My earliest memories of Kishoritai are of her visits to our Mumbai home. I must have been nine or ten years old. Sometimes she would visit with her mother, the great Mogubai Kurdikar, and at other times by herself. Her mother, though, visited alone far more often and even stayed with us a couple of times. She was quite close to my father.
I recall Kishoritai’s animated and sometimes heated discussions with my father but I have no idea what they were arguing about. She addressed father as Mohandada, he being about a decade older than her. The discussions were often interspersed with singing, sargams and other musical demonstrations.
Yesterday, on hearing of her sad passing, we talked about our memories of her. I asked Amma if she remembered what those discussions were all about. She said it was all far too technical for her to follow, much less remember. Besides, more often than not, she would be in the kitchen preparing a meal. But, she said, no matter what they discussed and whether they agreed on a point or not, they would never drag the argument to the dining table.
They liked each other like a brother and sister, Amma says. Once, however, in the midst of an argument in front of Amma, she said, “Mohandada fights with me like he is my boyfriend.” Everyone had a good laugh and I guess the two moved on to the next thing to argue about. After one of those lunches, I remember having dropped mother and daughter home in our trusty Ambassador. During our ride Kishoritai suggested that I should get to know her son Bibhas, who she said was my age. That meeting was never to happen.
Her visits stopped when serious troubles with her voice began and she nearly gave up singing for close to a decade. After that hiatus, she came back with a bang and was soon the undisputed prima donna of Hindustani music. As her profile grew, so did tales about her idiosyncratic conduct. Nevertheless, everything was forgotten the moment she took to the stage. Her voice scintillated, her performance elevating the soul to rarefied realms.
Kishoritai was a thinking musician. Everything she spoke about music came after deep, rational thought. Even her aesthetics was backed by robust, convincing logic rather than unquestioned tradition alone. If you’d hear her speak as much as you’d hear her sing, you would see her genius, though many would be convinced of it only listening to her singing.
As we all know geniuses often have eccentricities. In fact, eccentricities probably define geniuses. Mogubai once invited my parents for lunch at their home. Amma remembers that day well. Though she cooked the entire meal perfectly, Kishoritai confined herself to the kitchen and did not utter a single word the whole afternoon, leaving my parents quite puzzled.
A couple of days later she called and profusely apologised saying she was mentally preoccupied and consumed by planning her repertoire for a concert the next day. She refers to this idiosyncracy in Amol Palekar’s film ‘Bhinna Shadja’ which incidentally has a reference to one of my father’s comments about her style of presentation in the mid 1970s.
RIP Kishoritai. You will never be forgotten; your song will forever echo in our hearts.
Like a massive earthquake, Brexit, in one fell swoop, has laid bare the many deep fissures and fault lines that so dangerously divide not just Britain but the world at large in so many different ways today.
Statistical and psephology analyses quickly revealed that the vote was split between blue collar and white collar, urban and rural, the less educated and university graduates, haves and have-nots and along distinct geographical areas (Think Scotland, which has created a whole new post-Brexit problem for Britain – but that’s an entirely different story).
The ‘leave’ voters clearly had a deep sense of disenfranchisement that has been bubbling away for years. The establishment, not just in Britain but also in many western countries around the world, seems increasingly out of touch with the hoi polloi – the people at the grassroots. In recent decades the nexus of mutual convenience between the political and business elite is so blatantly self-serving, that those who don’t see themselves belonging there have been hardened to embrace ideologies of the far right: nationalism, insularity – and xenophobia.
This is happening around the world. The success of Donald Trump’s campaign for his presidential nomination is another example of this. A certain sizable demographic at the grassroots level is fed up with the politically correct, please all brand of centrism. People increasingly want leaders to take a stand. Go left or right. The centre isn’t cool anymore – at least among those who feel they’ve been left out by that self-serving nexus between politics and big business.
India, the world’s biggest democracy, too, has in recent years displayed a marked shift to the right, with the centrist UPA and the once ubiquitous Congress party nowhere in the political reckoning in recent years.
The malaise of inequality
Forces that drove Brexit are a symptom of this widespread malaise of growing inequality: it was more an angry vote against the establishment. When the disappointed and the disenfranchised go out to vote, they vote with more emotion than rationality and it is no surprise that many weren’t even aware of the full consequences that would unfold after Britain left the European Union. Reports said that ‘EU’ was among the most searched words on Google after the Brexit vote. The ‘remain’ voters accused the government of not adequately explaining the repercussions of leaving to those backing that move.
Discontent on several fronts has been brewing in the UK for years. But it is the highly emotive issue of immigration that seems to have played a major part in hardening the stance of the ‘leave’ voters. Being part of the EU has brought in a flood of workers from other poorer European countries like Poland into Britain, with the immigrants eager to work for far less wages than the typical British blue collar worker is used to. The sudden spike in anti-Polish rhetoric and signs that have sprung up particularly in Britain’s rust belt (which overwhelmingly voted to leave) are a rather discomforting testimony to this.
The consequences for not just Britain but also for the EU are flying thick and fast. Scotland feels shortchanged that despite an overwhelming vote to remain it is being forced to toe the majority line to leave. So it’s seriously considering a second referendum to ask its people whether it should leave the United Kingdom. Over in the EU, member nations are beginning to worry if Brexit is the beginning of the end of the EU. Would other countries see less and less value in remaining in the union in the coming months and years? There is discontent in some countries already while in some others the voices to leave are becoming shriller post Brexit.
Lessons for New Zealand
At the heart of the issue is inequality – the widening and deepening chasm between the rich and the poor across the world. Incredibly, we see this phenomenon as the world frenetically pursues globalisation, ostensibly to create a more equitable and egalitarian world. But the exact opposite seems to be happening. Instead of being distributed equitably, wealth is being even further concentrated. Statistics in every country underscores the fact that the gulf is ever widening.
Inequality in New Zealand is growing fast. Last week Statistics New Zealand figures said the country’s richest 10 per cent owns 60 per cent of its wealth while the poorest 40 per cent owns a paltry 10 per cent. These are the sorts of figures that are bandied about by pro-poor NGOs ahead of high profile annual jamborees of the rich and famous like the Davos meet in Switzerland every January. Much is discussed and lip service paid. But little ever is done to bridge the chasm at the policy level and ensure a more equitable distribution of global wealth.
Brexit is a red light for the entire world. More than just a desire to leave the EU, it needs to be seen as a vote of no confidence in the status quo of the establishment. Discontent, when it bubbles over, could manifest itself in many ways – whether it is leaving an elite club of nations, bringing in an extreme right wing president, a rising tide of xenophobia against immigrants or having to live in cars because of housing unaffordability. Inequality is fertile ground for such disasters to unfold.
First appeared in the Indian Weekender July 1, 2016
India’s first bullet train is to have a 21km long underwater stretch north of Mumbai, said a news report last week. But only if the surveyors looked west near the Palghar coastline, they could well find a tunnel running 1600km south, to the tip of the Indian peninsula.
Thirty-six years ago I was visiting a college mate of mine in Kelve-Mahim near Palghar. It happened to be Hanuman Jayanti. So we cycled to a temple outside the village. Praful had told me that ‘Ahi-Mahi che devool’ had a fascinating story, quite unremarkable though it looked.
The stone deity in the dark sanctum had sunk into the floor at about 45 degrees, like a precariously listing ship. A frail old man who had made the temple his abode led us down a flight of broken steps
descending into a pond thick with a sickly green algal bloom.
“The other end opens in Rameshwaram,” he said. He then told us a fascinating story from the Ramayan. Ahiravan and Mahiravan, Ravan’s sorcerer brothers kidnapped the unconscious Ram and Lakshman from their war camp in Rameshwaram from right under the nose of their custodian Hanuman. Ahiravan carried the duo on his shoulders through Pataal.
“This is where he emerged and hid them here,” said the old man. When Hanuman got wind of it he followed him down that tunnel and at the end of a great fight lasting days killed the sorcerers. Finding the unconscious Ram and Lakshman crouched behind the stone deity he kicked it hard to get to them. “That’s how it sank.”
When he was a little boy, a ‘gora sahib’ came to find out if this was true. A rock was tied to lengths of rope from 40 charpoys and sunk into the pond. “They ran out of rope. It goes all the way to Rameshwaram, you see.”
Manojavam Marutatulya Vegam… Hanuman Jayanti greetings!
I must have been eight. Dad and I were going somewhere in a Mumbai local. A middle aged gent boarded at a station and plonked himself on the bench in front of us. He began a monologue, gesturing intermittently. Everyone glanced at him. Some chuckled, some smirked. A few stations later he got off. I asked dad. “All of us talk to ourselves but some do so loudly. It’s called soliloquy.” I wasn’t impressed. I thought he was talking to a ghost. I was into ghosts then. I made bold, “How do you know he wasn’t talking to a ghost whom we couldn’t see?” Dad promptly exorcised the topic. I spent the rest of the journey running all sorts of scenarios about the ghost and the gent in my head. It was the stuff of Calvin and Hobbes.
Cut to last week. I was on an errand dropping a friend’s eight-year-old someplace. We stopped at a light. Another car pulled up alongside. I glanced at the driver who was talking and gesturing animatedly. There was nobody else in his car. His gesticulations also caught my young passenger’s eye. “There’s no one else in the car. Do you suppose he’s talking to a ghost?” I asked. “Nah… he must be on his handsfree,” came the reply. No more ghosts in this digital age. No Calvin and Hobbes, too, for that matter. And soliloquy vanished at that railway station all those years ago.
What’s 13 times 5? If you can roll it off your tongue, this might resonate. A film historian was guest lecturing at my media school some 30 years ago. The raconteur par excellence told of a director of the ‘forties who spent a whole month on one shot. He wanted to perfectly capture the reflection of lovers embracing – on the surface of a gently flowing river. No digital special effects then. Neither fancy cameras. You simply worked with what you had and waited for perfect conditions. With countless takes.
I’ve recently come to know this talented young filmmaker who is cast in that old mould. You can feel his passion for his metier. He’s no Ray or Kurosawa but his craft is redolent of the time when moving images weren’t processed by microchips. He says he works with natural light, real, natural settings. He eschews special effects. He doesn’t mind the extra time and effort than if he had opted for digital wizardry, when he has it all on his laptop.
But he is an improbable anachronism. After screening his short earlier this week he invited questions. A young film student asked which special effects software he had used for one of the more poignant scenes. The filmmaker said he hadn’t used any. The questioner was unbelieving. How could that ever be? He must have used something? Else, how could he get that effect? Not his fault. He is of a generation that wouldn’t know how to multiply 13 times 5 without a smartphone.
Amidst the Aamir Khan/Kiran row, some on social media took vows like the earthshaking vows that many men and women in our epics and Puranas took. Some last week swore never ever to spend a single rupee watching any of the actor’s movies.
I was reminded of an acquaintance that took a similar vow when Salman Khan’s case was hogging the social media space some months back. But when he told me he’d watched Bajrangi Bhaijaan, I asked him about his vow. His reply proved to me that there is a little Birbal or Tenali Rama in each one of us. And as in the case of many of our Puranic vows, his workaround was fiendishly clever.
He said he’d kept his vow – not spending a single paisa watching the film. “I streamed it from a pirate website. The quality was bad, there were lots of interruptions but I had the pleasure of not paying anything to watch that [expletives deleted] actor’s movie. Enjoyed the movie without a paisa spent.”
Any qualms watching illegal stuff, I asked naively. “Nah, that’s the best way to treat him.”
I grew up with my fair share of spiritual gurus inherited from my elders. Most were ill clad, unkempt, looking penurious, even gaunt. They looked that way because they had renounced everything, had no worldly possessions, no filial relationships. They were so one with the world that there was nothing to possess – no distinction between the possessor and the possessed. They were the world; the world was them, or so I was told.
I don’t see gurus like them anymore. Every guru of today is a brand. Distinguished by carefully coiffured heads of hair even if looking wild and windblown; velvety flowing robes; signature accoutrements; headgear straight out of a fancy dress party: Their image so very selfie-ready; poised to materialise a hundred social media posts a day, a myriad likes and a million dollars from thin air. A global network of opulent ashrams, a who’s who of followers, fancy sets of wheels and wings, dedicated media channels vending instant nirvana…
Like the gurus of old, the world is at their feet. Yet unlike them, there seems so much more to possess!
Or how a tycoon dissuaded a banker from leaving India…
This happened a very long time ago, when I was but a minion in a very large Indian enterprise.
At one of the many drinking binges, which were hosted so very often for all sorts of celebratory reasons, I happened to listen to this conversation between a high-profile cowboy banker (long since dead) and a tycoon (very much alive but not so kicking anymore):
The banker, just back from a trip to Switzerland and Amsterdam, told the tycoon they should all move base to Switzerland and do business from Europe. The life was easy he said. “Kya ladkiyan! Kya ayyashi, everything so clean, spic and span!” The next five minutes, thoroughly sozzled, he went on to describe his exploits over the past week.
The tycoon gave him a patient ear. Then, equally sozzled but with all his wits seemingly about him, he said it was a great idea to buy a private plane, a chalet, even a bank in Europe – but always live in India, no matter the grime and the poverty.
Why? Asked the banker. “Because, in India you can buy everything you can’t dream of buying anywhere else. You can buy netas, babus, police, chief ministers and even prime ministers – all have a price and you can even haggle!” the tycoon replied. “You need to have a little tolerance for the gandgi and garibi.”