Thursday, April 21, 2011

A little saved today is more spent tomorrow

Have you heard the cliché “penny wise pound foolish”? Its origin can be traced to our British colonial past (pound and penny) and its survival to our regard for conventional wisdom. However, you wouldn’t hear many people admit that they lived the aphorism. This week I did. Let me explain how. 

During my last five years in Bangalore, I have promised my parents many times that I would visit Calcutta twice a year, but it didn’t work out. This year I made up my mind to do it, once at the end and once in the middle of the year. April, being the fourth month of the year, felt somewhat close to the middle if not perfectly so. So I chose last week of April for my travel home.

My friend, who helps me buy tickets online since I don’t have a credit card (without grumbling), insisted I fly up and down. I said I would be economic and travel one leg of the journey by train. “Which one?” Because I would get tired while returning, the return journey seemed more appropriate for flight. So I bought a return-flight ticket from Calcutta to Bangalore.

But where I would get my train ticket to go to Calcutta from?

Flight tickets can be easy to get but not so with train tickets.

I approached a ticket agent and he promised me that while he wouldn’t be able to get me a regular ticket due to paucity of time, he would be able to arrange for a tatkal one, which is issued only a day or two before boarding. I said I wanted a ticket on 22nd April, and he replied, “Done sir.”

Today, in the morning, he called me and said he hadn’t got a confirmed tatkal ticket; what he got was on waiting list behind eight people. Such tickets never translate into confirmed ones and you are booted out of the train unless you are lucky.

He asked me whether I would be interested to fly to Calcutta and I outrightly dismissed the idea and said I would visit his office later.

When I visited his office, I didn’t like the train options he told me. Then he scoured a website to show me flight options. I settled for the least-priced one, Rs. 6600. Earlier I had given him an advance for the train ticket; I paid him the remaining amount.

While returning home, I reflected if I had bought a flight ticket for going together with my return ticket, instead of trying to travel by train and be economic, I would be richer by a tidy sum.

Be that as it may, at least I am going home. (I am flying by Air India on Sunday morning, 24th April.)

You can also call me an April fool.

Friday, April 15, 2011

An Hour at a Book Launch

Yesterday I sat through a book launch for the first time. It was the launch of a collection of short stories – Under the Urban Tree – contributed by a group of wannabe writers as part of their writing workshop conducted by Ireeboot, an institute which offers crash courses on variety of topics. I was not directly invited to the launch; a friend forwarded the invite to me and I decided to go. The invite said it would host an interactive discussion between the audience, the contributors and the editor of the short stories.

The contributing authors were an interesting mix of individuals of varied age groups, the youngest was a 11th standard student and the oldest had a head full of grey hears. Their stories took a year to find a publisher.

I have always taken writing courses with a pinch of salt. Some years back, I did a mass communication course, which has a more definite professional nature than a creative writing workshop, and didn’t think it made a great impact on my writing, although I came to know a lot about the industry and certainly found some of the faculties very encouraging.

I have not heard established authors, some of whom are workshop products themselves, speak very highly of writing workshops. However, Anita Desai, who has been teaching creative writing for many years in the US, in an interview, concurred with my views. She said they don’t teach you how to write but throw you into the right atmosphere where you meet other writers and can exchange ideas.

Some good insights came through the interaction at the launch. The editor said good writing is all about narrowing the difference between what you think and what you write. Some 15 years back, when she had started writing, her thoughts used to take a very different shape when translated into written words, she said. 15 years of “trying to write” has narrowed that gap.

“How to cope with the disappointment of seeing that your published work is very different from what you originally wrote?” a lady from the audience asked. Editors should not change anything without the approval of the author, the editor countered.

But editors at newspapers and magazines have to meet deadlines, so they can’t get back to the author, the grey-haired writer informed.

I didn’t ask any question but enjoyed the interaction.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

World Cup Victory and Celebrations

I saw the World Cup final at a club, thanks to a friend. We went in the evening, a few hours after the match had started. Generally in the evening, the club has a good number of members in attendance, but it’s never overwhelmingly crowdy. That day it was different: a sea of humanity everywhere roaring and waving the Indian tricolor. It resembled a mini stadium.

The club had installed huge LCD screens in open air and indoors. The open-air arrangement was filled to capacity, so we stepped indoors. Srilanka had a few more overs to bat and they were thrashing the Indian bowlers apart. India had some moments but mostly each time the ball was hitting the Lankans’ willow, it was either racing to the boundary or soaring up promisingly for a six.

There was rise and dip in crowd enthusiasm accordingly. But a silence followed when the Lankans finished at 262.

As we waited for the match to resume, we realized that our drinks and food orders placed quite sometime ago hadn’t arrived. The club was full-house and there was a shortage of staff. The result was a total service breakdown. There was also a shortage of chairs. So those standing were enviously looking at others’ chairs, while those sitting were reluctant to leave theirs to guard against chair pilferage.

We were asked to go and collect our drinks from the bar. There was no surety whether the foods we had ordered for would ever arrive. The club's service is generally very good and it was quite a departure from the norm.

The match resumed and after a few anxious moments – Sachin's, Sahwag’s cheap dismissal –India looked like it was steadily moving ahead.

But the Indian revival didn’t lead to our relief. We walked to the bar and found ourselves marginalized to a corner, pocking our receipts in to receive our drinks. We managed to do that finally and retuned to our seats.

India was not showing any signs of letting up. It lost one wicket sometime after the dismissals of Sachin and Sehwag, but Dhoni and Yugraj we were looking both sturdy with occasional boundaries and steady with constant rotation of strikes.

In the meantime, some drink accompaniments we had asked for also arrived. Some boundaries, sixes, cheers and downed pegs later Dhoni brought up India’s second World Cup victory, since 1983.

People erupted into celebrations. They hugged, high-fived and even took turn to lift each other up and down.

In the streets there were more revelry and hysteria. Cars were hardly able to move. People in them were sticking their hands out to shake hands. Some were throwing themselves on windshields and others dancing in front of them. The hysteria was intimidating for some foreigners; they were smiling and looking around to express solidarity with the crowd.

I had heard and read about and seen visuals of our 1983 victory. But being part of a World Cup victory was a special feeling.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Just Books and Cricket

I enjoy reading interviews and interviews of writers have been a long-time favorite. The book I am reading currently is a compilation of interviews of 30 ‘famous’ writers interviewed by Sunil Shetty. Sunil hosts an interview show on NDTV and these are a collection of interviews he has done since the inception of the show in 2005. In his foreword, he writes in what circumstances the idea of the show had come about.

The program is aired on NDTV Profit, a sub-section of NDTV which features stock market and business news. As the stock market closes on Fridays for the weekend, a substantive show had to be conceived to fill the vacuum. In a meeting, many ideas were tossed around and the one most frowned up was interview of writers.

Sunil recalls the idea was tossed up by Pronoy Roy’s wife, who is an inveterate reader, and the reason why people were skeptical about it was that writers, being recluses, don’t make great TV personalities. They are generally reluctant to talk about their work. Although some writers refused to be interviewed on TV, majority obliged and ‘Just Books’ became a success.

The book presents a short profile of writes followed their interviews. The interviews are not free flowing but in question and answer format. Some interviews are compilation of two, three interactions with the writers held at different locations and sometimes by different people.

The reason why I like writers’ interviews is that they open a window to the world of books, the books that had an impact on them, the writers they read etc. Another reason is their personalities and distinct style of putting things. Salman Rshdie is flamboyant; William Dalrymple garrulous; Amitava Ghosh matter of fact; Khushwant Singh simple and unpretentious.

Many times these interviews have led me to books and writers that I wouldn’t otherwise know.

                                                World Cup Finale

On Wednesday, for the first time in my last seven years of stay away from home, I regretted not having a TV, thanks to the India Pakistan World Cup semi final at Mohali. I watched the match at office. It was like a virtual day-off for people at work. They remained glued to the TV screens, sometimes moving away to attend to their professional duties only to rush back before TV again. They cheered every wicket taken, run saved or scored by India. Sometimes I also found myself erupting in excitement. I felt sports can make one so sadistic, taking pleasure at some else’s defeat. But tomorrow I am going to do that again, when India will look to repeat 1983 and Srilanka, 1996.

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