Rs 89,990

Sony Vaio Duo 11

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A spiffy hybrid tablet that is also wonderful to use. But not for heavy users
128 GB SSD | 29.5 cm wide touchscreen | 4 GB RAM

I see a lot of hybrid tablet PCs these days. Typically, these are tablets that integrate the features of a laptop. And my first reaction to this hybrid was love at first sight. I even found it priced just right: it runs on the latest Core i5 processor, has a 128 GB solid state disk (SSD), 29.5 cm wide touchscreen and 4 GB of RAM.

It is so good looking that everyone in the office wanted to try it out. We also loved that it came with an Ethernet port, and had both HDMI and VGA ports for external display. This is useful while preparing presentations, because you don’t have to bother about what connector your on-site projector may support. It also has USB 2 and USB 3 ports, as well as a card reader.

And then I decided to look beyond its looks. Most Vaio chargers have an LED to indicate charging status. It is a useful thing, but missing in this one.

The machine is probably not designed for heavy users. It performs nicely with regular office work, and is a really good tablet at that. But when I tried to test the limits of this hybrid, it kept crashing.

It is obvious that Sony has worked hard on its design, including how the keyboard elegantly goes under. But it is small, and you can’t type very fast on it. It has no place for a palm rest either, and I had to use a gel palm rest with it. Also, its keyboard is not easy to use without a table (for example, at an airport). The screen is always exposed, and to keep it from getting scratched, I had to buy a jacket for it. The keyboard is backlit, which is nice, but you can’t dim it. It is either on or off, nothing inbetween.

But despite all these niggles, I could not ignore the fact that it is a very pretty machine. It may not be for me, but could be almost perfect for others who want a tablet and laptop in the same machine.


The Myth of the IQ Test

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Measuring one’s intelligence through a standardised test is misleading, says yet another study

The effectiveness of the intelligence quotient (IQ) test that is often used to measure how clever a person is, is nothing more than a myth, according to yet another study. With more than 110, 000 participants, this, though, is the largest online intelligence study on record. It concludes that measuring one’s intelligence by a singular, standardised test is highly misleading.

The study was conducted by a Western University-led research team in London and was published in the journal Neuron. The objective of the study was to understand human intelligence by examining how it relates to brain function and whether it’s a single ‘intelligence factor’ that distinguishes people from one another. Conducted online and open to all throughout the world, the researches asked respondents to complete 12 cognitive tests that tapped memory, planning abilities, reasoning and attention, followed by a survey about their background and lifestyle habits.

The results show that when a wide range of cognitive abilities are explored, the observed variations in performance can only be explained with at least three distinct components: short-term memory, reasoning and a verbal component. According to the researchers, no one component, or IQ, explains everything.

Following up their findings, the scientists scanned the brains of 16 volunteers (known as functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI) while they completed the same tests. They found that the three key types of intelligence relied on different circuits within the brain, challenging the dominant notion that intelligence lies primarily in one region of the brain.

The study also provided a treasure trove of new information on how factors such as age, gender and the tendency to play computer games influence brain functions.

While regular brain training exercises didn’t appear to affect subjects’ general cognitive performance, those who regularly played computer games performed significantly better in reasoning and short-term memory tasks. The researchers, however, point out that the links between the two phenomena are not clear, and more research will be required to understand this.


Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

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Aasif Mandvi, ‘Brown Correspondent’ of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show that airs in America, on satire, pop culture and bigotry

Aasif Mandvi is everywhere. He’s on your television screens as The Muslim Correspondent or The Brown Correspondent on one of the most watched political comedy shows in America, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In 2012 alone, he was in four movies—Premium Rush, Ruby Sparks, The Dictator and Dark Horse. He is now back to his first love, theatre, starring in a brave new play on racism in America, post 9/11, called Disgraced. And although he’s been around for 20 years now, having worked with the likes of Robert De Niro (Analyse This), Bruce Willis (Die Hard with a Vengeance) and in blockbusters like Spiderman 2, it looks like he’s just getting started. Named as one of the most influential global Indians by GQ magazines, Mandvi gets serious about comedy in an exclusive interview:

Q Since you started working on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, you’ve been widely acclaimed by the American press as a representative of the ‘moderate Muslim voice’. Do you think of it as a responsibility now?

A (Thinks) Let me answer the question in this way: having been raised as a Muslim in America, after 9/11, in some way, I was politicised, because you couldn’t help being politicised at the time. Then I got The Daily Show, which is a huge platform, of course, and because of my role in it and because of my ethnicity, I get talked about on both sides of the fence. On the show, I satirise something that then has its effect out in the world, as it makes some people get up and use it as a way to represent the Muslim community. And this stuff that I satirise isn’t entirely created by me; there is a team of writers that works on it along with me. So even though I understand—and this is important—why I’ve been called that, and I understand the need of a representative, and I also understand why it’s happening to me, I can’t worry about it and I can’t think about it. Because that’ll limit you as an artiste, or a writer, actor or creator... if you worry about it.

Also, (chuckles) I reject the notion of being the face of any kind of ‘moderate Muslim’, because I shouldn’t be the guy representing Islam anywhere at all, you know. I’ve been inside more bars than I’ve been inside mosques.

Q Clearly, the community thinks different. You received the prestigious Freedom of Expression Award from The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in 2011 for your ‘comedic body of work that has played a significant role in exposing anti-Muslim bigotry in America’.

A The CAIR award is certainly an honour, but it’s also absurd (chuckles), if you know what I mean. I mean, it’s more of a reflection of the lack of moderate Muslim voices in society as a whole that I was given the CAIR award. You know, when I got the CAIR award, a Syrian composer, Malek Jandali, was also given it along with me. And he was given it for composing and performing a song (Watani Ana), which served as a backdrop for the Syrian revolution, at a rally in Washington DC. His parents were beaten up brutally by Assad’s security forces in Syria as retaliation. It’s a very tragic story. So he was getting the CAIR award for all that, and I was getting it; and I do sketches and I do jokes. I don’t want to sound full of it here—I greatly respect the fact that I was given the award and I’m extremely grateful for it—[but] I just think it speaks about the larger vacuum of moderate Muslim voices within society, that they gave me the award.

Q But don’t you think that your satirising the paranoia against Islam on The Daily Show has helped alleviate the ignorance of Islam in America?

A See, I think that in terms of what I do on the show, and because at the end of the day we’re a comedy show, there’s a certain level of catharsis that has been achieved, about the fact that I get up there and I say stuff that lands on people. But the reality is, that as far as America goes on a larger level, only 3 million people are watching The Daily Show every night. Compare that to the 22 million people that watch Fox News, for example. So has the conversation about Islam changed? No, not really. Because, for being a highly acclaimed, highly received and highly critically placed show, The Daily Show has a very specific impact on a particular section of society, but there’s a whole slew of people in America who never watch it.

See, when 9/11 happened, there was a definite conversation about what is Islam, who are Muslims, and what is the Quran? But in the 12 years since then, Americans have taken this curiosity and politicised it. The mainstream media and politicians have turned this curiosity into fear. So now, unfortunately, most Americans think that they know the answers. That they understand Islam. And the answer is that you have to be afraid. That Islam is dangerous. That it means ‘jihad’. And unfortunately, as we go into the future, this politicisation and sensationalising of the entire relationship of America with the Muslim world will only take us back a few steps instead of forward. I mean, when Obama came to power and they started calling him a Muslim, it was supposed to be a demeaning thing and was supposed to undermine him; that if he were a Muslim, it would somehow be bad. And that’s the unfortunate trajectory the American consciousness has taken after 9/11, and it’s a tragedy.

Q What do you think the role of pop culture should be in changing this?

A Now here’s where I reverse the same argument: 3 million is still a relatively large audience that The Daily Show reaches. And satire, by nature, helps get a certain level of influence within the zeitgeist and collective consciousness. So I think if pop culture keeps at it, there is an actual effect of change [that] shows like The Daily Show can have by [getting] people to think in ways they haven’t thought before otherwise, and to [experience] catharsis.

But on the other hand, it can all only change to a certain extent. For example, we once covered a protest against the proposed construction of a mosque in Tennessee, two-three years ago. I interviewed the leader of the opposition, Laurie Cardoza-Moore, and her reasons for trying to close down the construction was that… it was a mosque. So while that segment generated a lot of conversation, ultimately it didn’t matter and the construction was shut down. So again, the conversation has gone from a dialogue to basically shutting down and burying the conversation altogether. But, you know, even if there are times we lose, we are also on the winning side a few times, so we’ll certainly keep at that.

Q You’re now doing a serious off-Broadway play about racism and cultural identity in America called Disgraced. Is that also an attempt at keeping the conversation alive?

A Yes, doing the play was a no-brainer for me. It is brilliantly written by a Pakistani-American, Ayad Akhtar. Apart from the fact that there’s probably never been a serious role or play like an Othello on the New York stage for South Asian American actors, especially Muslim actors, I really thought it was the best thing written about this conversation in a long time. It’s honest, brutal, brave and very provocative. In theatre, people sit in a dark room with the actors on stage and are forced to wrestle with their own personal demons and prejudices, so it’s a very different beast than a political comedy at 11 o’ clock at night on Comedy Central. People have come out of Disgraced crying or in deep conversation or deep thought, you know.

I come from a much more liberal and secular Muslim family than the protagonist of the play, Amir Kapoor, who comes from a very conservative and traditional family with much more dogmatic opinions and a dangerous perspective of things. But I could still relate to him in many ways, specially to the disassociation from the culture and the clash of East and West values. I understand the difficulty in trying to find your identity and in growing up as a South Asian in America, especially post 9/11. And so I thought it was important for me to be a part of such a play, and I hope it is making people uncomfortable.

Q A while ago, in an article on, you wrote, tongue-in-cheek, about the ‘whitewashing’ phenomenon in Hollywood, where America thinks of South Asian actors as White actors in Brown makeup. Now that we seem to be breaking out of the stereotypes of a cab driver, infotech engineer or a deli owner, do you think this is changing?

A Well, I think while the conversations on Islam may not be improving, South Asians, in general, are becoming a part of the American conscience now. Although I don’t think we have broken out of stereotypes entirely, I just think that as time has gone by, the new generation of South Asian comedians, writers and actors are a part of the American existence. Be it Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn or Mindy Kaling, there are certainly a lot more South Asians on TV and in movies than there used to be since I started in the business back in 1991. So yes, America is changing to that extent. But does that mean that Hollywood is comfortable casting South Asian actors without accents? No, it’s not. I just did an Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn movie called The Internship, where my character has an Indian accent.

But it’s a very different kind of thing at play here, because there are people with accents. There’s nothing wrong with playing a cab driver or a deli owner or even a terrorist, because those people exist and are real. It basically comes down to the writing. Are these written as one-dimensional jokes for White people, or are they written with some level of nuance, sophistication, thought and an arc or story of some kind? And that’s what’s really changing for South Asian actors, you know. The writing and the roles are getting better, not that the characters now don’t have accents.

Q Apart from movies, you are also writing a book about your experiences in the US.

A Yeah, it’s been in the works for some time now. It’s a series of essays and short stories about my life growing up in England and working in America. It’s semi-autobiographical with anecdotal stories along the way, which are funny and amusing and relevant in some way, but some that are also serious. Then there are a few movies lined up, and there’s Disgraced and there’s The Daily Show. At some point in the future, I may be creating a TV show for CBS. I actually don’t know exactly where I am going from here, but I would like to continue writing, acting, and creating more stuff and putting it out there, and hoping it lands on people in a way that makes them feel. But I don’t have a larger agenda or a political one, and the only reason it’s working or has worked in the past is that (chuckles) I never had a plan B either.


The Deconstructor of Afghanistan

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Amanulla Mojadidi’s subject is one of the most censored societies in the world

One of Amanulla Mojadidi’s most famous works is a ‘reverse bribe’. In 2001, he set up an artificial check post in Kabul, installed hidden cameras, purchased a police uniform and stopped around 50 cars in the guise of a police officer. He offered a hundred Afghanis to each of the passengers as compensation for bribes they had to pay to the police in the past. The cameras also captured his visits to shops to buy his police uniform. All of it together came out as a video installation, Pay Back, and created a stir after being exhibited at art galleries in Paris, Cairo and Mumbai.

At the ongoing Kochi Muziris Biennale, Mojadidi’s work is an ‘attempt to subvert the dominant narratives of history’. In this piece of installation art, he has weaved a history of his ancestors—real and imagined— by combining elements of story-telling and archaeology. The installation displays an excavation that traces his family’s history—which has an Indian connection. “My ancestors were Naqshbandi Sufis who had migrated to Punjab (near present-day Chandigarh) and stayed there for more than a couple of centuries till they returned to Afghanistan in the 16th century,” he says. He has mixed fact with fiction by creating an imaginary character Zaman Mojadidi, represented as a forefather who had spent his life in Fort Kochi, and created a narrative by which Aspinwall House, the British- era building which is the main venue of the Biennale, was built by the British by demolishing structures built by Zaman Mojadidi. The installation of an archeological excavation to find the ruins of Zaman Mojadidi’s demolished structures symbolises his queries on the plurality of Afghan culture. “This archeological site is created for illustrating the story of my ancestors that challenges the orthodoxy of religion,” he says. “The Afghan ministry of culture acknowledges and focuses only on Islam, though there is an intermixing of cultures. It is a pluralistic society: there are Sikhs in Kabul, there are also Jews.”

Mojadidi sports tattoos in French, Sanskrit and Japanese. His beard is long but that has little to do with religion. He is a non-practising Muslim and an atheist. “I am very lazy in shaving,” he says. But the beard also helps him blend into a crowd in Kabul. Mojadidi was born to Afghan immigrant parents in the United States. He was brought up in Florida, but often travelled to Afghanistan for vacations with his father, a surgeon who was also a sympathiser of Mujahedeen fighters against the Soviet invasion. As a field doctor, Mojadidi’s father actively assisted the Afghan National Liberation Front. Mojadidi has childhood memories of being dragged off to anti-Soviet demonstrations at the Russian embassy in Washington DC and chanting slogans like ‘Long live Islam’ and ‘Down with Communism’ since the age of eight. As an artist, it was a natural progression for his work to be a political commentary. On his webpage, a statement about his own art says this: ‘My practice is based on personal experiences intertwined with curatorial and academic research in cultural studies. Having grown up as an American citizen of Afghan heritage, in a world that is simultaneously globalised and fractured, my work combines traditional storylines and postmodern, often parodist, narrative strategies to approach themes such as belonging, identity politics, conflict, cultural traditions (be they real, imagined, invented), as well as the push to and resistance against modernisation…’

Contemporary art is in a peculiar phase in Kabul. In spite of pervasive censorship, Mojadidi has never faced any direct threat from the Taliban. “I am doing a sort of guerilla art,” he says. “I did a poster campaign in 2010 prior to the Parliamentary polls. Posters with slogans like ‘I am a Jihadi, I am rich, vote for me’ were pasted in different corners of the city. We quickly shifted from one street to another.” He found the Taliban indifferent or too busy to notice. “Anyway, I criticise warlords, Western militia and the Afghan government through my art. So each one of them thinks I am against the groups they also hate.”

Being a contemporary artist in Afghanistan is challenging because of a lack of community support. “The scarcity of galleries, museums and exhibitions do bother an artist, but nothing bars [one from] making a work of art.” Mojadidi says that there is a nascent art movement there by a group of artists engaged in painting, video works and installations. But their exposure is limited. “I used to tell them to go ahead with their work. Nobody can hold them back from producing a piece of art. Exhibiting is secondary, though it is a bigger challenge.”

A photo series done by Mojadidi in 2009 called Jihadi Gangster was censored in Kabul but received accolades in Paris. Amanulla was photographed in different costumes that blended the idea of a Western gangster with that of an Afghan jihadi. One of the photos featured the gangster wearing a black turban and gold-plated gun around his neck and exposing a tattooed body. “In a way, the Jihadi Gangster series is an exploration of my own dual cultural heritage as an American-born Afghan with strong family ties to politics in Afghanistan,” he says.

Mojadidi has no definite answer to the question of his sense of belongingness. “I am neither American nor Afghani. Despite being a citizen, I am not fully American in the US. In Kabul, people tend to treat me as an alien, though I have a long beard and hide my tattoos as much as possible. It is interesting to see how one is deprived of one’s authority to define one’s own identity. In art, I try to explore the fractured identities of people,” he says. He, however, has a clear answer on whether he is an artist or activist. “Artist, hundred per cent. My medium of expression is art. I demonstrate my political convictions through it.”



Mahabharata Redux

Sandipan Deb is an IIT-IIM graduate who wandered into journalism after reading a quote from filmmaker George Lucas — “Everyone cage door is open” — and has stayed there (in journalism, not a cage) for the past 19 years. He has written a book on the IITs and is the editor of Open. 
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The Last War is a re-imagining of the great epic set in the Mumbai underworld. In the dead of night, a few hours before he and his brothers go to war against their cousins for control of the city’s largest crime empire, Jeet Kuru starts having doubts. But that old fox Kishenbhai will have none of it. Extracts from a new novel
The Last War | Sandipan Deb | Pan Macmillan India | Rs 299

‘Are you ready?’ asked Kishenbhai.

Jeet was standing at the window, looking out at the apartment buildings on view. They were all dark, the inhabitants were all asleep. Dead to the world, in deep sleep, or fitfully, or just pretending. Some of them would have their minds peopled with as many ghosts as I have in mine, thought Jeet. No, not as many, but they would never know. Every man gets the number of ghosts he deserves. Or can bear. Lying there in bed, all alone, with his wife sleeping peacefully, a foot or two away…The balconies of all the apartments Jeet could see were grilled. In effect, they had all been converted to little ironing chambers. All of them had ironing boards in them. How many clothes did they iron every day? I have never ironed anything in my life. The ironing just happened. I don’t even know who ironed my clothes. Bizarre.

Jeet touched the gun snuggled in his waistband. He had dismantled it, cleaned and oiled it and put it back together a few hours ago. He loved doing that. Maybe ironing gave the same sort of pleasure…bringing something back to full efficiency and the original pristine identity. That was perhaps something everything in the world deserved. Except for living beings. They grew old and died.


Jahn was sleeping in the next room. Her soft, soft body.

‘Are you prepared?’ asked Kishenbhai.

Jeet turned from the window. He walked over to the large wall mirror and looked at his reflection. He drew the gun and pointed it at his face in the mirror. He remembered a physics lesson from thirty years ago: the reflection was the same distance behind the surface of the mirror as he was from it. ‘No, I am not ready,’ he said. ‘And fuck it, I don’t want to be.’

The gun had been with him for twentyfour years. Gandu, the pitiless ass-kicker. His companion, friend and pet. Jeet had never had a dog or a cat. What he had was Gandu. Loyal and effective.

Kishenbhai’s expression of serene equanimity did not change. ‘And why is that?’ he asked, picking up his glass, and taking a sip. Glenmorangie. Smuggled in from some country by men Jeet had never met, nor wanted to, but who could be trusted to deliver.

‘They are my blood,’ said Jeet. ‘They are my cousins, my uncles, my teachers. I am what I am because of them, damn it. My hand shakes when I hold Gandu and think that I may have to use him to kill Yash Bauji or BK Bauji. Aiming Gandu at them? Forget my hand trembling, Gandu will not fire. He knows them. It was BK Bauji who presented him to me, taught me to use him. It cannot be, I can’t.’

Kishenbhai was silent. He took a sip of the Glenmorangie and watched Jeet, waiting for him to say more.

Beyond the apartments obsessed with ironing, the Arabian Sea shimmered dimly. In three hours, people would begin to get killed. ‘I don’t know anything any more, Kishenbhai,’ he said. ‘I just, I just feel…you know, fucked up.’

Kishenbhai waited.

‘What will we gain from this war? Yes, we’ll gain control of Mumbai, but who the fuck cares? This slut of a city. Is she worth killing people in whose laps you have sat, you have shat on them, these are people who have taught you everything you know? You think the control of Mumbai will give me any pleasure? A keep you have for life. Yes, I spent eleven years in hiding. Yes, it was weird and tough. And it was much much tougher on Rishabh. But, Kishenbhai, all I want is Jahn and me in some small house in some town by a river. I just want to hear the sound of fucking water flowing and Jahn by me. And I know that Abhi will get drawn into this too. He is just sixteen, for God’s sake. Rahul is blinded by greed. Let him have the whore. We can still call a truce.’

Jeet sat down in a sofa. He tossed Gandu onto the table and lit a cigarette. ‘Don’t just sit there, looking superior,’ he said. ‘Speak.’

Kishenbhai smiled. ‘Lost your balls on the way, is it?’ he said. ‘A sex change? My friend, you are the most fearsome fucker in the whole of this god-forsaken city, and you are sniveling like a woman? Cut the bullshit, the action starts very soon.’

‘Karl, I believe, is the most fearsome fucker in this city,’ said Jeet. ‘He is better than me.’

‘We shall know soon enough,’ said Kishenbhai.

Jeet stubbed out the cigarette even though he had taken only four puffs. He ran his hands through his thick straight hair, a touch of grey now in it, and was silent for a minute. Then he said: ‘Yash Bauji or BK Bauji are like gods to me. I would rather spend the rest of my life begging on the streets of Mumbai than…And even Rahul and Ranjit, maybe I kill them. Then what? They are my cousins. It’s the same blood that flows in our veins, Kishenbhai.’

‘Well, technically not so,’ said Kishenbhai, ‘but we will let that be. I understand the sentiment.’

Jeet’s glass was empty. As he carried it to the bar, he said softly: ‘Kishenbhai, I am not going to fight.’

Kishenbhai watched Jeet pour. Then he spoke, and his voice was lazy. ‘You grieve for people for whom no grief is due,’ he said. ‘Why grieve? Either for the dead or the living? No point at all. We are here today, we were here yesterday, we will be here tomorrow. There was never a time when we were not around. Even they were around. I am Kishen Yadav now, I’ll have some other name later, but I will live on. You’re Jeet now. You’ll be killed tomorrow, or die of old age, you think that’s the end? All this shit—cold and heat, pain and happiness, they come and go; they’re not permanent. One just has to bear with them. Fuck them. We have to be what we truly are.’

The sweet darkness of the rum hit Jeet’s head and he felt the fatigue that had been stalking him for hours suddenly grip him by his shoulders. He wanted to go to Jahn, and hold her sleeping body, or just watch over her. Watch her sleep. Hear her deep even breathing.

‘You are a warrior, that is your dharma, the right and natural path and way of life for you,’ said Kishenbhai, his eyes hooded, studying the ice cubes in his glass. ‘You were born and you are going to die. That’s the writing on the wall. Then you get born again and take a look at the wall, and it’s still the same message out there. Who knows where’s the beginning, where’s the end? What we see are the intervening formations. Do your stuff, get the fuck out. Your duty.’

‘And that being?’ asked Jeet.

‘Warrior,’ said Kishenbhai, straightening up and looking Jeet in the eye, his tone suddenly cold and flat. ‘Nothing can be more welcome to a warrior than a righteous war. Don’t bloody waver in your resolve now. This is what soldiers’ lives lead up to, an opportunity to justify themselves, what they are. Refuse to fight, and you will be a traitor, men will talk forever of your disgrace. I know you, Jeet. Do you want people to think of you as a coward, as a man they trusted and who chickened out at the moment when he should have led them to the biggest war of his life? All your people will think of you as despicable, all those people who are willing to die for you right now. And just think of what your enemies will say. They’ll laugh at you. They’ll sms jokes about you. “What’s the difference between a chicken and Jeet? Answer: A chicken has guts.”’

Jeet thought of Rahul and Ranjit. They had played together as children. They had fired their guns together. How did it all come to this?

Stupid question. It had been Rahul’s hunger for power, Ranjit’s avarice, Shankar Paaji’s blindness, Yash Bauji’s dharma. And Karl was a different issue altogether. There was no way both he and Karl would come out of this war alive. One of the two would have to die at the other’s hand. Which one?

‘OK, you get killed,’ said Kishenbhai. ‘So? It’s perfectly fine as long as you, as a warrior, have given it your all. If you stay alive and win, you will be free to do whatever you want. Forget all this doubtful intellectual stuff. Go fight. Pleasure and pain, victory and defeat—you’ve seen them all, so you should know that they come and go. So look at them with an equal eye. Simple.’ Kishenbhai finished off his Glenmorangie and walked purposefully to the bar.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Jahn wanted the war.

‘Now listen, brother, and I will explain the fucking philosophy of action,’ Kishenbhai said, as he poured himself a stiff one and rummaged inside the ice-bucket with the tongs. ‘Stay focused. If we allow the mind to stray, it can take you into all sorts of unrelated detours. That’s a waste of time and mind. Focus on the target. And I don’t have to tell you how to do that.’

Jeet had a vague recollection of being told somewhat the same thing by BK when he was being sent on his first mission some hundred years ago. Focus.

Kishenbhai returned to his sofa, jiggling the ice cubes in his glass. Jeet had lit one more cigarette, though he didn’t want to smoke, really. My mind is straying, he thought. Because I am suddenly inside that crazy grotto in Capri, the entry to the cave so low that you had to lie down in the boat as it made its way in, and the unearthly iridescence of the water inside, and Abhi squealing in wonder and joy, and the boatman starting to sing, and all the echoes from the walls all around chasing their own tails…what I had felt there, was that what could be called pure happiness? Was happiness actually all about a safe place to hide in? In a way, my entire life has been about being on the run, looking for a safe place. Never fucking found it, though glimpsed it a few times, passing by at blink speed. Bloody mirages. Hang on, you can’t afford to get drunk, not tonight. Press rewind. The here and fucking now.

Jahn entered the room. Her face was puffy from sleep, but nothing could ever erode the curious glint in her eyes. Her hair extended almost to her waist, and in her short nightdress, Jeet could have almost believed she was still a teenager. She didn’t notice Kishenbhai initially and said: ‘Jeet, throw that drink away and come to bed. It’s almost morning.’

‘Darling mine,’ said Kishenbhai.

He meant it. Kishenbhai and Jahn shared a bond that Jeet knew he would never be able to fully understand. Jahn always knew what to cook for Kishenbhai. And Kishenbhai instinctively sensed her slightest desire and fulfilled it even before she had articulated it properly in her own mind. He had saved her, when Rishabh, Vikram and Jeet had been helpless.

‘Kishenbhai!’ said Jahn and sat down next to him. ‘Is he drinking too much?’

‘Not so much that his aim wavers in the morning,’ said Kishenbhai. ‘I am here to see to that.’

‘We are having a deep discussion,’ said Jeet.

‘Oh, I like deep discussions,’ said Jahn. ‘I have participated in several.’

‘Jeet is having problems with what he has to do,’ said Kishenbhai.

Jahn’s eyes flashed, and for a fleeting instant Jeet saw that murderous deity—the thing that he knew resided inside her—in all its feral horror. ‘Problems, Jeet? After what they did to us? After what they did to me? I have not oiled or tied my hair for eleven years now. And you have problems?’

Jeet was looking down at the floor at she strode up to him. He felt her hand under his jaw, roughly thrusting his face up. ‘Look at me, Jeet,’ he heard the deity hiss, and he looked into her eyes and saw the fathomless cruelty. ‘You know exactly what you have to do, don’t you, Jeet?’ Her lips were slightly parted, and memories of the wetness of her tongue flooded his head. ‘You have to go out and kill them all.’

He felt that strange chill in his heart. He felt that familiar warmth rise in his loins.

‘Each and every fucking one of them,’ she said.


‘You cannot humiliate people forever and expect them to be quiet’

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Sri Lanka had a chance to heal itself, but that opportunity was not seized, says Frances Harrison in an interview
Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War | Frances Harrison | Portobello | 259 pages | Rs 399

Frances Harrison’s Still Counting the Dead is a shocking account of how tens of thousands of Sri Lanka’s Tamil civilians were killed in cold blood over five months in 2009 during its army’s final battle with the LTTE. As Sri Lankan forces pounded its bastions in the northeast, the world looked away, allowing the Sri Lankan Government to use brutal military force. While a UN panel later found that at least 40,000 people had perished in that war, the world’s attention, as Harrison mentions in the book, was focused on Israel’s incursion into Gaza, where the final death toll was about 1,500. Harrison was the BBC’s correspondent in Sri Lanka till 2004, and has travelled across the world to speak to survivors and workers of humanitarian agencies to gather material for her book.

Q You were not present in person during the five months of the brutal final war in Sri Lanka. How difficult was it then to piece this story together?

A If I hadn’t lived for four years in Sri Lanka and travelled a lot to the Vanni, it would have been impossible to write this book. Luckily I was there at a time when the LTTE areas opened up and as a BBC correspondent I had more access to rebel areas than my predecessors or successors. Of course I watched the final phase of the war from afar, but I knew people who were there and afterwards discovered some of them alive again. I did a lot of desk research going through all the statements and media reports first and then started tracking survivors down. I also watched all the videos I could find—and there are hundreds on YouTube, many of them extremely distressing—to get a sense of the look of the places I was describing while they were under bombardment.

Q From your book, I got the impression that the United Nations had become a silent party to the Tamilian genocide, the way it let the Sri Lankan Government bully it into silence. Do you agree with the assessment that the UN did not do enough to save lives?

A Clearly, the UN was not the one with its finger on the trigger, but it did not shout loud enough about the information it had at the time. Charles Petrie’s report documents how senior UN Staff suppressed vital casualty information and firsthand war crimes testimonies gathered from its own employees. In my opinion, that is unforgivable. Had that knowledge been made public— or even shared privately with diplomats— perhaps, just perhaps, the outcome would have been different. Of course, in Syria we have a pretty good idea what is going on and there is still no intervention, but in Sri Lanka the UN skewed the information flow from a war zone that was off limits to outsiders. Long term, the UN’s wilful bias set the tone for all reporting on the war by assuming the ‘terrorists’ must be doing all the bad things—even though information from the ground showed the majority of killings were perpetrated by the government side.

Q Do you think it has the potential of becoming a dangerous trend, the way some countries with ethnic problems are looking at the ‘Sri Lankan model’?

A Yes, if there is no visible price to pay for slaughtering tens of thousands of your own people, other governments might want to follow suit. The UN Panel of Experts report says this final battle poses a grave threat to the entire regime of international law on war. That’s a pretty serious charge from some very credible people.

Q The way the Sri Lankan Government has been changing the entire landscape of the northern and eastern territories, do you see any future for the Tamilian population in that country?

A It looks bleak. If there is no Tamil- dominated geographic area left, then the concept of a Tamil homeland obviously becomes more complicated in practice.

Q Do you think India failed to respond adequately to the brutality unleashed upon Sri Lanka’s Tamils?

A When you talk to Mullivaikkal survivors, they don’t specifically blame only India for not intervening. I think they knew Delhi was backing the Colombo government because of the rift with the LTTE, caused primarily by the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. What everyone says is that they thought the international community would come to save them. Today, they are bitterly disappointed that they were left to die in the thousands on those beaches. What’s surprising to me is Indian Tamils aren’t more concerned and better informed about what happened. I get messages from Indian Tamils thanking me and saying they simply didn’t realise how dreadful it was in 2009. A Sri Lankan Tamil in the UK wrote to me this week saying he’s going to buy 50 copies of the Tamil edition of Still Counting the Dead and donate them to libraries in Tamil Nadu so people can read it and understand. There are so many Mullivaikkal survivors living in Tamil Nadu, but I don’t see many stories about them in the local press even though each and every one has an incredible tale of war and escape. Instead, they tell me they are questioned and watched and live in fear of being returned home, unable to travel easily outside the state or regularise their status once their visas or passports expire, to restart their broken lives. Changing Central government policy is one thing, but at a state level and an individual level, these people could do with a bit more compassion and help.

Many in India believe that the biggest mistake the LTTE’s Prabhakaran ever committed was to order the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Otherwise, they say, India would have never allowed Sri Lanka to do what it did during the war.

Alienating the Indian Government by assassinating a Prime Minister is widely recognised as a major blunder on the part of the LTTE. If this hadn’t happened, it is hard to speculate what the relationship between the LTTE and the Government of India would have been—there may have been other reasons to fall out. And, of course, the need to counter Chinese backing for Colombo is also a factor, as is proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist group internationally. The whole outcome of the war could have been different, but there are so many variables that it’s hard to say. But now [that] there is no LTTE, there is no reason for India not to play a greater role in protecting the rights of Tamil civilians. Pushing for accountability and justice is essential for a sustainable future and India could take the lead, but it doesn’t. Any country could table the 2011 UN Panel of Experts report for discussion at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Q Do you see any chances of any kind of resurgence of Tamil sub-nationalism or revival of the LTTE?

A You cannot humiliate and intimidate people forever— even if they are militarily defeated—and expect them to be quiet. There is no physical security for Tamil civilians, no recognition of their unprecedented suffering in 2009, not even any space to mourn the dead. I just talked to someone I know who told me how his aunt and cousin were raped by soldiers in Kilinochchi this year— that was after his parents had disappeared in 2009. I couldn’t imagine a second tragedy could be visited upon his family again so soon. Priests tell me about persistent sexual abuse by soldiers in the villages of the Vanni of former LTTE female cadres. You know very well the huge stigma in Tamil society surrounding rape—but the stories are still trickling out and I am hearing more and more of them. They are probably the tip of the iceberg.

Nearly four years on, all those countries who supported or turned a blind eye to the elimination of the LTTE are also embarrassed by the lack of political progress and the nepotism, corruption and concentration of power in the hands of one family. There appears to be no interest among the ruling clique in addressing the root causes of the conflict. That is very shortsighted. The problem has not been resolved and will surely resurface in some shape or form in future. There was perhaps a window of opportunity in 2009 to address the root causes of decades of suffering, but it is now firmly shut.

Life & Letters

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Malls in India offer expats a disturbing comfort of familiarity

Malls in India offer expats a disturbing comfort of familiarity

I vaguely remember a Disney cartoon I used to watch in early childhood called Crazy from the Heat, where Donald Duck and Goofy get lost in the desert after their car breaks down. (Why a duck and a dog might be driving in the Sahara Desert is not a question I will address here.) Stoned by the sun, our anthropomorphic heroes encounter a detail-infused mirage called the Oasis Soda Fountain at which the thirst-maddened Goofy consumes several illusory root beers before being forced to clean dishes at knifepoint by an ominous-looking Arab stereotype. In the world of this cartoon, of course, none of this exists. Not the pleasure of the root beer. Not the threat of xenophobia. These things are just representations of Goofy’s primary emotions at that moment—fear and desire.

The closest thing I have ever had to my own Oasis Soda Fountain is the Oberoi Mall in Mumbai. The Oberoi, situated in the Goregaon East neighbourhood on the southeast corner of where Film City road meets a flyover (and conveniently tucked right next door to my current flat), is a simultaneously beautiful and horrible mirage— a purified monument to capitalist escapism. If I’m fed up with being an expat, a writer, or simply being shaken down by taxiwalas, I can always count on the Oberoi’s cool, synthetic interior to erase my mind, and suck me into its delightful mind-melting core.

If you have never visited the Oberoi, it could best be described as a large air-conditioned cube of glass. Inside this cube, you will find four floors of shops, the top of which boasts a somewhat undisciplined looking food court, a thali place, an Indo-Chinese place, a movie theatre, a bookstore (where I will likely purchase this issue of Open upon its publication), and a Pizza Hut that inexplicably purports itself to be a legitimate dine-in Italian restaurant. In short, every big city neighbourhood in India has something similar today— but this one is mine.

When I first moved to this country and lived in the chaotic Delhi suburb of Haryana’s Gurgaon, the MGF mall (the cleaner one of two malls that straddle the MG Road Metro stop) served a similar purpose. I would feel homesick at Thanksgiving or Christmas, check in to the MGF, buy tickets to the most inane Hollywood blockbuster I could find, perhaps something directed by Michael Bay, suck a soda, and then ride the Yellow Line back to the Guru Dronacharya stop, thoughtless and amused.

Malls are carefully designed to be this seductive. And in almost every meaningful way, I ought to represent the last line of defence against their very existence. Politically and spiritually, they offend me greatly. When

Starbucks opened at the Oberoi Mall a few months ago, and lines stretched around the corner, I felt like I ought to somehow vomit sheets of blood across the floor in order to scare people away from it. For one thing, Starbucks is reportedly paying its Indian employees very small wages. For another, its coffee tastes like liquid cardboard. But now that the lines have subsided, and Starbucks is no more special than McDonald’s, I have my precious Oberoi back. I still don’t buy coffee there, but I don’t have to. Like everything else in the mall, I see its neon logo and feel comfortably numb.

The late French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard said of shopping malls that they synthesise “all consumer activities, not least of which are shopping, flirting with objects, idle wandering, and all the permutations of these”.

As I am a frugal person, and detest spending money on things that will not get me drunk, only flirting with objects and idle wandering should appeal to me in this case. But it doesn’t seem like enough to explain my fixation with the Oberoi. And while I occasionally went to malls in America (the Roosevelt Field Mall in Long Island near where I grew up comes to mind, as does the Coralville Mall in Iowa where I did my Masters), it is here in India that I noticed these places forming an integral part of my perverse psyche.

The reason for that is twofold: 1) I miss my home country, and 2) I take pleasure in watching future Indian history unfolding in real time. (Even if that future history strikes me as a distinctly bad one.)

As depressing as this might sound to you, a shopping mall is the closest approximation to my own country as I can find on foreign soil. Like the many Indians who congregate around stores called ‘Subzi Mandi Cash n’ Carry’ in Edison, New Jersey, thrusting bags of Parle-G biscuits into the air like small trophies, I too desire a material connection to my place of origin. And what could be more American than sipping a Coke through a red-and-white straw while staring at a poster of some starlet’s airbrushed cleavage? The answer, sadly, is not very much.

The first indoor shopping mall was probably created in Cleveland, Ohio, and the entire mall ‘culture’ (if we can use that word in this context with any degree of seriousness) was arguably created in every American suburb from Orange County, California, to Vienna, Virginia. It used to be that that culture was met face to face with an equally powerful, antagonistic, American subculture of serious-minded artists and thinkers, but through the years, I worry more and more that that battle has been lost. It’s not that an alternative to multiplex, fast food ‘culture’ doesn’t exist in America, it’s just that it no longer offers any real hope of supplanting its rival. Maybe one day, America will simply extend a dome over itself, pump in some air-conditioning, and call it a night.

But regarding India: a lot has been made in the last decade of India’s burgeoning middle-class, and nowhere is it more apparent than in its popular shopping malls. The first time I waited behind two aunties paralysed at the foot of a moving escalator, I was sure that these good sisters had mistakenly taken too much bhang. But upon further examination, I realised that these women had never seen an escalator before in their lives. Now I’m accustomed to witnessing this same occurrence at least once every other week. Someone, having never experienced an escalator, stands at the foot of it, stares down its forbidding slope, paralysed with terror, and doesn’t know what to do. As a person who grew up riding escalators shortly after I could crawl, the effect the sight has on me is always both heartwarming and surreal.

But as an American who is highly critical of my own country’s failures, I can’t help but be saddened as I wonder where that escalator really leads India. A friend of mine from New York recently visited me here, and although I’m pretty sure he was mostly charmed by his stay, he still vocalised the truism that my brain softly repeats to itself every day, “Every place in the world is the same now, anyway”, shortly after visiting the Oberoi Mall.

India adds its distinct touches to the American capitalist experience, of course. The fast food chaat stalls are proof of that, as are the plastic Diwali lamps that are brought out front in early November. The life-size Shah Rukh Khan watch ads claim a completely independent dependence on the lives of celebrities, and the ice-cream stands are built to replicate the unique experience of Mumbai street vendors, while providing a decreased risk of catching amoebiasis. But in the end, these things are only a commodification of human life in this country. And life as a commodity, as with Goofy’s mirage, does not technically exist. It’s simply a representation of our desire for a break from the hurdles of daily life, and our awe-inspiring fear of a thing bigger and more powerful than us—money.

Even as I write these pessimistic words, I am already planning my next visit to the Oberoi Mall. I can’t help it. I’ll be there tomorrow, if not sooner, allowing its inherent numbness to wash over me like gentle rainwater. So, if you ever go shopping in Goregaon East, and you see a firang wearing big glasses, drifting aimlessly down an escalator, sipping a soda, or perhaps even editing a story while eating dahi puri, feel free to tap me on the shoulder to say ‘hello’.

Just don’t expect me to wake up.

Gangs of India

Melodies out of Thin Air

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Through practice and oral gymnastics, some Indians have elevated whistling to an art form

Like most Gujaratis born in Madras, 65-year-old Jagat Tarkas runs a business in an old part of the city. Tarkas owns the Bombay Sports and Trophies shop in Triplicane. He delights in analogies that draw from cricket. He looks like the neighbourhood uncle who walks in the park in the mornings, listens to Kishore Kumar songs in the evenings, and can be prevailed upon to sing a Mohammed Rafi hit or two at celebratory gatherings. You don’t expect him to peel off his pin-striped shirt to reveal a lemon yellow T-shirt that says ‘Licensed Whistler’ on the front and ‘Whistle your worries away’ on the back. (Watch Video)

When I met him six years ago, he was running the Chennai chapter of the Indian Whistlers’ Association (IWA). This was a group of ten people, including 10-year- old Puja. He had emailed the radio station I worked for, asking for coverage of a whistling event he was organising in the city. Now the IWA has more than 400 registered members, most of whom are in Chennai. They have organised several whistling conventions in the city, at one of which they even set a Limca Book record.

Jagat’s association with the IWA began when he stumbled upon a website with yellow font on a purple background, run by Rigveda Deshpandey, a man who styled himself as ‘The Maverick Whistler’. Jagat called him up, and asked how he could become a member.

“He told me to audition on the phone, but I said, ‘It won’t come out properly, I’ll come to Pune and meet you’,” Jagat says, “I found there were only three fellows in [the IWA], two from Pune and one from Lonavla, and they would meet once in six months, whistle for some time and disperse. They were in touch only on mail.”

Jagat decided they should stage a show. He roped in a 19-year-old neighbour, Kruti Shah, and got the others to make the journey to Chennai. He emailed the media. On 18 June 2006, nearly 500 people turned up to watch five people whistle tunes of old Hindi songs, with an 8-year- old drummer providing background music.

“In that very programme, we found Puja,” recalls Jagat, “I told the audience I’d give them five minutes to perform. One man came and did something that didn’t sound like whistling. Then Puja came up and started crying. She was shy, her father had made her go up on stage. But when she could finally whistle, it was so effortless. That was a real find.” The story sets the eight people at the IWA meeting I’ve walked into reminiscing about their families’ attitude to whistling.

“In the South, especially, whistling is considered a Romeo act,” says Arunkumar, “Superstitious people say ‘It’s unlucky, you’ll blow your wealth away’. I remember, when I was about 17, my father heard me and was furious, and I wasn’t given food the entire day.” He pauses. “It was a beautiful song. Kahin Deep Jale from Bees Saal Baad. Later, my daughter would tell my wife to ask that ‘milk cooker’, meaning me, to stop. But when I joined the IWA, they realised it’s music. Raag is there, shruti is there, taal is there, bhaav is there, it’s not just this...” he says, as he demonstrates a wolf whistle. “Then my daughter got interested, and started performing in her college. They used to call her ‘Whistle Bhavani’.”

The association takes its whistling seriously. It collects annual fees from all members. Those who can’t afford Rs 1,800 a year are allowed to pay in instalments, or have others chipping in, as is the case of a sign painter they are keen to have as a member.

They meet once a month, after settling on a theme— rain songs, dance numbers, songs about flowers and so on—and search for ‘minus one’ tracks (instrumental versions of songs). They even hold contests. Things got easier once MR Subramaniam, a bearded man who organises light-music concerts, joined the club. He finds karaoke tracks, gets equipment for meetings (a microphone and amplifier), and helps invite judges for contests. “We call external judges: singers, keyboard players, flautists, someone with a sense of music,” Subramaniam says. “There are two categories for the monthly contest— Inspiring and Aspiring—with separate prizes.” They audition prospective members and train them.

“There’s a lot to keep in mind,” says Subramaniam, “Where to start, how to follow the beat, how to stop and fade in with the music, where to bring in emotions, how much to give the mike.” Most people end up contorting their faces and swinging their heads away from the mike, like Carnatic singers often do. “If they need to express themselves like that, we teach them mike management: how to press it against your cheek, like this”—he demonstrates—“ and move your hand in sync with your head.”

Says Jagat, “The problem is, most people want an immediate platform to perform. But we can only do two-three shows a year. Each costs us about a lakh [rupees]. And only 10-12 people can whistle at each. So of every ten new people who land up, only one remains. It’s all aaya Ram, gaya Ram. Like our Indian batting.”

Sitting among seven men is the pleasant-faced, husky-voiced Chaitanya, a doctor-turned-designer whose husband found an article on the IWA and asked her to audition. “We were told whether we’re good, whether we had potential, how we could improve,” she says, “And we’re given a lot of training before shows.”

Subramaniam, who’s eager to demonstrate his repertoire and says he can both sing and whistle in male and female pitches, handles the training. “Like an artist records a vision and translates it into a painting, we need to listen to songs and translate them into whistles. It’s difficult to take in something if you don’t understand it. Chaitanya doesn’t speak Tamil. So some of us explain the song, and tell her what the mood of the whistle should be.”

The association is especially proud of its women whistlers. “I’ll tell you why women are so good,” Jagat says, “Most men are addicted to something—cigarettes, Pan Parag, beeda, alcohol. And they don’t walk, cook, do yoga, or any household work. They just sit in offices all day, and are out of exercise. Third, most men are lazier than women; they won’t bother practising, but when a woman takes up something, she gives it her best.”

“A lot of girls also learn music,” adds Srikanth, a quiet man who would listen in on his sisters’ music lessons and implement their singing technique in his whistling.

“In fact, one girl came to me to learn whistling,” Arun- kumar cuts in, “We had a programme in our apartments, and I whistled Mere Sapnon ki Rani. The next day, someone came with betelnuts and money on a tray, like you do for your gurus, and said, ‘Can you kindly teach my daughter to whistle?’ My wife told me to put a board outside, saying ‘Whistling teacher’. More betelnuts would come.”

Chaitanya, however, detects a prejudice against women whistlers. “It’s a good draw, because people are curious whether women can really whistle. But, you know, whistling is seen as taboo in Indian society anyway, and only tolerated as a boys-will-be-boys thing.”

“Once,” says Jagat with a grin, “One of our girls was whistling, and someone asked, ‘Ghar mein baap-bhai nahin hai, kya?’ She replied, ‘Hai na, unn hi ne sikhaya hai’.”

As the others clutch their stomachs, Arunkumar tells us how Whistle Bhavani’s matrimonial match was arranged. When it was time for the bride to sing for the prospective in-laws, the groom’s family asked her to whistle instead. “For her wedding kutcheri, we’re all performing. Two hours of Carnatic whistling.”

They’ve even whistled at temples, says Subramaniam, whose garb indicates he’s about to make a journey to Sabarimala. “We’ve done a whistling programme at Koothanoor Saraswathi temple. During Ayudha Puja, people like MS Subbulakshmi used to sing there. And we perform every Tamil New Year’s Day, 14 April, at a Durgalak- shmi temple.” “It’s an art,” Arunkumar says, again.

“And it’s a science,” adds Jagat, “It’s good for the lungs, for the brain, and it makes you happy. We look after our throats. Some people take ayurvedic medicine, some people drink water or chew cloves during performances. We look at ways to improve. See, I myself couldn’t whistle tunes in the beginning. When I decided to try, I started with flatter songs, without too much up and down, you know... like Jalte Hain Jiske Liye. Or in Tamil, Kanne Kalaimaane, Neeyum Bommai Naanum Bommai. The emotion is intense, but tuning not much. Next, I tried slightly tougher ones like Yeh Shaam Mastani. The next step is Naal Podhuma, Oru Naal Podhuma [a song sung by Balamuralikrishna for the 1960s Tamil film Thiruvilayaadal].”

Can whistling be taught? “It can be fine-tuned,” says Jagat, “That’s our job. We see if you have potential, then we work on technique. We can coach. See, a team coach needn’t be a Test player.”

He asks me to try, and I whistle the first few bars of Yeh Shaam Mastani. The whistlers look at me, heads cocked, eyebrows knitted in frowns of concentration.

“You’re not new to whistling,” says Jagat. “You’re not throwing words into it. Some people will do this...” At this, he whistles a broken version of Dhoom Machaale. “You can hear them draw in breaths between words. You’re carrying a melody. But the whistling isn’t in sync with the emotion and nuances of the tune. Initially, play the song and perform with the song. Is Kishore Kumar saying ‘mastani’, ‘mas-ah-tani’, ‘mas-u-tani’, or ‘mas-i-tani’? You should bring that inflection in. Don’t go by lyrics alone. When he’s singing ‘ooo-ooo-ooo-oo-ooo’, see how many climbs there are. Once you sync with that, bring in emotion. You should sound like the evening is happy, breezy, fun. There’s a Tamil song, Ponaal Pogattum Poda. It means, ‘If it’s gone, let it go.’ You need to sound like you don’t care, you’ve given up. If there’s a question, like ‘Baat jab main karoon, mujhe rok deti hai kyon?’—he’s asking, ‘Why are you stopping me?’—your whistling has to show that.”

The association doesn’t restrict itself to ‘pucker whistling’, as what we usually do is called. It has teeth whistlers, roof whistlers, warble whistlers and other types. Sathyanarayana is a finger-whistler; Jagat’s nephew Abhishek can render an entire song drawing whistles inward and breathing out.

“One of our whistlers went to the Anu Malik show, Entertainment ke liye Kuchh bhi Karega. He whistled through his teeth, and Anu Malik said, ‘I think you’re playing something somewhere. You’re not moving your mouth. Demonstrate again.’ And he said, ‘I’m teeth whistling. And I can also do this while miming something.’ And he did the same thing, while pretending to shave,” says Jagat with a laugh.

IWA members have been to other reality shows too, apart from many whistling conventions. “It’s hard to compete with international whistlers for stamina, but no one has the melody we have [in India].”

“In China, we did a skit by whistling. It was a Bollywood type love story. A boy and girl fall in love, and we whistle a romantic song. The parents don’t accept it, so we do an angry song. Then, the girl and boy do a hartaal, so we do both angry and mournful songs. Finally, everyone comes to terms with it, so we do a group song.” That got them third prize and an article in a Chinese newspaper that none of them can read but each has kept.

Their big dream is to organise a televised whistling contest along the lines of Indian Idol. Jagat is absolutely determined to see it materialise. But for now, his pet project is convincing the Chennai Super Kings to let them whistle the team’s anthem, ‘Whistle Podu’, at IPL matches in Chepauk.

Open Space

Gangs of India

Open Space

A Rejection Letter

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