London 2012: Lunch was on Kini

Way back in the 60s when Kini T R  and I worked for a magazine in London – Afro Asian Echo – we used to  lunch together at Oxford St. (at neighbourhood Wimpy Bar ? Do they still have them ?)  Kini usually paid for our meal; I was tight-fisted on more occasions than I cared to remember.  Early this month,  revisiting London after 45 years,  I looked up Kini at Herne Bay, Kent.  And the lunch was on him.
His French-born wife Catherine (we hadn’t met till that day)  lined up pilau rice, cheese-on-tomato, salad, fruits, and red wine to wash it all  down with.  Kini is fond of his wine, said Catherine.  She had earlier  picked us up – Nangia and me – from the railhead in Herne Bay,  made us lunch,  and was to drop us back at the station for our train  to London.  Kini, weak and ailing,  relies on  Catherine to do the running-around in and outside their house.

Catherine, Kini  had said , would await us in a sky blue Fiat.  We spotted each other right away.  Sushil  Nangia and I were the only passengers on the 10.52 from Victoria, London,  to get down at Herne Bay, Kent.  On the drive home Catherine filled us in on her seaside town,  and how she and Kini came to make it their home,  after 40 plus years in London.
Herne Bay station,  on  Kentish coast.  The train takes 90 mins. to London;  and there is one every 30 mins. from here to victoria station

We spent some four hours –  Nangia, and I –  with Kini  reminiscing.  On my return to  Chennai  I got mail  from  Kini saying,  ‘it seems like a tear-jerker when one has to accept that we are never likely to meet again in person.  I share his sentiments, though I couldn’t bring myself  to saying so when we took  leave from him at Herne  Bay the other day.  Kini’s  Chronic Fatique syndrome (CFS) virtually immobilizes him.  And his only window to the world  around him  is the Internet.  And for a few brief months we stayed in touch through a blog-to-blog,  which prompted Kini to articulate his hitchhicking experience,  from Delhi to London – a 40-day saga, over 45 years back.

It was some  five years back that I first heard  about his health  condition,  when Kini e-mailed to informed me about his move from London to a chalet bungalow  in Herne Bay, Kent, ‘geriatric town where one is more likely to see dear old ones scooting about on electric scooters  than young lads on noisy motor-bikes’.  His e-mail ended on rather disprited note – ‘ uncertainty and hope fills our lives at present’. Kini’s ailment , they say, is incurable.  What’s is worse,  medical science has yet to figure out the why and the how-come  of his nagging  pains in chest and legs,  of his incessant  sleep problem.  Of late  Parkinson’s  has set in,  making Kini rely on Levodopa  (Sinemet),  a drug that relieves him of distressing symptoms for a limited time.

Kini said he took extra dosage in view of my trip,  so that he could,  hopefully,  spend a couple of hours at a stretch without having to retire to  bed because of fatigue –  “I was – to tell the truth,  apprehensive about your visit to Herne Bay – worrying whether you could endure it,  and whether I could,  with my discreet dosage of dopamine”.   I am 73 and Kini can’t be faulted for associating age with some form of ailment.

As it turned out,  our meeting was engaging,  reflective,  and it triggered memories of men and matters long dead or forgotten.  I noticed Kini had even  listed out some  talking points, just in case we fail to cover them .  As we parted Kini handed me a few issues of Afro-Asian Echo – a collector’s item –   that he had thoughtfully preserved.
The magazine,  of 1966 vintage.  Was published by a Nigerian who had fled to London following rioting in Lagos, and assassination of prime minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (on our magazine cover).

Kini commissioned articles,  from Subhash Chopra,   Adil Jussawala,  and Farrukh Dhondy.  They were no big names then.  Dhondy, writer, playwright,  social activist,  widely known among British Indian community for his stint at BBC Channel 4,  was a student at Cambridge when Kini got him to write for Afro-Asian Echo.  Adil a poet and writer,  who was then,  I believe,  teaching English for a living in London of mid-Sixties.  Subhash Chopra worked at the business desk in The Times,  London,  after stints in a couple of provincial dailies.  Chopra has since authored two books – Partition – Jihad and Peace;  and India and Britannia – an abiding affair.
  On racial prejudice Farrukh Dhondy wrote of insulation of the student community at Cambridge.
A foriegn student rarely faces the despair that haunts the working immigrant when he looks for a place to stay in, or for employment, or for ways to keep up with living. Most colleges ensure that strange faces fit in and are absorbed. They send African, Asian or West Indian students to landladies who confess to having no race prejusice.

When I went to North East England for work,  my newspaper – The Northern Echo – had advertised and interviewed  my prospective landlady to ensure I wasn’t exposed to racial prejudice in my neighbourhood during my stint in the newspaper at Darlington.  In fact the landlady and her husband met me at the station to take me to our residence when I first arrived in  Darlington to take up the newspaper job.

After lunch,  as Kini and I were on our nostalgia  trip  down the memory lane,  Nangia offered to do  the dishes,  and make coffee.  We were waiting for Catherine to return from a meeting of the local Workers Education Committee.  As Kini put it, besides taking care of him she finds  time for weekly Arts group meetings;  for learning skills as a water colourist.   Kini once wrote that Catherine was so enamoured with Herne Bay and Canterbury cathedral  that she spent  there as much time as she could,  hoping to become a knowledgeable guide to visiting friends and relatives.

Catherine would have loved to show us around her town,  if only we had time. On our drive back to the station to catch the 16.32 to London  she talked about her familiarization trip to India,  and of the time she spent at Kini’s village in Mangalore.  This was quite a while ago.  Catherine wasn’t sure, if  they would have another chance to do India.

Internet is fun, but not on ‘fone’

I thank  IndiBlogger and Vodafone.  For they set me thinking of  god,  saithan,  fun and the Internet,  all  in the same thread.  I think the Internet is  God,  if only because  I don’t understand either.  Moreover ,  the Lord,  they say, works in mysterious ways.  So does the Internet.  Our God,  we believe,  is omnipresent;   so is e-mail network.  And then isn’t  it  a godly attribute to produce miracles ?  By my book,  the dot com can do us  wonders.

It  had me reconnected with a friend I thought I had lost over 50 years back.  The Web facilitated  my  blog-to-blog  dialogue  with T R Kini,   aging  friend ,  ailing,   and living way away on another hemisphere.   In our younger days we  had  spent a couple of years in London of the 60s.   Kini is  now down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  Bound to wheel chair life can be excruciatingly confining.  Kini’s window to the world around  is his  Net connected computer screen.  We blogged about the years we spent together,  about the Swinging Sixties,  our travels overland when hitching rides  was the youth’s preferred mode of cross-country  travel.  My friend Kini, who hitched rides through Pakistan,  Iran, Turkey to Paris and beyond,  wrote of his vintage experiences in our blog-to-blog.

I re-discovered  Irshad via a blogpost I did after watching a movie on TV.  Featured in this German movie  I recognized a friend I had lost way back in 1960s in New Delhi. We used to meet on a daily basis at Janpath coffee-house.  It was quite a thrill, discovering your coffee-house friend on a TV screen.I wanted to get in touch. Googling Irshad Panchatan produced a Wikipedia entry that didn’t help much.So I blogged –  Irshad  Mia, where are you?   It was my way of sending a message in the bottle, hoping my friend,  Net browsing, might happen by my blog.  He didn’t,  but Irshad’s daughter did –  find my message-in-the-bottle and conveyed it to her father in Berlin. Internet can be fun,  even for those uninitiated into live chat, video games,  web streaming and what-have-you.  I read about a Vizag-based web-casting agency that  streams live a wedding in your family.   Sharing a family event live with out-of-town friends and relatives is fun.

Early earthlings  worshiped  the  Sun, the moon,  rain and wind.  Ancient Greeks had god or goddeses for earth and the sky,  beauty and fertility,  war and violence. If we have a  goddess for fun,  we would call her the Internet. Not an unmixed fun,  perhaps.  For the Internet also serves  miliants as an instrument to promote terrorism . Terrorist training manuals in PDF format in German, English and Arabic,  were among the digital documents  they recovered from Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad,  Pakistan. Terror plots relating to Mumbai-style attacks targeting European cities,  and al-Qaeda road map for future operations were found in digital storage device and memory cards.  And mobile phone,  far from being a source of fun,  can be lethal in the hands of terrorists.  Bad guys in movies use cell phone as trigger device to blow up places.

A mobile,  going by promos and Vodafone  commercials,  is no longer used for basic communication  by way of a telephoic talk. Instead,  it is marketed as a fun,  in-thing,  with which you listen to music, take photos, play games,  send  SMS, check mail, and trade missed calls with those you want to avoid talking. Writing on the death of the phone call ,  Clive Thompson reckons this  generation ‘doesn’t make phone calls,  because everyone is in constant, lightweight contact in so many other ways:  texting,  chatting,  and social network messaging’.

Gone are the days when we engaged in conversation the  people we met  at railway platforms  ,  we  made friends on travel.  In buses, during train travel, we find youngsters into their own trip,   meddling with their mobile  to check mail, watch video ,  play games and whatever else they do with that thing in their palms . Even elders on morning walk  nowadays seem to have forgotten the old world  grace of greeting those  walking by,  or  the art of striking a park-bench conversation with strangers.  Instead,  we keep our ears plugged in to mobile music mode.

The internet on mobile  isn’t just a no-fun thing ;  it is unsociable to plug  in  your ears to a  mobile,  utterly unconcerned about the happenings around you.  If  Internet is  fun,  do we need to have it on call,  and round the clock ?  In our addiction to the digital kind we may well be losing out on the fun we  can stumble on,  in real world,  at the park,  on our way to work.    I am all for fun on the Net, but a mobile  shouldn’t be so packed in with  ‘fun’  features that we lose sight of  real  point of a mobile –  to make/take  a call on the move.
The Internet,  in my book,  isn’t fun on any  ‘fone’.   And I wouldn’t fault Vodafone,  if my post is considered off-topic,  for the IndiBlogger contest on  How Internet is fun on your mobile’.

Finding Irshad: A Google-yuga saga

My search for Irshad Panchatan started a couple of years back,  with a blog-post – Irshad Mia, where are you ? –  about a long-lost coffee-house comrade.  We were regulars at New Delhi Janpath coffee house in early 1960s.  It has been so long ago that  Irshad  had remained in my fading memory cells  a forgotten folder , waiting to be retrieved.

This was till a couple of years ago when I happened by on TV a familiar face  in the telecast of  this German movie – Reclaim Your Brain.  The face was that of  Irshad Panchatan,  my coffee-house  friend.  I couldn’t contain my excitement. Of course,  Irshad wasn’t a close pal,  but  sharing a coffee-house table tied us into a biradari (brotherhood).   And then,  it has been over 50 years – time lapse of a yuga,  after which a re-connect triggers excitement of its own. During our lost decades  we   drifted away from New Delhi,  into our separate work life,  and into marriage,  family,  retirement, and now,  ageing .  He must be 80 ;  I am 73.

We now have the Internet,  Facebook,  Linked-in and other social networking tools.  They weren’t of any help in finding Irshad.  Wikipedia entry on him is in German.    I blogged about him – Irshad Mia, where are you ? – in the hope that if Irshad or someone who knew of his current whereabouts were to read my piece in DadiNani ,  he or she would know where to find me.  This was my way of sending a message-in-the-bottle,  tossed out  into cyberspace.

After doing the blog-post I sent the link to  another coffee-house friend S P Dutt  (NDTV Barkha’s dad),  and  he forwarded it to his friends.  Speedy’s (is how friends call S P Dutt) networking  produced a Berlin phone number.  As part of the Janpath coffee-house brotherhood  Speedy got involved in the search for Irshad.  For the next few days the three of us –  Speedy (in New Delhi), Sushil Nangia (in London),  and I (from Mysore) called Berlin. No response.

Stonewalled by unanswering ringtone from the Berlin phone line, we gave up our search.  My wife and I moved base from Mysore to Chennai – this was an  year back.  Irshad lapsed out of mind, till the other day when DadiNani  editor Subodh Mathur    e-mailed, saying,  your message in the bottle made it to Irshad Mia’s daughter.  Rita Sonal Panjatan had left a  comment in my blog post – The message in the bottle has reached, I will forward this to my father.

And within the next two days I get a mail from the man himself –   ‘Your bottle must have touched so many shores of different planets before it was fished by Rita in a German space shore’.  Irshad quoted Firaq to convey his feelings at  hearing from someone he didn’t ever think  he could –   Urdu poets  have a couplet for  every thing,  don’t they.

And then,  added Irshad: I was stunned…your message took me back into the 60s, to beautiful days of our meetings at Delhi Coffee House …. Those meetings played a very important role in my life,….am thankful to my Coffee House friends. Their critique helped me become a Pantomime. You,  RG Anand and Balraj Komal were my main critical guides.  M S Mudder who put me on stage on and on (with whom I’m still in contact) and O P Kohli  (died decades ago) who used to do the lights for me…Two years back,  moderator of German TV show  ‘Weltspiegel’ (World mirror)  Navina Sudarum,  niece of painter Amrita Sher-Gil, sent me the newspaper cutting relating to Dr.Charles Fabri (The Statesman dance critic), who loved and encouraged me as you also know.  It was a lovely and very important time for us all,  that we can never forget.

I left India again in 1971….for Europe, where I stayed, as you know, with Ingrid in Berlin, and later, opened a Pantomime School also. But that I closed in 1995 and after some time also stopped performing. Now from time to time I get offers to act in small roles in German TV and Films.

I am eighty and Ingrid is still beautiful and active. Rita, who did her MA from London School of Economics,lives close to us.

Kabul calling

Mahindra’s   invitation to blog on my life-changing road trip took me back in time ,  to Kabul.  Not to the strife-torn Afghan city,  but a hippie-happy,  ‘wheeling-n-dealing’ Kabul of 1960s.  The place was then a bustling staging post for hippies,  hitch-hikers,  and adventure tourists from Europe,  heading East beyond Khyber Pass.

This was in 1967,  when I was 29,  unattached,  and doing Europe overland.  We were seven – a mixed group,  aged between 10 and 50 – traveling  in a 12-seater van on a London-Delhi run.  Because of a nationality issue with Pakistan,  Kabul turned out to be the end of the road for me.  Denied a visa to transit Pakistan,  I flew from Kabul to Amritsar.  Our tour organiser  Brian,  and two other Brits  in our group took the van through  Khyber Pass to  Peshawar,  Lahore,  crossing the  Wagha  border post into Amritsar.

Alone,  and on loose ends,  I spent four days in Kabul,  waiting for India flight.  Ariana Afghan Airlines  flew to Amritsar twice weekly. Not being a sight-seeing type  (didn’t even own a camera then)  I spent much time in cafes watching host of other young men and women doing the same thing.  Most of them were youth-hostellers on adventure trip,  ready with their back-pack,  hoping to hop on to  the first available vehicle offering a free ride to some place in the general direction they were heading.  Back-packers met in cafes to swap travel experience. Those heading towards Europe,  having done India and Pakistan,  exchanged notes with European hitch-hickers heading East.  Hitch-hicking was a done thing among youths those days.  Passing motorists had no hesitation in picking up back-packers thumbing a lift.  Some made good company,  on long road trips.  Cafes in Kabul town were peopled , besides back-packers,  with hippies,  unshaven,  unshowered,  and lingering over their coffee waiting for hash-dealer or a vacancy in the toilet.

The vehicles parked outside the cafes had European number plates,  and carried windshield placards offering a seat to London for 50 pounds sterling. Vans,  Land-Rovers,  and bigger coaches on their return trip from India usually had seats going.  In our van Brian was the only one doing the return road trip to London. He would have picked up a few fare-paying passengers on his home run to London. Brian,  then on his first trip East,  said he planned doing the trip on a regular basis as an overland tour operator. We were his first customers – two males,  three ladies and a 10-year-old schoolgirl.  And Brian found us through an ad.  he gave in the New Statesman personal column.

Joan,  a middle-aged wife of  Norfolk businessman,  bored with golf and country life,  wanted to do the world overland,  if only to be able to  send picture-postcards home  from exotic-sounding addresses.  Carol,  a student nurse from London,  joined us for ‘some fun and a bumpy ride’ to Bombay, from where she planned to take a ship to Sydney to join her Australian boyfriend. And then we had this young Indian couple,  with a 10-year-old girl,  heading home for a long vacation in Bombay. I believe they were close to the business family that owned the  ‘Parle’  brand of beverges.  Point is, even regular guys took to overland trips those days.  And Kabul of the hippy,  happier days  was  Mecca to road-trippers from all over Europe.  More on my Kabul,  a few paras. later.

To begin at the beginning,  my road trip started, as I mentioned,  with a New Statesman personnel column,  wherein Brian said he wanted to hear from those wanting to do India overland in May, 1967.  I was then a journalist on the staff of The Northern Echo, a daily published in  Darlington,  North-East England.  After three years in the UK  I thought it was time I returned home,  to turn a fresh  leaf in life.   And I couldn’t have imagined a better way to start on  it  than what the New Statesman ad. offered.

Advertiser Brian,  when I got in touch,  cautioned  that his trip was not for those who expected to be  ‘carried’  by others;  or those not prepared to accept some heat and discomfort;  and, definitely,  not for the type that didn’t ‘get along’  with strangers.  Brian bought a 12-seater van, funded,  presumably, through our contribution, as down-payment on a vehicle loan.  I can’t recall how much I paid,  but it was less than 100 pounds. This didn’t include our motel stay en route,  and visa fees for transiting Belgium, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia,  Bulgaria, Turkey,  Iran and Afghanistan.

Irony was , such exciting journey  across continent had a pretty pedestrian start,  at the parking lot of  London’s Waterloo station.  It was a Sunday morning, 7ish,  when the parking lot was deserted.  Brian was already there,  and waiting.  So was my friend Sushil Nangia  who had come to see me off.  I was surpised to see him there,  on a Sunday morning.  Besides being a dear friend one had to be bit of a nut to be up and about to see off someone,  so early on Sunday morning , when most of London preferred to stay in bed,  reading their favourite paper – be it the Sunday Times, Observer, The Sunday Express or the now-closed News of the World.  Nangia was, and still remains,  both –  a dear friend,  and bit of the N-word.

Our road trip involved two car-ferry crossings  – Dover-Ostend  on the English Channel,  and across Bosphorus   in Istanbul –  motoring across the Black Forest;   stopping by at picture postcard towns of  Munich, Cologne,  Baden-Baden,  Salzburg;  driving up  Kop Dagi Highland in Turkey;  crossing Iran,  taking in en route  Tehran, Tabriz, Mehshad and many other small towns to make it to the Afghan border post;  and from there to Herat,  through a moonscaped barren expanse to Khandahar and then,  to Kabul.

After four days on loose ends in Kabul, I couldn’t wait to leave town.  As I reached the airport I was told I didn’t have  ‘exit visa’. Immigration official suggested I get my passport stamped at the city police station, some 20 mins.away. He offered to  get me a taxi. I wondered if it was possible to get my passport exit-stamped at the police station and still make it back to the airport in time to catch the flight. The official at the immigration said it was worth a try –  for my flight wasn’t leaving for another hour.  A taxi-driver was ready to take me to the city and back.  And the next flight was three days away.  I had the decision made for me –  to make a dash to the city police station.  And the Kabul cabbie managed to bring me back to the airport some ten minutes before take-off.  As the Afghan Airlines Dakota took to the air with me in the plane,  I couldn’t help wonder if there wasn’t nexus between the airport counter staff and the cabbie.

Talking the walk, Swapna’s Delhi Walk

When  Swapna Liddle’s  Delhi – 14 historic walks   was made available by  BlogAdda for book  review  I grabbed it because I wanted to  ‘re-visit’  Delhi; and because I believe heritage walks are not just for tourists,  but are  also for the likes of me wanting to re-discover Delhi. And here I found a historian with a doctorate in 19th century Delhi  to take me around.

Carrying,  as I do,  an emotional baggage of  having spent my college, and early working life in the city, I admit to reading  Delhi – 14 historic walks with tinted eye-glasses that had weathered 30 Delhi summers (1950-80s).  And if,  in  Liddle’s  290 pages,   I find the  book  leaves something to be desired,  it is because of my rather high expectations.  I expected the author to lead me by the hand while talking the walk,  pointing  things with anecdotes.  I expected a story-teller to bring  alive  the ruins and tombs of nawabs and other nobility with tales,  gossip and myths of their life and times.

I wasn’t totally disappointed, though.  Diwane Khas  at the Red Fort assumed a khasiat (added value) for me after reading Swapna Liddle ,  in the sense  I visualized  the emperor’s special court hall as the  spot where  Shahjahan  suffered the indignity of getting  deposed from the throne by his own son Aurangazeb.  Among other nuggets from history that Liddle weaves in her historic walks was Mehrauli’s  Metcalfe connection.  Sir Thomas Metcalfe,  British agent at the Mughal court in the 1840s, showed up as  bit of a crank in the sense that he converted the first floor of Quila Khan’s tomb in Mehrauli as a retreat.
The Qutab Minar, widely known as symbol of the Turkish conquest of northern India,  was seen by the Muslim faithful as a maznah, from where they gave the call to the faithfuls to come for prayer. Someone who could climb up the Qutab (72.5 m), and still have the stamina to call out to the faithfuls,  must have had super-human lung-power. Hogwash ?  Perhaps,  but it made an interesting read.

The book made me wonder  how Ballimaran got its name ;  I had no occasion to learn, till I read Liddle,  that  Mirza Ghalib lived in a rented haveli that belonged to a neibourhood  hakim.  And that Delhi’s St.Stephen’s College  was initially housed in a modest Chandni Chowk  house in narrow lane called  Katra Kushal Rai.

I wonder if  sarkari tourism  depts.  realise the potentials  of  city walks.  Walking tours are mainly done by  NGOs and through  individual initiatives.  I have read about some city-loving  San Francisco residents devoting their weekends to  taking interested  visitors on neighbourhood walks.  Nearer home, the walks with which I am familiar,  in Mysore and Mylapore (Chennai),  are individual initiatives.  The royal Mysore walks  is the creation of a software techie who got bitten by the walkbug in Singapore. While on assignment abroad Vinay was so taken in by the Singapore city walk  that he chose to return to  native Mysore  to start a heritage walk.  Vinay’s business model has apparantly been  successful  enough for him to start a Mysore bike tour.

I wish his success drives him enough to try out walks for other interest groups –  R K Narayan walk (of his haunts in the city),  the Maharaja’s College walk,  Kukrahalli walk (for bird-watchers),  The Mysore Banyan Walk , Mandi Mohalla or  the Agrahara walk. Speaking  agraharam,  my media friend Vincent D’Souza  has been conducting walks centred on the agraharam in Chennai’s Mylapore. 

INTACH with which the author is associated conducts the walks  she writes about in her book.  Her friend  Surekha Narain,  who acknowledges  Swapna Liddle  as a guiding force, is into conducting  Surekha Walks  devoted to the  Ghalib trail, the Pahargunj bazar, and the 1857 Mutiny walk.  I have a few walks ideas, triggered by my sense of Vintage Delhi. Would  Surekha  consider any of these ?

The Coffee-house walk:  Starts from Janpath where the original coffee-house was located. When the India Coffee Board decided to close  down  its chain of coffee-houses in 60s, their employees, left in the lurch, were backed by the Delhi coffe-house regulars to form a workers’ co-op to take over the Board abandoned coffee-houses. When they  faced eviction from  Janpath, the workers union started the search for an alternative, with  the support of coffee-house regulars –  they included artists,  academics,  poets,  journalists, politicians, lawyers,  insurance agents, and students. Among the regulars were  Inder Gujral and Young Turk  Chandra Shekar.  A joint agitation by coffee-house  regulars and workers  resulted in NDMC  allotment of open space where Thambu coffee-house came to be located .  So called because , the the coffee-house functioned under a tent.  That was the space where  Palika Bazar is now located.  The workers’  coffee-house  eventually moved to Mohan Singh Place,  still in Connaught Place (CP).

Meanwhile,  some  regulars from my time (70s-80s)  drifted away to other C P  locations such as the United Coffee House,  the Tea House in Regal Building. On a Delhi trip a while  back I discovered  a small band of old time regulars meeting  at Connaught Circus Embassy restaurant.  The group of coffee-regulars  is sustained  by my college friend  S P Dutt  (Barkha’s  dad) – we have been coffee-house regulars  since our days together in Hindu College,  till our jobs took us away from  Delhi.  I left New Delhi in early 80s, for good.  SPD, as friends call Dutt, returned to the city,   re-connected with old-time regulars after retirement,  and Embassy is where they meet nowadays.  Out-of-towners ,  like yours truly,  visiting Delhi can catch up with  S P Dutt’s group at Embassy, on weekdays –  ‘make it there,  11ish’,  as SPD would say when you call.

Karolbagh Monday market:  A weekly walk, on Monday,  holiday for  Ajmal Khan Road traders. It is  on Monday pavement hawkers of all type take over the stretch from Pusa Rd. end to the Unani hospital. The pavement close to the Gurudwara Rd. crossing on Ajmal Khan Road  would be of interest for pavement shoppers of used books.

Worship Walk, of 3 histoic temples, a gurudwara and a church. Could start from the Hanuman temple near Rivoli Cinema, Connaught Place;  walk down Irwin Rd. to  Gurdwara Rakhab Gunj;  Continue the walk upto the Gole Post office, where there is a church;  take a turn towards the Bird Rd. Kali Mandir, located on encroached pavement; and make your way to Birla temple on Mandir Marg via the heritage Gole Market.

The Mandir Marg Ridge: This walk could interest alumni of Mandir Marg schools,  notably Harcourt Butler and Madarasi.  Students living in Karolbagh used to walk to school through the ridge,  picking along the way  wild berries with sour-sweet taste,  that grew on thorny bushes.  The back-door ridge was also the escape route, notably for those who had running accounts at the Madarasi  school front  chai-samasa dukhanwala.

Delhi University Walk: For students in my times,  who did cafe-crawling before,  after,  and,  often, during class hours.  University coffee-house,  strategically located near the campus gate bus stop,  was usually the place where students started their day. From here it is a few minutes walk to the Miranda House cafe,  so named because  of its proximity to the noted women’s college hostel. And then there was Wenger’s,  an upscale cafe near the university library, conveniently located for students meeting  for ‘group study’.  After the study session at Wenger’s  day-scholars take a walk with hostellers to catch the bus home,  from the Miranda House stop. The 8 pm bus to Kashmere Gate,  Daryagunj and beyond  that passed by Miranda House was  widely known  among students as Ashiq Special. 8 p m was when the  women’s hostel gate closed for the day.

Costa Concordia, a touch of Titanic

It has been over a week since  Costa Concordia hit the rocks off the isle of Gigilio. And survivor accounts in the media are not going away anytime soon. It may be weeks, and may be  months before we get a sense of what really happened.  And media reports,  of rescue,  salvaging the wreck before it sinks, and the trial of the ship’s captain would  account for a spate of  media stories ,  some books, and, eventually,  a  Hollywood movie – ‘A  Titanic on the rock’ .
Every survivor  would have a story to tell.  And considering that Concordia had on board  3,000 plus passengers, and over 1,000 crew members, there is immense potential for publishers looking for cruise liner disaster titles.  Unlike the iceberg in the Titanic saga,  the rock on which the crippled Costa Concordia came to rest  has become a landmark  for passing vessels,  and promises to be a tourist attraction.

The sinking of  Titanic in 1912  gave rise to ,  and still does,  a series of events related to the disaster.  A Titanic memorial cruise,   departing from Southampton this April is already booked fully.  The tourist guide on board a New York  ferry boat that goes around  Manhattan  made it a point to show us an abandoned pier near 18th Street that continues to attract Titanic buffs.  Pier 59 is where the  Titanic would have docked had it survived its maiden voyage.

Meanwhile the media thrives on the liner disaster trivia –  the ship’s captain had that evening  red wine with gourmet meal, and a beautiful woman for company at the ship’s most exclusive restaurant. Media reports on Costa Concordia had me reach out to the Titanic book  on my shelf.   The ship’s wireless man Herald Bride  in his account of survival  said as he watched the sinking liner from a lifeboat some 100 ft away he could   hear  the band playing  ‘Autumn‘ as the Titanic went down.  On the ship  Commander Lightoller,  lone survivor among ship’s offcer,  referred to the band playing cheery sort of music as supervised the loading and  lowering of lifeboats with women and child passengers.  “I don’t like jazz music as a rule,  but I was glad to hear it that night,”  said the commander, “I think it help us all”.

Even after a 100 years there is no clear or widely acceptable explanation on what had  indeed happened on board the Titanic on April 15, 1912.  There are questions evoking disputed versions:   Was the captian drunk when it happened ? Did the band play ‘Nearer My God to Thee’  as stricken cruise liner plunged into the sea?

Of Team Anna and Arun Maira’s ‘fireflies’

Our industrial output,  slipping into a negative growth mode,  plunged to minus 5.1 percent in October (see headline).  The same month last year saw a robust 11.3 percent growth.  Economics alone wouldn’t  explain such  steep fall to dismal depths within a year.  Corporate leaders talk of a governance deficit.  The government (read PM),  facing the charge of  decision-making paralysis,  points to compulsions of coalition politics that resulted in the govt. having to put on hold FDI in retailing, despite a cabinet decision. Localised protests hold up commissioning of Kudamkulam nuclear power plant. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are engaged in disruptive politics over the future of Mullaiperiyar dam.  And then we have Team Anna  dictating terms to the govt. on drafting the  Lokpal Bill, and giving parliament a timeline for enactment of the Bill.

This then is the scenario in which I got to read  Arun Maira’s  ‘Transforming Capitalism.  The book’s sub-title – ‘Improving the World for Everyone‘ – sounds rather presumptuous , I thought.  But then I wouldn’t fault the author, for it is often the publisher who gives a book the title that   sells.  A  compilation of  Mr Maira’s  newspaper and magazine articles,  the book is designed to help business leaders and managers undertand the social issues they need to factor in,  while making business decision. Mr Arun  Maira,  a Planning Commission member,  has spent decades in the corporate sector –  in the Tatas and later at the Boston Consulting Group.

Transforming Capitalism‘ is the sort  of book  you choose to  read for ideas,  for professional guidance,  and for other info. of  your interest.  You don’t need to start at the beginning  ,  and plod through chapter, after chapter, to get at the guts of it , on Page 148 (as I did) . The chapters, reproduced from Mr Maira’s media writings  ,  are stand-alone pieces  that  people read on morning commute.  As the author says in the preface,  his chapters are longer than Tweets,  but they are short enough to be read during a brief plane ride. You can start anywhere, flip through chapters,  go back and forth. I did this all,  and also revisited a chapter,  in which Maira writes about  people’s movement led by Arvind Kejriwal  – Parivartan.

Reading of all  the good work he has done at Parivartan,  I couldn’t help wonder if too much TV does a person  any  good  for his  reputation or for  the cause he upholds .  Mr Kejriwal  of  Team Anna fame is all over on TV nowadays,  so much so that you can’t escape his  presence at prime-time  talk-shows,  by switching channels, unless  you switch to cartoon channel or switch off altogether.

Anyway,  even as the govt.  announced  the  date for moving the Lokpal Bill  in Lok Sabha  Anna Hazare  reiterated his threat to go on fast from December 27, if,  by then the Bill doesn’t get passed in parliament.  Team Anna may have zero trust in  govt., but their apparant intolerance with the ruling party,  and the ultimatum Anna Hazare sets for the parliament  do not set a healthy precedent  for growth of people’s movement in a democracy.

In refreshing contrast to present day,   the 2009 scenario   of   civil society awakening after RTI,  as articulated by Mr Maira in his book , appeared  conducive to the spread  of  Parivartan-type communities in various  parts of the country. The  communities were driven by  by varied causes –  provision of drinking water,  adult literacy,  village schooling,  micro-lending,  women’s issues and concerns.

Mr Maira,  terming them  ‘communities of practice’,  says the spread of such communities  would transform India from bottom up. The communities  (‘fireflies’, in Mr Maira’s book) that used the provisions of the Rights to Information Act  to help people get their dues and prevent grass-roots corruption can be connected to each other through networking, and not by hierarchies.  The  author would like to see the govt. (with its  power to facilitate ) as well as the corporates (with their  resources) stepping forward to promote a supportive framework that enables many more ‘fireflies’ to rise.  This, according to Mr Maira,  is the only way India can step up growth in a free market economy. This perceptive chapter in the book has been reprinted  from  Civil Society,  a monthly magazine.  Its publisher Umesh Anand  was the one who persuaded Mr Maira to do the book.

And I got to read Arun Maira through  this  programme of  book reviews by bloggers.  Anyone who blogs; and  has flair for books  can access Blogadda for details .