#JeSuisCharlie? Foutre le Camp!

I see on Facebook today that Charlie Hebdo is still trending, and an email informs me that the asinine hashtag ‪#‎JeSuisCharlie‬, started soon after the Paris attack, is still raging on the interwebs.

Well, I *am* furious about the disgusting – and frankly idiotic – murderers, but this “Je suis Charlie” nonsense is taking pop activism too far. I am NOT Charlie Hebdo, thank you very much, and neither are most of you showing solidarity with the hashtag. European xenophobia – and I say this because most of my friends abroad live in the USA – is a beast quite unlike the hysterically blind, unself-aware American one: it is far more open and unapologetic. In a way, that’s often a better thing than the subtle poisoning of the subconscious, but it is still not a good thing. And much of this xenophobia is expressed culturally through satire.

Does that mean Charlie Hebdo’s staff deserved to be slaughtered? No. Litigated against, perhaps, but not violated physically, much less murdered. On the other hand, do they deserve to be universally applauded for ‘bravery’? I don’t think so. It’s easy to be part of the cultural majority of a land and claim to be an equal-opportunity satirist, but that is not how power works. And indeed, if googling serves me right, I believe France – which is trotting out it’s historical culture of appreciation of satire as a moral brownie point – once banned a magazine for satirising Charles de Gaulle [UPDATE: Facebook connections tell me the banned magazine was Charlie Hebdo’s earlier avatar. Fascinating.]. So much for historical equal-opportunity.

In summary, Hebdo had every right to print what they did, even if they didn’t have sterling taste or a clean social or political conscience. On the question of religious ‘offence': if you’re a deliberately uninformed Hindu, you’re free not to eat beef (or any animal protein), but you have no right to stop anyone else from consuming it. If you’re a devout, conservative Muslim, by all means never draw the prophet, but you have no right to attack or slaughter those that do (but of course, you could take them to court). If you’re a conservative, stupid Christian, stay away from the school curricula. Your ignorance is your choice, not society’s collective burden. Let things stand at that, and all shall be well.

Well, well-ish. It’s a pity that that is the best we can ask for at the moment.

The Dragon Nightmare: Porcelain Doll 2

AUTHOR BRIEF: Hemendra Kumar Roy was a very popular author of children’s and young adult fiction, not that there was much of a difference between the two at his time. Society was rather different then – India was still a colony, for a start – and therefore the flavour and style of Hemen Roy’s stories are rather different from what one might expect today. This is also what makes them particularly interesting, despite Roy’s somewhat bombastic and ethnocentric style.

Previous segments: Part 1, Part 2.1.

Part 2. The Porcelain Doll
The next morning at breakfast, Manik suddenly threw the newspaper down in front of Jayanta. “Look!” he exclaimed.
“What? New murder?” asked Jayanta, putting his teacup down.
“No, it’s an advert. A strange little advert. Listen to this: ‘Anathnath Sen, Chandranath Dutta and Niradchandra Basu have been murdered by person or persons unknown. These three gentlemen had come to Calcutta from Rangoon, accompanied by a fourth. The fourth man’s life is now in danger. The followers of Lao-Tzu are looking for him. If he wants to save himself, he should contact Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu immediately, at 40 Shyamakanta Basu Street’.”
“Manik, we have such fools”, said Jayanta, overcome. “We should have put an advert like that. This initiative should have been ours. I, too, knew there was a fourth man, and that his life was at risk, and that an advertisement in the newspaper is the quickest way to find him. But Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu have bested us at our game, Manik! We should quit this case right now, while we still have some semblance of respect left.”
“Come on, Joy”, said Manik soothingly, “don’t be so hard on yourself. Sometimes we make the first move, sometimes someone beats us to it. Let’s focus on the mystery instead. Look, the advert implies the followers of Lao-Tzu are the murderers. Who might these followers be?
” I suppose they must be Chinese”, muttered Jayanta, still distracted.
“But what connection might these Bengali gents have with Lao-Tzu’s Chinese followers?”
“Manik, you’re an even bigger ass than I am!” snapped Jayanta. “Niradbabu was a military accounts officer stationed in China – you told me this yourself! Apparently the other two murdered men were also stationed in China.”
“Ah!”, said Manik. “Now I see why the murderers leave the picture of a dragon behind! Like the cross is a symbol of Christianity, the half-moon a symbol of Islam and the lotus a symbol of Hinduism, the dragon is a symbol of China!”
“Well,” mused Jayanta, “it’s possible that the dragon here has other meanings hidden beneath…”

The rest of his words were swallowed by a furious stomping on the stairs, and the banging open of the room’s door. A panting Sunderbbau crashed into the room. “Lost! All’s lost!”, he exclaimed, collapsing onto a chair. “Jayanta, tea, tea for me! Curse this job! I’m parched like the desert’s parched – make it two cups, Jayanta, quick!”
Jayanta shouted an order for the tea.
A little calmer, Sunderbabu said, “That porcelain doll has been stolen.”
“What?” exclaimed Jayanta and Manik together. “Stolen? From the station?”
“Yes!”, said Sunderbabu, pounding his thigh. “And not just any thief. There was supernatural mixed in this, you mark my words.”
The two friends exchanged glances. “Let’s hear it all from the beginning, Sunderbabu”, said Jayanta.

“I had kept the doll on the desk in my bedroom”, said Sunderbabu. “I planned to examine it closely after dinner. My room is on the second-floor of the police station, as you know. Till about ten o’clock, I was in my office on the ground floor, sorting through the paperwork of a big robbery. It was after eleven when I finally retired to my room. The first thing I noticed when I opened the door was that the doll was missing. Just then, I heard a steady thudding sound moving towards the end of the verandah. I ran to the verandah, and there it was, a big ball of dark smoke! A shadowy figure emerged from that smoke with a whoosh! and disappeared skywards. Goodness! I nearly collapsed right there!”
“Damn the smoke and flying shadow,” said Jayanta, irritated, “I want to know what happened to the doll.”
“Lost. I told you, it was lost. Burly constables everywhere, me, the fearsome officer-in-charge, my family on the second-floor – normally, I would never have believed a thief could have reached my bedroom past them. But someone came in, stole the doll, and disappeared. I’m telling you, it’s either magic, or its supernatural stuff.”
“Hmm. This thief, he didn’t leave any signs behind?”
“Well, there were two signs, I suppose. One was a piece of paper with a dragon on it, but no numbers. The other sign is no more.”
“Well, it was raining last night, do you remember? There were wet footprints on the floor of my room. But they have dry and gone now.”
“Did you measure the footprints?”
“Uh, no. All that confusion and smoke and whatnot… it slipped my mind completely. But here’s something odd – there was one one foot-print. The right foot, actually. It’s almost as if the thief was playing hop-scotch in my room. Damned criminal!”

Jayanta sat back in his chair and let out a long, relieved sigh. “Sunderbabu”, he said, rubbing a pinch of snuff between his fingers, “we’ve finally found something concrete about your shadowy thief; he has just one leg.
“Heh, really? And how do you arrive at this ‘concrete’ fact?”
“Didn’t you say you heard a thudding sound before the thief flew away from the verandah?”
“Yes, so?”
“So the thudding sound was from a wooden leg. Your thief is lame, and wears a wooden leg for support.”
“Impossible!”, growled Sunderbabu. “Are you trying to say the thied thudded into the station, thudded up two floors, thudded down the corridor into my room, and none of the us at the station heard him even once? Come on! Do you think we stuff cotton in our ears at the station?”
Jayanta stood up and started pulling a shirt on top of his vest. “Tell you what, Sunderbabu. Manik and I were on our way to meet Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu before you arrived. Would you like to come along?”
“Those nutjobs?”, exclaimed Sunderbbau, amazed. “Why would you go to them? Those two should be locked away!”
“No, they shouldn’t”, said Jayanta calmly. “Besides, they know a great deal about this case. If you want to hear about them, come with us.”


Coming soon, The Dragon Nightmare 3: Lasso.

The Dragon Nightmare: The Porcelain Doll 1

AUTHOR BRIEF: Hemendra Kumar Roy was a very popular author for children’s and young adult fiction, not that there was much of a difference between the two at his time. Society was rather different then – India was still a colony, for a start – and therefore the flavour and style of Hemen Roy’s stories are rather different from what one might expect today. This is also what makes them particularly interesting, despite Roy’s somewhat bombastic style.The story so far: Ace detective Jayanta’s friend Manik witnesses a dark, shadowy figure flying away from his neighbour’s roof, moments after his neighbour is murdered. ThePart 1 here.

Part 2. The Porcelain Doll
‘There’s nothing supernatural about this matter, Sunderbabu’, said Jayanta briskly. ‘There might be such things as lost souls, but they don’t break into homes and steal.’

‘No, of course not’, said Sunderbabu hurriedly. ‘Of course not. But you’ll notice, whoever killed Niradbabu – and I’m not saying it was ghosts – didn’t actually steal anything. They merely tried to open a locked strongbox.’

Jayanta looked thoughtful. “And you say it was the same in the two previous cases?”

“Yes!” said Sunderbabu. “In each previous instance they managed to open the almirah and strongboxes, but didn’t actually take anything. Not money, not jewellery… nothing.”

“So clearly the murderers were looking for something else”, mused Jayanta. “There must be something else, otherwise nothing makes sense.”

Sunderbabu cleared his throat. “Well…there was something in the locked strongbox. Nothing important or valuable, just this silly little doll.” His hand dipped into his pocket and brought out a small porcelain figurine. An old Chinaman was sitting on a ram, looking quite satisfied with himself. The entire statute was about six inches high.

Jayanta plucked it out of Sunderbabu’s fist and peered at the design. “This is very old porcelain, and the craftsmanship is excellent. I’d say it probably comes from China’s more glorious times – a representation of the country’s rich artistic heritage. Sunderbabu, it might be news to you, but old Chinese porcelain is as rare and valuable as snakestone. That must’ve been why Niradbabu kept this ‘silly doll’ locked in a strongbox. Is this what the murderers were looking for?”
‘Could be’, said Jayanta, ‘but what about the other two victims? What were the murderers looking for in their homes? We haven’t found Chinese porcelain there.’

‘Lao Tzu!’, said Sunderbabu suddenly.

Jayanta and Manik stared at him.

‘Those two men!’, Sunderbabu exclaimed. ‘I knew I should have held onto them. Annoying twerps. I bet they know about the other two deaths. Hah!’

Jayanta brows crinkled. ‘What “two men”’?

‘Young upstarts’, snorted Sunderbabu. ‘Came along to the last crime scene, poking about and asking questions. I knew straightaway they were trouble. “Who are you?” I asked, “What d’you want?” They laughed and said they were looking for an adventure. Adventure! Imagine! Cheeky fools.
“How would like the prodding of a copper’s rule instead?” I asked, but they just laughed. “If the police prods us, we’ll prod right back. Prodding the police definitely counts as an adventure in our books!” Can you believe that? I was about to have these nuts thrown out when one of them saw this doll. “Lao Tzu!”, he shouted, “Look, Lao Tzu!”
Now, you know I don’t stand for that sort of tomfoolery, Jayanta. So I got right in their face and bellowed, “Get out! Get out of my sight right now!” My shouting voice is usually a force to be reckoned with, but these two were not fazed at all! They sauntered out, holding hands and laughing. Hoom!’

‘Did you get their names?’ asked Jayanta.

‘Bimal, Kumar… something like that.’

Manik sat up in his chair. ‘Bimal? Kumar? Sunderbabu, you don’t mean… could these be the famous adventurers Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu?’

Sunderbabu waved a dismissive hand in front of his face. ‘Who cares? I don’t. Adventurers indeed! What they are is a precious pair, just like the two of you. They spout gibberish just like you, and just like you, they’re barking mad. ‘Lao Tzu!’ Honestly! What does that even mean? Anyway, I’m off now. Lots to do’.

And so, with his mood apparently restored, Sunderbabu left.

Jayanta broke the silence first. ’I’ve heard of Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu too, Manik’, he said softly. ‘Amazingly strong, wonderfully smart, appearing when anything strange happens. If they’ve visited Niradbabu’s home, then something about his murder must have struck them as odd… which means they know more about it than we do.’

‘What about Lao Tzu though?’ asked Manik. ‘That’s what confounds me. What is it?’

‘Never heard it myself. Tell you what, let’s look it up in the encyclopaedia. Would you get the volume down?’

Manik not only got the encyclopaedia down, he started looking for mentions of Lao Tzu himself.

‘Here it is!’ he exclaimed after a few minutes. ‘Jayanta, listen to this! Lao Tzu is a person. He was a Chinese philosopher, born in 604 AD, and considered the founder of Taoism, an eastern religion.’

‘Hmm, so then the statue we saw must have been Lao Tzu’s’, Jayanta said almost to himself. ‘But what does a man living in China nearly three thousand years ago have to do with the death of a Bengali clerk in twentieth century Calcutta?’

Silence descended on the room.

“Newlyweds are Magic”

This past weekend has been a blur of illness and all-nighters. I’ve been assailed by asthma and spike in spondylitic pain, and we’ve both had to put in the daily 30 hours to meet deadlines and things.

Trawling zombielike through my Facebook timeline this afternoon, after a rocky, uncomfortable couple of hours of shut-eye, I came upon proof of happier times, when ‘pulling all-nighters’ meant loading the fridge with home-cooked goodies. Newly married, new in Bombay, living in one room in a guest-house and sharing one domestic washing-machine and one induction-base cooker with two whole floors of guests – man, those were the days. I remember, when I first posted about cooking through the night, a concerned friend asked, “But why the night-shift?” Before I could think of an answer, a worldly-wise wit piped: “Same reason why elevs make shoes at night. Newlyweds are magic!”

Here’s the post from FB. Enjoy the graphics :-|


After a night of peeling, chopping, dicing, coring, tossing, stirring, frying and juicing, we now have a wonderful assortment of reheatable food: one jar of excellent Bolognese sauce (made with mutton keema, tomatoes, fresh basil and dried oregano); a large bowl of pulao-daal; stir-fried korola and pumpkin (called tita-chhechki or teto back home); a spicy dry cauliflower curry; and lau-chingri (prawns with lauki — a light Bengali delicacy). Plus, fresh-squeezed musambi, apple and tomato juice. After achieving this incredibly marathon feat on ONE stove-top and ONE wok and ONE pressure cooker, we finally dined — at 7AM — on Maggi and one slice of leftover cheesecake. Now we’re going to crash, and be dead to the world till late afternoon. Call us, and I will personally darken your doorstep with a chainsaw.

Our Brave Dogs

Since the rains set in, we usually take our pups, Kaju and Shorshe, to the football field only on the days we give them a bath. They have a great romp in the gloriously green grass and puddles, cake themselves in mud from neck to toe, and generally have a stupendously good time. We wait till they’re exhausted, and then we bring them home and splash them straight into the bath.

This happened the first time we took them to the field. This season, the fields are besieged by a siege of herons, and we tried to get our brave little soldiers to run amok amongst them like television dogs, and watching the whole siege take off in a gorgeous fluttering of white. This is what actually happened.

An Eulogy to Canary

The Brazil team this last semi-final was a tattered version of it’s earlier self, and I had no great hopes of it. Earlier, despite it’s shaky performance, I had hoped the final might be Brazil vs. Argentina, with Neymar on one end and Messi on the other, but once Neymar went down, I lost all hope for Brazil.

Still, the twenty minutes of pummelling they received from the far better coordinated German team took my breath away. There’s losing, and there’s utter destruction and humiliation. For those vital minute (and also later in the game), Brazil seemed to have become detached, barely-animated zombies, more intent on ball-watching than ball-playing.

This is a brief summary of my Twitter feed during the match, published as I watch Argentina vs. Netherlands from the edge of my sofa.









Nosy Neighbour Tales

I found this lovely little anecdote on Reddit, to which I have recently become rather addicted (anything text-based usually has my obsessive adoration).

India is a land of nosy neighbours, but alas, they can seldom be manipulated like this:

This is a story which my father loves to tell about his grandfather, Ted, a man who “didn’t suffer fools gladly”. This took place some time around the 1960s.

Ted had an absolutely insufferable neighbour, Maureen, a woman who liked to peer out of her window, over the garden fence and into his kitchen. She did not do this secretly; she would often address Ted if they met in the street and make comments about what she had seen.

“Oh, Ted, you really should mend those pyjamas you were wearing yesterday evening. There’s a rip in the shirt and I saw right down it.”

“Oh, Ted, you weren’t depodding those beans correctly yesterday. I can teach you a much better method if you like.”

Tired of Maureen’s meddling and the lack of privacy he was suffering, Ted formed a plan. A few weeks later, he went hunting with his friend and came back with a brace of pheasants. Leaving his curtains wide open he began to pluck one, very tediously, very slowly, making a complete hash of it. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Maureen watching him. He could also see her frustration building.

The worse he plucked, the more frustrated she became, until she could take it no more. She stormed from her house and knocked on his kitchen door. When he let her in, she grabbed the pheasant and declared “THIS is how you do it properly!”. She plucked all of his pheasants for him and left with her nose in the air. He did this a few times over the coming weeks with different kitchen chores until she realised what he was doing and stopped altogether, never to meddle again.

“And that is how your Great Grandad turned obnoxiousness into free labour.”

If only, eh?


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