25 July 2009

Today’s strangest story

Tucked between all the neatly subbed and written stories of the New Indian Express was this strangest story of all. It was strange from start to finish.

“GULBARGA: It may sound strange. But come Nagapanchami, a three-year-old boy plays with a live scorpion as he would with a toy. He is not the only one. For the entire Kandkoor village in Gulbarga district, Nagapanchami day falling on the fifth day of Shravana masa of Hindu calendar, is set aside for romping with these reptiles.

At this hamlet of around 200 dwellings adjacent to a hillock in Yadgir taluk, all the villagers, including toddlers, scale the hillock of red soil and black boulders and worship an idol of a scorpion called Kondammajji by pouring milk and offering ladus made of jaggery and groundnut powder on this day. They also worship an idol of a cobra. Later, the villagers, children included, begin a search for scorpions in the hillock.

Bhima Shankar, a villager says that as the sun rays emerge, the hill is swarming with the reptiles and by evening, there are thousands of scorpions on its slopes.

The villagers offer puja and entertain themselves with the scorpions without fear.
And by day break the following day, there is no trace of the scorpions, which make their appearance again only on the next Nagapanchami, says Bhima Shankar.

Though this strange custom is being observed for hundreds of years, there has not been a single instance of a scorpion sting, he claims.

The villagers believe that if they worship Kondammajji and play with live scorpions on Nagapanchami, they would have no fear of scorpions and snakes the year ahead. On the evening of Nagapanchami, the men chant bhajans till daybreak.

Thousands of people from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka gather on the hillock to witness the strange spectacle.”

(The print version had a ‘Strange ritual’ slug above the story.)

Definitely strange, but not for the reasons the reporter thinks it is:

1. All rituals seem strange to outsiders, don’t they? (How a certain Mr Edward Said would have loved to tear this story apart.) And even if this custom seemed particularly out-of-the-ordinary to the reporter, he would have done his job best by describing the ritual and keeping the adjectives out. Why, oh why, are Indian reporters still so much in love with adjectives?

2. The first sentence of this story is an opinion, not news.

3. I am not sure to which century I must ascribe the language of this story to: hamlet of around 200 dwellings. Strange indeed. The monologo-phobic reporter must have thought it indeed dull to use the mundane word ‘village’ so many times in his copy. And, he surely hasn’t heard of houses.

3. Am not even commenting about the romping part. Everything's strange already.

21 July 2009

For faith

Shared by a copywriter friend. More of his work is here and here.

My recent conversations among 'friends' and 'family' tell me we are getting more polarized than ever. All this surfeit of information only seems to reinforce stereotypes and close 'us' up against 'them'.

20 July 2009

When you don't do anything, do it in a sari

This graphic adorned The Telegraph’s front page a couple of days ago. In response to protests by women’s organizations, the paper’s reply was:

"For some months now, Bengal has looked like a state without an administration. Friday’s bandh and the unchecked vandalism on its eve further demonstrated the lack of will on the administration’s part to enforce the law.

In yesterday’s paper, the five top administrators were depicted as men in saris to illustrate the paralysis of government draped in humour.

Some of our readers and others have taken affront, seeing in it an assumption that women are weak. It is possible some may have associated the administrators in the graphic with women, which was not the intention of the visual device at all. We are sorry if the graphic gave that impression.

Some others have, however, expressed appreciation of the political message we sought to communicate and the humour.

The Telegraph practises gender equality. It also believes that women have long grown beyond stereotypes as the weaker sex in saris. Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee are just two examples of women in positions of strength. There are a million other unknown women — in saris or business suits — in whose daily shows of strength we rejoice in the pages of our newspaper. We hope our readers will see the Gang of Five in Saris in that context.

We also hope despite all its divisions, true to 19th century poet Ishwar Gupta’s words — Eto bhanga Bangadesh, tobu range bhara — Bengal still enjoys a good laugh."

As somebody said on Facebook, the explanation is worse than the original deed.

Now, if we assume, for a nano-second, that it was not The Telegraph’s intention to equate saris and thereby women with paralysis/immobility/sickness/weakness, will the paper then enlighten us on what was?

This was on the front page, so a lot of thought must have gone into it. Probably, an entirely editorial meeting or, at least, a discussion between the top editors. So, what exactly were they thinking when they did this? It’d be disgusting to know, but I’d still hear them out on how they’d defend such a primitive mode of thinking.

If not for saris, they’d have shown the five men wearing bangles, perhaps?

And, of course, Bengal will have a good laugh at this incredibly creative, path-breaking, out-of-the-box visual. I, for one, almost fell out of my chair laughing. They are too much man.

After all, this trendy unputdownable paper employs a lot of women, you see, so their gender-sensitive credentials are proven beyond doubt.

Just for curiosity sake, when the venerable editors of this paper were gleefully debating with their designer on whether the Gang of Five should wear this or that sari, and showing shock and surprise at the ruin Bengal has fallen into in the last few months (!!!!!! This is unbeatable, side-splitting humour. Way to go, TT!), did they call the administration a bunch of fatherfuckers, bhaichod, etc?

Am just curious, that’s all.

18 July 2009

Blue Pencil India for plain language, crisp writing, and editing that’ll make text sparkle

I have previously written about my work-from-home/freelance writing ventures. Blue Pencil India now seems to me to be the logical step forward. Of course, this took much convincing and all the persuasive powers of my husband, Lincoln, who is now a co-founder of BPI.

You need to believe a lot in yourself and have an unflagging positive spirit to start off on your own. And, to some extent, the lack of professional growth opportunities in Kolkata for a writer/editor did affect my confidence levels.

But thanks to the wonderful clients I have worked with and the diverse projects I have worked on in the last year or so, I now feel ready to work on my own.

At Blue Pencil India, I hope to get interesting and challenging assignments in the domains of writing, editing, and SEO content.

As a writer, there are some projects I do want to work on and I’ll soon have a wish list ready – they’re one of those ‘things to do before you die’. But, generally speaking, I’d like to work for clients who are keen on quality. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be able to do the article spinning kind of work. Just not made for that.

As an editor, there’s something I am raring to do: edit fiction. Till now, I have edited newspaper articles, tons of legalese and officialese, website copy, user manuals, and the like. But fiction is something I have not done yet and I look forward to it. It should be a welcome break after all the backbreaking editing I have had to do till date.

BPI will also be a space to campaign for plain language in India and continue the work of Jyoti Sanyal, my teacher and mentor. For now, it’s just me and Lincoln, but soon, we should be able to pull in more people and make ourselves heard to people in the administration and in industries like banking and insurance. They, more than anyone else, need to use plain language.

My years with Sir (Sanyal) have made me passionate about the use of clear, concise language in all communication. I will be using Sihikahi and Blue Pencil India to speak about this as much as possible.

Apart from the campaign part of plain English, I am interested in working with individuals or firms to translate their documents or website copy into plain language and help them communicate clearly and effectively.

Writing in plain language is really not rocket science, but it does require that you have a genuine wish to inform your reader.

I request all readers of Sihikahi to help spread the word about Blue Pencil India. What we have invested in BPI are our professional skills, time, a lot of hope, and positive attitude. My hunch is there’ll be a lot of takers for out-of-the-box writing and professional editing – something that’s not too common in the freelance world. Now, let's prove my hunch right, shall we?

10 July 2009

Vicky Christina Barcelona: one cliche too many

When the credits started rolling, I was surprised that this was a Woody Allen movie. Till now, I hadn’t ever equated predictability and clichés with Allen’s movies, and here was this movie brimming with every romantic cliché you could possibly think of.

Cliché no. 1: Two women – one pragmatic, the other free thinking – go to Barcelona for different reasons but end up falling for the same guy: an edible-looking Spanish artist (If you’ve already had enough, read no further. Believe me, this is just the beginning of cliché hell.) Allen can have his triangles or quadrangles or any geometric fantasy, but what grates is the part about the American women – tourists – falling for a Spanish artist.

Cliché no. 2: The pragmatic of the two – Rebecca Hall – is already engaged but sees in Javier Bardem a life she could have if she chose to. So, is it going to be her conventional (read: boring), American fiancée who represents stability, or is going to be the red-blooded Spaniard who will take her up paths of unknown pleasures? Agh, God, this is the dumbest, really. Women often know how to get the best of both worlds, but such women simply don’t feature in movies or books, it seems.

Cliché no. 3: The names of the Spanish characters are ultra-cliché, especially that of Juan Antonio.

Cliché no. 4: Bardem and his ex-wife, Penelope Cruz, are the wild, bohemian spirits and shock the prim, civilized Americans.

Cliché no. 5: It all happens in a faraway place from home – Spain. So, you see, we get hornier abroad or is it just the Barcelona air? And I had this sneaking suspicion when I was watching the movie. The Barcelona in the movie – which competes to be another character - is what tourists want to see it as. In the Barcelona that Marta Bausells Hernanz knows, you can’t walk into a restaurant at 12 in the night and get a table just like that.

Allen’s Barcelona is beautiful, of course. But a little too much out of a travel brochure.

Everyone else in the movie is mouth-watering, too. But just eye-candy quotient cannot make a movie win, though it can definitely save it from total oblivion.

I liked the title song and, strangely enough, the quaint and rather unnecessary narrative.

01 July 2009

Moonwalked to his Neverland

Michael Jackson – his was some of the earliest music to burst out of cable TV in India. School and college annual days were incomplete without a moonwalking feat.

It’d be rare to find someone who wouldn’t tap their feet to his music. More than two decades after he shot to fame, his music, his ghostly white face, his sequined glove, the military jackets – all come to mind without much processing of the brain’s memory.

Particularly, I remember his video Dangerous. Come to think of it, all his videos were a class apart, too. They stand out from the millions of videos that have undistinguishable urbane settings and people lip syncing words with a deadpan face.

And, like with so many gifted people who’ve been blessed with wealth and fame and little else, his death reveals a side we don’t want to associate with someone whose music we grew up with and danced to. With more pills than food in his stomach, what could he have been thinking in his last moments? His music, his fans, his children, his abusive father, his upcoming tour? We’ll never know.

MJ was, truly, a complete entertainer. And he’ll be missed. Let’s hope he finds his Neverland.

Here’s a video from Boing Boing on possible inspirations for MJ’s moonwalking:

Love is a beggar on the streets

Love is a beggar on the streets!
She is not to his need -
Like the have not's creed;
Seeking what's not his,
Dreaming of eternal bliss;
She is a sucker on his wits.

Love is a cur in a deserted ditch!
Howling drearily at midnight's hour,
The Solitary wail of a bond gone sour;
Dribbling wearily for emotions gone by -
Pondering passions that were a colossal lie;
She is but now a bitch.

Love is a bonded slave!
Genuflecting at her master's caprice,
For which she must pay any price;
She can't avenge herself in rage,
She is the serf of an amorous bondage;
Where is the freedom she might crave?

Love is a merchant of pleasure!
Trading her wares in a fleeting transaction -
In the capitalists' dream of free market fruition,
Or the stagnation of the socialist paradise -
Here fidelity is an utopia vice;
Love is a use and throw treasure.

Love is a nuclear device!
She detonates a passionate fallout,
And brings mutually assured destruction about
The dispassionate soldier of the information age -
Awaiting orders for people to ravage.
Will love ever cease strife?

-- Lincoln Roy (1999)

(The magazine in which this poem was published has been lost and found too many times, and I cannot take any more risk with it. So, am recording the poem here. Image source: www.popandpolitics.com)