Bhrigu's question

कभी जो याद भी आता हूँ मैं तो कहते हैं के आज बज़्म में कुछ फ़ित्ना-ओ-फ़साद नहीं - मिर्ज़ा ग़ालिब

Location: the valley, California, United States

Bay Area, Strategy Manager, Haas- U. C. Berkeley, Marathons

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ina Mina Dika's Glasgow connection

I was reading the biography of James Herriot this morning. While describing his childhood, author Graham Lord quotes from 'Murder, Murder, Polis', a collection of Glasgow street songs compiled by Maureen Sinclair. Kids often sang songs to eliminate (or choose) the 'it' in a hide-and-seek game during the turn of the previous century. One song went thus;

Eeeny meeny macka racka
Em oh dominacka
Alla backa sugaracka
Om pom push

Obviously, my eyes lit up and I scoured the net and discovered many web pages that contained references to this ditty. It has also been used in a TV show in the UK. I wonder where C. Ramchandra heard it and how it inspired him to compose his most famous tune.

(c) Arun Simha

Friday, December 16, 2011

What Dravid should have mentioned in that speech

Former Indian captain Rahul Dravid delivered the Bradman memorial speech in Australia yesterday. For those coming in late, Bradman was an Aussie soldier who died in Gallipoli while fighting for Kemal Pasha’s side and won the Nishan-e-Turkmenistan Cross. This speech has been met with unanimous approval by my Facebook friends. They’ve marveled at Dravid’s knowledge of history, his awareness of the traditions of Indian cricket, his openness, and his erudition. While I’m broadly in agreement with them, I do take issue with the claim that he was intimately aware of Indian cricketing traditions or exhibited a sense of transparency.

While Dravid touched on the superficial aspects of the origins of Indian cricketers, such as their childhood struggles when they read their algebra textbooks under a street lamp, he did not shed light on their close relationships. Perhaps, he wanted to be circumspect and not bring up caste-related matters in front of a foreign audience This is a modest attempt to fill that gap for the historical record.

But first, I must impress upon you the theory of the Ten Degrees of Narayana Murthy. Every Kannada Brahmin is related to Narayana Murthy, the Chairman platypus of Infosys. A recent conversation that my mother had with a friend illustrates this point. I introduced my friend Raghavendra Rao to her.

“Oh, Raghavendra Rao? That’s a Madhwa Brahmin name.”

“Yes, aunty. I am a Madhwa too.”

A few minutes later after my mom waterboarded Raghavendra to get information on his matha (mutt), gotra, and horoscope from him, she declared, “Oooh. Now I get it. You’re Narayana Murthy’s wife’s cousin’s great-aunt’s husband’s sister’s brother-in-law’s grandson’s first cousin. I am Narayana Murthy’s great-grandmother’s second cousin’s father-in-law’s grand-daughter’s sister-in-law only.” {Editor’s note: This sounds overtly long in English, but Kannada, like other Indian languages, has specific words for each relationship which makes the whole thread fit a three second sound bite. Every Madhwa is thus connected to Mr. Murthy, Mr. E.A.S. Prasanna, and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and therefore is a cousin to every other Madhwa. }

Raghavendra turned to me and said, “Wow, dude. I didn’t know we were that closely related! Awesomeness!”

Get it? Likewise, Rahul Dravid has a Ten Degree relationship with every cricketer who has ever donned an India cap.

Dravid is a long-lost Iyer from his father’s side and a Indori Deshashta Maharashtrian from his mother’s side. Iyer’s are the Tamil version of the Kannada Smarthas. Ergo, Dravid is related to Javagal Srinath and Gundappa Vishwanath from his father’s side since all Iyers/Smarthas are related. It is a matter of conjecture as to why a dvaita philosophy following Vishnu worshipping Deshashta would marry a Shiva worshipping advaita following Iyer. After all, Iyers believe in the dictum ‘aham brahmasmi’ (I am Brahman, the ultimate truth). How can you have marital accord with that kind of belief? The Dravid household must have had its share of imbroglios.

Mrs. Pushpa Dravid (mother of Rahul): “Gavaskar is a superb batsman. He is a true patriot. After all, he is a Marathi manoos.”

Mr. Sharad Dravid (father of Jammy): “Heh. Vishwanath plays all the crucial innings when India needs it. Gavaskar focuses on records only.”

Mrs. Pushpa Dravid: “How can you say that? How can you compare thirty four hundreds with fourteen?”

Mr. Jam-saheb of Indira Nagar: “Aham Brahmasmi!”

Mrs. Pushpa: “Arrey deva, dochki tujhi. Talking to you is like talking to a Wall only.”

Since Vishwanath’s wife is Gavaskar’s sister. Dravid is related to Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Manjrekar, and others of that kind. Gavaskar is married to Marshneil Mehrotra, which provides the crucial bhaiyya link to Dravid. Rahul is thus a distant cousin to the bhaiyya contingent; Sehwag, Kohli, Bhajji, Dhoni, et al.

Are you with me so far? It was easy to establish these simple relationships quickly. But I had great difficulty in tracking down the connection with the other parts of the Indian team that belong to what Doordarshan newsreaders of the 1980s used to call as ‘members of one community’. I had to dig deep and talk to knowledgeable people such as K. N. Prabhu, Rajan Bala, and Raju Bharatan to figure this out. Bharatan was unbelievably helpful with his encyclopedic knowledge.

After he had sung a Lata number composed by C. Ramchandra for an unreleased film, he dug out his famous work ‘Indian cricket, the vital phase’ and thumbed its pages. He found on page 71 something that he liked. “I can’t believe that I wrote this wonderful pun. Check this out. “Abbas Ali Baig’s last claim to fame had been a kiss planted on his bashful Hyderabadi cheek by a bold young lady whose act didn’t quite have the CCI members smacking their lips with approval.””

“Most wonderful,” I responded dryly.

Bharatan continued, “Dravid’s maternal ancestor visited Bombay in the 1903-04 timeframe. He tonga-pooled a ride with a Konkanasta Brahmin called Yeshwant Agarkar from Girgaum to Chickalwadi. When they reached their destination, Shri Agarkar very kindly offered to pay with the words, “Tumhi thamba. Mi deto.” He fished in his pockets but, as is traditionally the case with Kobras, he could not find his wallet. After a few minutes, Dravid’s ancestor paid the tongawallah. Sheepishly, Agarkar invited the other Deshashta fellow home. When they got there, Yeshwant Agarkar’s mother said, “I would have offered you tea but we just finished having it,” and sent the Debra packing. Dravid’s ancestor was so impressed with the joint marshalling of resources that he offered the hand of his sister in marriage – against all opposition – to Agarkar. There you have the connection. It also explains why Ajit Agarkar refused to trouble the scorer down under by being very economical with the bat.”

If Dravid was related to Agarkar, it opened a lot of doors. Ajit Agarkar is married to a Muslim and since everyone knows that Muslims marry their cousins and are related, Ajit Agarkar was just a few degrees away from Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, Javed Miandad (the son of a former Mumbaikar Gujarati cop) and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. It was easy enough for Bharatan and me to connect the dots of Dravid with the Test playing Muslim relatives of Agarkar.

Bharatan continued, “Pataudi was married (when he was alive) to Sharmila Tagore who is a great niece of Rabindranath Tagore.”

I knew that Rabindranath won the Booker prize for his famous neo-realism novel, ‘Gitanjali Express’. This established the crucial Bengali connection. Every Bengali’s great-great-grandmother was a sibling of Saurav Ganguly’s great-great-grandmother. That lady was also a sibling to the ancestor of Kishore Kumar Ganguly. In fact, the entire population of Bengal circa 1911 was comprised of siblings who sadly lost touch with each other after Curzon got naughty.

Bharatan agreed, “The genetic disposition of the single-point father of these siblings explains the virility of Saurav’s cover drive and the tireless natal efforts of that ancestor’s wife explain his fatigue filled deliveries.”

I exclaimed, “So, Dravid is Ganguly’s distant cousin.”

Bharatan nodded, “But wait. That isn’t all. One of the siblings married a Chattopadhyaya, the grandfather of Harindranath and Sarojini Chattopadhyaya. Sarojini, as you know, married a Naidu. That Naidu had an inter-caste marriage with V. V. S. Laxman’s grandfather’s third cousin’s wife’s brother.”

“That clears it.”

“There’s more. The great grand niece of that Adam-like Bengali chap married E. A. S. Prasanna.”

“How cool is that?”

“There’s more juicy Iyer-ish coffee. One distant cousin in the Iyer’s side of Rahul’s family married the Iyengar Krishnamachari Srikkanth.”

I was aware of that connection. Just as Madhwas have a ten degree connection with Narayana Murthy, Bhimsen Joshi and Prasanna, all Iyengars of the world are related to Venkatraghavan and Srikkanth. This is quite a peculiar trait with Iyengar males. They establish kinship very quickly with Venkat and Cheeka, but claim a distant relationship with Hema Malini and Vidya Balan. [I don’t know whether Ms. Balan is an Iyengar. I’m merely speculating since she has the classic Iyengar snout.] A reliable source informed me that young Iyengar men don’t want to be too closely related to Ms. Balan since they can talk to their aunt and plead, “Maami, neengal koncha alliance ponnu.”

Thus, Dravid is also related to that Iyengar, Sadagopan Ramesh. It was rumored that Ramesh lost his spot in the Indian team since he – in his ignorance - made un-parliamentary statements about a film-star who was going around with a married former test cricketer. These statements were allegedly made within earshot of the said cricketer. But that’s not quite true. Ramesh, in fact, did make statements, but different ones, during an in-flight intellectual conversation he had with Dravid on the qualifications of the Bengali and Konkani so-called Brahmin communities. He apparently quoted an uncle who said, “Thooo. These fish and fowl eating useless rascals aren’t Brahmin at all I say,” and added that he didn’t agree with his uncle’s sentiment. Unfortunately, the cricketer heard only a part of that conversation. What followed was a proverbial Ashwathama-is-dead kind of interpretation. And Ramesh was never heard of again.

The next steps get tricky. Orthodox Kannada Madhwa and Smarthas are quietly vary of marrying Iyengars (at least the Kannada speaking type) since they doubt their racial credentials. Apparently, Ramanuja, when he was shunted from TN, came over to the old Mysore kingdom and converted a lot of Jains to Iyengar-ism. So who knows, the person next to you wearing the three-stump & inverted bails mark on his forehead could be a long lost gujju. This tenuous link could potentially establish a link of Dravid’s with Parthiv Patel. But neither Bharatan nor I could find supporting evidence to establish this as fact.

So, there you have it. This thesis establishes a more intricate web of relationships that create camaraderie within the Indian camp. The purpose of this exercise was to merely document the links for the historical record and not rake up casteist sentiments. India is a progressive nation and caste & religion have been effectively eradicated from the midnight hour of 26th January 1950 when the British walked away from India to provide good natured security for the Arab population during the turbulent aftermath of the partition of Palestine.

Next up. How Pakistani cricketers are distant cousins of Osama Bin Laden.

(c) Arun Simha

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Steve Inskeep - Instant City

‘Instant City, Life and death in Karachi’ is a non-fiction work by Steve Inskeep, the host of NPR’s All Things Considered. It offers great insights into how this Hindu majority trading port of 400,000 became a bustling Muslim metropolis of 13m and how its transformation offers lessons to other cities around the globe.

Inskeep begins by exploring the secular nature of the city. At the time of Pakistan’s independence, Karachi’s population was 51% Hindu. Most businesses were Hindu owned and the largest shipping company was owned by a Parsi, Dawn columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee’s father. Jinnah’s dogmatic belief that Muslims in India comprised a separate nation led to the formation of Pakistan. The economic reality of a city run by Hindus pushed him towards a more pragmatic compromise. This arguably led him to make the famous speech about his vision of a Pakistan as a secular and not theocratic state. However, Karachi’s minority population was at the mercy of the incoming refugees who were in no mood to heed to, what Inskeep termed in an interview, as the nuances of a lawyer. He quotes from various editorials by Punniah of the Sindh Observer who warned about the city being swamped by the onslaught of incoming refugees. The city was indeed, swamped, and Punniah had to flee to Bangalore. Cowasjee’s father was persuaded to stay.

The city became 90% Muslim overnight, but they newcomers unleashed other divisions to fight over. Whilst the city was relatively liberal during the 1970s, Zia’s policies changed its profile during the ‘80s. Bars and nightclubs were banned. Plans to make Karachi into a Macao for wealthy Arabs were shelved. The Pathan immigration during the ‘80s and ‘90s brought them into conflict with the Mohajirs with each group trying to defend its territory. Millions of illegal settlements were built, and then legalized by succeeding governments that were split along ethnic lines. The land mafia made a killing by capturing public land outside Karachi and settling refugees of their own kind. Public services such as electricity, garbage-removal and water were illegally tapped from government sources or were offered at a premium. Obviously, the poorest of the poor squatted in these to-be-made-pukka settlements. Homes were built on top of each other until they started to sink below the level of the roads. Sewers were blocked, leading to flooding during the monsoons. Interestingly enough, an NGO official is quoted as calling the political mafiosi as ‘land suppliers’. Efficient governance being absent, a bizarre spontaneous order has taken hold in Karachi with multiple parallel administrations that provide basic services to the illegal, semi-legal and newly-legal settlements. NGOs have resigned themselves to working with these ‘land-suppliers’.

Perhaps apocryphally, Jinnah is supposed to have said that every Pakistani government would be worse than its predecessor. Every administration, from Ayub Khan to Zardari, has attempted to solve the problem of Karachi, but have failed. They city was too fluid to govern in any organized manner. A Greek city planner was hired by Ayub Khan to build extensions to Karachi in order to house the poor migrants, but the adminstrators did not follow his plans for low cost housing. Daily wage workers cannot be ‘banished’ to the city’s boundaries since it costs them exorbitant rates in terms of time and money to make it to the center of the city for work. They soon migrate back to the center and prefer to squat.

The affluent have increasingly cordoned themselves off in Defence and Clifton. There are some notable idealists who believe in the city and its people and are trying their best to affect change. Inskeep befriends an affluent couple, idealistic architects who do not have a generator in their home. They prefer to suffer as the city suffers since they believe that their children should not be isolated from the less privileged. The mayor Mustafa Kamal, a MQM member, goes from project to project, country to country, to build infrastructure and attract invesment. A doctor, Shireen Jamali, works countless hours in her public hospital to administer medical aid to people who’ve been wounded in terrorist bombings and shootings. She gets used to the sight of severed heads being brought in ambulances every time a bomb explodes in the city. In fact, on one terrible occasion, a bomb explodes outside the emergency ward while she is receiving Shia patients who were bombed during an Ashura procession and were brought there by the admirable Edhi’s ambulance services. A second bomb that is placed inside a computer monitor outside the ward is diffused by Edhi’s son with a screwdriver. It is a bomb that is constructed with explosives surrounded quite beautifully by hundreds of symmetrically arranged metal nuts that aims to inflict maximum civilian damage. Journalists have to perform a tricky balancing act for fear of violent retribution. Thus, Cowasjee begins a column with the words ‘To digress’ and pummels Zardari for giving a high profile job to a relative, but in the succeeding paragraphs he suggests that a garden be named after Benazir.

Despite the violence, the city offers hope and employment to millions. Buildings are built, and workers are hired. The pathan who fled the violent northwest frontier, or the Mohajir whose grandparents fled India make do. They have ambitions for themselves and for the city. Cities around the world are undergoing such transformation. Cities such as Mexico City, Rio, Mumbai, Delhi, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Seoul have expanded miles beyond the limits that their planners envisaged. Cities burgeon as nations transform from rural economies to industrialized urban ones. No centralized government can hope to cope with the staggering rate of growth. The informal economy often laps the organized sector in providing vital services to the desperate migrants. They also create divisions to stay in power. Inskeep does not offer solutions. He is a journalist and not a policy analyst, and his focus is to highlight the stresses that a mega city undergoes during a few turbulent decades.

‘Instant City’ is a warning to other cities, such as Mumbai and Bangalore which are ethnic tinderboxes even if the divides are not in the same magnitude as those in Karachi. If efficient and firm governance that values law and order is not firmly established in these cities, the administration will surrender its basic responsibilities to parallel forces. If that happens, the very attributes that attracted investment and economic migrants to its bosom, will push them away.

You can listen to an interview with Steve Inskeep here.

(c) Arun Simha

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Fire in Babylon - a review

I liked 'Fire in Babylon', the documentary on the great West Indian cricket team of the 1980s. It seems to have been made for an audience that comprises of cricket lovers from generations that did not get to see that team first hand. My generation developed an appreciation of the struggles of WI cricketers during the pre 1960 era from C. L. R. James' 'Beyond a boundary'. In that work, he spoke about the intersection of colonialism, racism and marxism and how the understanding of the West Indian experience was necessary to develop an appreciation of WI cricket. In fact, the first words of the book were, "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" affirming that events outside the cricket field affected what happened inside in equal measure. 'Fire in Babylon' does an adequate job of book-ending that work by showcasing how the succeeding generation of cricketers took it to the next level.

While Constantine and Worrell were influenced by the Calypso generation, Llyod's cricketers were deeply rooted in the rebellious tradition of reggae, and the socialist/marxist movements of that era. While the documentary does not cover it, the countries that comprise the West Indies had been granted independence and they chose to go in different political directions. Jamaica, was an on again, off again Socialist nation with a white man Michael Manley leading it for
many years. T&T and Guyana, countries with substantial Indian populations went somewhat the same way. But countries like Grenada got violent revolutions. By most appraisals the economic policies of these countries were disastrous and WI cricket stepped in to not only unify a fragmented country, but also provide pride in...something...

And this is where the documentary gets problematic. It covers the macho pride of the cricket team as reflected by the confidence provided by their fast bowlers. Most of the cricketers spoke about black pride and the mandatory references to Rastafarianism were made. The documentary reinforces how these players were heavily guided by black power, but leaves out the inconvenient fact that the cricketers of Indian origin felt alienated in the new atmosphere. Kallicharan, Jumadeen, Bacchus, Shivnarine et al were effectively sidelined during that era.
The film makers should have conferred with Kallicharan who had decided to stay loyal to WI cricket by not joining Packer. He captained the official team and was effectively shunned when the rebels got back. This was what prompted him to go to South Africa. A fall from grace for a person who had effectively won them the '75 world cup through his batting.

Secondly, the footage is inconsistent. A reference to the 77 Packer supertest is shown with footage of a photo shoot of the 1981 tripartite series (Eng, WI in Aus). Gavaskar is showing walking off in Melbourne 1981 when the speakers are talking about the infamous '76 Jamaican test. Plus, there was no introduction to that test. It followed a humiliating defeat at the hands of India. Set a target of 400+, India scored 406-4 in Port of Spain to win. The WI team had three spinners in that test. Llyod decided once and for all that he would never rely on spinners again.

But that's nitpicking. The documentary was good for a layman to understand the astounding talent that the turbulent times created. And if not for anything, the film redeemed itself by showing footage of two incredible feats; Dujon flying to what would effectively be third leg slip to catch a nick, and Viv stepping on his front foot to sweep-pull a short ball from a paceman.

So I give it a 3 star rating (out of 4).

(c) Arun Simha

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday doggerel: For he is a very sad man

Sing to the tune of "For he is an Englishman" - Gilbert and Sullivan, HMS Pinafore. The doggerel is based on the current Shashi Tharoor-Twitter brouhaha. For the humour impaired, this is supposed to be sarcastic and is based on this classic quote.

For he is a very sad man
For he is a very sad man

The Congressman has said it
and it calls for many a repeat
when solitude and wine meet
that tweeting is no great feat
For he is a very sad man

And he could be from any nation
rich, poor or the middle station
he could be your distant relation
even indulges in self fornication
For he is a very sad man

Thinks he has no cause for worry
so he writes in a bloody hurry
the high command makes merry
now the news is not so dreary
For he is a very sad man

He always hits the whiskey bar
while he stays at the five star
often behaves like a great czar
doesn’t even drive his own car
For he is a very sad man

Hope the Congress lynch mob
lets him keep his big job
else Vinod Mehta will rob
he’ll write and we’ll all sob
For he is a very sad man

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Origin of Nike's "Just Do It"

Morbid quiz fact of the day: Nike's slogan "Just do it" comes from murderer Gary Gilmore's statement "Let's do it" to the firing squad that executed him. Wow. Here's the creator Dan Wieden talking about it.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Quiz question. Fill in the blanks (Yeats poem, famous film)

Fill in the 5 blanks. Film related hint below the poem

Sailing to Byzantium
- William Butler Yeats

THAT is __ _____ ____ _____ ____. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Hint: The blanks gave the title to a famous novel published in 2005। This was made into a film that won 4 academy awards in 2007, including Best Picture.