Mahadevan's Monologues

If we had the vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. – George Eliot

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I really wonder why we consider the month ‘Margazhi” (Dhanur in Malayalam and 15th December to 14th January according to English calendar) as inauspicious. Is it a case of motiveless malignity?

Chilly winds disheveling the hair with no oppressive heat even during midday, Sun shine providing the warmth and with varieties of vegetables – pinkish carrot to olive green peas and blood red tomato available aplenty for the asking, would we not refuse to change our state with Kings? Hot tomato soup with crisp bread toast pieces soaked inside and fried jeerah to provide flavour, what a great pleasure it is to sip the soup, eyeing the darkish brown gajar halva, even while watching the TV or sharing happier moments with the family! With pleasant climate around, this month is the ideal one for travel too.

If enthusiastic crowds do Christmas shopping and sing Christmas carols melodiously, freshly bathed “Ayyappas “ in dark dothies and besmeared forehead troop to temples even while soulful rendering of Ayyappa songs stir the spiritual urge in us.

A few years back, I happened to be in Chennai for a day during this period and what a great sight it was when ladies in their morning freshness, displayed their skill in drawing “Kolams” ( Rangoli) of different designs, shades and sizes. I had also read somewhere that the great ‘Papanasam Sivan’ used to sing songs composed by him, early in the morning, going around barefooted and bare-chested, in the Mada streets of Mylapore during the whole of Margazhi. While those with ear for classical Carnatic Music would travel miles to be in ‘Music Academy’ or in the multifarious ‘Sabhas’ and go into raptures over “Swaraprastharas” , the less endowed would look for freshly fried vegetable bondas in the adjoining canteens. .

With New Year around and new-year resolutions in the making, one longs for Magazhi as one yearns for his lost love. Even Krishna pours encomiums and considers Margazhi as the brightest jewel among the twelve months.

Why do we denounce Venus as ugly? Perhaps, more enlightened readers may offer some clarifications as to why Margazhi is singled out as taboo for marriages and celebrations.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The verdict in the Jessica Lal case, though in the expected lines, has brought to light certain shortcomings in the judicial system. It has almost passed strictures on the Trial Court – how the lower court made a hasty approach to secure a particular end – of securing acquittal and available evidences were not depended upon and that it relied on evidences whose credence can be questioned. It also underscores the need for protecting evidences and witnesses. The High Court verdict called Shyan Munshi a ‘liar’. Shyan Munshi had either been bought out or was threatened or that he lacked scruples. A man in public life like Shyan Munshi should do some introspection, when he is called a ‘liar’ by one of the higher judiciary. Judges would not use such harsh terms, unless warranted. Times of India in its editorial wrote that the press and the public conducted a parallel trial. When public sensibilities were outraged, laid down procedures and niceties would not be the governing force.

What is heartening is the fact that even the politically powerful and influential cannot stand judicial scrutiny when they err. Ram Jethmalani is not invincible and as I wrote earlier, holes in hundreds can be picked up on his arguments. I am glad that Truth has triumphed over sophistry and semantic jugglery. Even the tallest would be dwarfed, if he champions a cause which is not impeccable.

The punishment, read out this morning is Life imprisonment for Manu Sharma. As it was not a premeditated murder, death sentence would be disproportionate to the crime. At the same time, it was not merely spontaneous, the action certainly had the arrogance of power behind it and hence a harsher punishment like Life Term was necessary.

When the matter goes to the Supreme Court, as the convicted is sure to go on appeal, I am sure, like millions of others, that justice shall prevail over Power (Political and financial) and legal acumen of those who would argue out the case.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


The Mumbai middle class, in their forties and fifties, which today look to the Mangalore originated Shettys for their midday meals and evening snacks, in the crowded cafes, perhaps would remember with a great deal of relish that a little over two decades earlier, it was the spacious Irani Restaurants, through their double entrance street corner joints that dominated the scene. Bun maska, garam chai and kari biscuits of the Iranis have gradually yielded place to Idli Sambar and Rava masala. The dull looking fair complexioned Iranis proved to be of no match to the enterprising Sadanand Shettys.

Unlike Udipi hotels, in Irani Restaurants we spend more time and less money. Any young boy with a pittance for pocket money would order a cup of tea, ask for a glass of water, signal the waiter to turn on the fan over his head and expect the evening “Free Press Bulletin” to be provided to him. He would then spend endless hours, dreaming about his dates, swooning over the passing ones or brooding over the married ones, with occasional glance through the papers or life-size mirrors, to smoothen the hairs. Irani Restaurants and the tea they served were inimitable and one would relish them endlessly and if one could order kari biscuits or Bun maska along with the tea, one would be transported to the realm of the Gods and to underscore the point every Irani Restaurant displayed the board ‘ Trust in God’.

Irani Restaurants had no uniformed waiters or bearers to carry out orders or present bills in plates or folders. Ill-clad youths would listen to and mentally note down orders and carry them out efficiently and after finishing when one would go towards the exit, which would be normally hours later, the bill amount would be shouted by the waiter standing away from the counter. The memory power of an Irani Restaurant waiter can be measured only in GBs and was perhaps a precursor to the prodigious Pentium chips.

As the Irani restaurants always occupied the corner portion in any building, it had two entrances and one never bumped into an incoming or outgoing customer, as it usually happens in Udipi hotels. In an hour in an Irani restaurant, one could see lawyers studying their brief to provide their customers relief, professors preparing their notes, perhaps as an antidote to troublesome texts, young lovers exchanging sweet nothings, old Parsis talking about Karanjia ( 'Blitz') and Karaka ('Current') and their journalistic jaunts, long-haired, hippie look alike intellectuals talking animatedly about Kafka and Camus, Satre and his Existentialism and the cricketing crowd, recalling with pride, Salim Durrani’s sixers and Gary Sobers’ Grandeur or the Brisbane tie of 1961. Many poets, painters, student leaders and journalists could trace their antecedents to the time they spent in Irani restaurants.

As in those days tape recorders were unheard of and turntable was only the technology known, Juke- boxes were the craze of the crowd. A Lata Mangeshkar – Mukesh duet set to tune by Shanker Jaikishan, O.P.Nayyar's rhythmic numbers in Asha's tone, ‘Soul Sacrifice’ and ‘Evil ways’ of a Carlos Santana or the ever green songs of Cliff Richards were always in demand. A song in a single ( 45 rpm record) for 25 paise was certainly worth. A sip of tea, a page from ‘Free Press Bulletin’, a song through Juke- box in an Irani Restaurant, the Restaurant is Paradise now’- one would, perhaps, be tempted to provide a parody on Khalil Gibran.

Though serving tea was the sine qua non of an Irani Restaurant, they also sold varieties of materials from Cakes to cosmetics and, yet, had specialised only in supplying bread, bun and biscuits. The transformation of a Light of Asia or a Sassanian Restaurant where one could gossip and guffaw for hours together, into Udipi Hotels where one has to endure the horror of the next customer menacingly looking at his plate and mentally emptying it in minutes, is yet to be adjusted to by old timers, who still yearn for days of yore.

Irani Restaurants may not exist today, but the gossip and guffaw of the gregarious groups over cups of tea and kari biscuits would continue to 'flash upon our inward eye' when we 'recline on our couch in a pensive mood'.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Recently, Delhi High Court gave a directive that no more tests and interviews be conducted for Junior KG admissions. What a great relief to the tormented parents! I recollect what I wrote about Junior KG and JEE.
'Any parent in India, start spending sleepless nights when their child reaches three. This is the age when the child has to be sent to a Montessery or kindergarten school. Decades earlier, children had two major fears – inoculation against small pox and admission in elementary schools. The sight of Municipal employees with injection needles in their hands, would send shivers down the spines of the toddlers and they would run hither and thither like street dogs, when a dog van is sighted, or like hawkers, when they see a Khairnar on the prowl. Children considered to be naughty and with high degree of nuisance value at home were sent to schools even before the admission age and the children deprecated it for denying them freedom and considered schools as demons, determined to destroy games of all sorts.

Today, a child, before admission to the school, is expected to know what he has to learn only in the school. Both the children and parents are also to clear the tests before the children are admitted to the school. Many a times, parents find it difficult to clear the test, much less the children. The grueling interview for the three years old and its thirty plus parents, relegates IAS interview to the realm of the insignificant, in terms of extent, intensity and irrelevance.

Entrance examination for kindergarten admission needs elaborate preparation. Answers to earlier years’ questions would be ascertained and detailed enquiries would be made with children of the earlier batches in the neighbourhood or even schools not so good, to ascertain the method of thinking of the school authorities and their mental equilibrium. To make the preparation more intense and meaningful, parents would go beyond text books, and spend hours in libraries, browsing through books on general knowledge, frequent and familiarise themselves with quiz masters of even quack variety and learn to distinguish between a Hippo and a Rhino. Children are put to classes where mock interviews are conducted so that they gain the confidence to face the onslaught in the interview hall. Even seminars are sponsored by social organisations to provide added information and answering techniques.

IITs’ JEE (Joint Entrance Examinations) are, perhaps based on the Junior KG tests –lessons not learnt earlier, complex concepts to be applied in complicated situations and unnerving size of applicants. Guides are available aplenty, but none of them take you nearer to the sought after selection. Every child and parent’s ambition is to get selected for Junior KG and and later at IIT JEE. If the ‘Target’ course of a Brilliant Tutorials starts at 9th standard for IIT JEE aspirants, for Junior KG admission, ‘Target’ like training would start after the first birth day itself. Before the entrance tests, Crash Courses in different topics would be covered. If it is Trigonometry for IIT, it is colour and size of the tamarind tree for the toddlers – equally exasperating. A selection at Junior KG is certainly to be celebrated, as one has reached celebrity status like an IIT Alumnus. As the quality of of entrance tests for IIT and Junior KG is well known, there is no stigma attached when there is a failure to get selected, and yet, parents would feel deprived off, missing an opportunity to talk about their children.

Whereas in IIT JEE, parents are spared of the ordeal, for the Junior KG tests, parents’ performance takes precedence over even the child’s readiness to learn. If in the IIT counseling, allotment of seats is based on the rank in the JEE and the choice of the students, for the Junior KG, it is the parents’ rank, their place in the social hierarchy and ability to contribute and enter into a deal, that enhances, if not ensures, the chance of selection.

Clearance of the entrance test certainly adds value to the IIT student, atleast in terms of marketability of his skills, in industries and abroad, and for the Junior KG students, admission in Jesuits managed schools that stand singled out for quality. And finally, when one sits for the IIT JEE and remembers his junior KG entrance tests, he would approvingly remember ‘ Wordsworth’s prophetic words that ‘Child is The Father of Man’.