The Water Cooler
  • 9/11: Catharsis in prose

    USA and the world reeled in shock as two planes flew straight into the twin towers, destroying not just the twin symbols of success, but leaving tens of thousands of bereaved families in its wake and the nation and its economy reeling in the aftershocks of the attacks even today. As with any other incident of irrevocable loss, 9/11 saw itself becoming inspiration to artistes of all kinds. Writers particularly wove the attack into various narratives as a coping mechanism, something that has attracted its fair share of criticism.

    It wouldn't be amiss to state that no other event has inspired literary catharsis in recent history as 9/11 has. Some of the most noteworthy (not necessarily great) fiction in the last decade have used (arguably) the worst ever terror attack in the world's history as the backdrop, some to good effect, with others falling prey to ill-conceived or over-ambitious plot lines.

    Jonathan Safran Foer, praised and panned alike for his novel, Extremely Loud and

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  • A plane approaches New York's World Trade Center moments before it struck the tower at leftOn September 11, 2001 two airliners loaded with passengers, terrorists and gallons of combustible fuel slammed into twin skyscrapers in New York City, suddenly flinging Puttur in southwestern Karnataka back on the map. The next year in August, as a correspondent for an Indian-American newspaper published from New York, I boarded a dust-caked red state transport bus at Mangalore for this one-horse town. Washed clean by an unexpected shower, the creaky bucket of bolts grunted along the potholed highway past groves of arecanut palms and fulvous fields of ripening paddy. Halfway between Mangalore and Coorg, the balmy countryside made way first for ramshackle hamlets with ruddy tiled roofs and then a thoroughfare crammed with cheek-by-jowl storefronts and concrete houses topped by tacky painted billboards for hosiery, cattle-feed and fertilizer.

    A hujacked airliner makes straight for the World Trade Center even as one of the Twin Towers burnsSeptember 11

    "Puttur," the conductor announced as he flung open the squeaky metal door. Hoisting my haversack — stuffed with a point-and-shoot camera,

    Read More »from Even in death, Hemant Puttur gifted prosperity
  • Ten years ago I lived in Mumbai, a name still newly minted for a city I shall always cherish by its Portuguese sobriquet. I lived in Mahim, close to the eponymous creek where the many mouths of the sea osculated with the many rectums of the land. My sparsely furnished rented apartment was equidistant from the pealing bells of Sitladevi temple, St Michael's Church -- ever-brimful of prayer, and the Dargah of Baba Makhdoom Ali Mahimi, which came into its own during the annual Urs. It was only the pull of faith that redeemed Mahim from being just another of Mumbai's teeming trash bins. Any way that wretched sea breeze blew, it swept blessings into your face.

    I shared my tenement with a colleague, a Delhi-bred Tamil Brahmin whose staunch vegetarianism Bombay's gastronomic temptations in flesh and gristle had not succeeded in quelling. Our mostly Muslim neighbors assumed that I too was of similar dietary disposition. Ergo, I was offered nothing but smiles and adaabs on Eid.

    Except early one

    Read More »from When Eid got my goat
  • It's almost Independence Day. More importantly for us holiday-crazed city-slickers, the long weekend is here. Those of us who are staying behind have enough to do. We could join other mall-rats as they flock in pursuit of enormous discounts. Or we could head for the binge fests that are beckoning Salivation Armies to food courts, or maybe go bottoms up many happy hours before Dry Day. And for keepsakes there are perfunctory tricolors in eco-unfriendly plastic being hawked at traffic lights.

    In the midst of such distractions, the nation's Fourth Estate is hacking away. While edit meets are abuzz with reheated clichés, the usual talking heads are polishing the platitudes they will inflict upon us in their allotted column-centimeters. Doubtless, there will be renewed praise of Gandhis and Nehrus old and new. The Sangh Parivar, disgruntled as ever, will disagree by dunking history in a vat of hot saffron. Doordarshan, which has just about stopped airing a worn Meri desh ki dharti, will

    Read More »from The freedom fighters we forgot
  • The morning after we learned of Amy Winehouse's death my friend, an indie musician doggedly loyal to the legends, posted on Facebook: "Did Amy say to herself: %^$# it, I'm 27, I want to be a legend and OD?"

    The Forever 27 Club, a sort of modern-day Dead Poets Society that posthumously enfolds Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones and now, Winehouse, has been much fussed about. I'm tempted to imagine that my friend may be right, especially since Winehouse didn't have much going for herself in her last years. Then again, looking at the bright side (everything has one, doesn't it?), I'm relieved that it wasn't Britney Spears, who turns 30 in December, or Avril Lavigne — wait, she still has time.

    For better or for worse, the members of the 27 Club were falling stars in their own right. Joplin fell to heroin and Morrison to alcohol. Jones' rollicking career with the Rolling Stones began early but, going by Keith Richards' account of his sometime bandmate in his memoir Life,

    Read More »from Dead at 27: What’s the fuss?
  • Managing human-leopard conflict has to be recognized as an important priority

    Another brazen attack. Another fearsome mauling. Another leopard branded a man-eater pays for its crimes against humanity.

    You've read the news. Now, will you teach your kids to kill leopards on sight? Or will you join cause with the (seemingly hare-brained) minority and cry yourself hoarse to protect leopards from humans?

    Decide. We're out of time.

    I'm a wildlife enthusiast. I'm also a parent. And, like you, I have a ravenous appetite for bizarre news, especially horrible things that happen to other people. But I'm batting for leopards here. And before you hurl something at me, let me explain my stand.

    Leopards aren't exactly wild animals. A childhood conditioned by Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama has most of us believe that leopards are confined to forests. They are, in fact, the most cosmopolitan of large felids. Panthers, as they are also known in India, are very much at home in the jungle where prey is available in plenty but, being hardy opportunists, they will expand their

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