Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ready for some chicken?

The news (at least in Bombay) these last few days has been monopolised, not by terrorists or tycoons making big time business deals or not even movie star scandals, but by… chickens. So the pages have been full of stories about chicken accompanied by life sized portraits of poultry. Live chickens, dead chickens, chickens hanging upside down, chicken legs popping out of gunny sacks.

Many of us hit with patriotic fervour are going to be forced into gluttony. Egged on by the government, which assures us that it is perfectly safe to eat poultry, we will soon start to look like those mad people in eating contests whom I wrote about, a couple of weeks back, who keep stuffing themselves with mountains of pizza or hotdogs (65 pizzas in twelve minutes or 49 grilled sandwiches in ten minutes twenty eight seconds) to get their names into the Guinness Book. But the cause of our gorging will not be a claim to fame. It will be all on account of bird flu.

Bird flu has resulted in huge losses for poultry farmers in India, to make up for which the union agriculture minister (who denies that there has been any flu around these parts) has been persuading us to eat chicken "with a vengeance." (His words). Sharad Pawar, has actually said (and I am quoting directly from the yesterday’s DNA) that as far as he is concerned, “vegetarians can eat vegetables or grass.” (Grass? Oh, grass! Yum yum!) But human beings (ok, my words) should start consuming chicken “with full fervour so that the backlog of the past fortnight … be completed.” 20 lakh eggs are at stake, and if we don’t consume them at express speed, they’re likely to end up just rotting.

In Tamil Nadu they had a chicken and egg mela in which 500 kg of chicken and 5000 eggs were cooked for a feast in which some 2500 people participated. This morning’s papers carried a huge photograph of the chief secretary of Maharashtra stuffing his face with chicken wings.

So far the public doesn’t seem to have responded and it looks like it is going to take a while for them to be reassured that chickens are not dangerous to eat any more. And it is apparently going to take more than Sharad Pawar to convince them about that.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Anchorage

"The gang " - L to R: Mannan, Meghna, Dinyar, Shahnaz, Deven. Meghna and Shahnaz have been helping out at the Anchorage for several years.

Last Friday I had my first taste of the group at "Anchorage" where Nirupa works these days. Nirupa and I were colleagues some years back, in the days when we were involved in organisational development work. Since June 2005, N. has been with this organisation where mentally retarded adults are trained to be productive and where they actually do some assembly line work. They have a lot of fun as well as far as I can see.

Every Friday afternoon the lot of them gather in the hall on the ground floor of Nirupa and Vijay’s apartment block where a professional dancer called Mahesh gives them lessons. So I watched them spin and twirl away as they mimed various actions like gathering oranges from trees and putting them into baskets. Mahesh also makes them meditate at the start and end, which some of them attempt to do though - most of them tend to stare at everything around them with a lot of interest.

Dinyar striking a Cleopatra pose in the art gallery

When dance class was over we walked over to the art gallery run by one of the building residents, around the corner from the hall. I had originally thought we could get the members of the Anchorage to maybe comment on the paintings – for us get a different perspective on art.

The gallery is very swish, with black marble steps leading into a series of regal looking rooms stacked with canvases. As I discovered, the guys were not particularly interested in exercising their brains about the paintings but were far more engrossed in the coca cola and chocolate cake served by the gallery owner. And in having their photographs taken! “Me, me me!” they went as I tried to oblige.

The Anchorage has been around for (I think) over fifteen years and caters to around twenty five adults. A swinging cheerful group of women assist in the administration of the place and if you ask me it is picnic time every day at this workshop.

Cyrus and Nikita

Group Website: www.basicindia.net

Friday, February 17, 2006

Where's the Real Strength?

First this cartoon in a Danish magazine about a revered Mohammedan leader, (let’s not mention names, for fear of offending the sentiments of a certain segment of organized religion in the world) gets entire communities worked up. To the extent that two people were actually killed in a stampede in Pakistan a day or two ago, and entire crowds were yelling “Off with their heads” in the manner of the mad queen in “Alice in Wonderland.” Now it is Durga’s turn. A poster in Athens, showing this venerable old deity waving a bottle of whisky with each of her four arms, has had the Hindus all over, screaming blue murder. Sacrilege! How could anyone think of it, blah blah blah they went on until the proprietors of the bar responsible for exhibiting this advertisement at their doorstep apparently tendered an apology.

Makes you wonder about religion, about prophets and gods all over the world eh? That if they are so weak as to get blemished by a bit of harmless fun, how they could possibly hope to hold up an entire community or (as the Hindus claim their gods do) – the entire world. Truly. And more than that, if that reveller Shiva can indulge in all kinds of stuff from liquor to dope and still have millions of followers dancing around him, why cant Durga afford to be seen downing a peg of whisky now and then without hundreds of her followers jumping to her rescue?

Hindus of the world unite! Screamed some religious organisation a few days back, concerning this “dastardly” attack on the holy goddess. “Let yourselves be counted.” OK so I guess I am not one after all. I was born into a community of that name but seem to identify myself like all slightly barmy people, with something called the human race. Not with Christianity, not with Islam, nor with the Jewish religion or Hinduism. Not even Buddhism. But rather, with a spirit that is incapable of taking offence at what people “think” about it or the way they depict it. Because the true spirit underlying the human race is strong in its own right and doesn’t need any images or fanatical bolstering to prop it up.

Group website:

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Evening entertainment

Another evening at the club. We went to watch the Wednesday movie which was “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” this time. The usual contingent of old geezers turned up. Mainly old Parsees, chattering nineteen to the dozen and gorging on plates of bhel puri. A row of women behind us were nattering about a meditation class one of them was attending. Someone else had attended a lecture in spirituality. What was the theme? One of the women asked. “It was on esoteric things” was the reply. Silence for a while. Then the woman who had posed the question says, in a puzzled tone, “What does that mean?”

About fifteen minutes into the movie, and I was ready to walk out. Brad Pitt was awful and Angelina Jolie can’t act for nuts. Maybe this was supposed to be a kind of metaphor for what marriage has come to be these days. For those who haven’t seen the movie as yet, well, it concerns an apparently staid and ordinary couple, both of whom are working, except neither knows exactly what the other person does. It SO happens that they are both secret agents and after it is all out in the open, they openly go after each other since of course, they belong to rival organizations and most of the movie just becomes very very noisy and full of the rat-a-tat’s of gun fire. OK. OK. Feel free to enjoy that kind of stuff but count me out.

My parents and I walked out during the interval and decided to go to the restaurant upstairs for a drink and for dinner. That was much more entertaining than the movie and we returned home quite happy.

group website:

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A View From the Wrong End

Criticism and negativity comes so easily to all of us. Ever noticed it? Especially the kind that has no productive value and which we often indulge in when the person concerned is not present. Somehow the “wrongs” done us, the offences and the insults seem to remain with us longer than all that is good about us and others. Human beings seem to have a vast capacity for anger, bitterness and revengeful feelings.

Much of our attraction for the darker side of life is reflected in the media – TV news, the newspapers and so on, in which you find a concentration of the world’s disasters. Murders, rapes, bombings, lootings, grandmothers being killed by their grandchildren and like we saw recently in Bombay, a boy being (I forget) either killed or beaten up by his grandmother. Cheerful world aint it!

Here and there between the stories of violence and those that are downright inane you salvage a piece or two that gives you hope for the world. I am not referring to those hospital rounds by film stars to cheer up children with cancer and the like – but more to normal citizens fighting back the bureaucracy and administration. Cleaning up their part of the city. Fighting stupid laws. Coming to each other’s aid in times of distress.

I sometimes wish stories like that would make the headlines on the front page and our fat politicians could be pushed back a bit. To do that I guess we would have to take ourselves as individuals at least as seriously as we take the people we choose to represent us on the world stage. As it happens it looks like we give all the importance and authority to our chosen reps and allow them to handle us like puppets.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Boxers and Beauty Queens

Ash – just in case you didn’t know it - has a boxer called Sunshine. The Ash I am referring to – also in case you didn’t know - is the first lady of India’s beauty business and queen of wooden acting in Bollywood. Aishwarya Rai of course. Chap called Daboo wants to marry off his boxer Flash to Ash’s boxer Sunshine but Ash hasn’t yet indicated whether it’s to be yes or no.

This is only one among several similar golden nuggets of info filling eight pages of DNA’s supplement “After Hours” along with mountains of ads for silly and sillier films. Of course there is not much to differentiate it from the Bombay Times which goes along with the main Times which as everyone knows is the queen of crap. Mmmmmm. Delicious. Pages and pages of photographs of celebrities grinning over glasses of wine and grinning at each other and filled with details of who eats what for breakfast and who wore what at whose wedding.

Why do I even bother to glance at it? Because the “news” items are accompanied by photographs. And photographs of human beings somehow interest me far more than drab print. Of course the truth is that the person in the photo doesn’t have to be a celebrity to attract my attention. I am equally happy to look at and read about, say a housewife with a green thumb, or about gentlemen who feed pigeons in the park. But all newspaper supplements seem to presume that filling their pages day after day with the photographs of the same old famous bores is what creativity and human interest is all about.

I mean I would have far preferred it if DNA had interviewed Ash’s boxer, Sunshine, and asked her her opinion of life – without bothering to mention who her pearly toothed mistress happened to be. Most dogs are anyway much cuter than most movie stars.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New Ideas

Group in Hampi
pic by Chandran

Had a good meeting with Charmayne yesterday who turned up in the evening. Following our session on Monday evening on the topic of “community” and responsibility she felt it would be good for us to do something together. I was game too and we talked quite a while about various possibilities. Well one idea is to start a ten week “Saturday group” based on the theme of “Communication”. Because this is something most of us are so bad at. Bad at listening and bad at expressing ourselves too so that we often misunderstand others and we ourselves never feel understood.

Another fun idea was to invite people to “Soirees” based on a theme. Not more than a handful of people to an evening of music, poetry and discussion, for example around the theme of “parents and children” or “love” or “the quality of our lives.” It’s a way, we figured, to bring people together but to dispense with the usual superficial chatter and to use our time together more meaningfully.

Those of you in Bombay, keep in touch for further developments!


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Our hunger for more

There is this woman I read about in the papers recently, who won an eating contest. I think she’s from Malaysia or thereabouts. You have these eating competitions all the time, everywhere, and hear about men and women drinking two or three gallons of milk in a minute and a half or throwing in one lamb chop after another into their mouth and well, this woman I read about, ate 46 grilled chicken sandwiches in eleven minutes. In order for those sandwiches to go down her throat easily and quickly she had to soak them in water. This same woman has taken part in umpteen such contests and bolted tons of other kinds of food in a similar time frame. Wolfing down kilos of sweets, steak, hamburgers and the like to be able to get her name in the Guinness or some other book of records. Can you believe it?

Just shows you how desperate people are for attention. And also the fact that this is what our culture is based on. The acme of greed and consumerism. I mean in a way this kind of competition goes beyond both, and needs to be mentioned in a class of its own – stupidity maybe?

News items like this somehow simultaneously amuse and horrify me. It is good shock value in a way, it gives you something to talk about. But then again, when you look at how depraved the whole business is, it gives you rather a jolt. To see that human beings want more, more and yet more of everything. That “more” is supposed to be good. More cars, more fridges, more money (of course, goes without saying), more lovers, more sex (nothing bad about that except when it becomes part of the “more game” anything loses its meaning altogether).

Wee…eeelll, coming back to that chicken sandwich. I personally love a good grilled chicken sandwich. Mostly I can’t even finish the one I order at the snack bar and have to ask for it to be packed up so I can eat it at home the next day. Maybe the Guiness Book could include me in as the person who needs the maximum length of time to eat the smallest portion of grilled chicken sandwich?

website: www.basicindia.net

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Last thoughts on Hampi

Hampi recedes into the background every day as the Bombay fog and noise takes over. I didn’t get to visit the old temple town though those who did swear that it was the most impressive thing. For me those ancient hillsides were enough, the gigantic rocks piled on other rocks, which when you stared at them revealed faces of monsters and kings and whales and all kinds of creatures leaving you gaping open mouthed as you kept staring.

Workshop hut

Hampi, the site of the ancient kingdom of Vijaynagara seems imbued with awesome energy. A whole lot of people I know had really weird dreams, most of them violent. At least three people told me they dreamt of murders. One said she had dreamt of war. Peter woke up suddenly one night and woke me up too in the bargain, shouting, “Shit!” I held him for a while and comforted him until he went back to sleep. Next morning he told me that he had dreamt he saw me on the edge of an abyss and was attempting to save me from falling over it! I too had my share of visions of violence, both during the meditation we took part in in the second workshop and at times, at night. Phew!!

Rock carving in Hampi

Peter and Franziska’s place was really beautiful – surrounded by hills. They have greened it too, and planted many flowering bushes and trees in the vicinity of the houses. It was ideal for the workshop – remote, quiet and somehow intense. Hope to carry some of the strangeness and wonder of that experience with me through the next months, if not years Samuel and Daniele who conducted the workshop in Hampi

All photos here by Uma L

group website: www.basicindia.net