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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Brian Cruz post

Unlike many others, I don't touch on personal topics in my blog. However, much has transpired in the past 3 weeks, that warrants a brief heads-up.

On the personal front:
1) The parents arrived for a trip
2) The brother graduated and is well on his way to curing cancer
3) America was explored a little more (Scorecard - 13 states down, 27 to go)

On the blogging (professional?) front:
1) I was mentioned in Sepia Mutiny. Much pleased.
2) My post on nicknames has been using up precious bandwidth. Four people (including my mother and her friend, who is a gentleman of 60) I know received it from people I have never heard of. So I can say - yes, I have truly arrived. Thank you, thank you, you're too kind. Roll camera.
3) I was tagged by the world-renowned author Samit Basu, as part of this meme thing going around the blogsphere. Out of deference to him, I shall actually go ahead and join in this faddishness.

So here I go

Total Number of Books I Own: Hmmmm. Well, this is embarassing. I need to make two points before I come up with a number.
1) Buying books was never an option for me until very recently. One Asimov a year set me back by a month's pocket money in college, and I never found the books on Chowringhee pavements worth picking up. So five years ago, the only books I had were gifted or won. Those add up to approximately 200 books. I am not counting the fantastic collection of a thousand-odd books that I recently inherited from my grandfather.
2) I love libraries and bookstores. I can sit in one for hours on end with a book in hand. In India, I have been thrown out of every major bookstore in every major city at least once for hurting their business. Borders, USA is much nicer in that regard. In my lifetime, about 2,000-3,000 books have been read in this manner, and then I have not bothered buying them. Me - a miser? Nonsense, I only feel that libraries are public goods that need to be made more accessible, and show my support for them by... Oh, all right, I am a little tight-fisted. Lets not dwell on it.

But now, thanks to a salary(?), library sales,, and American editions, I have started buying books with a vengeance. My current ambition is to possess the definitive collection of graphic novels, and that is well underway. Books bought now stands at about 50.

Last Book I Bought: Three together (to qualify for free shipping, I always buy them in threes). They were Ex Machina Vol 1:The first hundred days and Y: The Last Man Vol 4: Safeword by Brian K Vaughan, and 100 Bullets Vol 3: Hang up on the Hang Low by Brian Azzarello. Vaughan can do no wrong these days and he's one of the three writers whose books I look up every week, the other two being Grant Morrison and Bill Willingham.

Ex Machina deals with a world with only one superhero - a man who has the ability to communicate with machines. This man becomes the mayor of New York, winning by a landslide after he stops the second plane from crashing into the WTC. The book then covers his term in office. Won the Eisner award for 2005. In a word - brilliant.

Y: The last Man deals with a world where all the men but one are dead, and chronicles his journey. I've talked about it in a previous post, so shall not elaborate.

100 Bullets is very interesting - it reads like a crime serial rather than a book. Its in its 5th year of 9 and is a runaway critical success. The story is simple - in each episode, a mysterious man gives a person a gun and 100 untraceable bullets, together with undeniable proof that the person has been wronged by someone. The person is told that if he takes revenge, he will go unpunished. Then we see what the person does with the gun. In the background runs a story of the organisation that allows such things to go on.

Last Book I Read: V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore. An all-time classic about an alternate reality in which England is ruled by fascists. The beautiful inversion of the legend of Guy Fawkes is yet another reason why Moore is an all-time great. Soon to be made into a movie by the Wachowskis, starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving.

Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me: I'm going to define 'Book' a little loosely here. They are, in no particular order

1) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

To call this a must-read would be stating the obvious. Sometime in the last century was born a man whose pulse points passed through his funny bone. This unusual defect caused him to see humour in every possible situation. He was thrown out of school for sniggering loudly during Easter mass, and fired from his first job as an undertaker for cracking jokes about the afterlife. Ultimately, he decided that if he could not be cured, he would infect the world, and so he did. The trilogy in five parts is undoubtedly the funniest piece of non-fiction ever written. To hold a copy in your hands and not roll on the floor is a sure sign of either illiteracy or death. Every line is funny. Even the punctuation is funny. Side-splitting, hilarious and a perennial mood-lifter, this gets prime position in my list. Warning - the next idiot who asks me if I've seen the movie gets a towel passed through his alimentary canal.

2) The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was, simply, the greatest story-teller who ever lived. Stand aside Homer, Ved Vyas, Bill Clinton. I read Asimov's 'Nightfall' at the age of 15, and was hooked for life. This was a man who could write a story on any subject, of any given length, and with a variation in depth ranging from the utterly facetious (George and Azazel) to the wrenchingly moving (Bicentennial Man). His writings include a guide to Shakespeare, a book of jokes, a collected anthology of trivia, articles for Playboy, and some textbook physics to boot. His area of expertise is the short story, but his greatest work, in my opinion is the 14-book long saga that is comprised of the 4 Robot Novels, the 3 Empire Novels and the 7 Foundation Novels. These books span a period of a million years, and also the lifetime of the author (Pebble in the Sky, chronologically the third Empire Novel was his first novel; while Forward the Foundation, chronologically the second Foundation Novel was the last thing he ever wrote before his death in 1992). The core books in this series are the Foundation trilogy, comprising of Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. The beauty of these books lies not in their sci-fi appeal, but in their beleiveable detailing of a decaying human society, and its rebirth. Through these, Asimov proved that his understanding of Social Science is unsurpassed among authors. He planned to extend the saga, but died before he could finish. At the age of 20, I was determined to read every book written by him. Since that number stands at around 600, it is possible my fate will be the same.

3) The Poirot stories by Agatha Christie

One of the most endearing literary characters - the Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head full of little grey cells and the odd mannerisms. Christie almost certainly had a soft spot for Poirot - her most well-known creation, as she kept her best plots reserved for books in which he appeared. And from a woman who excelled at setups that you never ever saw coming, this meant a great deal. The first Poirot book I read was Hickory Dickory Dock, way back in 1986. Since then I have read all the Poirot stories, and most of the ones starring Miss Marple, the Beresfords, Mr. Quinn and all the others. Through her mystery novels, she invented the term "unputdownable". Meals, naps and TV programs were forsaken so that the book could be read. Each page made the suspense more unbearable, until the parlour scene finally ended the suspense. And I always gave myself a pat on the back when I figured out (not guessed) the identity of the murderer. And though she always gave the readers a fair chance to work it out for themselves, I rarely managed. And that was the true charm of Christie.

4) The Uncanny/New/Astonishing/Ultimate X-Men by various authors

I can almost hear you people wondering how this genre, which is strictly infra dig, made it alongside the other greats. Well, get down from your high horse, flatscan - Superhero comics are a rich literature that can touch you in exactly the same way that the printed word can. And no, they are not just for children. In fact, given the trend of comics these days, I think children should not be allowed to read them. This growing-up of comics has much to do with the popularity of those second-tier citizens of the Marvel Universe - the X-Men. Stan Lee created mutants so that he wouldn't have to write a back story to reveal how each character got his powers - mutants had it in their DNA. To start with there were just 5 youngsters led my an enigmatic man in a wheelchair. Now the X-Men number in the hundreds, and have become a sub-culture among superheroes. This has allowed writers to use them to represent our very human prejudices against those who are different. Over the years, the X-Men have stood as a metaphor for blacks, gays, the incurably ill, and nowadays Muslims. The X-Men are very complex characters because they try to help a society that fears and envies them, and leads to a hatred for those things they do not understand. Because there are so many of them, it has allowed authors to explore group dynamics among them, and also to kill off older characters and introduce newer once, so that the X-Men are always interesting. The first X-Men story I read was X-Men:The Hidden Years #1, and there's been no looking back since. For the past two years, Marvel has been publishing 6-8 X-Men titles monthly, and I have yet to miss one.

5) The Five Find-Outers series by Enid Blyton

You always remember your first one, they say. Enid Blyton was the first author whose name I learnt. Her books were the first ones I read which did not have the word 'reader' in their names. The five find-outers - Fatty, Larry, Pip, Daisy and Bets were the first characters I met, and the first ones I felt strongly about. There were only ten books about these intrepid teenaged detectives, and it didn't take me long to finish them. Then it was the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, and all the others. And it was years after that that I realised that Blyton's writing was flawed at many levels. But the thing is, I didn't care. Those were the books that introduced me to reading for pleasure. And I still remember each plot, even though I was 7 when I finished all of them. That is probably the greatest credit to the writer.

Tag Five People And Ask Them To Do This On Their Blogs: Have tagged more than 5, since most of them are lazy bums, and will drag their feet over it. I expect 5 of them to put something up soon. They are -

1) Gati
2) Manish
3) Pratim
4) Rahul
5) Rohan
6) Rupu
7) Sayoni
8) Siddarth
9) Shoma
10) Urmi

May the Force be with them.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Married to the mob

My good buddy Rohan had the some things to say about my recent spate of unprovoked attacks on the collective Bong machismo. I have reproduced the relevant portions of his argument, with his permission, of course. Here it is.

"...While I agree with you in most parts, some serious thought into the whole matter springs forth certain anomalies.

1. It was a bong man, Arobindo Ghosh who in conjunction with Tilak wrested control of the Congress from the hands of the "petitioning-moderates".

2. Chakki and his motley crew were the first to use force/violence in the agitation against the Brits. The de-railing of the train of the then Bengal governor, as an example. Gun and Bomb making, and their subsequent use during the freedom struggle, first found root in Bengal.

3. The Armory raid at Chittagong was as closest as you could get to guerrilla warfare. All bong men in that brigade, mind you.

4. Subhash Bose and the INA of course, and a lesser known gentleman called N.N. Bhattacharya who tried to gun run German made stuff into India during WW I.

Post Independence,

1. The whole Naxalbaari stuff, nearly all -young bong men.

2. South East-Asia’s last major revolution – Bangladesh. Yeah the bongs got slaughtered there, before Indira Gandhi decided to save the day. But in its very essence it was a very violet, up in arms sort of Freedom Struggle. No soft "petioning" here.

While we as a race do not readily conjur up visual images of "physical strength or vigor", a look at the history of the last one hundred years, as listed above does indeed paint a different picture. While we do not easily slip into the "image" of the warrior class and all it’s associated trappings, violent revolt and as an extension the alpha male attributes, are actually very much a reality.A bong man for his entire bow bazaar dancing girl decadence sets the stands on fire at the Eden or Salt Lake Stadium at the slightest provocation. For all its marginalization from mainstream Indian politics, Bengal has always seen the most violent of political agitations...."

(Copyright, Prasenjit Guha, 2005)

And like most of what Guha da says, this too makes a great deal of sense. Why does everyone assume that Bengalis are meek and mild, when they have such a rich tradition of violence? A North Indian friend commented, on meeting a Calcutta lumpen - "A rowdy Bong! Now I've seen everything."

To shed some light on this apparent dichotomy, let us recall a popular joke.

Q) What do you call one Bengali man?
A) Poet

Q) What do you call two Bengali men?
A) Political Party

Q) What do you call three Bengali men?
A) Two Political Parties

Q) What do you call four Bengali men?
A) A procession and a counter-procession down Chowringhee at rush hour.

So - have all you smart people spotted the pattern? Not difficult, really. For Bengalis more than other communities, the size of their immediate cohort almost completely determines their behaviour.

An certain Iyengar Brahmin says that Bengalis are fun to talk to one-on-one, but too many intimidate him. Individual Bengalis are quietly intelligent and sufficiently well-informed on many topics which makes them great conversationalists. Even two is fine - at worst they'll have an animated debate (UNLESS you have a North-South Cal split, in which case avoid mentioning football). However, things start getting out of hand when the number increases beyond that, usually culminating in large-scale screaming in Bangla, on matters none too serious, with the participants nearly coming to blows.

The average Bengali is a pack animal. Deep within the recesses of his soul lies a caged animal waiting to break out. The sight of other werewolves is just the spark he needs and Dr. Bruce Bandopadhyay finds himself answering the call of the wild - transforming into a green-skinned monster wielding a mashaal and laying waste to every heavy vehicle on the streets. Truly, the Bengali mob, or Bonglomeration if you will, is a sight to behold. Mild-mannered clerks, bureaucrats, insurance salesmen turned into bloodthirsty beasts all driven by a shared passion for unmitigated violence. Is it any wonder that Calcutta witnesses an average of nearly one lynching death a day?

To use a scientific analogy, the Bengali male can be likened to a 1Kg mass of Uranium-235. If you are exposed to one of these occasionally you will suffer from a bad headache at worst. However, bring 5 or more of them together and we have critical mass. Kaboom!

The Bonglomeration has risen in the past to fend of attacks from such savage races as the British and the Punjabis, who made the mistake of underestimating the capacity for violence in the Bengali, thanks probably to impressions formed based on Bengalis they personally knew. The following are transcripts of historic conversations.

Conversation 1: circa 1858

Lord Canning: Well, your Majesty, we now have to worry about ruling that bloody country.
Queen Victoria: Indeed, Lord Canning. I have no idea how we are to go about it. First of all, where in bblazes are we going to have a new capital?
LC: Don't worry m'lady. I have the perfect spot. Remember that town Cahl-cah-taa. The one that old Charnock stumbled on. I think it will be just marvellous.
QV: Why that place in particular.
LC: A little bit of research on my part, ma'am. The people who live in that god-forsaken place - Bungawlees I think they're called - are a bunch of spineless wimps. Wouldn't say boo to a goose. They'll give us no trouble at all, so its the safest spot on earth.
QV: How can you be so certain?
LC: I know a few of these Bungawlees myself. There's this chap Bonnerjee who takes shorthand at one of our offices - most subservient goose I ever met. Then there's Bose who practices law. Always gets shouted down by the judge and never says a word. Then there's...
QV: You've made your point, Lord Canning. Cahlcahtaa will be the new capital. I can see us ruling the bloody place for another millenium now.

Conversation 2: circa 1974

Gen. Yahya Khan: OYE! These bloody Bangalees have won! Oh meri maa ki ******. Abhi us Mujib ke bachhe ko dikhata hoon, behen****.
(Mujib answers phone)
Mujib: Hallo. Who eej thees?
YK: Oye, who eej thees ke aulad! Saale, mein tera baap bol raha hoon, madar****. You bloody phool. Just bikaz you er winning leckshun, you think we will allow you bh***********s into Slambad. Teri to...
M: Mishtar General Shaar. Pleej do not shwear like that. I am a bhadralok and I am bhery upshet at hearing shuch languages.
YK: Abbey beti****. Abhi tujhe dikhata hoon. You bloody Bangalees will never be aybull to faarm a gvernmant.
M: Thish ij outrageoush. Bhe bhill oppoj thish infrigement on our bashic democratic rightsh. Bhe bhill phight on the shtreetsh. Cholbe naa, cholbe naa... (cut off)
YK: Dekh loonga, madar****.
Aide: Sir, agar woh bagawat shuru karein to mushkil ho sakta hai.
YK: Oh behen****. Woh kya kar lenge? Bahut behen**** Bangalee dekhein hai maine. Tu meri gaari nikal, Shahi Mohalla jaana hai.

The rest, as they say, is history.

So, my fellow countrymen, remember that however mild-mannered your Bengali colleague may seem, do not provoke him in the presence of the Bonglomeration. Your life is forfeit if you do. Do not try shooting someone in the head, molesting a local damsel, or picking anyone's pocket in a public place in Calcutta. While these things are commonplace - and in fact encouraged - in Delhi, you will be pulverized by the wrath of the Bonglomeration before you completed the task. If you are a law-abiding citizen in the presence of this multi-headed monster, keep your hands to yourself, speak in hushed tones, and avoid all sensitive topics.

And in case I have given you the impression in this post, that Bengali men are as rowdy as their Northern counterparts, perish the thought. This is only an anomalous situation. We are actually a race of well-bred intellectuals interested in art, culture and the finer things of life. Gentlemen who watch cricket and... What's that you say? Dravid is a better captain!?! WHAT DO YOU MEAN, REMOVE GANGULY FROM THE TEAM!!! BOKA*****, KH***** CH****, LA****** B***! MAAR SHALA KE! KAALO HAATH BHENGE DAO,


PS - The term Bonglomeration is copyrighted to the Punjabi ex of a friendly Bengali Blogette. Other terms are in the public domain.