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Archive for December, 2008

By now everyone must be aware of what’s happening in the Gaza strip, including criticism of Israel’s actions. Yet, I defy any Indian not to feel a modicum of wistfulness at the forcefulness of Israel’s reaction, wishing we had the nerve to do the same with Pakistan.

Sure, Israel had come under a lot of international condemnation for their actions. They have been accused of ‘using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.’ My feelings on this are mixed. Sure they could have used crude homemade bombs like the other side, but what would that have achieved? If you have to retaliate, do so with such vigour that it is at least a deterrent. Otherwise why bother at all? Why not be like India, only pleading and whining at international fora? Speaking of which, what has the international community done about it? Diddly squat. America is, as it always has, supporting Israel.

I know this is just the rant of a helpless people, let down repeatedly by their government. I know that bombing Pakistan is not an option. Not even ‘surgical strikes.’ Because, for sure, it will result in a war and that is not a desirable option. Not least of all because both are nuclear capable states but because it would be deleterious to an already weakened economy.

So we’ll do what we always do. ‘Exhort the international community using gentle persuasion.’ Meanwhile, we’ll roll out the red carpet for Bill Clinton, soon-to-be-appointed special envoy to Kashmir.

On that cheery note, Happy New Year.

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Sometime ago, I had written an article on the perils and pitfalls of political correctness. Following the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, international media described the perps as assailants, gunmen, militants etc. They consciously shied away from using the word terrorists. Indian media cannot be accused of having any such qualms. Of course, they can’t be accused of objective reporting either, but that’s subject of another post.

International media’s reticence in using the word ‘terrorists’ led to confusion among readers. Were the bad guys terrorists? Were they local criminals? Were they disgruntled students who randomly opened fire?

Clark Hoyt is a the public editor at the New York times and he explains the unwillingness of reporters to apply the T word and other deprecating /condemning labels.

P.S. – this apeared in the Mumbai edition of the Hindustan Times yesterday.

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My house has been in a state of turmoil these past few days. It began with my maid’s son’s school graduating to class 1. With the promotion came a change in school timings. While earlier he used to attend school for a couple of hours in the morning, he now goes from noon to 5.30.

This resulted in flurry of adjustments. The maid had to take off sooner in the morning so she could reach home and prepare him for school. So the jhadoo pocha were shifted to evenings.

Now even in the evening, she used to come in at 5-5.30 to prepare dinner. But now, she has to go and fetch him school then. She asked me if she could come in earlier, say at 4. I screamed and shouted, “Am I going to house bound forever (she doesn’t have a key)?” She relented and said she would come around 6. This suited me fine. “But,” she added darkly, “I will bring my son.” Faced with the prospect of daily baby-sitting, I was ready to cook myself! I would done it too had it not been for my race to finish my next book.

But things turned for the better. The son decided my company was boring and elected to stay at home. Amidst typing frenetically on my computer, I kept trying to teach him spoken English. Not exactly thrilling for a 6 year-old to come from one school only to get into another.

A change was affected yet again. She would pick him from school in the evening, lock him at home and come to work. A most satisfactory state of affairs. Till a fire broke out in the vicinity of her shanty and her son was trapped inside, all alone. Thanks to the quick-mindedness of her neighbours the son was rescued, more frightened than hurt.

Then she declared she didn’t want to leave him alone at home and that she was quitting. Cooking, that is. Panic buttons were hit all around. Not that she’s a great cook or anything, but the thought of finding and training another one was just too much.

Then days went by and nothing more was mentioned in this regard. One day, just out of curiosity and with a lot of trepidation, I asked her, “What happened? You said you were quitting?”

She looked at me and said, “And how am I supposed to manage? Everything’s so expensive. Onions are still 18 rupees, 3 rupees for one egg, up from 2 rupees, dals are at 60 rupees, rice…” you get the picture. So she has no option but to either risk the safety of her son at home or bring him kicking and screaming along with her.

Similarly with my press-walla. Just the other day he urged me to give him more clothes as he needed the money. Now, I’d already started giving him my night clothes as well for ironing. The only way I can I help him more is if I stated giving my undies as well. I refuse to do that. I mean, how freakish is it to wear ironed undies?

My heart bleeds for all of them and in my own way I try and do as much as I can for them. But by how much and how many can I help? Inflation is hitting me just as hard. My fruit and vegetable bill has gone up 50%. My restaurant bills have doubled. Before you cry, off with her head! for this Marie-Antoinetteish statement, let me explain that a lot of business in TV and film is transacted in pubs, coffee, shops and restaurants.

The government and the media might cry themselves hoarse that inflation is on the decline and that there is hardly any year-on-year growth. That’s just it. There is not much year-on-year growth because inflation was already at 12% last year! Plus a large part of the basket comprises oil. And oil prices have dropped. Never mind that the decline hasn’t exactly resulted in reduction in your expenses.

God, I hope the royalty cheque comes in soon!

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I guess this post is in response to my readers’ constant queries about chucking their jobs and taking up writing and how I feel about it. My usual advice is caution. Not because the proposition is dicey – I have written a post sometime ago about how aspiring writers in India have never had it so good – but because I feel one should wait and find out if they have it in them to be writers.

People make these decisions under a misguided assumption about how writing being a glamorous profession. It is not. It is just like any other job and requires you to show up at work day after day after day whether you feel like it or not. In addition to that, it is a lonely job. At least in a normal job you have coffee and cigarette breaks where you can have laugh away your frustrations with buddies and subvert your suicidal tendencies.

I, myself am seriously considering switching from my sixth floor flat to one on the first floor. So the breeze won’t be as nice but at least there will be less of a mess to clean up. I may even escape with just a broken limb or two and little or no irreparable damage.

All these thoughts got me thinking about whether there was a way one could find out if they have it in them to be a writer. And then I happened to go to Shelfari where all these people were raving about this site which, apparently, is a Godsend.

It is a bit like tail the story, an experiment that I myself had started sometime ago whereby I (or anyone) started a story and then someone else took it up and then someone else and so on. My experiment was a success for while but then it fizzled out, mainly because I didn’t have the time to moderate it and propel the story forward when interest levels waned. Plus the subject I had chosen, a sci-fi kinda thing, didn’t exactly set everyone afire.

Now there is panhistoria.  There are dozens and dozens of novels with numerous people writing them. The novels are in every sort of genre from horror to fantasy to action to romance to westerns. You can simply ask to join in on any one of them. Or you can start your own novel.

There are not many moderators with binding rules so your creativity is not curbed. Besides the interactive participation, having people wait on for your additions to stories keeps you on deadline. It forces you to write regularly which is a good thing of you are a procrastinator. Plus there’s an element of competition which always helps. You try to wow the readers by outdoing the author before you. As a result you read more – you’ve gotta first read to outclass ­– and hone your writing skills.

If you want to be a writer, go there and see if you can stick it out, whether you have enough ideas in you and, more importantly, if you are having fun.

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I get lots of emails and calls from people saying: I’ve written my novel, now what? How did I go about identifying a Publisher? How did I contact them and what did I say to them?

To begin with, the query letter is the most important document you’ll ever write, perhaps more important than your novel itself. It is your sales pitch.

Just to give you an idea, when I wrote Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions, I wrote 92,000 plus words in six months. Which works out to about 500 plus words a day. But when you consider the fact that those six months include about two months of rewrite, the figure is much more impressive. Contrast that with the fact that I spent three weeks writing my query letter of 500 words.

Anyway, I did some research and stumbled upon Noah Lukeman’s “How to Write Great Query letters.” Lukeman is the  bestselling author of books like First five pages, The plot thickens and A dash of style.

He is also an agent who represents a lot of literary heavy weights including many New York Times bestselling authors and Pulitzer prize winners. As such he has reviewed over 100,000 query letters, i.e., 10,000 letters a year for 10 years.

He recently posted a FREE e-book on Amazon which I’ve found to be one of the best books on the subject of query letters. Check it out.

 

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I AM MAD AS HELL AND I WON’T TAKE IT ANYMORE

So, what are we going to do? Because if we don’t, this too shall pass. While it is commendable that are venting our outrage so forcefully, let’s face it, it is not possible to sustain this kind of pressure indefinitely. And the politicians know that. We got a bit lucky this time around that this is an election year so some token bit has been done. Else India would never have had the nerve to talk tough with Pakistan.

So, I repeat, what are we going to do? Simple. We hit them where it hurts. What I propose is this: we file a PIL whereby we refuse to pay our taxes to the government. Instead, we deposit our taxes with the court until our, the taxpayers’, welfare is taken care of – be it internal security or better roads. The basic idea being a civil audit of how our money is spent.

If such a thing happens, then watch our politicians jump into action. And if this is done, they will never be able to take us for granted again and will actually do some work. This is the only viable way to ensure that not only this government but all future governments earn their keep, because as far as the politicians are concerned, if a precedent is set, it can happen again.

I don’t know about the viability of filing such a PIL. I know there are many things that need to be figured out in this regard. For example, are the courts competent and eligible by law to take such a step? What are we really looking for? Are we looking at separate collection and disbursing agencies? In which case are we looking for an additional bureaucratic structure (God forbid)? Or does the collection agency remain the same (the Income Tax Department) but the money goes straight into the court’s account instead of the exchequer’s?

All I know is that we are looking at a system whereby the government demonstrates its ability to spend our money well. I guess, in essence what we are looking at for the government is: spend first and get reimbursed later as per merit.

The question then arises: If the government does not have money, how will it spend? The answer is: Government does not start all projects at the same time. Let them start projects, submit budgets and estimates, and withdraw the money as and when required, subject to the court’s approval. Take the example of a bridge. The government submits a project report and is sanctioned funds for stage one. Once stage one is completed, an officer, appointed by the court, will go and check the progress. If he is satisfied, funds for phase two will be released and so on. Corporates work like this, why can’t the government?

To summarise what I’ve said:

      a)     Let the same IT apparatus do the collection; the court appoints an executor to the escrow account

      b)       An independent auditor is appointed by the court to submit periodic reports; based on which, the court directs the executor to release funds. The report of the independent auditor is a public document.

      c)       The Chief Election Commissioner’s office decides on what the emoluments (including security) of elected representatives would be. No other office within center or states would have the jurisdiction to decide on this.

Yes, this is a desperate measure but desperate times require desperate measures. If nothing else it will at least ensure that Z security and lavish bungalows are yanked off the likes of Priyanka Gandhi and Meira Kumar. Who are they, what do they do and why are they eligible for all these? Why does Shahrukh Khan gets Z category? Why does Abu Asim Azmi gets police guards from UP? Who pays for them? Who approves? Surely not I.

Let the politicians not take money from 2% of the population and buy votes of the rest. Let’s stop funding the gravy train. The party is over.

If there’s a lawyer out there reading this who is willing to guide us through this, (s)he is welcome to contact me. I would be more than willing to put my name first on the petition.

 

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be-your-own-boss-part-1-of-22

Coming in the wake of the Bombay terror attacks, this picture only adds to my post traumatic stress. Nevertheless, here it is. Me, the social butterfly snapped after a night of hard partying.

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