, a brave, spunky girl would shed her inhibitions, after shedding her clothes, to tell the truth just as Gabriella did.
But, for now, Gabriella has not damaged the reputations of Indian cricketers. Says she: “The few Indian players we have met, such as MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma have been very polite and keep to themselves in the dark corners. Hotshots like Tendulkar with families at home are never present.”
The fact that Gabriella’s tell-all post was published on April 28, but the Indian media caught on to the story only NOW, tells the narrative skills of our mainstream media. All of them who waited upon cricketers during the last year’s IPL afterhours parties had the same stories as that of Gabriella to tell but only in private.
Now that she is back home in South Africa, Gabriella had more to say about the disgraceful manner in which she was booted out. She says: “I was sent home as if I was a criminal. I was treated as if I had taken drugs or done something awful, and I was never offered an opportunity to give my side of the story.”

Below is an excerpt from Gabriella’s blog that cost her place in the IPL.

To the citizens, we are practically like walking porn! All eyes are on you all the time; it is complete voyeurism. The women double take, see you and then pretend you do not exist. The men see your face, then your boobs, your butt, and then your boobs again! As we walk, all you hear is “IPL, IPL!” with a little head jingle!

‘Ol Graeme Smith will flirt with anything while his girlfriend lurks behind him. The Aussies are fun but naughty, such as Aiden Blizzard and Dan Christian. By the end of a crazy evening, a certain someone had played kissing catchers with three girls known to me only, although he has his own girlfriend back home. He cooed to each girl, “Come home with me, I just want to cuddle!’
Oh, please! I have come to realise that cricketers are the most loose and mischievous sportsmen I have come across. Makes me wonder if I should worry about them more than the commoners on the street! I still have a long while here, so I shall keep my tip list in mind.
Tip number 1: ‘Beware of the cricketers!’

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Sunset Club by Khushwant Singh: A Review

By John Cheeran

Few consider Khushwant Singh as a great writer. He has been an agent provocateur, raconteur and a celebrated editor in India. Singh writes without pomposity and that’s the hallmark of his success as a writer.
Even in the autumn of his life the Sardar’s zest for life is undiminished and The Sunset Club is further proof for that. The Sunset Club, tagged as analects of the year 2009, chronicles the friendship of three oldies – a Hindu, a Sikh and a Muslim – but are commentaries on contemporary India, especially between January 26, 2009 and January 26, 2010.
It does not take great effort on your part to realize that Sardar Boota Singh is Khushwant Singh himself. At one point Nawab Barkatullah Baig Dehlavi tells his wife about Boota “He is good company. He spices his talk with anecdotes, quotations and improper language. One can never tell how much of what he says is true, but it doesn’t matter. I enjoy listening to him.”
Readers, too, enjoy listening to Khushwant Singh. Through the discussions among the three friends Singh subtly reveals where his sympathies lie. Singh has only contempt for ‘fundoos’ and turncoats such as Najma Heptullah are subjected to ridicule.
Yes, improper language punctuates the pages of The Sunset Club. Singh has tried to keep the old men’s bench at Lodhi Gardens warm throughout the pages mainly by the sexual exploits of bachelor Punjabi brahmin Sharma, Baig and Boota. But those exploits are too simple to arouse the reader’s interest and only the portrait of contemporary India that forces you to finish the book. Yes, old age and infirmity lurks in the background but it is the recollections of the youth and hope for the next day that is remarkable about the Sunset. And despite the departure of Baig and Sharma, it is hope that makes Boota gaze upon Bara Gumbad and feel that it still does resemble the fully rounded bosom of a young woman.

Title: The Sunset Club
Author: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Penguin Viking (2010)
Pages: 218
Price: 399
John Cheeran at Blogged