Archive for September, 2002

Delhi Diary

Monday, September 30th, 2002

Sep 30, 2002

Rank Outsider

The edition carrying our annual business school survey is one issue of Outlook that is a guaranteed sell-out, but it also inevitably leaves all sorts of discontents in its wake. The first time we did the survey, we had no idea that a business school’s rank would be such a matter of life and death for its teachers and students. We learnt. And this time, we stoically accepted the fact that as soon as the questionnaires are mailed to the schools, we would be in a state of siege. Calls—and often personal visits—range from quid pro quo offers of advertisements from the school in Outlook against a high rank for that school, to veiled threats of complaining to the hrd ministry. And the fact that I happen to be an alumnus of iim Calcutta adds to the problems. Last year, when the survey findings came in, and iim Calcutta was the second best business school in India, someone involved in the survey even asked me to change the numbers and rank iim Calcutta third, after Bangalore, to avoid charges of favouritism. I refused, since I saw no reason why a b-school should be penalised because one of its alumni held a senior position in Outlook. Sure enough, there were allegations that I had artificially boosted my alma mater’s rank. This time, IIM Calcutta has come third (I swear I didn’t fudge the figures and lower the rank), but we have still received some letters alleging bias on my part. It seems the critics will not be satisfied till iim Calcutta comes 11th or some such rank. Well, that’ll never happen, and they can eat their hearts out.

Sleepy Spiel

As far as late-night TV goes, though, the US takes the cake. At midnight, almost all channels transform into shopping channels, peddling mysterious products like roto-winder water-powered hose reel and anti-aging colour spectrum make-up with vitamins F-A-C-E! Do insomniacs constitute a huge and lucrative market? Clearly, every channel believes so. Do insomniacs buy only weird stuff? Well, those are the only type of goods being advertised. There is some deep psychological insight here that, for the life of me, I can’t put my finger on. Yawn.

Girl On The Hoarding

Being a bit of an insomniac, I often end up watching all sorts of strange programmes and films on late-night TV. So a few days back I happened to reach a channel that was showing Pramod Chakrabarty’s Barood, the ’70s film starring Rishi Kapoor as the globe-trotting assassin out to avenge his father’s murder, and Soma Anand as the daughter of chief villain Ajit. Baroodsparked off some boyhood memories.

At the time of the film’s release, I was a schoolboy in Mumbai, and the highpoint of my bus journey every day from Prabhadevi to my school in Matunga used to be the film’s hoarding near Dadar TT, which had Soma Anand frolicking in a bikini. But then the moral police struck. This was during the Emergency after all. One morning, I was shattered to find that overnight the bikini had been transformed into a black skirt. They had just painted over the swimsuit. It was definitely not the sort of thing to hit a schoolboy in the face with early in the morning. The other victim I remember of this hoarding censorship was Charas. Just as I was recovering from the shock of Barood, I was deeply traumatised one morning to find Dharmendra holding a gun in a Charas hoarding turned overnight into Dharmendra holding a rose.

No wonder Indira Gandhi lost the elections in 1977.

Lost And Forgotten

Among the passions Ali and I share is one for Hindi films. Which are apparently going through their worst-ever year in history. Every week a film is released, and is declared a flop faster than you can utter its long-winded title. Smirking trade analysts then appear on TV with glib post-facto analyses of why the film had less chance than an ice cube in hell of succeeding. The most cited reasons are of course: same tired old formula, nothing new etc. This, I think, is not wholly correct. The Hindi film industry seems to have forgotten its most successful formula ever: lost and found. From Kismat to Waqt to Yaadon Ki Baraat, lost-and-found has rarely failed to pack the audiences into halls. The entire career of Manmohan Desai was built on the tearing asunder of families by flood, fire, train accidents and other acts of god. I find it inexplicable why the industry has turned its back on this tried-and-tested stuff and instead is focusing on shooting dance sequences in foreign locales, all of which—both the dancing and the locales—look the same anyway. This is very poor substitute for those classic climactic exchanges such as:

“I don’t have a trishul tattooed on my chest.”
“Neither do I!”
“Oh my god, then you must be my brother!”

Pilgrim’s Progress

Nothing reflects the state of India’s communal tensions more farcically than a friend’s experience last year. One of my dearest friends, Ali, a professor at an American university, had travelled to Benares. At the Kashi Vishwanath temple, there was a large board prohibiting entry to non-Hindus. Ali, being the militantly secular sort, went in, said a prayer, and walked over to the Aurangzeb-built mosque next door. Sure enough, that too had a large board prohibiting entry to all non-Muslims. As Ali prepared to go in, he was stopped by the light-machine-gun-toting guards.

“But I am a Muslim!” Ali protested. “Then how did you enter the Vishwanath temple?” snarled the guards. “How do you know?” “From the mud caking your shoes; that’s from the temple courtyard,” said an armed-to-the-teeth Sherlock Holmes. The guards then explained Ali’s situation to him. If he was a non-Muslim trying to enter the mosque compound, they would naturally have to arrest him. And if he was a Muslim who had sneaked into the Vishwanath temple, they would of course have to take him into custody. Either way, Ali was a goner. And his crime was extremely serious.

It was only through the intervention of his American travelling companions that Ali was let off by the guards and escaped spending years in a Benares jail. Kafka would have been proud to have thought up this tale.