Thursday, January 24, 2013


We will talk about the sad-state-of-affairs only on a day that we do good
It was Woody Allen who famously said, “Life doesn’t imitate art, actually, it imitates bad television.” Earlier, I would stumble away from some homes where you wondered if the saas-bahu, devrani-jethani, ‘co-brothers’, etc dynamics were actual, real, or whether people were mouthing dialogues from Marathi and Hindi TV.
In the last some weeks, it has been worse: life is not so much imitating the soap opera dramas as it is the Big Fight and We the People and other such Indian TV news (and full-to entertainment under the name of news) programmes. Go into any sitting room these days, and you will hear everyone present being judge, jury, hangman, statistician, economist and sociologist and psychologist. In right-royal Indian ‘intelligentsia’ style, everyone talks at the same time, shouts loudly, and does a very good imitation of being on some panel discussion of experts. From crimes against women, to poverty, to corruption, to police, to politician, to caste, to class, to family values, to Indian-ness, to Sheila Dixit et al, the topics go round and round and round, with the same kind of brash, confident declarations, theories and prognostications that we see on TV.  
Pontification about ‘rural youth’, based on a single one-day visit circa 1994 to ‘the villages’, or based on what we glean from the domestic help, is trotted out, and everyone feels so good about being connected to the ‘real India’. Sanctimoniously people nod at each other and ‘admit’ to each other in shocked sincere tones: “You know, we live in such bubbles, but caste DOES exist, you know...” Eh? I want to say? Ehh?? That’s not living in a bubble, it’s living on another planet.
The other thing about these living-room debates, is that no one talks ordinarily anymore, with any kind of tentativeness, no one asks questions or listens to the other. With TV channels becoming our life-coaches, everyone in these living room debates simply must say their ‘piece to camera’, just like they do on TV, and talk right through the other person who may want to get his or her two-paisa’s worth in. People even act the part, punching the air, making mundane point upon point, throwing in micro-miniaturized testimonials (when I was in so-and-so city, when My kids were small, when My maid this, and when I went to get a license for that), and generally creating sound bytes rather than exploring a topic. Obviously I do not have any idea about the rules-of-engagement at such dos. I find that no one listens to anything that I may want to say, and I am best left to wander around looking at the host’s paintings and partaking of his/her hospitality.  Delhi is of course the worst kind of place for such a thing, where your invisibility and inaudibility becomes something of an amusement to yourself. You could well sit in a corner and sing an entire Yaman Kalyan right from alaap, jod, bada khayal, drut, tarana and on to a light thumri in Mishra Khamaj, and no one will notice you in a room such as this, full of theorizers and ‘opinion-makers’. Try it. If you can’t sing a raga, then try saying the multiplication table from 12 to 20. No one will notice.
Mumbai is slightly better, but only slightly. At least the room full of people will stop and look curiously at you if you start doing something strange, and THEN you will get a chance to contribute to the Big Fight with your very own theories about life in India. But Pune living rooms seem new to all of this, and never mind if hardly anyone out of these Great Debaters shows up at condolence meetings or protests, they retain the armchair right to rage on about Current Affairs.
Perhaps one new year resolution will do us much more good: Talk about the rotten state of Indian public, private, street, school and home life, only on the day that you have done some small thing that makes life more bearable for you and for one other person who is not related to you – even if it is the smallest of gestures. It has to be something that is directly related to and impacts all those things that we sit around wagging our heads in despair about.
Gouri Dange
Pune Mirror


We dog-owners and dog-walkers have got to learn to scoop that pet poop

Very few civic issues get sorted out in this city by one set of people recognizing that their behaviour is annoying to another set of people. No way. We are not a self-regulating society, and with law enforcement being what it is, citizens have to often take recourse to slugging-it-out amongst each other or simply putting up with nuisances of every nuanced kind.
We are surely headed for just such a slug-fest on the pet-dog-poo vs pedestrians issue. In keeping with the Indian trait of ‘no dirt in and around my house, but its fine to foul up elsewhere), most dog owners walk their animals some distance away from their home. (The mutts, I mean the dogs, themselves don’t like discharging their daily dump near the house, too.) Since most dog-owners (not me, godpromise) don’t care, once their laadla/laadli has relieved itself, and scurry away home in relief, most morning walkers in this city are greeted with steaming lumps, right on their walkways, pathways, and the pavement too.
In some areas, where there is ‘kaccha’ soil and sand and grass beyond the verge of the road, surely Moti can be encouraged to go there, and if he doesn’t, surely we can scoop it up and throw it in the bushes, where it will at least biodegrade in a few days. We don’t need fancy pooper-scoopers and whatnot, just take some pieces of newspaper with you on your dogwalk, for god’s sake, and shift the sh**, can’t you? There is something really quite sick and tremendously arrogant and people-hating, to leave the mess in people’s way, or besides their parked car door, so that they step right into it. I mean come on. One fed up citizen has been saying that he and his wife are going to collect their child’s poo and go leaving it outside the gates of all dog-owning families in their neighbourhood. Now is this what people have to descend to? A faeces-fight-fest of this kind?
There are ‘too many other much more pressing things for the authorities to do’ is the usual answer trotted out when people ask that this be made an offence, and people be fined for it. Of course there are. The list is endless, and so that means we just continue to live with this menace till ‘the authorities’ have the time and the wherewhital to come after us?
Only some neighbourhoods or streets of Pune have managed to stop this casual leaving behind of your pet’s present to the pedestrian, and have got people to agree to scoop the poop. This has come from the pedestrians as well as the road-cleaners saying enough is enough; but more importantly, the initiative has come from a few civic-minded dog owners themselves. These are the people who are not the kind who will instantly cover up by saying ‘oh what about all the plastic trash?’ or some such pointing elsewhere kind of infantile response when people have objected to the doggy-do on the roads. They have had the grace and gumption to say yes, we are creating a nuisance, yes it can’t be left in the path of pedestrians to hop skip jump over, and yes we are going to do something about it. And instead of the neighbourhood being divided between people who don’t care what their dog leaves behind, and people who have to hide in the bushes and leap out and shout at dog-walkers, there is, wonder-of-wonders, a sense of self-regulation, that these localities have exhibited.
Signs are displayed prominently, and dog owners themselves have put them up. They have also managed to get paid dog walkers to adhere to this simple act of decency, so ‘my dog walker won’t do it’ can no more be an excuse from any dog owner.
Just like we were taught to pull the flush before leaving the loo, as kids, it’s time to learn to move that canine-crap out of the way too.
Gouri Dange
Pune Mirror

Pay-your-way book launch!


Spells doom for writers hoping to garner a crowd!

Readers and book-buyers (and of course writers) must now be fairly familiar with the drill when it comes to book launches. You get anxious invitations from the writer (orphaned suddenly as he or she is by his publisher going AWOL as soon as the book is out). If you are a friend, you go along, to express solidarity and encouragement. If you are a book-lover, you go along to hear about the book, perhaps enjoy hearing excerpts being read. There may be a minor or major celebrity thrown in to sweeten the deal, and chai-biskoot or even wine-and-cheese for the high end writer’s launch.
Some readers obligingly buy a copy, often at a decent-ish discount by the bookstore on that day. Some others steadfastly refuse to buy into this protocol, either marching out without buying a book, or escaping patli-gali sey, trickling quietly past the book shelves and leaking out of the exit doors. Some buy the book a little grudgingly, only because they kind of have to.
There is a new challenge facing attendees, and as a consequence, the hapless writer too. Consider this:
A book launch at a toney eatery last week left attendees rather shocked at a new ‘protocol’. After we were seated in the casual outdoor location, each person was discretely approached by a young person from the event organizer (not  the venue/eatery or the book publisher), and asked to pay up a Rs 200 ‘entry charge’.  
Huh? We come to listen to a writer, who is there to publicise a book, so that he as well as his publisher earn money, and we have to pay up for this? Not just buy his book, but pay to listen to him talk about this book?
Sadly, I did not get this request; the person accompanying me got it, and quietly paid up for two of us. If I had been approached, I would have said a polite “Eh? No, I think I’ll pass.” I would have then paid my respects to the writer, even bought his book (because it was an interesting book for me) and simply left.
Later, when I asked the young band of organizers about this strange new practice, they defensively said “we are only doing this as a brand-building exercise for our own company, we don’t earn anything from this book event…and we had put it on our posters, the fact that there was a Rs200 entry charge…and err…we gave you cutting-chai and a Panini sandwich.”
Sure you did (and no one gave anyone a receipt for anything, by the way). But, that apart, here’s my point: there are four layers of potential hosts for something like this, all of whom stand to gain either money or publicity by my and other reader-buyers’ presence there: the writer, the publisher, the venue-eatery and the organizer. Then how did it occur to them all that the person who must pay to be there is the potential reader-buyer?
When I wrote off all hot and bothered to a few writer friends, some LOLed and some said “this is the height – now no one will come only for book launches!”. Another writer said soothingly (a writer who steadfastly refuses to speak ill of anyone): Well book publishers and book sellers are not doing that well and if they can possibly create good value entertainment based around the book and charge for it that may not be a bad idea…”
Another writer and marketing man was taken aback, but said… “Everything is in a flux and we are going to get used to new ways of doing things ...many of which will be unpalatable ...I suppose we pay for a music performance, and the organizer keeps some of the money and the artist gets some of it…Can’t we see this paying-to-be-at-a-book-launch in the same vein?”
Well no, because the writer is selling his book, and not providing you with a performance. It’s like some vacuum cleaner salesman begging to let him give you a demo, and then asking you to pay for the demo!
One writer friend added: “Heck, these are some new bizarre evolving norms perhaps – and will quietly become accepted practice.”
I doubt it, though. It is likely that readers will get wise to this new trend, and the already thin crowd at book launches, will get even thinner.
Wondering if I was only horrified auntyji on the block, I checked with a couple of non-writer enthu reader friends, whether they would think it is ok to pay an entry charge to go listen to a (non-known) writer speak about his book and then sell you the book. Their response was a more robust one than the people I had spoken to up to then. As one of them put it, using my most favourite Indianism: “Ay! mad-or-what?” And someone else added an incredulous: “Kuchh bhi?”
Gouri Dange
Pune Mirror Jan 2013

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

You’ve got to be kidding me


Brevity is the soul of sarcasm; and you will need it in Pune

The Americans, love them or hate them, come up with the most pithy contemporary phrases, and then they improve on or make shorthand of those very phrases. So, “You’ve got to be kidding me” now has an even more eloquent and brief:  “Seriously?” - said with that particular flat kind of inflection that clearly indicates, not loud surprise, but a quiet incredulity.
I have many, many Seriously? moments in this city of ours.
The roads, the offices, the libraries, the neighbourhood…offer many such moments. And it is so much nicer to get into this mode than to shake your fist at people and/or shout out multisyllabic four-letter words. Because “Seriously?” can be accompanied with a twisted smile, and you can actually even manage to laugh.
So here are some places, people and happenings that prompt me to say it:
The man in the white car who stops bang in the middle of a lane to let out his passengers, who roll out laboriously from the doors open wide on both sides. Earlier I would honk, or froth at the mouth, or gesticulate wildly for him to take his vehicle to the side of the road and let people pass. Now I find my mind forming “You’ve got to be kkk…” and then simply: “Seriously?” (with or without the word dude added on.)
Try it. You’ll find yourself smiling, which makes the people getting out of the car look curiously at you and then actually look sheepish. You can throw back your head and laugh a little tinkling laugh too. Just to yourself. No one can hear maybe, but still fun.
Or then that person who rushes past you in a queue, straight up to the front, ignoring the long line. Earlier, one would have wordily and frostily said in Marathi “Excuse me, but do you think we are waiting in this line because we have nothing better to do?” and all that jazz. Naah, that’s old hat. Now I will tap this gent or lady on the shoulder lightly on the shoulder and deliver my “Seriously?” The Marathi equivalent, “Kharach?” may be tried.
Then there is that other fascinating life-form in Pune, the courier company. Local, multinational, inter-galactically big, anyone…at the Pune end, they are a blithe lot, this particular Marathi Manus, who will not deliver something to you right within the city, for 12 days from the time the person sent it. And on day 12 will send you several missed calls, so that his money is not spent. When you call back, and he begins to whine about Diwali/rains/father died/mouring for Balasaheb and then asks you to tell him your address (clearly marked on the parcel), you completely side-step your old ways of talking about the unenterprisingness and sheer laziness of his ilk, and just ask… “Seriously?” For good measure you can add a bit of expression: “I mean, see-rii-ouss-ly??”
When the much-touted restaurant that you go to places a slurry of tomato puree, a cutlet and what looks suspiciously like coagulated Gift of the Magi noodles on a hissing plate, and tries to pass it off as a sizzler, you can look up at the waiter or at the smug man at the cash counter and ask: “Seriously?” or “Sizzler you say? Seriously sir?”
When the guy in MSEB explains that by some computer glitch that he unglitched but which reglitched itself when he wasn’t looking, your bill wrongly has the following words emblazoned on them: Defaulter. Payment by Cash Only so you can never pay by cheque or online and you will always have to go pay it in cash …forget about writing hot and bothered letters hither and yon and trying again to find someone high up in the Board to fix this for you. Just smile, lower your voice and purr: “Seriously?” Or you can try “Kharach ki kay?” and smile thinly like the bad guy in Casino Royale.
When the person next to you in the theatre receives phone calls on her not-silent phone every 10 minutes and instructs her maid on how exactly to make the chicken, tells her son to do his homework, checks with her driver if he has got parking, and then also gives some other caller a quick review of the film that you’re trying to watch, resist the temptation to accidentally spill your coffee on her. Lean forward and ask her, modulating your voice perfectly, because she can’t see your expression in the dark: “Seriously?”
Gouri Dange
Pune Mirror 28 Nov 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Two Workshops



Fiction and Non-fiction Writing Workshop

Writing can be ‘taught’, possibly, but it is more important that it be ‘caught’ – like the common cold and flu! And this we can do by putting ourselves out there, by removing defences and immunity to the world around us and encountering it all – the good, the bad, the ugly, the sublime, the simple, the grand.  The art and craft of writing is also caught like a patient fisherman ‘catches’: either with the single fishing rod and tackle or the big net.
Whether you are a published, aspiring to be, or simply into the act of writing, this 2-day workshop will help the writer in you limber up on these lines:
·        Understanding your own writing aspirations
·        Honing productive writing habits
·        Getting into, and then past, the purely autobiographical
·        The craft of building fiction – the ‘what if’ way
·        Dreaming up characters, relationships and events
·        Matching content and genre for the right fit
·        Editing, rewriting, and evaluating your and other writer’s work
·        The interplay between creativity, inspiration and plain hard work
·        Writing-to-order: The craft and the commerce
·        The ‘writerly life’: enabling and disabling situations


Two sets of dates to choose from, weekend set and weekday set:
Saturday & Sunday 1 & 2 December 2012. Time: 11 to 4 both days
Tuesday & Wednesday 18 & 19 December 2012.  Time: 11 to 4 both days
Place: Row House 4, Daffodil Park, Ramnagar Colony, Bavdhan, Pune 411021. Ample parking and bus-routes
Tel: 9822407232
Workshop fee: Rs 1000/- both days. Tea and biscuits provided. Participants are advised to carry a light dry lunch with them.

 
 
II


Self-awareness through writing
 (This is not a creative writing skills workshop, it uses writing as a tool to delve within.)

What lies unexpressed or unknown within us, controls and limits us.
The workshop aims to help participants explore and express their life’s issues – their sorrows and joys, hopes and fears – through the use of various writing formats/genres. The process of playing with writing forms and content will help participants shed new light on long-standing issues that have become impediments to growth. Participants will grow in self-knowledge as well as empathy with the other.
Transformation and change, however dramatic or quiet, is always therapeutic and healing, as this workshop will demonstrate. The experiential nature of the workshop is designed to give participants insights into their attitudes and behaviours, and to help them view life issues, and their way of handling them, in new and different ways.
This 2-day workshop is of therapeutic value for all those who feel caught in a whirlpool of emotions or in an inflexible grid. It will leave participants with a new understanding of themselves, their relationships, and some of their blind-spots.
The 2-day workshop will be conducted by Gouri Dange (counsellor and writer).

Two sets of dates to choose from, weekend set and weekday set:
Saturday & Sunday 8 & 9 December 2012. Time: 11 to 4 both days
Thursday & Friday 13 & 14 December 2012.  Time: 11 to 4 both days
Place: Row House 4, Daffodil Park, Ramnagar Colony, Bavdhan, Pune 411021. Ample parking and also bus-routes, quiet location.
Tel: 9822407232
Workshop fee: Rs 1000/- both days. Tea and biscuits provided. Participants are advised to carry a light dry lunch with them.

 




Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bull in a china shop



That one boorish person in the audience!

Some of the things that happened at an event last week were so quintessentially Pune – both the good and the bad about this city were amply demonstrated right in one place.
The good part was that the programme was part of the on-going celebrations of Prabha Atre’s 80th birthday.
The format was one of my favourite kinds: a freewheeling interview with the doyenne and diva of the Kirana Gharana, by two knowledgeable and affable men: Shriniwas Joshi (Bhimsenji’s youngest son, a singer himself) and Vikas Kashalkar (a senior singer of the Gwalior Gharana).
The audience waited patiently over a 45 minute delay in starting, which had something to do with senior University people being delayed with something else, we were told. My usually favourite Puneri form of protest over delays didn’t take place: audiences simply begin to clap, till the curtain rises or someone gives us an adequate explanation about why we are sitting around twiddling our thumbs way past the official time of the programme. This time around, perhaps in deference to the occasion, people waited it out quietly.
The programme itself, once it did begin, was a delightful mix of probing questions, nuanced replies, sparkling verbal sallies and repartee on the part of both interviewers and the lady herself. The programme etched for us the singer’s body of work, her way of life, and the fact that at 80, Prabha Atre the person, the thinker, the performer, the teacher, is still soaring, like her beautiful voice. There was plenty of good music too, with three of her disciples singing from her repertoire of compositions.
Her interest and love for Carnatic music and how she incorporates elements from it or sings some south ragas was also brought out, with a pretty Hemavati that was performed. Fans remembered her very first LP record, in which her Kalavati gave us Hindustani classical listeners a whiff of the Carnatic style.
On the topic of music education, there was also talk about a full-fledged music university being opened in the future – which would have departments for so many genres, and even possibly a ‘how to be a good music listener’ course. After all, performers need informed audiences.
As the informative and enjoyable evening drew to a close, and there were moments of deeply felt sentiment – awe as well as affection – shared by us all, there came out of nowhere, a strident interruption. Without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’,  a member of the audience virtually shouted out in Marathi, with as much delicacy and sensitivity to the occasion as a kanda-batata walla drawing attention to his maal:  “Joshiji: I speak on behalf of us music lovers of this city. You are now the main organizer of the Sawai Gandharva Festival. Here is our request: Please DO NOT invite Carnatic musicians. We DON’T WANT Carnatic music.”
For a few seconds, everyone present, including the singer herself and her interviewers, and us in the audience, didn’t quite know how to process this bit of idiocy. Firstly, only in Pune will a person ‘request’ in this kind of haranguing voice! Secondly, only in Pune, will you find that one person with this degree of disregard for the occasion, and the misplaced confidence to simply blurt out ones demand in this manner.
One part of me wanted to turn around and frostily say to this gent in crisp Marathi: “Hello, who appointed you spokesperson for all of us Pune music lovers?” Another part of me wanted to simply say: “Ay, chupp!” But neither of these were options, and they would have just made matters worse.
It was Shriniwas Joshi who calmly took the mike, and with a gravitas way beyond his years, but with an ease that surely comes from belonging to the first family of the Kirana Gharana, delivered a stinging snub to the man. He said them in a quiet, most reasonable voice, but the words spoke volumes. Loosely translated, this is what he said: “For choosing this forum, this occasion and this way of conveying your opinion, I salute you. Aapka jawab nahi.” 
Whether the thick-hided man realized that he had been a fool, and a parochial fool, on top of it, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, a word of advise to people like him: the very format and atmosphere of the Sawai festival is such that you can saunter out when you want; so go eat wada pav when there’s a performance that you don’t enjoy. Simple. Zimble.
Gouri Dange