Sunday, July 22, 2007

india needs more liberal gun laws?

A bizarre full-page spread in today's Hindustan Times actually argues that India's gun laws are too restrictive, and it should be easier to get gun licenses and buy imported weapons. The weirdest part is the way the piece cites the dropoff in license applications over the past few years as though it's the worst imaginable crisis. Oh my God, fewer people are packing heat! How will we protect ourselves from the marauding hordes?! (OK, they do make the argument that all the crooks get their guns from the black market, but we've heard that line before from America's National Rifle Association, which boils it down into a facile maxim: "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.")

Here's a good example of the tone the HT takes: "Given the obsolete gun laws and the government’s monopoly over the sector, licence-holders say they have no choice but to make do with these outdated, crude-finish weapons." Gasp! They can't get the cutting edge assault rifles and automatic pistols they need! Whatever will they do?

It's not April Fool's Day, is it?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

five minute blues song

OK, it took me a little longer than five minutes. But you get the idea. BTW: This is the world's first "open source" blues song, so feel free to contribute verses, set it to music, steal the title, turn it into rockabilly or whatever. The Man did it to black artists for years, after all.

The Hindutva Blues

I woke up one morning,
went into politics.
I gathered up a mob.
They gathered up some sticks.

We hit the streets!
We closed the stores!
“Down with the rich!
Up with the poor!”

We held a vote.
And captured booths.
They told lies.
We told the truth.
There was more of us;
what we said was true.
But they had the loot,
They had thrishuls.

We lost the vote!
My deposit's gone!
My Baby left me
for Advani's son.

I got the Hindutva blues.
I got the Kashmir frustration.
These damn politicians
Need assassination!
I got the Hindutva blues.
I got the Godhra confusion.
This democracy blows.
We need a revolution!

I woke up the next day.
The world upside down.
Amitabh lost his wig,
Sachin lost his crown.

Couldn't beat Bangladesh,
Maybe both should retire.
Now Abhi's got a wife....
But hey, what do I care?

They flail around bats!
and dance around trees!
Mera naam bhi joker.
They got nothin on me.

Why they so rich,
when everybody's poor?
These socialites,
the rabble adores.
They's a billion of us,
And two of them.
I don't like 'em.
Let's do 'em in!

I got the Hindutva blues.
That NDTV sensation!
Turnin' gossip into news,
Ignoring starvation.
I got the Hindutva blues.
I got the Stardust obsession.
I don't wanna know.
About my oppression.

That night it was dark,
They was shedding the load.
Didn't have my Baby,
So I lay down in the road.

I went to sleep!
I dreamt in prose!
Didn't sing no songs,
Didn't fight no foes.

A horse came along,
a brass band besides.
But I didn't wake up.
Though they tried and tried.

The groom had Black Label!
The bharat Cutty Sark!
But all that I could do,
was snore there in the dark.

My Baby stole my heart.
And took my booze.
She run off with another man.
I got nothin left to lose.

I got the Hindutva blues.
I got heart palpitations.
My Baby only knows
How to treat my condition.

I got the Kingfisher blues.
I got the IMFL affliction.
I can't brew my own,
Can't afford my addiction.

(repeat until you pass out drunk or the stoning begins)

attn: foreign press - india's highest leader is called the prime minister

With all the domestic flap over the selection of Pratibha Patil as president, readers of this space may have missed the fact that all the Big Foreign Press (with the exception of Newsweek--hooray) have made much of the "election" of India's first female president.

Why is this notable? India has already had a female prime minister--the highest post in the land, with real political power. And three of the most powerful people in politics today, Sonia Gandhi, Jayalalitha and Mayawati, are women. The presidency, in contrast, is a wholly ceremonial post with little importance--less, even, than the US vice presidency.

To me, this news should get about the same amount of coverage (at least as a "victory for women"--that is, apart from the other political wranglgin) as what America's first woman vice president would receive 20 years after the first female president served two terms and became one of the most important political figures of the century (like Indira Gandhi). In other words: Very little.

the history boys

I finally watched The History Boys last night, and I can't stop thinking about it. Sort of a Tom Stoppard with soul, it was one of those very rare pieces of fiction that is actually able to say something (a lot of things, actually) interesting and intelligent about literature. Far from the faff spouted by Robin Williams in The Dead Poets' Society (which bears a passing resemblance to THB in setting and structure), the stuff that the masters in THB say strikes one as just that *bit* better (because it's funny as well as brilliant) than what your college professors said, if they were as clever as Edward Tayler, Wallace Gray and Edward Said. It's full of poignant moments, too, of course. But the worst one, for me, was when the ringer brought in from Oxford to make sure the boys all get places admits that he never thinks about going "back up," because, he says: "I'm not clever enough. I'm not anything really." God, I feel like that ALL the time. Oh, yes, and THB uses "journalism" in the just the right pejorative sense. They really do need to start making more plays into movies.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

who needs decent roads and a working sewer when we can have F1 and the commonwealth games?

The mixed up priorities of Delhi's government (and India's, for that matter) never cease to amaze me. We don't have a decent road -- ok, maybe the drive up to the parliament house or something. Half the city gets polluted water out of the taps (or no water, or no taps). Three-quarters of the buildings are illegal or falling down or both. There's no sewer system deserving the name, so everybody's shit goes straight into the river untreated (and much of it right back into the drinking water, I suppose). The garbage pickup is a joke, so half the streets look like part of some municipal dump and the drains are clogged by refuse every year (the good citizens who throw their rubbish on the ground deserve as much blame as the MCD, by the way). But these problems hardly see even a tiny spark of action--certainly not any results. Nope, instead Delhi goes off and bids for the Commonwealth Games. And WINS! Wins? Did the selection committee SEE the airport progress report? Then, high on that dubious success, the next step is a natural -- go after a Formula One race. The Delhi Grand Prix. It sounds good, doesn't it?

Just for a laugh, go down and check out the sports facilities at Nehru stadium or some of the various "modernities" constructed for the Asian Games a decade or so back. I don't know that they've boosted tourism or improved India's sportsmen or created valuable infrastructure. They look like a bunch of neglected, badly constructed junk to my jaundiced eye. Then, if you want to stop laughing, take a gander at one of Delhi's countless slums or (worse) jhuggi clusters. Maybe you think your tax money would be put to good use just obliterating these people, humanely as possible, of course, and bulldozing their houses so India can build some stadium or glass skyscraper. I don't. But even if I did, I'd at least insist that the stadium or skyscraper in question be designed by a competent architect, built with decent materials, and, what the heck, I'd even like it hooked up to a functioning sewage system. See, rich folks like clean water and stink-free air, too.

Here's something you can do. Don't vote. You're right. All the politicians are the same. But don't just continue with your present apathetic, I-can't-be-bothered lack of participation. This time, don't vote as part of a general boycott. I humbly submit that the first issue should be as follows: Nobody votes until every neighborhood has a functioning sewer and drinking water system. If the politicians don't listen when you DO voice your opinion, maybe they'll start when the capital of India's fabulous democracy sees voter turnout fall below 10 percent.

road rage

This morning's papers are reporting that five young guys beat a dude to death for bumping one of their motorcycles in Delhi's usual traffic. It's not the first time I've read such a story. I recall a couple incidents where a motorist blew somebody away, Charles Bronson style, for such an offense. But this was the first time I actually had to admit some mixed feelings. Along with the horror, outrage and fear -- de rigeur for a whiney, liberal, dimestore-psycholanalyzed git like myself -- I found myself identifying a teensy bit with the bludgeoners. Same goes for the Blueline bus killers. In a very dark, Stalinesque moment deep in my alcohol-soaked synapses, something arced over and I thought: Well, you know, sometimes people DO drive like complete assholes. This is why I have to rehang my heavy bag.

genre fiction

I still get annoyed when critics write that this or that author has "broken through the limitations of the genre" or whatever. It's not that I'm one of these guys who insists detective stories or the space opera or the bodice ripper don't have limitations. It's more that the claims for the boundary breaking always seem to be exaggerated. In every case -- Elmore Leonard to Raymond Chandler to Stanislaw Lem to Iain Banks -- what you have is a very good example of the genre, not a breaking of its conventions or limitations.

But here's a more interesting question: Who are some writers who can do both -- write a best-seller AND write a literary novel. And I'm not talking about the oxymoronic "literary potboiler," by which reviewers mean "literate potboiler/thriller/etc." (Please don't say Graham Greene).

My candidate of the month is Kate Atkinson, who's written at least one decent literary novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and two cracking detective stories (actually, the best I've read in a long time), in Case Histories and A Good Turn.

Monday, July 09, 2007

two observations about the namesake

(1) Overrated.
(2) To quote the world-renowned Dan Mendelsohn, "Isn't a character named Gogol precious and pretentious at the same time?"

(Saw the flick yesterday).

bheja fry

Our good friend Vinay Pathak is hilarious in the low-budget hit Bheja Fry. Apparently he's looking at a lot of scripts now, but as seems to always be the case in Bollywood, most of them are copycats of his last outing. The brilliant part about Vinay's performance in Bheja Fry is that he brought back the essential note of realism to Hindi-film comedy--unlike his buddy Ranvir, who delivered the usual outsized performance that we've seen in the past with Javed Jaffrey's goof in Salaam Namaste or Boman Irani's roles in Munnabhai and Main Hoon Na. So writers should be looking to feed Vinay scripts like the original Gol Maal, which require terrific comic timing and charisma, but also the ability to portray a real character. Bollywood needs to remember that the audience shouldn't be constantly made painfully aware that it is watching a performance.

Here are my suggestions:

(1) Remake Gol Maal - Why not? Remakes are hot. Vinay is hot. And the guy could play that role with his eyebrows and (fake) mustache alone.

(2) A detective sequel to Bheja Fry - Take the phone gags Bharat Bhushan used to "help" reunite the couple in Bheja Fry to the next level, as his income tax inspector position leads him into a real sleuth mystery a la Inspector Clouseau.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

off the wall prediction

OK, Ram Gopal Varma / Subash Ghai / somebody should hire me as their idea man. Seriously. I know I don't know jack about Bollywood, but.... Case in point: I'll lay odds that serial kisser guy Emraan Hashmi is going to be a big star. If Ramu had taken him on instead of that dufus in James, people would be talking about him like the did about Tarantino after he resurrected Travolta. No. I AM serious. Yes. I know he can't act. That's the director's job. Come ON, dude.

brunch at sakura

You gotta try it. OK, it's about $100 for two people, but if you have a hearty appetite, you get your money's worth of sushi, tepanyaki (bata chapal sized prawns!) and beef medallions. Plus there's unlimitied beer or wine, etc. I have to say I regret all those times (ok, a few) that I went to Olive.