Archive for December, 2010

12/21/2010 ~ Madhouse Musings – Deccan Chronicle review

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Madhouse musings

Edited by Urmilla Deshpande
Westland Limited
Rs 295, pp. 335

Is it a flying saucer, is it a time-traveller, is it a Martian…? No. It’s an IITian. Much has been written about IIT and the exotic species that goes by the name of the IITian, most of it by GenNow authors who have been graduates of an institution that counts inarguably, as one of the most prestigious in the country. Weaving fiction around existing facts, this band of youthful writers have covered almost every aspect of contemporary campus happenings ranging from ragging woes, angst, insecurities, food, culture shock to budding and doomed romances — the entire gamut of emotions in short. Giving a unique and unconventional angle to the much written IIT story now arrives, Madhouse: True Stories of the Inmates of Hostel 4, IIT-B, a book that, unlike its predecessors, unabashedly goes into rewind mode. Composed entirely of snippets and reminiscences put together by past students of IIT-B and covering a timeline of 10 years, Madhouse is an uninterrupted trip in sheer goofiness.

In the heartwarmingly sincere introduction, editor Urmilla Deshpande (closely associated with many IITians in real life) ruefully confesses that all initial attempts at polishing (and censoring!) the text interfered with the spirit of the book to such an extent that she was forced to set free the stories, allowing them to blossom in their own way. The result is a rip-roaring account of the madcap capers that distinguished the inmates of Hostel 4 between the early 70s and 80s and it is difficult to believe that this bunch of goofballs now head the nation’s vital spheres.

Thus, guided by the pens of contributing editor Bakul Desai, his hostel mates Fish, Dabba, Ghoda, Piggy and others, we learn about the boy who rode to organic chemistry class on a horse (even tethered it in the company of bicycles in the parking shed), the student who got aroused by cats, the Parsi bawa who took a bus ride dressed merely in skimpy bathing trunks (of a blinding red colour!) and the great escape from hospital with the inebriated patient being carried piggy-back.

The Mumbai reader, in particular, will find this book a delightful read as he stumbles over familiar landmarks like the Powai and Vihar lakes, the Devi Padmavati and Hanuman temples just outside IIT and Navrang studios… a long way off from an age when Powai came to be defined by the snazzy Hiranandani colony. The characters of Madhouse are straight out of the pages of a Wodehouse classic and the crazy escapades of the inmates related in quick succession by various ex-students makes for a deliciously entertaining read.

The actual story, however, lies hidden between the lines. For Madhouse is not merely about the boy who kept travelling for hours only to arrive at Chinchpokli repeatedly or the inmate who killed, roasted and fed five pigeons to his hostel mates (one pigeon having had the audacity to crap on his head). It is about a bygone era, the loss of innocence, the passing of an age where human bonding was spontaneous and came above gizmos and gadgets and where life flowed unhindered by digital clutter. An age of black and white television with just Doordarshan supplying entertainment and information, a sole phone on the hostel premises to connect one with the outside world, an age of camaraderie, practical jokes and clean fun.

For the young reader, Madhouse might involve a spot of time travel into the past, for those who grew up in the 70s and 80s, it’s a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Kankana Basu is the author of Vinegar Sunday and Cappuccino Dusk

12/21/2010 ~ A

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

My younger son, age 14, is and has been an atheist as long as I can remember. Makes me wonder what this has to do with his upbringing. Both my children were brought up with choice. I was clear that I was an atheist. I never stopped them, and when an opportunity came up, encouraged them to participate, or explore, religious practices. The older one, who lived in India during early childhood, like me, went to Catholic schools. He had Catholic, Hindu and Muslim friends, went to church, temple and mosque with them, celebrated all the religious holidays with them. He seems to me agnostic, and more comfortable with Buddhist ideology – more behavior oriented than theistic. I remember with some amusement his despairing comment during what must have been an endless day at the Prado in Madrid, “I don’t want to see these dead and poked and tortured people anymore!” – I had spent a lot of time looking at various depictions of Saint George and the Dragon, the stations of the cross, and the crucification, and of course hell and purgatory.

The younger one enjoyed Christmas mass and Bar Mitzvah rituals, but with an air of puzzlement. He seemed to think this was some kind of game, similar to his Pokemon cards or Harry Potter, or now the vampire obsession. He is beginning to  refine his arguments as he gets older. We live in a Christian part of the world, most, if not all his friends are brought up in an unquestioning faith. I hear him talking to his friends often, and there isn’t contempt or anger in his tone, but there is immense impatience. “Yes, yes, so the world didn’t just pop up, so god must have made it. How come god  just popped up then? someone must have made him too?” He is regarded with mostly affectionate tolerance. But he’s getting slowly more aggressive.

The other day, on a long drive, we had a conversation. He told me, “god exists.” I was stunned into silence. I waited. “In Physics, ” he said,  “some particles, phenomena, incidences – can’t be measured or seen. They are explained  only by their effect on their surroundings. So… if you look at the evidence on earth – and it’s only on earth – churches, temples, holidays, violence, intolerance, power struggles, crusades, there’s your god. Or gods. They exist only in the human world. God didn’t make us, we made him- them. So of course he exists. People made him. Hobbits exist too, and Santa Claus – there is evidence all around for all those things.”

And this morning he re-wrote Bob Dylan’s lines. “People are stupid and times are dumb.” It’s this holiday season season. It drives him a little over the edge. Especially if he has to explain to a churchgoing friend where Jesus was born, and where on the map that is.

12/14/2010 ~ leak-age 2

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Paul Mitchell on secrets

Will WikiLeaks Change Diplomacy?

Like music, movies, and diplomatic cables, all our secrets will soon be available online.

I know a friend, a very close friend, born with a long-term and life-threatening disease, who has been dropped by her current insurance carrier, and has been refused coverage by any other health insurance company, because she has a “pre-existing condition”. My friend is fourteen years old. If insurance companies were not, by law, allowed to operate this way,  it would be fantastic. And fair. But since that is not the case, wouldn’t it be great if our health and conditions and all our health records were our secrets to keep? Even if there was no health insurance dragon to contend with, there are some things that I would rather keep secret. All the contents of my body and mind are not for the consumption, or even passing knowledge of anyone and everyone.

I find it strange that people who are so ferocious about their privacy rights are sometimes the very same ones who want to relinquish the privacy of nations, governments, diplomats – others. They are not “others” really. Yes, these entities are not always up to good, and sometimes, as Paul says, are actually up to nogood. But we elected them, they are us. So I don’t think I would want to take Assange’s advice on how to hold them accountable or how to make them operate more transparently, or when that transparency is appropriate and when it isn’t.

It’s not always good to keep secrets – but total transparency is not the only other way. And not on the say-so of this, as I said before, alarmingly creepy guy. (And no, I’m not able to separate these things. A man who may have treated women that way is not someone I would support. Withholding judgement till Swedish jury returns.)

More later, definitely.

12/14/2010 ~ Madhouse reviewed… and enjoyed!

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

'Madhouse...' is a candid, provocative narrative

12/08/2010 ~ leak-age

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

What does Louisa Lim have in common with Biggis Dikkis?  This question came to me as I listened to NPR while trying to finish an unfinished story. I am certain I will be pilloried for my meanness, but it broke me out of my appall.

I don’t watch the cable news channels, but I do listen to the radio. Normally only when I am in my car, maybe about twice a day – NPR or BBC, depending on the time of day and my desire for silence. It was hard to miss the wikileaks story, though, and I was curious enough to turn on the radio as I worked. I didn’t understand my sense of discomfort when I began to hear little details from the diplomatic cables, and the tone of the discussions that ensued. After a bit of thought, not a lot, because I simply don’t have the breadth or depth of knowledge to have more than a bit of thought on the matter, and I recognized even that bit to be emotionally driven rather than a real informed rational process, I gave up. But I did come away with the feeling that I was not happy (it was emotionally driven, I already admitted that) about an almost single-celled organism without an agenda I understood, and certainly without responsibility or accountability, being in the position of deciding what he would and would not leak. (Which brings me to more nastiness – his own wiki-leaks are getting him in trouble with the law in Sweden. Nasty, nasty, nasty.)

I have no doubt that we must have more transparency in government, any government. And relationships. And company workings, and bank workings, and just about everything including the emperor’s clothes. But there are other ways this can be achieved. And people are working on it. In rational and democratic ways. Check this out –

My brother in law, Paul Mitchell, when I asked him about the authenticity of leaked documents, sent me this:

“It is difficult, though by no means impossible, for a journalist to obtain access to original documents.  But these are often a snare and a delusion.  Just because a document is a document, it has a glamour which tempts the reader to give it more weight than it deserves. This document from the United States Embassy in Amman, for example. Is it a first draft, a second draft or the finished memorandum? Was it written by an official of standing, or by some dogsbody with a bright idea? Was it written with serious intent or just to enhance the writer’s reputation? Even if it is unmistakably a direct instruction to the United States Ambassador from the Secretary of State dated last Tuesday, is it still valid today?  In short, documentary intelligence, to be really valuable, must come as a steady stream, embellished with an awful lot of explanatory annotation. An hour’s serious discussion with a trustworthy informant is often more valuable than any number of original documents.”

It’s from another era – Kim Philby, My Silent War, 1968, p. 255. Or is it?

Oh and the answer to my little quiz question at the beginning of this post – neither of them have a problem saying “Wikileaks”.