Saturday, 26 December 2009

Tell me what you think

It's that time of the fast-fading year when you look back and reminisce. And when people start doing that they suddenly find that their audience has faded much, much faster than the year in reminiscence! So I will thrust upon you one thing that binds us together: This blog.

I started the writeclick gig in March and it's one of the more important things I did last year. The initial laziness apart, soon I was into some kind of rhythm. I was writing, not prolifically or by appointment, but regularly enough to get at least a few of you interested. (Shamelessly using Facebook status updates to advertise my posts helped a lot!)

Like every writer, I was always keen to know whether people were reading what I write. But I didn't know how. Until I stumbled upon I promptly put a sitemeter; you can see the sign on the right hand side of the page. It tells me wonderful stuff like how many visits, page views, from which part of the world, which site the visitor reached writeclick from and etc. Of course, it doesn't tell me any personal details about the visitor but this is great. Especially because it is free!

Apart from my friends from Facebook, I discovered that a lot of people are reaching writeclick through google image search. Now that's a surprise. I don't consider myself a photographer and the photos here are just a way of recording things I find funny or important.

That discovery brought another thought to the front, something I had been considering since the time I found that I could 'monetize' my blog. That is, google would put ads on writeclick depending on the type of users visiting the site. I would get paid depending on how many visitors clicked on those ads...

I always thought that as a 'non-option' because I believed that majority of the people visiting writeclick were people who knew me personally. Now, with the sitemeter statistics in hand, I am tempted.

But I would like to ask you, the people who visit writeclick by choice and not by accident, about what you feel about this whole 'monetizing' business. A simple comment, 'Yes' or 'No' will suffice. And help me make up my mind.

Thanks and have a great year-end and a greater new year.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas is here

The nights have turned magical. Vines of light - blue, green, yellow and red - punctuated by fruits in the guise of stars hang from trees dotting the by-lanes of Bandra. Traffic is piled up in an alley where the celebrations have spilled out of a house; uncles and aunties weave between stuck cars balancing glasses of whisky. Car windows stay rolled up and no one honks. The heart of Bandra is a village and in one of its courtyards a tree has burst into a blossom of impossibly blue stars. Christmas is here.

Elsewhere there is traffic.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A couple of nights ago

The drunk took a step forward, and fell backwards, flat on his back.
There weren't too many cars on the road. But there were still quite a few people around. The shops hadn't shut as yet. Ten steps further, in an L-shaped section of a narrow lane, women stood with hands on their hips, waiting to part their legs if they won the bargain. They usually did. Beyond the lane, five hundred metres away, bright lights shone in a mall that had come up on a piece of land that used to be a textile mill. If this were a movie you could cut to the mall and the camera would take in the knot of people giving sound bytes to the TV cameras. “So what do you think about the awards?” “About the recession?” Outside the immediate glare of the lights, there were more questions. “So why don’t we catch up for a coffee?” “Better still, let’s do dinner right after this?” “Can I get you another drink?” “Can I have your card, your phone number, your relationship status?” Flickering matches held in wavering hands. Giggles mixing with smoke and rising, curling their way up the cold chimney of the defunct textile mill.

The drunk got up without help. He looked around, found his bearings and stumbled towards the L-shaped lane.
“So what’s the rate tonight?” he asked. 

Monday, 14 December 2009

Links for the earlier post

For some reason blogger has gone weird on me. I can't edit the earlier post and the links aren't working. So here goes:

Ashish's blog is here. Majida's song is here. And Udhas, here.  

A friend and a song

“For some reason, the song reminds me of the early 80s when the war images were a constant on the news. That war really opened our eyes,” said the Facebook update of Ashish, my college friend who had posted a link to a song. The song is a lament for Beirut, written by Nizar Qabbani, a famous poet, and sung by Majida al Roumi , a famous singer, and is a plea for forgiveness to the city they lived in, took for granted and hurt callously…
I loved the contradictions and combinations in that one song and statement. Ashish was born and has spent most of his life in Bahrain. He is a Protestant Christian, though his name and surname give away the fact that his Hindu ancestors were converted by Christian missionaries in some part of Maharashtra, India. Majida is a Christian singer lamenting Beirut, a city that has a mixed population and history of Christians and Muslim,  with a song written by a Muslim poet.The lyrics of the song reminded me of a popular song sung by Pankaj Udhas in the eighties that went, चिट्ठी आयी हैं, आयी हैंचिट्ठी आयी हैं, बड़े दिनों के बाद, ले हम वतनो को साथ, वतन की मिटटी आयी हैं... (Chitthi aayee hain, aayee hain, chitthi aayee hain, badein dino ke baad, le hum vatano ko saath, vatan ki mitti aayee hain…) Whenever Udhas sang it to expats especially in the Gulf, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the audience…
I love and treasure the plurality that makes a man get nostalgic about a song sung by a singer of a different faith, about a foreign city and about someone else’s war. And I so hate the forces that want to take this variety and plurality away from us under the guise of this or that.
I read this post and heard this song last Friday. It was morning and I was sitting in the bedroom with the curtains drawn. When the song ended, I got up, opened the bedroom door and was confronted by unexpected sunlight that had burst into the living room.

After writing this post, I mailed it to Ashish, asking for his permission to write about him in the post. He replied with a, ‘Yes’ and a lot more. And I was tempted to post his reply as well. Here it is, with his permission:

 Oh no problem at all. I'm glad the song touched you the way it never fails to stir me. Growing up in Bahrain, the Beirut civil war was a regular feature on the evening news. As a child it meant nothing but as I grew older and became a teenager, the war images became a seed for my eventual social and political consciousness.
The Israeli invasion of Beirut in the early '80's was the one that made me really angry and aware of a world 'outside' where people do not lead normal lives. It just didn't seem fair and the Shabra Shatila massacre masterminded by Ariel Sharon was bewildering.
One of my memories from that time was meeting a Reuters journalist in my church who was stopping in Bahrain en route to Beirut. I asked him, “Why on earth do you want to go to Beirut?” He replied, “That's the most exciting city to be in for journalists”. He then gave me a small talk on what inspires journalists, what journos are looking for and what qualities I need to have to be a good journalist. Inspiring talk given to a schoolboy.
He was transferred to Bahrain years later and when I reminded him of his talk, he shook his head when he heard I joined advertising and public relations.
Going back to that song, it does bring a whole load of memories but most importantly it reminds me of something I should never lose: That fresh revulsion towards senseless violence and the desire to want to do something about it.
I suppose, in the 70s and 80s, when Beirut was burning, the terrorist spectre in India wasn't widespread as it is now. The Khalistan problem was a few years away and the 'news from India' wasn't scary. 
By the way, Majida Al Roumi is a Christian* and interestingly, there are many Christians in the Arab world who trace their Christian heritage to the time of Christ. Hence, Arabs view (and I agree with them) Christianity as part of their culture and don't see it as having 'western' origin.
Nizar Qabbani was a very famous and highly popular poet whose death in the late 90s was deeply mourned in the Arab world. Fundamentalists didn't like him because his poems were deeply sensual and he used such imagery to express lots of progressive ideas.
The thing is, the Arab world is culturally, ideologically and philosophically diverse. Much of the world has a stereotypical notion of long bearded, intolerant Wahhabi terrorists. The reality, however, is that the Arabs are much more diverse, and yet such a picture is rarely revealed.
Perhaps it is convenient for some quarters to stereotype this region for their own ends. Any other image will not justify any 'violent' actions they may want to take.
Well, I didn't imagine I'd be talking all this but I guess that's what a great song can do... take us places. 
 - Ashish

*I had thought and written Muslim first.
For Ashish's blog, click here. Majida’s song here. Pankaj Udhas’s song here.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Of men, women and muffins.

Woman: Would you like to eat something? A muffin?
Guy: Yes. Muffin.
They walk up to the counter.
Woman: I think you should have a brownie. Chocolate brownie.
Guy: Muffin. (Points to a muffin.) This.
Woman: That’s a banana muffin. See this, this is a chocolate muffin.
Guy: This.
Woman: That’s not a muffin; that’s an apple pie.
Guy: This.
Woman: Apple pie?
Guy: Yes.
They place the order.
Woman: Where do you want to sit? Inside or outside?

Real conversation between woman and five-year old son transcribed at a  local café. 

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Times is changing. The times aren't.

After decades and decades of being on the front page of The Times of India, R K Laxman's Common Man is losing his solus position. It's a recent phenomenon and an irregular one. There are days when you can find him in his usual spot and on others, he is tucked away somewhere inside. The first time I noticed this pattern, I remember thinking to myself, 'Hmm. But Laxman is getting repetitive. His subjects are the same, the ones I remember from my childhood: Bad roads, corrupt politicians, inefficient bureaucrats, unfulfilled election promises, rural poverty, uncleared garbage, escalating prices... The same, the same'. Vaguely, I thought to myself that Laxman must begin to tackle some current affairs...

Then it hit me. Like a slap that wakes you up from sleep.

In the thirty-five odd years that I have been reading Laxman's cartoons, India might have gone from whining to shining but some very basic things that affect the common man still haven't changed, improved or aren't on their way to improving.

So here's my plea to The Times of India. Please keep Laxman and his Common Man on the front page. In this din of celebration we need a voice of conscience, however small.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

0.03% forests. 99.07% cynicism.

'Continuing the commendable trend of the past decade, India's forest cover increased by 728 sq km during 2005-2007 - a marginal rise of 0.03%. Overall, 21.02% of the country's geographical area is now under green cover. In the 10 years, forest cover in the country has increased by 3.31 million hectares, showing an average 0.46% increase every year,' says a State of Forest Report quoted in today's Times of India.

For some reason, probably cynicism, I am reminded of this joke:
New York Police, Scotland Yard and Mumbai Police gather on the outskirts of a forest to determine who is the best. The test is to find a deer that will be let loose in the forest.
NY Police takes a day. Scotland Yard, half a day. However, even after three days the Mumbai Police team doesn't return. Worried, the judges decide to investigate. Half an hour into the jungle they stumble up on this scene:
A monkey is tied upside down to a tree and a Mumbai Police constable is whipping it with his belt. With every lash, the Police inspector yells, "Say it: I am a deer".