Monthly Archives: September 2005

Of Self-imposed Exiles in Libraries

I have always loved libraries. There is something about the sacred silence in a library coupled with the infinitely high concentration of knowledge in a singular space that has always attracted me. Being a bibliophile obviously helps, but there is more to it than just a love for books. I remember fondly, the many lazy afternoons I spent in the library during my (recent) b-school years. I spent less time on the business books and more on the organizational behavior and sociology books. I have to admit that though my library pursuits were academic in intention, they would have helped me more in an M.Phil type of a degree and not and MBA!

Come to think of it, my years at school and graduate college too weren’t without the ‘library love’ as it were. In the school I went to, the ‘Library’ was a weekly ‘class’. This meant that once every Friday, we would be herded like sheep into the library where we could pick any book we wanted and read it for 45 minutes and borrow or return books. I invariably headed to the P.G. Wodehouse stack. There is something torturously funny about reading PGW in a somber, silent, fully occupied library room that you can only understand if you try it yourself. Silence was enforced by this ruthless, female monster of a librarian, whose stern voice caused goose bumps among the more strong hearted amongst us.

In my engineering years, I spent disproportionate amounts of time reading management and marketing books in the rather modestly stocked library we had. I occasionally sneaked in the Salman Rushdie or Vikram Seth novel and enjoyed quite a few afternoons of solitude when there were no classes about mundane stuff like Object Oriented Programming.

I think I go to libraries to get away from what I normally do. This explains the PGW in school, the management books in an engineering college and the Org Behavior & Philosophy addiction during the MBA phase.

Today’s substitute for a library would be Google, but it can never give you the kind of experience that a real brick and mortar library can. There is also the visual element to it. Just looking at endless shelves stacked with tomes from over the ‘ages’ covering subjects you had no idea existed is a humbling experience. It draws your attention to the infinitely small spectrum of your existing knowledge vis-à-vis what the world has to offer. It also offers you your own space to explore what you didn’t know without the threat of a quiz or an exam to test your knowledge. I have learnt more from the hours I spent in the library studying “whatever I felt like” than from my formal education. However, I do owe to my formal education, the gift of language – that key to the numerous unknown secrets contained in those shelves.

Having recently moved to Mumbai, I have tried to find a library that has the kind of atmosphere and books that excite me. I hear there are a few places around here, but haven’t really researched enough to find any. Until then I shall look back on those great memories of the past and make do with the cheap paperback editions!

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The Unbearable Lightness of Zoom TV

Admittedly, Television is getting dumber by the day but there are a few shows that do stand out. One of them is the Karan Thapar hosted ‘Tonight at 10’ on CNBC TV18. The man is certainly blessed with the ability to get his guests to stop giving clichéd, politically correct answers and cut the crap. It would help if he stopped over-pronouncing words for effect though. Occasionally, he leads his guests to places that he wants to go himself. When Karan Thapar rephrased Swapan Das Gupta’s response to a query on the BJP leadership, Swapan gently reminded him “If I wanted to say that I would, but since I haven’t please don’t put those words in my mouth.”

However, it must be said that by and large Karan Thapar pulls off a very good 30 minutes of late night television indeed. One has lost faith in NDTV, Star News and Aaj Tak these days, what with their ludicrous “Breaking News” and other such titillation tricks that make a mockery of television journalism.

In the same league, The Times of India run Zoom TV has an ultra-gay show called ‘The Manish Malhotra Show’. I sometimes watch this show when I can’t find any sitcom on Star World or Zee Café. Needless to say, the show evokes the same response as a sitcom. As Manish earnestly questions his male guests on whether they have made a “conscious decision to wear pastels this monsoon”, you wonder whether the show has a producer or has Manish somehow hacked into the Zoom TV signal… because if any human being actually saw the show before it went on air, it wouldn’t be on air. Before every commercial break one has to be subjected to a montage showing Manish in various postures giving an intense yet, mellow expression for the camera in his pink lacy shirt. When he had John Abraham on the show, the sexual tension on the screen was unmistakable. I had to turn off the TV lest I start buying pinks for my wardrobe too! Next thing I know, I could be hooked to Desperate Housewives.

In the midst of all this dumbed-down nonsense, The History Channel stands out as a beacon of hope of what television could be. The ‘Biography’ series hosted by Diana Hayden really had me hooked. There was no need to ‘Indianize’ the show by adding Diana to it. The quality of content spoke for itself.

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From Andheri to Bollywood in 15 Seconds

‘I am from Varanasi in that great state of Uttar Pradesh’, says JP Yadav. He is one of the countless auto drivers in the giant continent of a metropolis called Mumbai. I was on my way to a doctor for an eye infection and happened to ‘pick’ J.P. Yadav’s auto rickshaw to get me to the doctor’s place. From the moment I boarded, Yadav launched himself into a full blown, theatrical rendition of some folk song that I could not follow. Folk songs always manage to hit the spot with me. None of that artificiality of a professional singer… just a full-blown, raw and emotional rendition of a few verses with any deep significance. When this continued for about 5 minutes or so, I had to know more about this man.

‘What is that song you are singing?’, I ask him. I am met with silence… but only for a short while. Suddenly, the man launches himself into a monologue that began as mentioned before. With his right hand raised in the air like a revolutionary, he then speaks about Laloo Prasad Yadav and the great railway minister that he is.

‘And don’t you forget, every Prime Minister that this country has had is from my state’, he concludes with pride. I observe this wannabe theatre artiste cum auto driver and wonder if he is insane. He has been moving his right arm rather violently in the midst of this monologue about the great state of Uttar Pradesh and the great leader Laloo. In the middle of all this he has managed to abuse all Laloo-opposers with the choicest Hindi obscenities.

I wonder if I should risk talking to him some more lest he use that dramatically flailing right arm of his to smack my face, but I cant stop myself.

‘Laloo is from Bihar and not UP’, I quietly observe hoping not to rattle him. I sense that J.P.Yadav is a man in love with his own theatrical voice. For him every opportunity to speak is an opportunity to address an audience albeit just a single passenger sitting behind him. What you ask JP is immaterial. He decides when he will speak and what he will say. So, I find myself listening to him about the ‘great Benarus Hindu University’ that has produced great scholars. Occasionally, he gets emotional but mostly he is angry about arbitrary things. I see shades of Dilip Kumar in the way he speaks. I ask him if he knows the way to the place that I wanted to go. He doesn’t reply. Instead he starts another dramatized rendition of ‘Our great railway minister – Laloo Yadav’.

I am now genuinely concerned about reaching my destination. Occasionally JP looks passing auto drivers in the eye and mouths a few monologues at them too. I ask him why he has come to Bombay if he loves UP so much but that’s another cue for him to let out an emotional speech on how India is a free country and how a citizen can live in any part of the country he pleases.

‘Haven’t you read about this in your papers and books?’, he challenges my urban educated self.

I cannot argue with him. It is difficult to argue with a radio. It only gives, it does not take. I finally ask him, ‘Are you into acting?’

At last I get a response that matches my question: ‘You think all this is an act?! Ok, we are there. One rupee less than 30.’, he tells me.

So I pay him the 29 rupees and get off. I notice his sweaty, grimy and unshaven face. I wonder how this man must be at home. He would make one hell of an interesting husband to his wife or father to his kids. Maybe he is a failed actor who chose the mundane job of an auto driver to support his family.

Sometimes we hold little dreams in our hearts but we never really let them fly. We only occasionally let them peek out of our lives which we have programmed to achieve mundane goals – financial security, social esteem and what not. I was fortunate to be there when J.P. Yadav gave me a peek into the real man behind the auto driver facade… and I am sure many Mumbaikars too will get a peek as long as he frequents the Andheri auto stand!

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