Friday, February 14, 2020

Fake News

With the advent of social media, we may be excused if we feel that fake news is a recent phenomenon. But it has always been there. One could come across it off and on, especially at times of great political or social turmoil. One such macabre fake news that I remember was during the emergency. People told each other, in hushed tones, that if you looked at the sky at night you could see four white clad men carrying a dead body for cremation, with a white clad, long haired woman wailing and walking behind it. I was already twenty-one then but still, I had a bone chilling experience. Fortunately, my parents had always pooh-poohed such stuff and we continued to have our dinner in the open yard of the house that summer without ever witnessing the dreaded tableau in the sky.

This story is so outlandish that I sometimes wonder if it is a product of my own imagination!

Fast forward to the mid-nineties.

I was working in a factory. Almost every day, on the way to work, I stopped at a roadside shop to buy a banana or two as a midday snack. I often saw a man at the shop having tea and chatting with the shopkeeper.

One day, this man was there when I went to the shop. He was clad, as usual, in a saffron dhoti and a white shirt. His face, with a finely trimmed predominantly grey moustache, was decorated with religious marks of sandal paste on his forehead and temple. He had a lit cigarette between the taut fingers of his left hand. The difference was that he had two reluctant listeners, who looked like retired gentlemen. He was haranguing them with a supercilious air. What he was saying was this. (The whole conversation was in Kannada* but I have given an English version of it here.)

“The imam of the Jama Masjid of Delhi had given a statement when Americans landed on the moon. He said, how can mere humans go and land on the moon! These Americans are fooling everyone. Imagine thinking so in this age! So what we are trying to do is educate these people for their own sake.”

This was like a red rag to a bull, for me. Or should I say, a saffron rag to the red bull in me? I turned to him and said, “Why? Did not the Shankaracharya of Puri say exactly the same thing? Moon is our god. How can humans land on him? So, please! You go educate your people, we will take care of our own people.”

I would like to imagine that he never caught on that I was not a Muslim! 

I turned to his captive audience to tell them not to listen to such nonsense but they had quietly disappeared as if into thin air! And the “uplifter” of Muslims had turned away from me without a word.

I bought my supply of bananas and went on my way to work.

* ಉದ್ಧಾರಕನ ಮಾತನ್ನು ಓದುವಾಗ ದಕ್ಷಿಣ ಕನ್ನಡದವರ ಧಾಟಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಓದಿಕೊಂಡರೆ ಆತನ ಮಾತಿನ ಧಾಟಿ ಅರಿವಾದೀತು.

ಉದ್ಧಾರಕ: "ಅಮೆರಿಕದವ್ರು ಚಂದ್ರನ ಮೇಲೆ ಇಳಿದಾಗ, ಜಾಮಾ ಮಸೀದಿಯ ಇಮಾಮ ಏನಂದ ಗೊತ್ತುಂಟ? ? "ಅದು ಹೇಗೆ ಸಾಧ್ಯ? ಹುಲು ಮನುಷ್ಯರು ಚಂದ್ರನ ಮೇಲೆ ಹೋಗಲು ಹೇಗೆ ಸಾಧ್ಯ? ಅಮೆರಿಕನ್ನರು ಎಲ್ಲರಿಗೂ ಮೋಸ ಮಾಡ್ತಿದಾರೆ!" ಅಂದ. ಈ ಕಾಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಹಾಗೆ ಹೇಳೋದು! ಅದಿಕ್ಕೇ, ನಾವು ಈ ಜನರನ್ನು ಉದ್ಧಾರ ಮಾಡುವ ಅಂತ ಹೊರಟಿದ್ದೀವಿ, ಅಷ್ಟೆ!"

ನಾನು: "ಯಾಕೆ ಸ್ವಾಮಿ? ಪುರಿಯ ನಿಮ್ಮ ಶಂಕರಾಚಾರ್ಯರೂ ಅದೇ ಅಲ್ವ ಹೇಳಿದ್ದು? "ಚಂದ್ರ ದೇವರು! ಮನುಷ್ಯರು ಅವನ ಮೇಲೆ ಇಳಿಯೋಣ ಅಂದ್ರೇನು", ಅಂತ? ನೀವು ನಿಮ್ಮವರನ್ನ ಉದ್ಧಾರ ಮಾಡ್ಕೊಳಿ. ನಮ್ಮವರನ್ನ ನಾವು ನೋಡ್ಕೋತೀವಿ"

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Market Update

Bangalore, Jan 25, 2020: There has been a surge in the sales of flattened rice (poha/avalakki/avil)  all over the country. The traders were initially surprised by the inexplicable surge because the sales graph is usually flat except for seasonal surges in some areas of the country. When they eventually found the explanation for the surge, cutting across political leanings, the traders, both retail and wholesale, they shook their heads and ordered more stocks and thanked the person who started it all.

The reason is believed to be that many people came out in support of the working class who, for various reasons, eat flattened rice quite often - even many times a day. It is also rumoured that the social media had a role to play, however inadvertent. As people started tweeting about their favourite preparations made out of Poha/avalakki/avil and posting instagram pictures of various dishes, many home makers, always grappling with the question of what to prepare for the next breakfast, had a huge choice presented to them on a platter, as it were. They then made arrangements for poha to be bought in some quantity to solve the problem for a few days at least.

It is also rumoured that brick and mortar restaurants and online food delivery services have seen an upsurge in orders for poha preparations driving the markets further up. 

ABPTP* and NATU**, two trade bodies are considering requesting people in limelight to keep making statements to keep poha in the limelight as a way of increasing sales and providing steady jobs for labourers involved in poha making all over the country.

*  Akhila Bharat Poha Traders Parishat is affiliated to BJP and is headquartered at Nagpur
** National Avil Traders Union is affiliated to CPI and is headquartered in Trivandrum

By our staff correspondent and food columnist

Saturday, January 11, 2020

That was my India. I want my India back.

He was a scientist. He had a large correspondence and hence access to stamps. I asked him if he would give me some. He said yes, but. I had to write a letter to him in English. I did and he sent me a few thousand stamps. From countries I had not even heard of until then, Opened my eyes to the larger world.

He had an arty portrait of himself done by none other than M F Husain.

He opened my eyes towards, and changed my opinion of, abstract art. I am forever grateful to him.

I called him Mama. Uncle. That is, my mother’s brother.

I called him Rahmanmama.

That was my India. India I grew up in. I want my India back.

I was playing in school. Someone swung a softball bat. I took the full force of it on my left temple. My left eye was swollen shut.

Two friends sat me on a bicycle. Pushed it all the way to a doctor’s clinic. They did not ride it because the bumps would hurt my injured head. Dropped me home the same way. They were breathing hard because the last kilometer was all the way up.

Shabbir and Khalid. Forever my friends. 

That was my India. India I grew up in. I want my India back.

Our Social Studies teacher took us on a ride through Indian history in every class. One story segueing into another. 

One impertinent classmate dared to ask. You were on one story and now on another. What happened to the first one?

The teacher was stunned.

“ಏಯ್, ಹರೀಕತೆ ಒಳ್ಗೆ ಉಪಾಕತೆ ಇರಕ್ಕಿಲ್ವೇನೋ? ಇದೂ ಅಂಗೇನೇ, ದೊಡ್ಡವ್ರು ಹೇಳ್ತಾ ಅವ್ರೆ. ಸುಮ್ಗೆ ಕುಂತಕೊಂಡ್ ಕೇಳೋ1” 

Piped up Shabbir in his deep voice and shut the ipertinent fellow up. 

The classes continued as if this did not happen.

That was my India. India I grew up in. I want my India back.

A hall in an engineering college, run by a religious organisation.

Shahnai Nawaz Khan Saheb Ustad Bismillah Khan was into an intricate passage in raag Yaman. Stops mid passage and challenges the students. Iska dharm kyaa hai? Na Hindu, na Mussalmaan, Na isAi. 

The walls of the hall was decorated with symbols of various religions of the world. Carved in wood. 

Khan saheb points to the symbols on the wall and declares. Look at them. We are all one.

That was my India. India I grew up in. I want my India back.

H A B Parpia. The late director of a central research institute. Legend in his family is that they are the direct descendents of Lord Rama and everyone in the family has a given name to indicate just that. His name was Hussain Ali Bhimji Parpia.

That was my India. India I grew up in. I want my India back.

The old man had heard my father’s talk on All India Radio about Jagalur Imam3 (my grandfather’s close friend). He had taught Urdu to Jagalur Imam’s children, while he was a teacher in the Urdu primary school in Jagalur. He had come to meet my father to express his great admiration for Jagalur Imam and say how happy he was that my dad had also spoken highly of him.

He was a retired employee of the education department. Thanks to his close friends who spoke Urdu, he too had learnt it. His knowledge of the language was found good enough for him to be appointed (with promotion) to teach Urdu. 

He was a devout looking old man in highly traditional clothes. He wore the religious marks of a Vaishnavite Brahmin on his forehead and temples. 

That was my India. India I grew up in. I want my India back.

The Babri Masjid is destroyed. Curfew is imposed. Even in my beloved city. A few had brought shame on my city, with bloodshed. I felt.

Tempers cool. Calm prevails. The curfew ends.

I have to travel on work. I go to the bus stand early in the morning. There are a few passengers. Quite a few buses. Many in road transport corporation uniforms. Nothing moves. Everyone is apprehensive. The expectant passengers are grouped together. Talking to each other in hushed voices.

A diminutive man in uniform approaches us. A knitted prayer cap firmly on head.

“ನೋಡಿ ಸೋಮಿ, ನನ್ಗೆ ಗಾಡಿ ಓಡಿಸ್ಬೇಕು. ನಿಮ್ಗೆ ಬೆಂಗ್ಳೂರ್ಗೆ ಹೋಗ್ಬೇಕು. ಇವೆಲ್ಲ ರಾಜಕೀಯ ಸೂಳೆಮಕ್ಳ ಗಲಾಟೆ. ಬರ್ತೀರಾ ಹೋಗೋಣ?”2

We all get into the bus and reach Bangalore without further incident.

After the mindless mayhem, back to normal. 

There is hope.

That was my India. Just barely. But, I want my India back.

A colleague and I sit in a restaurant and talk about everything under the sun. A cultured man. Sings Mohammad Rafi songs well, with passion and understanding.

In the middle of it all he says, “When in college all my friends were Hindus. They all called me ತುರ್ಕ (turka. Kannada slang for a mulsim). I belonged. 

Now no one calls me that. Everyone is politically correct. The intimacy is gone. I feel I have been expelled. I feel I do not belong.

Pain and nostalgia. Hard to miss.

That was a glimpse of my India. India I grew up in. I want my India back.

  1. He spoke in the patois of many Muslims in Mysore. I can’t translate the quaintness of that. But what he said was, “Aren’t there subsidiary stories in Harikathe? This is also like that. An elder is telling you something. So, shut up and listen”.

Harikathe is an art form in which a story relating to a god is narrated in formal style with music and illustrating each point in the main story with a subsidiary story and song.

  1. “Look here. I have to drive. You have to travel. All these troubles are thanks to the political beeps. Shall we go?” - spoken in the same patois as before.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Science and a March for Science

Animals, including humans, are curious by nature. Science is what makes the curiosity of the human animal different from that of the others. It is the tool we have developed to explore the world to know more and answer deep and profound questions. This includes the brain asking, and answering, the question, “how does the brain work?”. This is uniquely human and makes humans human.

Throughout history, however, society has had a love-hate relationship with science. In this context, society includes the state, organized religion, politics, commerce, citizens, and even scientists themselves. The state has tried to suppress and discredit scientific ideas. Einstein’s theories were condemned as “Jewish” science by some, in his day. Religion has tried to suppress scientific ideas. Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo, and Darwin come to mind. Some ideas have been hijacked and false or wrong ideas have been promoted – like in the case of the Lysenko affair and Eugenics. The common citizen was shocked, rightly so, by the inhuman use of the atomic bomb and, unfortunately, sowed the seeds of doubt about scientists and even science itself. Finally, scientists themselves have questioned and resisted new theories – Einstein not being enthusiastic about the Quantum view of the world and stating, “God does not play dice”. Once sufficient evidence has been found, they have become a part of mainstream science.

Not very long ago, scientific progress came about through individual effort, often by people with personal means independent of royal patronage or the state. As scientific research has become more complex and the tools intricate, the days of individual scientists is almost over. Science is being done more and more with collaboration between scientists, institutes and even countries – as in the case of CERN.

All over the world, the state allocates money for scientific research and we, as citizens, must be aware of where the money is going. Ideally, we should have a say in the matter. For that to happen, we must know what is happening. Hence, science should be communicated and be accessible to the interested common citizen.

In many countries around the world, including scientifically and technologically advanced countries, there appears to be a widespread skepticism about science among the general populace. At the same time there is a great fascination with technology, and so called result oriented research has become fashionable. This shows lack of an understanding of the relationship between “pure” science and technology. This has resulted in a fall in funding for scientific research. We the citizens, need be aware that our efforts in fundamental science is essential for our wellbeing and that of the coming generations and the progress of humanity. It is our duty to insist that science be adequately funded and also that it be effectively communicated.

Decades of progress in science has improved our lives beyond what was imaginable a century ago. One of the hallmarks of this is the widespread use of communication technologies. Ironically, this very same technology has enabled the spreading of false stories, pseudo-science and non-science and downright superstitions. There are groups with narrow, short sighted, self-interest who deny global heating, against all scientific evidence that we are mindlessly heading towards an environmental catastrophe. A plethora of therapies of unproven efficacy and often harmful ones have sprung up endangering human lives. Therefore, there is a need to counter such obscurantism and protect ourselves against it. The only way this can be achieved is by developing a scientific temper and critical thinking. They are characterized by a refusal to accept things at face value but unfailingly look for evidence.

These reasons have prompted the worldwide movement called March for Science. It calls for well-funded and widely communicated science. It aims to promote, encourage and enable everyone to develop a scientific temper. Marches are being held in nearly seventy-five cities and towns across the country.

In Bengaluru, the march is on the 10th of August while in the rest of the country it is on 9th August. Let us all participate in the march to do our bit to protect the present and safeguard the future generations.

Sunday, July 29, 2018


A team of machine tool experts are visiting a colleague’s house for tea. The sisters of the colleague have returned just then from a short tour of Maharashtra. They are unpacking their shopping done on the tour and one item – a brass pestle and mortar - catches the attention of one of the visiting experts. And he casually wonders, “How has this been made”? The hostess, the colleague’s mother, is sitting near the questioner. She is about seventy, with neatly groomed grey hair tied into a bun, dressed in a traditional Indian cotton saree, wearing a big vermillion Kunkum on her forehead. She asks for the mortar, inspects quickly and declares nonchalantly, “This has been cast and then turned in a lathe”.
The experts, are all wide eyed and IMPRESSED, to say the least! That was some twenty-five years ago.

The last daughter of an engineer who had obtained his diploma in engineering more than a century ago from VJTI, Bombay, she had many brothers who were engineers. She had a keen interest in all things technical.

She was my mother, who passed away on 26th of this month.

I gifted her a screw driver set for her seventieth birthday and my colleagues, whom I told - for effect, were aghast but she was overjoyed – she could now periodically overhaul her sewing machine with proper tools! She would listen to the sound the machine made and knew when it was time for an overhaul.

When I was still very young, she taught me how to replace a blown fuse. I felt all thumbs but she was patient and let me complete it. That stood me in good stead all my life.

After she turned eighty she got an iPad and learnt to e-mail, surf the net for information, got onto Facebook and followed the online activities of her children and grandchildren and rejoiced. She was not easily fazed by technology around her.

I have mentioned just one face of a multi-faceted personality.

Above all that she was my mother. My three sisters and I and miss her sorely!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Mystery of the Disappearing Divine Dancer

As soon as I entered my room I noticed that Natraj was missing. Always on my table. Comforting. Available to me just for the asking. Now missing.

It created a void, an uncertainty, an undefinable insecurity that was palpable. Not that it was one of those things that have great financial value. Many might not even give it a second look. But, for me it was an essential feature of my room. Something that defined it.

Now missing.

In a panic, I searched high and low. Well, not exactly panic. Just dramatizing it. But if you observed how frenzied the search was, you would think that it was panic. But you couldn't because you were not in the room.

When I did not find it, I wondered if the cleaning lady, who came to clean the room when I was not room (if “I was not home" is OK why not "I was not room", eh?) took it. Asking her would be a problem. We hardly ever met. The only proof that she existed was that my room was clean. Even if I left it unclean in the morning.

Apart from that, what if she had no hand in it? Or it was never in her hand? I ask and she gets offended and stops coming to clean my room? No, that won't do.

Then what? What next?

I wondered if I should e-mail Sherlock and ask him. Not that I had his e-mail id. But what if I asked BBC? Would they give me? What if he refused to take the case? Would Byomkesh Bakshi be interested? He is already so old and Door Darshan was not showing any more stories of him. Had he retired? Or even dead, without letting anyone know? What about Feluda? He must be older. Why would he travel all the way from Kolkota to solve a case for me. Aren't there any good private detectives/investigators around? There was that Insepctor Ajit or somebody. Not heard of him in ages. There is a rumour that the stories of Inspector Ajit were actually stories of Sherlock Holmes which were Kannadised by Soorappa and inspector Ajit never existed.

I pushed all these thoughts aside as I had to write a report on a stolen sculpture from a temple and here I was, missing a Natraj. Well, when I say write I don't mean actually write with pen on paper. Typing on my archaic desktop, as I am typing this now. Well, that is funny because when you actually read it, I will no longer be typing this. That could happen in the days of telex and Morse code. Then of course, it would not be typing but tapping for Morse code and typing for telex. The remorseless march of time and technology (wait for no man) have made them all obsolete. But, I digress.

Coming back to the Natraj, presence of the Natraj on the table was comforting. His role began in the other preoccupation of mine. Writing is occupation and the other is preoccupation. I had no mood to write the aforesaid report. But there was the deadline. Why do they call it a deadline? Because my editor would make me wish I were dead when I missed a deadline? Anyway . . .

Reluctantly I sit down, boot my archaic machine and wait for it to come to life, however pathetic a life that is. 

As I waited, patiently impatient (if you so prefer reverse the order of the last two words, keeping the ly where it was) I sipped my coffee. Coffee in name only. Brown, hot and a liquid. Mostly. Because some of it was getting into the vapour phase. It was happening when I brought it in. Now, where did that coffee suddenly come from you wonder? Without antecedent, as my lawyer friend (Never mind if that is an oxymoron or he is just a plain moron) would pompously say. I had bought it at the Darshini right below my room. The coffee dispenser, the man, not a machine, acting as if I asked to borrow a silver cup when I asked for the coffee in a paper cup. Well, the existence of the coffee and the reason for it to be in my hand and my right to drink it having been established, I sipped my coffee and kept it on the table. In the process spilled a little of it. I pulled the foot rug (an old towel now playing second innings) by the bed with my foot, (appropriately?) and tried to wipe the spot of coffee on the floor and its swinging corner hit something below the horizontal bar of wood connecting the two nearly vertical legs of the table and …

my dear Natraj rolled out from underneath. 

Its body a bright read with black stripes, tail a shiny black separated  from the main body with a white band, with the graphite tip just a little worse off from its fall from the table for me to indulge in my preoccupation - drawing.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

gurubhyo namaha

English . . .

  . . . is an egoistic language.

That is why . . .




small! . .

. . . intoned the sonorous voice, with dramatic pauses, rising to a crescendo with the words ‘I’ and ‘you’, the last accompanied by an accusing finger moving as if to jab a meek front-bencher in the face.

The flustered front-bencher stands up thinking that the larger than life teacher was accusing him of a misdemeanor.

Durrani waves a dismissive hand bidding the student sit and continues his exposition.

This scene plays itself in front of my mind’s eye whenever I think of Durrani, my English teacher, who passed away recently in Mysore.

He taught us English in PUC in Yuvaraja’s College, Mysore.

His classes were something to look forward to. The intricacies of the language, the nuances in the story from the text book, good usage were all laid before you most entertainingly, but never frivolously.

Years later, when my sister enrolled in the same college, became an unabashed fan of his, would come home and narrate one of the day’s highlights - from his class, I felt a strange pride. An emotion for which there seems to be no explanation except that he was “our” Durrani.

You know a teacher lived a successful life, when his students remember him with awe, admiration, and fondness.

Professor Durrani was one such teacher.