December 01, 2007


So one was under much dismay,
A fairly longish-standing gripe.
A basic problem, you might say,
Of the linguistic type.

One turned it over in one's head,
One asked around, as should be done.
And certain people, when consulted,
Replied thusly to the One:

"The Supreme Polyglot, we suppose,
Is the person you require to seek.
His PhD he did compose
In perfect tense, in ancient Greek!

"He once rewrote with obvious glee
The Serbo-Croat vowel forms.
Then rolled his r's and, unknowingly,
Caused two minor thunderstorms."

Ah, 'twas a truly glorious day.
One set off at a lively trot
In Kalbadevi, South Bombay,
To find the Supreme Polyglot.

Instinct led one straight and true
To this old flat in disrepair.
(3 BHK, decent view,
One shall not say exactly where.)

(In hindsight, this flat did possess
A certain real-estate appeal.
A real Gujju, Heaven bless,
Would've surely clinched the deal.)

But one focused on the Quest at hand
And quite soon one became aware
Of a slightly balding, strange old man
Sitting on the floor right there.

What on earth could this portend?
Was this the man that one had sought?
Was the Quest now at its end?
Was this the Supreme Polyglot?

He sat amidst a sea of texts
Speed-reading them in twos and threes.
Chuckling softly to himself
In articulate Cantonese.

Words in many tongues he muttered
At one point he said "Chomsky Lives!"
Then voicelessly and gravely uttered
Alveolar fricatives.

It was just as one had thought!
The Quest was now come to an end!
It was the Supreme Polyglot!
(It took a while to comprehend.)

So one walked up to this old man
Who saw the One and moved away.
(That always happens.) One began
What one had come here to say:

"'Twas a decade ago, in a foreign land .."
One began, quite choked with feeling,
"That one decided, you understand,
That one found languages appealing!"

"Ten years of language-learning grind
And one finds one has now become
Unceremoniously confined
To dilettantic dabbledom!

"Many years it has been, sir,
With no real change in status quo.
One's still quite an amateur
Das ist was bothers me zo!

"A spot of German, bits of French,
A word or two of Dutch and Greek.
But in the final count, you see,
'Tis only English one can speak!

"And things have gone from bad to worse!
There was a time when once one spoke,
One could hold forth, and one could curse,
In the tongue of Gujju folk!

"And till some years back (much remorse),
One could converse through word of mouth
One could engage in intercourse
With noble Ghaatis to the south!"

(At this point he looked rather shocked.
One understood the reason why.
By 'intercourse' one meant but 'talk',
As one hastened to clarify.)

"But long ago was the fateful day
That one bid Desi tongues goodbye.
They've sort of just faded away
Since one became an NRI.

"So one has a problem, see,
Saviourize, one does insist!
You must help, O Supreme P.!
Help this poor try-linguist!"

He sneezed in Latin, coughed in Dutch,
He hummed an old Arabian song.
His accent had a Swedish touch
(His Swedish was extremely strong.)

A modest lunch he then began
With bread and butter, jam and cheese.
He took a bite in Catalan
And chewed in modern Portuguese.

"A tale of woe you tell, my son,
(Assuming what you say is true.)
But what exactly, so-called One,
Is it that you want me to do?"

"To work towards the common good!
One's wildest hopes you would surpass,
If you'd agree to teach, the One would
Sit a daily tuition class!

"Evening sessions, starting today,
To impart language-learning flair!
One shall be thy protege
O linguist extraordinaire!

"One shall learn, O great SP,
(At an astronomic rate)
To enounce multilingually,
To fluentially conversate!"

And, by God, he did agree:
"I shall condescend to assist.
You already do seem to be
A notable try-linguist."

"One's listed Things to Learn, among
Which Gujarati is first!" one cried,
"Must focus on the Mothertongue!"
To which he thusly replied:

"Fear not, my young misfit!
SP, whose help you now avail
Before this language bug had bit
Was once one Shaileshbhai Patel!"

And tears of pride and hope emerged
The world became a joyful blur.
That evening one was seen submerged
Neck-deep in Gujju literature.

Someday now one shall begin
Apprehending, as it were,
Medieval Mandarin
At the feet of SP Sir.

October 06, 2007


He is standing in a familiar lane. There is a building ahead, and a door on the ground-floor landing. A faded plaque displays a well-known name.

Through sheer force of habit, he presses the thumbworn doorbell. Faithful still, it rings out from within. He pauses to absorb the echoes of a sound that has become for him the very definition of a belltone, an acoustic model of how a good chime should sound.

But there is nobody inside, he remembers. There hasn't been for years. He takes out a rusted key and, after a brief struggle with the padlock, enters a musty living room.

Shrouds. A number of shrouds, grotesque and misshapen, cram the modest space. It is a while before he realises that they do not cover corpses, but furniture. The ancestral heritage underneath is a proud, antique mahogany, distinctly colonial in design, perhaps a century old. The sheets have tried valiantly to protect it from the dust, but the dust, after years of laying siege, is winning the slow-motion battle, smothering the wood in painstakingly uniform confection.

These are the same sheets that served as indoor tents many years ago. They were good tents. They could be military shelters, or Red-Indian tepees. Or imaginary havens of protection from an irate uncle. Or secret hoards for the precious chocolate visitors sometimes brought from abroad.

He moves forward in the dim light, picking his way through the eerie shapes to the big glass door that leads to the garden.

The garden is no more. It was filled in with concrete a decade ago, to create a sort of extended porch, after everyone realized that a lawn was too difficult to maintain. But if you stare long enough, and it's the right sort of day, then the concrete melts away and you can see the grass underneath, a resonant, freshly-watered shade of green, just like it used to be.

He makes his way back in, stepping briefly into the kitchen. Some of the old utensils are still around, steel tumblers and plates, the sort that used to be given as gifts and had an illegible name engraved near the bottom. But the glasses are empty. No Rasna or Rooh-Afza or Gold-Spot or Thums-Up for him. For once.

The bookshelves in the study look forlorn and somewhat smaller without their payload. Most of the books have been carted away by eager cousins, others nestle in neem and mothballs in an old trunk in the loft. He finds the spot where a floor tile had chipped, making a little cracked pattern. He'd always say that the crack was shaped like a seahorse, although he cannot honestly find anything seahorse-like about it now.

The ceiling fan looks down from above, incongruous in its perfect stillness. He does not remember it ever being still, even in the middle of winter - it would always be humming its way round, rattling away to itself, never tiring, never breaking down. And it is so close - he can touch its blades without too much trouble. It used to be a distant, divine windblower, reachable only by tall grown-ups. The whole house, actually, is a lot smaller now. It used to be a giant labyrinth of secret pathways, of great halls and corridors, of hideouts known only to a select few.

But it is already late. He makes his way back to the front door. After a few minutes of fumbling with the padlock and a spot of obsessive-compulsive checking to make sure it is secure, he heads back.

He might wear the vagabond tag as a badge of honour, might pride himself on his adaptability, might claim to be well acquainted with, and rather fond of, dozens of countries. But, in truth, there is a place that means just that little bit more to him than other places do. The place that he grew up in. The place he calls home.

August 23, 2007

Phase of

One had never liked cabbage, until one day one realized that one liked it very much indeed. So much, in fact, that one insisted on having nothing but cabbage sabzi for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We call the stuff kobeech out West, and every day the maharaj would be instructed to cook generous amounts of fresh kobeech, with precisely the correct amounts of haldi and tadka and so forth, for one's noble consumption. One was only eight years old at the time, but this was fairly extreme even by the young One's standards.

Nevertheless, things continued in an altogether hunky-dory manner for a month or so. Until what we shall call the Fateful Day. For it was on this day that one discovered a Worm in one's cabbage bowl (there was, naturally, a special cabbage bowl). And, what is more, one nearly ate the worm before the discovery. The gentle reader might point out that the impending ingestion should have been of greater concern to our intrepid annelid than to the young One, but the young One did not somehow see it that way. The amygdala duly kicked in, the associative conditioning was complete before one could say 'Ivan Petrovich Pavlov' (presuming one could say 'Ivan Petrovich Pavlov'), and cabbage became, once again, a Disliked Food.

You see, gentle reader, when one sits down to Critically Assess one's Life So Far, the major point that tends to strike is that one has gone through Food Phases, intervals characterized by the single-minded pursuit and devourment of the Currently Beloved Food. The above was, of course, the entire life-cycle of the Kobeech Phase in what might be called a Nutshell.

Many phases followed. There was the Softy Ice-Cream phase, the Plain Paneer phase, the Marie Biscuit phase, the khakhra phase (they had to be spiced just right) and the particularly obsessive Cadbury’s Twirl phase.

And now, one finds oneself in the throes of a new Phase. It all began with a Japanese restaurant and a generous helping of sashimi. The traditional accompaniment for such foodstuffs, as you may be aware, goes by the name of wasabi. A pungent chutney made from the root of the eponymous plant, it tends to grab you by the respiratory system. And one now feels a strange affinity towards this condiment. One can taste wasabi just by thinking about it. Reminiscent of mustard, but with a cleaner, sharper twang. Mouthwatering. Magnetic.

One shall now proceed to look for some wasabi, for immediate consumption. And one will find it somewhere, even if one has to wade through piles of wormy kobeech.

July 16, 2007

Blogpost at OIAB

Time elapses at a different rate in the land of Narnia. You could spend half a lifetime in Narnia and come back to find that you'd been gone only a few days, or minutes, or perhaps no time at all.*

Things are somewhat similar on the blogosphere. Time passes much slower at compared to, say, So, even if one posts weekly, the gentle reader might receive an update about once a fortnight, or once a month, or perhaps once a quarter. 'Tis tragic, of course. But 'tis relativity.

In any case, that is not the point of this post. No.

For it has been brought to one's attention that a Bollywood film entitled Shootout At Lokhandwala has been released in recent times. One finds this most interest-piqueing. Shootout At Lokhandwala. As opposed, presumably, to Mild Fracas At Flora Fountain.

We had discussed the fact that cellphone companies have major issues when it comes to naming their products. But their woes pale, yes, Pale to the Point of Transparency in comparison to the woes of our filmi folks. 'Tis an arithmetic matter, you see, for we have way more phillums than cellphone models. And producer-types need their phillums to stand out from the celluloid crowd, as opposed to mobile chaps who can simply change a couple of letters here or there.

Let us at this point delve into the history of our Industry, because said filmi folks have, over the years, hit upon several solutions to the nomenclature problem. After the Golden Age exhausted most of the zippy Urdu terms for love, faith, destiny and so forth, they began to string together multiple words, sometimes managing to form a sentence.

They then realised that the names of the more popular phillumsongs tended to roll off the collective tongue with something of a flourish, an epiphany that led, in the heady summer of '93, to the A. Khan starrer Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke, named after the D. Anand song. Its success was presumably what led to a flurry of song-named flicks over the next decade or so - Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya (1998), Bas Itna Sa Khwab Hai (2001), Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006), amongst many others. Much fodder was provided for Bollywood-related quizzes and for Wikipedia's disambiguation pages.

And so the reader gains an appreciation of the background story, the milieu in which our Lokhandwala team was operating. Most potential film names had been taken, twice over. Most song names had been used for films, and for the title songs of said films, and for saas-bahu serials, and for the title songs of said saas-bahu serials, and for songdance-type reality shows, and for the theme jingles of said reality shows.

So they took the direct approach. They were going to show a Shootout, right? At Lokhandwala, right? Well, there you had it. Shootout At Lokhandwala. No frills. You knew exactly what you were going to get. A hearty Shootout, at no less a place than Lokhandwala. Paisa vasool.

Others have tried to be different, and come up with a) Tarzan: The Wonder Car and b) Fool N Final. Clearly, being straightforward has its advantages.

So one shall now take your leave, gentle reader, and proceed to work on one's groundbreaking script for next summer's blockbuster, Anti-War Protest Opposite Mother Dairy.

* To the trained mind, it is evident that the Narnian universe moves around at a substantial fraction of the speed of light. Relatively speaking.

April 01, 2007

Our teaming masses

So one had spent an entirely ludicrous sum of money and stayed awake all night and half the morning on multiple occasions to catch the Homeland's national team in televised action, in a contest as distinguished as the World Cup of Cricket. One had braved the neighbour's persistent complaints, intense office-hour sleepiness and repeated viewings of a deeply irritating S. Khan/P. Zinta car commercial that seemed to go “Ek haseen .. khwab hai humne .. dekha-dekha-dekha”. And then the Team had to go and knock themselves out.

And we have gone and turned into a billion blue blistering barnacles, anchoring ourselves to our recollections of that exhilarating Sharjah summer and that NatWest Trophy run-chase, clinging to the memory of that special evening at Lord's many years ago, while seething and screaming at the state of the team today. Despite the best dimaag-thandofying efforts of the folks at Videocon.

With the exception of One cricket fan. For the One does not seethe or blister. One does not mope longfacedly after a defeat. No. For one is nothing if not Solution-Oriented.

Ruminating or mulling over the situation can yield Insights, people. And, with characteristic perspicacity, one has reached the Crux of the Matter. Which is this : the Indian cricket team is underperforming because it suffers from a lack of reservations. No, it's not that they're uninhibited - most of them are fairly reticent sorts, especially when batting. We refer to Reservations. Where are the quotas, people? How can we uplift the Teeming Masses if we prevent them from Teaming?

Clearly, things must be done. The time has now come to formulate an Action Plan, with Bullet Points.
  • Five places must be reserved for SCs/STs/OBCs.
  • Two places must be reserved for civil servants and defence personnel, or their relatives.
  • Two for ex-servicemen.
  • Two places for the descendants of freedom fighters.
  • One place for NRIs.*
The mathematically astute reader might point out that this is already too many, for a cricket team comprises of but eleven souls. There then arise two options:

a) A senior official could consult with cricket's governing bodies and lobby for the number of players in a team to be increased to 200,000,000 so that all the children of the country are given the opportunity to shine.

b) We could take players who fit into multiple categories, hence reusing the same individual to pacify different groups. For instance, a person who hails from a backward caste, has what is called a defence background, and lives abroad would be a near-permanent fixture in the side. Cricket can always be taught.

What is important, people, is that the gross under-representation of certain groups in the team be rectified. We are a democracy, after all.

* Well, a little self-serving never hurt anyone.

January 03, 2007

The Word incarnate

So there's this word that's quickly finding its way into the vocabularies of net-savvy sorts worldwide. Avatar. As in the Sanskrit for incarnation. Apparently it's a little cartoon that represents the user when he logs on to a chat client.

While the purpose of these avatars is quite unfathomable to the One, it may be noted that one considers instant messaging itself to represent the very nadir of technological progress, irrefutable proof that the global village is nothing but an extended gossip club. It is one's firm belief that the world will one day grind to a screeching halt because every single person is asking every other person what is up with them, and receiving the reply that nothing significant is actually up followed by a reciprocal inquiry into what is up with them.*

But that is not the point of this post. The point is that one has a Problem. Yes. One has never quite figured out how to pronounce these adopted words, particularly when one is abroad, which is most of the time. 'Tis a Major Issue. Do you stick to pronunciations so Sanskritized they'd make the VHP weep in collective joy (but risk not being understood by anyone except their local rep) or do you say 'ave-a-tar and submit meekly to linguistic neo-imperialism?

It was okay in the old days. We had 'jungle' and 'guru', which gave you only a little leeway pronunciation-wise. There are only so many ways you can say 'guru' - you can roll the 'r' a little this way or that, but it's difficult to do anything substantially word-altering. Then came 'mantra', where the English pronunciation begins to diverge from the Hindi/Sanskrit, and that was the start of one's woes. But 'avatar' takes the cake, for it is unlikely that the original pronunciation would even be understood in foreign lands, at least not in the middle of a sentence, and it is certain that the English pronunciation would be met with much scorn by Homelanders.

Tailor the pronunciations to the audience, many have told us. Firstly, this requires observation and analysis and hence involves *gasp* thinking. And secondly, what does one do when the audience is mixed? When you have a fifty-fifty split between People Who Speak At Least One Indian Language and People Who Don't? Dilemmas ensue, do they not?

And where will this end, pray? Given the rate at which they're assimilating our words, we might find accented Hindi passing off as reasonably good English at some point in the future. Tum samajhta haai hum kya bolta haai?

Fear not, though. We'll just wait for Kalki to come and clear things up.

* Actually one's just sour-graping because one has no friends except for the kind folks who make friendship on Orkut, but don't tell anyone.