July 12, 2014

The Reading List

For the week of 12 July

Understanding Power

If you ever wondered how Indian politics became dirty then Nayantara Sahgal’s Indira Gandhi: Tryst with Power is the book for you. There are passages in the book that could sound true for many things that happened during the 10-year UPA regime. Things such as by-passing the Parliament to make new laws, the infamous retrospective law, amending the Constitution, continuing to be a socialist face while her Party and government went in the opposite direction, appointing yes-men as Governors and even President of India there is nothing that the prima-donna of Indian politics didn’t leave behind as a legacy. If you thought that politics or politicians were bad today, then you the real Mrs. Gandhi’s antics will leave you scratching your head in disbelief. 
Penguin Books India 

One would also think that Pandit Nehru ‘prepared’ his daughter but reading Ms. Sahgal’s book you get an idea that even her own father was clueless when it came it deconstructing Indira Gandhi. There is hardly little doubt that India moved away from freedom under her leadership and I’m savoring every single page of this extremely well written book. What makes the book better is the access that Ms. Sahgal had to not just her cousin but also the letters that the family, namely her mother, Vijayalakshmi Pandit and Pandit Nehru, exchanged. The letters, some as early as the time when Mrs. Gandhi was a teenager, give an insight into the subject’s personality and temperament that resulted in the only inevitable outcome - authoritarianism. The author is an ardent admirer of her Uncle and perhaps that explains the rather tongue-in-cheek word play in the subtitle of the book.  Click to explore more.

Be Kind Rewind

Remember how your parents told you to be kind? Well, seems like being kind is, in fact, what a lasting relationship comes down to. Driven by the alarming rate with which married couples were divorcing in 1970s US, social scientists started studying the impact this would have on children of broken homes by observing couples to determine the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship. Emily Esfahani Smith’s Masters of Love from The Atlantic is a great read that tells us how in the end it’s basic kindness and generosity towards your spouse that determines the longevity of any relationship. The piece follows the research of John Gottman, one of the psychologists who started studying couples four decades ago, and talks about how the physiology of a couple and the level of their emotional response to their partner speaks volumes about the state of a relationship.

Even if long pieces don’t excite you, this one’s worth reading. Great pay off.  Came across this piece from a friend’s FB timeline and was worth every second spent. Click to read the entire piece. 

Of Storms and Windows

Although I’m not a big fan of poetry, I do enjoy accidental discoveries. Internet could be best described in the words of Varun Grover, writer, lyricist, stand-up comic and the inventor of words such as Womaniya, as that thing that lead to that thing which lead to that thing. I was paraphrasing but you get the idea that the best thing about the Net is how you unexpectedly hit upon something good. I was reading an interview of serial memoirist Mary Karr and she mentioned Howard Nemerov’s poetry and so, one thing lead to another…

Storm Windows
By Howard Nemerov

People are putting up storm windows now,  

Or were, this morning, until the heavy rain
Drove them indoors. So, coming home at noon,
I saw storm windows lying on the ground,
Frame-full of rain; through the water and glass
I saw the crushed grass, how it seemed to stream
Away in lines like seaweed on the tide
Or blades of wheat leaning under the wind.
The ripple and splash of rain on the blurred glass
Seemed that it briefly said, as I walked by,
Something I should have liked to say to you,
Something ... the dry grass bent under the pane
    Brimful of bouncing water ... something of
A swaying clarity which blindly echoes
This lonely afternoon of memories
And missed desires, while the wintry rain
(Unspeakable, the distance in the mind!)
Runs on the standing windows and away.

The Reading List is an update about the books, articles and stuff on the Internet that Gautam Chintamani read through the week that went by. 


March 24, 2014

Whose glass is it anyway?

There couldn’t be a better poster boy for optimism than yours truly. Me of the lived-my-school-life-so-democratically-that-I-failed-to-excel-at-any-one-specific-thing or aimlessly-picking-up-a-course-I-had-no-interest-in-and-then-sleepwalking-through-college and what-do-I-need-a-professional-course-for-duh fame who ended up being a freelance writer who gets paid enough to fuel the passion. For a little over a decade now I could probably outdo anyone when it comes to enjoying one’s cake and may I also add, that too with cherry toppings. 

March 13, 2014

Who Got the Power?

A leading Indian daily has come with this its list of 100 Most Powerful Indians and the first few names are hardly surprising. The publication didn’t specify the methodology applied to come up with the list, but was kind enough to proffer some dots that could be joined.

March 1, 2014

The Human Convenience

The functionality and ease of modern condominium living in present day urban India is almost as basic a need as bijli, paani and sadak. The sheer convenience of getting everything at the ring of a bell is a given necessity of urban existence for millions of us. Like many Indians who witnessed the transition from snail-mail to emails, from Fiats and Ambassadors to Audis and Jaguars, Bullets, Rajdoots and Yezdis to Harley-Davidsons I can’t help but feel guilty for enjoying certain luxuries. The ease of 24x7 power backup, the freedom from switching on the motor at the crack of dawn to ensure a ready supply of water, the joy of finding your designated parking spot empty when you enter the sodium-vapor lit pot-hole free colony roads, the happy picture of old couples tottering along manicured lawns wash away the memories of growing up in a pre-liberalized India. In a few years from now when my generation makes way for the next and the one after that, such memories would be treated like fables. After all, things that happened in the last century are meant to be looked in that manner, right?

Last week there was a fire security drill in the condominium where I reside. There are over 800 apartments and notices were posted in the lobby of every tower, 6 of them to be precise, informing about the surprise drill. Now, there is a heavy-duty private fire brigade within 500 meters of the housing complex but you can’t argue the need of knowing a few things in name of fire safety for someone residing on the 15th floor in a relatively active seismic zone. For the sake of the residents the drill was planned on a weekend to ensure maximum attendance and for further convenience was scheduled between breakfast and lunch even though unexpected fires might not seek a prior appointment. The children’s park in the heart of the society was chosen to the base where the residents would congregate once the alarms bells went off. It was in the middle of a conversation between my wife and I when the fire alarms went off and lest there be any doubts the men organizing the drill announced the program on the PA system. The calm but bored voice told us that this was the drill and now that it was underway they would like it if we could make it all look a little real. A few beats later the volume of both the fire alarms (was it really possible?) and announcer on the PA system (could have done with some modulation) went up and people started coming out of their apartments. In a mix of adults with hangover and kids refusing to get up on school days, some of us decided to partake on Mission: Fire Safety. I, of course, was told to kill two birds with one shot- attend the drill and take our year-old excitable Labrador out for walk. My wife saw us off at the door and said she’d have loved to join us but she’d, for the moment, continue to live in a more real world. A few months ago there was an earthquake and that being more real than a mock fire drill saw me carry Buddy, then a rotund and obviously a-tad-too-big-for-three-months lab pub, down 14 floors but this time we opted for the elevator. Of course, it beat the purpose but we decided to save our best take for later.

There is nothing more disturbing than traveling in an elevator with fire alarms ringing at fever pitch and a mutt trying to out-howl them. Albeit more disturbing, the sight of grown men and women in their nightwear has the capacity to distract you from any kind of threat and if ever I were stuck in a real fire then I know just the trick to calm myself. I was greeted by the fire inspector overseeing the evacuation process for my tower once I was out of the elevator and he wasn’t too happy with my choice and that too ‘in case of fire.’ But they don’t call a dog a man’s best friend for no reason and Buddy made sure that we walked right past him without hesitation. I walked around the park where the chief fire inspector was speaking into a microphone and telling the handful of people who gathered around how to survive a fire. Don’t take the elevator, he said, something that I had already done but I learnt that more people die from the smoke in a fire than being burnt and additionally most commercial places like malls have doors that can withstand fire for almost 2 hours. It was a little disturbing to see that the water hose in the colony could only reach the 10th floor but fire engines have retractable ladders so that’s take care of. I would have liked to carry on listening but Buddy was more interested in other things and couldn’t be inconvenienced. The whole drill, and more importantly reactions, both human and canine, made me realize that nothing dare threaten our convenience. Condo living has taught us the importance of convenience and our control over it. Of course, certain things like natural calamities are out of our hands but for everything else we humans mustn’t do anything to inconvenience others and more importantly ourselves.

February 5, 2014

Of Priorities and Other Animals

I should be writing.


That’s what I am supposed to do but instead I just wiped the dog dry after he returned from his fourth walk of the day covered in mud, which was wet due to unexpected drizzle. Why was the dog covered in mud when it was more than clear that the mud was went after an unexpected drizzle? Well, the dog walker, a 15-year old who moonlights as a mutt walker whenever he feels like, apparently thought it was cooler to walk behind the dog rather than walking it. So, once the dog returned he went again to be washed clean with the help of a garden hose.

It was a tough choice between wiping a mud soaked dog or a dripping wet one and no prizes for guessing which option was undertaken. The dog walker had the widest grin on his face when he returned and although he didn’t say anything his impish smirk more than implied that he was a notch higher than yours truly in the chain of hierarchy. I had just showered and had armed myself with a cup of coffee to bang a few words out of my system but there I was on all fours trying to dry a wet dog. He, of course, thought this to be a game and in his pre-doggy-adolescence exuberance made sure to balance our individual wetness quotient. A few minutes later he was ready to adorn his blanket while I was lost contemplating between a change of clothes, reheating or making fresh coffee.

The moment I sat down with a fresh cup the sun had decided to discard the clouds and well, suddenly it was like the last 20 minutes never happened. In that moment I realized how your dog, and in some cases, and absolutely no offense intended, your progeny teach you things about prioritizing. The one thing that became abundantly clear was that make the most of every moment in your life. For some of us it could be savoring that drink a little longer, or looking at the sunset till it ended but for people like me it means create opportunity whenever and wherever you can. For a filmmaker & writer there are times when I have to leave my work for my work, if you know what I mean. In between writing my book I shot a documentary over 12 weeks and a television commercial and every time I got closer in finishing one the other needed some attention. Needless to say that I enjoy both and I try to make sure that the passion carries over when I switch.

In this and age we need everything fast and once we have it we replace it with something else faster. I stopped reading newspaper about two years ago and never missed it. Let’s face it most of it was non-sense that didn’t concern me. Ever since I could recall devouring newspapers was a family tradition of sorts- my grandfather would read 6 of them daily and even write to the editors on a regular basis, my parents read four. I got my daily dose from the Internet even though I have been off social media for over a month now, I still found 90% of the content old when ever I could glance through a newspaper. But there are things that take their own time and that’s what we need to learn from. Like for instance a documentary about a school being built in rural Uttar Pradesh over six months will take 6 months to film just like if a dog needs you to cuddle him at that moment he will get you there no matter what. Raymond Chandler wrote his first six books inside his car that was parked in his driveway because his young children didn’t appreciate silence in the manner he did. By comparison what do I have to deal with…? Even the dog likes me writing, as he prefers to use my foot as a headrest while snuggling under my table.

Yes, I should be writing…