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.

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Katju bashing won’t fly, Tavleen

It was on TV.  What was billed  ‘The Ramnath Goenka Debate’  turned out to be a media gang-up against Press Council chairman  Justice Markandey Katju.   It was a provocative Katju against a panel of  ‘press freedom’ caretakers,  comprising a media columnist, couple of TV anchors,  an editor, and an academic, who argued newspaper reporters and lesser media persons need not be intellectuals –  ‘you needn’t have read Zola to report on 2G scam’.  His provocation was Justice  Katju’s  Karan Thapar interview  where he expressed an opinion that a majority of media people were of low intellectual level.
It is difficult to quarrel with the professor’s contention, in the manner he put it.  But then the professor may have no reason to know that a newspaper reporter in New Delhi  of the 60’s and 70’s handled assignments as varied as an interview with Neil Armstrong  on goodwill visit after his  moon-landing,  a Rotary Club address by  John Freeman on Indo-British relations, an interaction with Yahudi Menuhin , Army Day reception at  Gen. Manekhshaw’s  place,  a farewell tea party hosted by Mexican envoy and poet  Octavio Paz, and a scholarly lecture on the Nehru’s relevance by  P N Haksar,  who didn’t hand out a prepared text.  I agree with the professor when he says there is nothing intellectual about reporting routine crime,  a court case proceedings or municipal council meeting.

Columnist Tavleen Singh wasn’t  dignified when she chose to be sarcastic at Justice Katju.   And she took on Sharad Yadav becaue he had said something nice  and praiseworthy about journalists of the old school. “it is bakhwas (rubbish),”  said Tavleen,  adding that media reporting those days was nothing but  “a gracious form of clericalism”.

As a has-been reporter, and her senior by some years  I can claim a nodding acquaintence with Tavleen  during her stint with The Statesman in New Delhi. Maybe her reporting in that paper  wasn’t ‘clericalism’ , gracious or otherwise. It was unbecoming of someone who claims to have been a media person for over 30 years to have been so scornfully dismissive,  as Tavleen Singh was, of other people’s opinion. What she said smacked of intellectual arragance,  an accusation that some  panelists, including Tavleen, had  levelled against Justice Katju.

The press council chief  had words put in his mouth – ‘Mr katju thinks we’re intellectual hacks’;  he was taken to task for suggesting that media,  like any other profession,  needs  a regularity mechanism,  and must be made accountable.  And we had Tavleen, once again, hitting out at Justice Katju –  ‘ why don’t you take a look at others, say the judiciary, before you attack hacks like me’. Strong words, these.  And they may get Tavleen a ‘Wow’ and  ‘wah,wahs’  from her peers,  but it  doesn’t take the debate forward.  It was at this stage that  Mr Pratap Bhanu Mehta intervene to say  the conversation was getting embarrassing,  and the level of debate,  pathetic.

At the end of the day,  I don’t suppose  Taveleen’s  TV performance  and her public display of rightuous indignation  help careers, notably,  of   media columnists who live by background briefings and  ‘deep throat’  links with high level govt.  and corporate sources. After all,  isn’t their  talk-show appearances  also about building self-image ?

Tavleen and some other panelists, in order to score debating points,  couldn’t resist taking a cheap shot at Justice Katju’s much publicised  ‘Dev Anand’ remarks.  More than one panelist was heard saying that the press council chief couldn’t dictate to media what to publish, and where. Justice Katju,  they held,  sought to control editorial freedom.  It was for editors to decide if  Dev Anand’s death merited  Page One news.  Mr Mehta justified the front-page display, saying Dev Anand represented, what he called, sociologically important dream and fantasy to millions in India. That Justice Katju made the  Dev Anand remark  to highlight the need for media to excercise of social priority wasn’t lost on  many of us,  although Mr Mehta and Tavleen Singh chose to interpret it as press council diktat to editors,  on  a matter that was   editor’s prerogative.  Most newspaper editors apparantly got his message right,  said Justice Katju –  ‘had I not raised my voice, the recent birth of a filmstar’s child would have been on Page one,  instead of P.7’.

The NDTV talk-show host was generous  to allow Justice Katju the last word. And he signed off reiterating that he was all for press freedom; and that some of his remarks were widely misunderstood.  The press council chief made appropriate noises about the importance of the media. The country looked up to the media to reflect social reality. They should stop giving too much space to news relating to fashion parade, film stars, sports celebrities  – ‘Es gharib mulk mein aap ko film-stars aur fashion parade hi dikhayi detha hai‘. Media needs to get its priorities right, observed Justice Katju.

The debate (38 plus mins) : Are majority of media people of poor intellectual level ?

TargetThe Hindu article

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?

Irshad Mia, Aadab, wherever you are

You may call this a web-age  message-in-the-bottle,  tossed out into the sea, waiting to be found.  This post,  addressed to a long lost friend Irshad Panjatan, is done in the hope that if he were to Google this piece,  he would know how to find me.  Irshad and I haven’t been in touch for nearly five decades now.

He was nowhere in my thoughts till the other day, when I watched this 2007 German movie  on Lumiere channel.  Irshad plays a role in Reclaim Your Brain, about a bunch of social outcasts, out to revolutionise German TV by meddling with ratings monitors connected to people’s TV cables. Despite ageing  his face –  the only Indian in the film – seemed familiar, though I couldn’t put a name to it till the end. The film’s credit-lines settled it.  He was  Irshad Panjatan

Irshad and I used to meet in New Delhi  Janpath coffee-house in the 60s.  Then an upcoming mime,  Irshad was into the theatre movement; I was on its fringe, and, as an aspiring reporter, I had access to rehearsals by artists of  The Hindustani Theatre,  at Shankar Market. They rehearsed, after-hours, at office space loaned by Mr Anand, a benovelant archtitect with a flair for theatre. 

We had a couple of common  friends and coffee-house regulars –  O P Kholi,  M S Muddhar who ran a youth magazine –  sustaining  our contact ,  though I had little interest in mime,  which was Irshad’s passion. Of these three Kholi is no more and I am not in touch with the other two.  Another friend T R Kini,   blogged about his first encounter with Irshad – in mid-60s.  

Kini,  then a reporter in  New Delhi daily,  Patriot , was sent to interview Irshad. Describing him as a mime artiste in the mould of Marcel Marceaux,  Kini blogged:  Irshad had hitchhiked from New Delhi to London via Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Italy and France and Germany.Irshad earned money by performing his unique art of mime in local schools and colleges.He had an easy time traversing half the globe both ways, getting written about and interviewed by local newspapers along the way and had a bulging Press cuttings folder to prove it. His audience realised that mime broke through boundaries of language and,indeed,needed no language to communicate.

Irshad’s return from his adventure travel through Europe  occasioned the newspaper interview.  And Kini observed that Irshad seemed in good health, ‘none the worse for the months he had spent on the road with a rucksack on his back’.  And when Kini mentioned his own plan to hitch-hike  through Europe,  Irshad  offered to write to his brother in Anakara – an economist seconded by the UN to the Turkish Government.  Months later, when they hitch-hiked  from New Delhi to London,   Kini and his friend Subash Chopra  were given ‘interim shelter and care ‘ in Turkey by Irshad’s brother.

Our visa interview

My wife and I appeared for visa interview at the US consulate, Chennai,  the other day. A new experience,  it was.  We had got our first visa without interview.  They had this drop-box system then(1998),  for fuddy-duddies wanting to visit their NRI sons/daughters.  You handed in relevant documents to the security staff at the consulate gate by nine any morning; and collected your passports with stamped visa the same evening.

Personal appearance was for youngsters.  When our son Ravi sought visa for higher studies (in 1994,I believe)  they used to queue up overnight on the pavement outside the consulate.  Proxy was allowed and the going rate for a stand-in through the night was Rs.100. We hired my office boy Jeeva to spend the night on the consulate queue, so that Ravi could swap place with Jeeva on the morning of the interview. 

When I met him the morning after Jeeva told me not to worry –  Ravi would get visa for sure. As Jeeva put it,  the consultate queue was no patch on the Friday rush at movie theatres.  Jeeva,  a veteren of scores of cinema-house queues,  had never once failed to get the tickets.  Jeeva was among the top ten in the consulate queue.  How could then Ravi not get a visa, he reasoned. I loved his cut and dried reasoning,  and his theatre queue anology.  And true to Jeeva’s word, Ravi got his visa. Getting ticket for a Rajnikant movie at Satyam would have been tougher.

I missed Jeeva on our interview day;  could have done with his pep talk.  The visa interview can be a life-altering experience for parents with NRI sons/daughters.  So accstomed we are, to visiting our only son and family periodically,  that I can’t imagine a life without US visa. 

On the interview day my wife and I were at the consulate half hour before before time – 11 a m.  The orderly way they regulated, what seemed, an unending stream of visa-seekers reminded me of Tirupathi,  where they regulated the flow of pilgrims through holding areas,  with seating arrangement, water-cooler and closed-circuit TV at every holding stage. Unlike in Tirupathi,  the waiting area in the US consulate is fully air-conditioned.

 Interview area resembled railway reservations counters,  with several visa-seekers being attended to simultaneously.  Many other couples like us were in queue, waiting in unspoken silence, and anxious to get it over with. The man ahead of us in the queue kept removing his thick-framed glasses, every now and then, to wipe his forehead with a hand-kerchief.  He looked conspicuously over-dressed, wearing a dark suit in Chennai summer.

Another gent preceding me in the final queue  appeared over-prepared for the interview.  In response to a routine query he came up with a speech. I heard him say, apart from spending time with his son and family, he planned to do New York, visit Niagara, and take the opportunity to meet people and understand American culture.  This was when the interviewer cut him short politely, with a smile, assuring a visibly anxious parents that their visa would be couriered to them within a week.

We got a similar assurance , after a brief exchange.  The interviewer didn’t even want to see  the papers I carried – my son’s affidavit of support, his job status, tax returns, my house tax receipt,  fixed deposit cerificates. Asked about the purpose of our visit, I mentioned our grandsons, with whom we wanted to spend time. Interviewer welcomed the idea, saying it was a nice way to spend time in retirement. 

To his question on my income, I said, I had none.  Somewhat surprised at my response, he asked, ‘Not even pension’?  To which I said my wife and I lived on remitances from our son.

Was he a US citizen? No, a green-card holder.

The interview was over.

Our man in Brazil

At our recent meeting in Chennai a blogger in our group (he didn’t wish to be named) came up with an idea – how about bringing out an anthology of selected pieces from the Mysore Blog Park.  As he put it,  we have a fairly wide group at MBP;  they write on varied topics of their fancy.  And do it competently.

He had a point.  We can think of quite a few who may have a book in their blogs.  The one who suggested MBP anthology is himself working on a book. Another MBP favourite,  B S Prakash,  has just come up with his work – Clueless in California (Konarak publicaions, Rs.195).  It’s a compilation, from his Rediff column,  with updates in reference to his years as Our man in San Francisco.  Mr Prakash has since moved to Brazil as our ambassador.

Those familiar with his column would nail the lie in the title –  apparantly a publisher’s ploy.  Mr Prakash is anything but clueless about California.  He is as knowledgeble about the prime dosa joint in San Francisco, as he is about the city’s connection with the Gadar movement.  I have read his engaging piece  on a philosophy teacher’s  take on Silicon Valley (Mr Prakash, M A in Philosophy, taught at Mysore Maharaja’s College before joining  Indian Foreign Service);  on the allure of MBA,  and about his re-discovery of the US in the company of Dr Kalam.

Invited to preside over a Stanford University music festival at which A R Rahman was honoured,  Mr Prakash did his home work so thoroughly that he used the material for a Rediff.column,  with knowledgeble references to the Bollywood Khans,  Aishwarya Rai and the then popular Rahman numbers – Chaiya, Chaiya, and Taal Se Taal Mila.   His  column gives one an insight into the man, his flair for writing and his mundane interests. Mr Prakash  watches  “a fair amount of TV,  all kinds,  movies,  series,  news, views,  sports and scandals”.  Mr Prakash’s recent piece – Is Hard Work Worth It –  is a study on hard work,  viewed  from the perspective of a Wall Street hedge fund manager (an endangered  species) and a German house painter.  I picked up from his column this German word – schadenfreude — which means  ‘deriving satisfaction from the misery of others.’  Mr Prakash had, presumably, picked it up when he was sent to Germany, at our foreign office expense,  as a language trainee.

As for the proposed anthology on Mysore Blog Park  pieces,  my first thought was whether it would interest a publisher.  Maybe the idea needs to be batted around,  blogged about , and  pickled in perspectives.  Maybe,  our blogger in Chennai  could make a  post of  it in  Giving It A Shot.

It was Slumdog’s day at LA

golden-globeFour Golden Globes – the best picture, director, screenplay and music score. Danny Boyle’s  Slumdog Millionaire  has drawn global attention to Mumbai slums and their grim reality,  as depicted by an orphan boy struggling to make it in life.  A  Kaun-banega-carorpati  type TV show  gives  him that chance to make it.  And the millionaire slumboy,  reunited with his girl, walks into the sunset to the music set by the Golden Globe winner A R Rahman.   Slumdog  (haven’t seen it yet),  they say,  is Oscar-class movie with a Bollywood ending.

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At the award-presentation ceremony  telecast the world over from  Los Angeles   Bollywood presence was perceptible.   Shah Rukh Khan got a chance to lead Slumdog’s female interest –  Freida Pinto –  to the centre stage and introduce her to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association,   sponsors of  the Golden Globe awards,  and  an   audience   comprising  virtually a  ‘who’s who’ of the US movie and televison.

100_0606Bollywood’s  Anil kapoor  was seen springing out of his chair on hearing actor-presenter  Tom Cruise announce   the best picture award for Slumdog Millionaire.       

100_0600Simon Beaufoy  was the first of the four  Slumdog  winners to be called on to the stage to accept his Golden Globe for making a screenplay out of  Vikas Swarup’s  novel –  ‘Q and A’ .  A Bollywood director  Mahesh Manjrekar is quoted in  The Hindu as saying that it was ironical no desi production house (Chopra,  Johar,  Screwwalla,  are you reading?)  took up this subject.  “I wanted to do it but by then the rights were sold,” says Mahesh to The Hindu’s Ziya Us Salam.  Irony was Manjrekar wound up playing gangster Javed in Danny Boyle’s  Slumdog.

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100_0612The director (centre),  with the producer and  the female lead,  making a thank-you speech.  And the film-maker brought on to the stage rest of his Slumdog gang,  represented at the award-presentation ceremony.

The Slumdog theme and the acclaim the movie has received reminds me of Satyajit Ray’s  Pathar Panchali. Both films dwell  on poverty.  Pathar Panchali made waves gobally in the 50s , but was no box-office hit in India. And he film came in for flak from many in mainstream cinema in Bombay. A leading actress of her times and MP,  Nargis Dutt,  had taken a swipe at Satyajit Ray for glorifying India’s poverty.