Monday, 30 April 2012

Get the Kolkata Coffee House bugged, Mamata Di

Dear Mamata Di

This is not an open letter. It has pieces of advice for you.

Soon you will be completing one year as the chief minister of West Bengal. Congratulations to you and best wishes for the next four years.

You did not receive the post of chief minister on a silver platter. The commies came to power in the state in 1977 and ruled without any break for 34 years till 2011.

A brand of plywood is advertised on the television with the punch line ‘chalta rahe, chalta rahe.’ The punch line was more apt for the rule of the leftists’ in West Bengal. (I was wrong in thinking that the punch line was of a condom.)

You had to toil for years against the left rule in the state. Had it not been for your indomitable spirit and never-say-die attitude, the communists may have ruled for another 34 years.

The defeat of the CPI (M) and its allies in the assembly elections held last year in West Bengal was not an ordinary or marginal one. It was a crushing defeat.

Now that you are in complete power in the state, you must stifle every voice of dissent. I am happy that you have taken some steps in this direction. It is good that you have already barred all but 13 newspapers from libraries which are approved and aided by the government you head.

I appreciate your decision to launch a newspaper and news channel so that the people of your state are not misguided and get the correct information about the policies of your government.

According to the New York Times, on March 29 you gave a statement - Aamra ekhon-o boli ni kon kagoj porte hobe, agami dine kintu setao bole debo. (Till now, we haven’t told which newspapers must be read, but in the future, we will do that as well.)

A good step; according to me. You had promised ‘poriborton’ (change) in case you had won the assembly elections. I can see the change.

Once you have your own newspaper, you must prohibit all other newspapers in West Bengal.

First you must try to tame the press like your Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar ( If you fail to do so, you must gag the press.

At least 175 people, including some teenagers, reportedly died after consuming moonshine in your state in December, 2011.

Till date, I have not heard or read 175 people dying after consuming hooch anywhere in India. The figure must have been exaggerated by the newspapers that are against you. Or it is more likely that leftists mixed some poisonous substance to the hooch, resulting in the large number of deaths, to malign your image.

In case you had your own newspaper; you could have kept the figure at 17. You could have claimed that the figure of 175 in other newspapers was a typo.

Now let us take up the Park Street rape case. Why did press create such a hullaballoo over the rape? Women had also been raped in Katwa, Malda and Polba in West Bengal recently. You were right in saying that the Park Street rape case was ‘cooked up to malign the government.’

Had you had tamed or stifled the press a year back, you could not have checked the incidents of rape but they would have never made headlines.

The Internet is another platform where you may face criticism. I was pleased when Ambikesh Mahapatra, a chemistry professor of the Jadavpur University, was arrested for circulating your so-called harmless cartoon on the Internet.

Cartoons are not harmless. Their message carries a lot of weight and can harm the image. It is good that the members of your party are busy surfing the Internet and looking for any matter that can hurt your ‘modesty, spread ill-will and threaten social harmony.’

You must take action against because it describes you as "megalomaniac, eccentric and populist politician".

Didi, apart from the media and the Internet, you also face a big threat from the Kolkata Coffee House.

I have lived for six years in Bhopal. I would spend at least four hours every day in the coffee house there. I used to think that the coffee house culture was grooming my personality. Today, I realise it has only spoiled what all little I had in the name of personality.

I have realised that the Coffee House is a place not for the intelligentsia but for those who have failed in their lives and are useless for society, lazy and good-for-nothing.

People in coffee house smoke endless number of cigarettes, drink endless cups of coffee and discuss every useless topic under the sun for endless hours. The pseudo-intellectuals spend and waste so much time in the coffee house that you can see the impression of the chairs of the place on their bums. They leave the coffee house and disseminate information. That useless information can be harmful to you, your party and your government.

I have not visited the Coffee House of Kolkata but I can imagine the gatherings there and its discussions.

Do not use your iron fist immediately. Get some flyers printed with the message ‘Only apolitical discussions’ and ask your party workers to leave them on the tables in the coffee house.

On the walls of the Kolkata Coffee House, below the portraits of the great Bengalis, you can get the message painted.

Your party workers can always teach a lesson to those who try to defy your diktat.

You can also get the coffee house bugged and CCTV cameras installed in it. You can set up the control room in the Writer’s Building – any sign of defiance and you can always rush your TMC workers to the coffee house.

If nothing works, then simply demolish the coffee house.

With warm regards

The Idler

PS: Being a Bengali, my friends think I know by heart each and every slogan of the TMC. A journalist friend, also a leftist, asked me once whether I knew the latest slogan of the party. I replied in the negative. He recited the slogan – Sobarir haathe kaaj, sobarir pete bhaat, aar sobarir ponde baans (Every man will have work, every man will have bread and every man will have a bamboo pole up in his ass). I hope the slogan turns true.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Happy Birthday, Indian Railways - II

I do not expect much from Indian Railways considering its present condition.

I will be surprised if I find my train running on time, food served in it hot, fresh and tasty (as described in railway timetables), coaches clean and the train staff courteous and ready to help me.

Recently I came across a thing about railways that delighted and amazed me. It was an advertisement of Indian Railways.

I am yet to see it on television but I have watched the advertisement over 100 times on youtube ( I can watch it another 100 times without getting bored or tired.

The advertisement is dated September 30, 2010. Mamata Banerjee was the railway minister at that time and perhaps for this reason, the advertisement was shot in her home, Kolkata.

Everything in the advertisement represents the typical Kolkata, its inhabitants and their habits. Two old men with bored faces – one reading a newspaper, another fanning himself with a plastic fan, ample bosom and bottom of the young woman out on her morning walk, old and crumbling red-coloured buildings with green-coloured shuttered windows and Ambassador cars.

My visits to Kolkata have always been short but seeing the advertisement just once, I was able to recognise the place.

The advertisement is quite a hit. Over 100,000 people have watched it on youtube.


I considered myself as one of the very few who are passionate about trains. Youtube proved me wrong.

Hundreds of people have uploaded amazing and exciting videos related to trains, locomotives and railway station on the website. Each video has been watched by thousands of viewers.

I grew up with the dream of becoming an engine driver and ended up being an idler. However, I vicariously enjoy the excitement of driving a train by watching the video The view you get from the cab of the locomotive is so different from the one you get while travelling as a passenger.

As I have said earlier, there are hundreds of videos of youtube but my favourite is Watching the video it seems that Duronto Express is challenging Rajdhani Express. The speeding locomotive of Rajdhani Express looks like a mighty, arrogant beast.

Watching the videos I am also vicariously travelling and discovering India. I came across a video of a beautiful place on Karnataka-Goa border named Dudhsagar waterfalls. I intend to visit the place at least once in my lifetime.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Happy birthday, Indian Railways - I

While rummaging through old books and newspapers in the storeroom in my home a few days back, I found a year-old newsletter that I had read once.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the dark storeroom, I read it again from cover to cover.

Once I finished reading, I returned to the cover to the newsletter and stared at the title. The title was ‘Romance of the Railways.’


The story of railways in India began on April 16, 1853, the day when a train ran for the first time on Indian soil.

As the time to flag off the first train neared, 21 guns lined outside Bori Bunder railway station in Bombay were fired as a salute to the moment that was going to be historic for India.

Once the boom of the guns subsided, three steam locomotives – Sahib, Sindh and Sultan whistled and hauling 14 coaches with 400 passengers, rolled out of Bori Bunder railway station.

The maiden train journey ended 45 minutes later, as the train, covering a distance of 31 km, chugged into the railway station at Thane, a Bombay suburb. The train journey had ended but a new chapter in the history of India had begun.


Now, 159 years later, over 11,000 trains run across the Indian sub-continent, covering a distance of over 63,000 km, and carrying over 30 million passengers every day. Starting with three locomotives and 14 coaches, Indian Railways now has over 9000 locomotives and 60,000 coaches.


‘Romance of the Railways’ was the title of the newsletter. Reading the title, I wondered if trains still evoke romance.

My home in Kanpur stands two km away from the Delhi-Howrah rail link.

I grew up listening to the whistles of trains rushing on the track. The whistles were more audible and clear in the dead of the night. Hearing a whistle some questions would instantly come to my mind – Which train is passing? Is it Rajdhani Express or Poorva Express? Is the train going to Delhi or to Howrah? Is everybody in the train sleeping? Or some passengers still awake like me and hearing the whistle?

Hearing the whistles as a kid I fell in love with trains, so much that I dreamed of becoming an engine driver.

I would be filled with excitement thinking that in the dead of the night, when all passengers of a train are asleep, the engine driver is the only person who is wide awake and alert; his hands on the controls of the locomotive and eyes on two gleaming tracks.

Even now, as the night progresses and become calm, I can hear the whistle of passing trains. I still wish I were on the footplate of the locomotive of the train.

The travel and not the destination matters to me more. I become sad when the journey ends and I have reached the destination.

My love for trains has not diminished.

I will always prefer train for travelling. The window seat is enough for me and I can travel for days without getting bored.

It has often been said and written that while travelling in a train in the upper half of India, the landscape from the window looks flat, dry and monotonous. The landscape, while travelling in the lower half, is green, undulating and beautiful. But for me, only the window seat counts, whether in the north or in the south.

And I prefer the sleeper car over the air-conditioned one.

Sleeper cars are crowded and you get to see, know and talk to more people or characters.

When the train stops at a station, you see yet more people. The sounds and noises of the station are a pleasant break to the constant rattling of the wheels of the train. In the night, as you stretch on the rocking berth, rattling of the wheels lulls you to sleep.

Nowadays, I see that the moment people settle in their seats in the train, they plug earphones into their ears, close their eyes and start listening to music or they switch on their laptop computers and forget the world around them. They have a scowl on their face and try to look serious. They neither share a joke with the fellow passengers nor bother to look outside the window.

There is another reason why I do not like travelling in air-conditioned coaches.

Some time back I travelled to Delhi in the air-conditioned coach of Shramshakti Express. The train leaves Kanpur just before mid-night. I had got the middle berth. The moment I stretched myself on the berth to sleep the person on the lower berth started snoring loudly. As I tried hard to sleep, the person on the upper berth started farting. It was as if I was listening to a small orchestra of wind instruments. Bill Aitken, the Scottish traveller and writer who made India his home, mentioned in one of his books that he once travelled with 71 farting men. The figure 71 intrigued me. But then I realised that there are 72 berths in a coach. Bill had exaggerated but only a bit.

I feel India should follow the example of Malawi in the matters of bodily noises- and

In the sleeper cars, the wind rushing through windows howls and drowns every noise and cleans all pollutants.

Nowadays, I am a bit wary while travelling in the sleeper class.

Earlier a journey from Kanpur to Calcutta by Kalka Mail would be pleasant experience. The train was considered good and it would be hard to get seats reserved in the train. Recently I travelled by Kalka Mail and the journey was horrible. The train stopped at almost all stations. And it was too crowded. As many as eight people were sitting on the berths on which only four persons can comfortably sit. The train was so crowded that reaching up to the toilet was like a big challenge. I once managed to reach up to the toilet. But I came back without using it as it was very dirty.

People, not caring about their lives, had occupied even the vestibules.

I can blame only governments for poor condition of the trains. It seems that authorities are concerned only about Shatabdi and Rajdhani Express, the so-called VIP trains.

Recently, I saw a headline in a newspaper which said ‘Toilets in Shatabdi to be cleaned after every use.’ It seems that in India, people travelling only in VIP trains have the right to clean toilets.

Why can’t the toilets of all trains be cleaned if not after every use then at least once in a week?

Another headline on another day was, ‘TVs to be installed in Shatabdi Express.’ I don’t have any grouse because I do not watch the television that I have in my home but Indian Railways in not allowing me to travel free of cost. And when I am paying, I must have some basic facilities. I am not asking for the moon.

All trains heading for Delhi from places in the east like Howrah, Guwahati or Bhubabeswar are overcrowded with people from Bihar. The people are not only blamed for overcrowding trains but also cities like Delhi and Bombay.

But why blame the people of Bihar? Nobody likes leaving home and family. Today, if 10 heavy industries are set up in Bihar, mass exodus from the state will stop. What is true for Bihar is true for Uttar Pradesh also. Rahul Gandhi in an election rally had rightly equated the people of Uttar Pradesh to beggars. He had said that people from Uttar Pradesh have to beg for jobs in Delhi and Bombay. Due to inefficiency of successive governments, most industries in Uttar Pradesh either have closed or have shifted to other states.

Some of my friends and peers consider me eccentric for my love for travelling by train. They prefer planes. But I don’t care. Due to too much pressure of work, they are forced to travel by planes. I, being an idler, have time and can afford to travel by train.

My two classmates settled in Bangalore recently visited Kanpur to participate in alma mater reunion. They managed to get leaves only for four days. Coming to Kanpur from Bangalore and returning would have been impossible in four days in case they have taken a train. So they both had to fly.

I can only hope that things will improve the future and travelling by train – in any coach will once become an enjoyable experience.

I dream to travel in all the 11,000 trains of India.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Discovering Shekhar Kapoor

‘I find him enigmatic,’ said a female friend.

‘He is too suave,’ said a male friend.

The comments were for Shekhar Kapoor.

Recently, I was all ears as Shekhar Kapoor on a television channel expressed his views on thwarting of Salman Rushdie’s visit to India to participate in Jaipur Literary Festival.

I have been a fan of Shekhar Kapoor ever since I was a teenager and in school.

For me Shekhar Kapoor was the perfect intellectual.

Television channels seek Shekhar Kapoor’s views whenever issues like freedom of expression, speech or press are discussed.

I knew Shekhar Kapoor as a versatile director and an actor who appeared in some Doordarshan serials.

Shekhar Kapoor has directed Masoom, Mr. India, Bandit Queen and Elizabeth – movies with totally different themes. He has also co-directed Joshilay.

Masoom was a movie on human relations, Mr. India a science fiction, Bandit Queen was on the life of the bandit Phoolan Devi, Joshilay a typical Hindi action movie.

In the late eighties, Shekhar Kapoor appeared on Doordarshan serials, Udaan being one of them.

‘I like the way he talks. I have been a fan of him ever since I saw him in Udaan; on Doordarshan,’ another female friend said.

I was surprised when recently I came across a song on youtube featuring Shekhar Kapoor.

I could not believe my eyes when I saw the enigmatic, too suave and intellectual Shekhar Kapoor jumping, hopping, dancing and singing, like a quintessential hero of Hindi movies.

The song was ‘Mana ho tum, behad haseen, aise bure hum bhi nahin_ _ _ _.’

The song is from the movie Toote Khiloney released in 1978.

The song has been sung by Yesudas. He has sung only a few Hindi film songs but all of them are popular. I do not think that any album of Yesudas’ Hindi film songs will be complete without the song from Toote Khiloney.

Everything about the song is typically of the seventies.

It was shot on a desolate stretch of beach and opens with a man and a dog chasing a woman; with the guitar strumming in the background. The strumming is followed by the humming of the female chorus and violins.

As the camera closes in, I can recognise the female actor as Shabana Azmi but not Shekhar Kapoor. But I had to watch the video several times to make sure that Shekhar Kapoor is the male actor. But even after I had recognised Shekhar Kapoor, I could not believe my eyes.

What I liked the best about Shekhar Kapoor was his flat stomach. According to the fashion of the seventies, he is wearing a close-fitting white t-shirt and you can see he has a flat stomach.

Watching the song you will realise that Shekhar Kapoor is a good director but himself fails as an actor. He was a wooden-faced actor. To make up for the lack of expression on his face in the song, Shekhar Kapoor uses his hands, gesturing with them, to express his feelings.

Shekhar Kapoor and Shabana Azmi make a good on-screen pair. They would have also made a good off-screen pair.

I have heard the song may times on the radio. Now, I have started liking the song on youtube. Anybody who has grown in the seventies and eighties will like the song.The song on youtube has been liked by over 100,000 viewers.