Road Stories: The Masala Magnate’s Miracle

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A long journey across northern India.

Lucknow, Pratapgarh, Banaras, Patna.

People flow in and out of the aisles of the train as if choreographed.

I share a smoke with a masala magnate from Calcutta.  He is actually Punjabi but his family moved to  Calcutta from the Lahore area over a century ago. He never goes back to Punjab.

I like Calcutta because it’s the cheapest and safest place in India. You have no riots, no gharbard. The loadshedding is tolerable–nothing like in Banaras.  The price of everything is cheap: living, food, transport.

He’s a real Calcutta booster. At one point he tells me,

Yes, the police are corrupt but at least a Bengali will do what he’s bribed to do.  You give him some money and your work is done. It’s the honesty I like.

He speaks in soft tones. He begins to tell me about how he used to drink like a madman. Always drunk. Always looking for a drink. He was, as he puts it, at the ‘last stage’.

He sought the help of a guru whose name is drowned out by the clacking of the rails as we whish through a dark Bihari village.

The guru freed my friend of his addiction.

He pulls out an amulet with a hand tinted image of his guru.

Whatever he says, has to happen, my companion tells me as he places the image back against his chest.

He relates more miraculous acts to a couple sitting next to him.

I climb up to the top bunk and fall asleep.

 

 

Road Stories: The Rickshaw Wala’s Parable

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Got across to Amritsar from Lahore in an Ambassador that stopped every 1/2 km due to ‘blockage’ in the fuel pump.

Shared the front seat with an angry Aussie. He was wired. Shouting at drunks. Pissed off at having to pay Rs 20 for the ride.  You have no idea how many  shows I’m missing  in London.

Not the kind of travelling companion I want. We parted at the railway station.

I was greeted by two rickshaw walas. One told me there was no way I’d get a berth on the Howrah Mail tonight.

I asked him if he was a ‘jent’,  what we call ‘fixers’ back in Pakistan.

Yes, he replied, but an honest one. I do what I say. 

Sensing some business he  quickly amended his statement.

If you pay a little chai pani I can get a sleeper berth for you.

So I paid Rs20 to the ticket clerk and Rs 40 to the rickshaw puller. Hardly an extravagance for the luxury of a berth. Rs 220 for 1879 kilometers!

After handing over the cash I asked them if there had been any bombings on the rails recently.   They  looked at me disappointedly.

This is written at the time of your birth. There is no changing it. Bombs or no bombs, when your number is up, its up.

The other broke into a parable.

There once was a man. A mad camel got into his field, so to escape the man jumped into a well. The camel sat outside the well and said to himself, “He’s got to come out one day. And when he does, I’ll bite him.”  The camel settled down to wait.

After some days a poisonous snake slithered by and bit the camel. In an instant  he was dead.

Eventually the man in the well crawled out to have a look. He saw the camel lying bloated in the sun, rotting. He triumphantly strode forward and gave the camel a kick. His leg sunk deep into the rotting flesh of the camel. His leg got infected and the man died.

So you see,  the rickshaw wala said. Even when we take precautions Fate tricks us.

With much encouragement, I set off for Calcutta.

 

 

 

 

 

Bury Me with This Record: Jagjit and Chitra Singh

Recalling the ultimate singing duo

Harmonium

hqdefault Chitra and Jagjit Singh

This album is a desert island disc. A record I would take on my flight to Saturn or want buried with me when I pass on.   Every track is a thing of beauty and grace.

What follows is a remembrance from my old blog on the occasion of Jagjit’s death nearly 5 years ago.

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I discovered Jagjit Singh’s music when I returned home to Allahabad for a brief visit in the winter of 1983. This was the beginning of the cassette revolution in Indian music. A revolution that shook up the music industry lock, stock and barrel and broke the iron grip of a handful of record companies who seemed to think there were only two types of music: classical and Bombay filmi songs.

I was amazed to find small shops on every corner of Allahabad’s posh Civil Lines district selling hundreds of cassette tapes…

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I write

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I write.

I write because I love playing with words.

I write because it gives me something to do.

I write because I am an introvert and I can express myself more clearly in writing than speaking.

I write for my living.

I write because there is so much to share and write about.

I write because I need to.

I write because its what I love to do.

I write because it makes me happy.

 

For most of my life I wrote when I could.

I wrote in fits and starts.

I wrote in lunch breaks.

I wrote before everyone was up and at breakfast.

I wrote on pieces of paper and lost them.

I wrote on floppy discs and lost them.

I wrote guiltily.

I wrote apologetically.

I wrote not as much as I wanted because there were all the other important things to be taken care of first: going to work, cooking dinner, rocking the babies to sleep.

 

Mainly going to work.

 

I was sad.

I knew I had to earn a living but why did I have to do all that tedious stuff? Even when I was working overseas (my entire career), an office is an office. Politics and dumb bosses and colleagues are pretty much the same all over the world.

Mind numbing chores –even for senior managers like me—were well, numbing chores.

 

I just wanted to write.

But everyone knew you can’t just write.

That’s AGAINST the RULES.

Unless, you want to starve.

Then go ahead and write.

 

Well, one day I couldn’t take it anymore.

I refused to extend my contract with a respectable employer.

I knew I might starve but what the hell.

I want to write.

 

So I checked out of Hotel California.

I decided I was not going to work for a Boss.

I was going to write.

I had a bunch of books still in me, all bumping into each other rushing to get out first.

 

But how do I make ends meet?

How do I pay the bills and buy toothpaste and put petrol in the car?

 

I became an entrepreneur.

I decided to open my own business.

From home.

With my wife. (She also hates working in offices)

 

We work 15-20 hours a week running our business.

The rest of the time I write (and do chores!)

I write two columns for a newspaper.

I write my blogs (have about 5 of them)

My second novel is coming out this year.

I’m researching and planning out the structure of a non-fiction book that’s to be published in 2017.

With legitimate publishers who pay advances.

 

So if you’re wondering how you can get off the rat race and stop putting your writing on the back burner (yet again).

If you’d like to work from home part time and still hang out with the family. And write.

 

Then here’s the secret I tumbled upon.

 

Home business. You become your own boss.

It’s much nicer, more challenging (in a good way) and a lot more rewarding than an office job.

Depending on the business you choose you can earn incredible amounts of money too.

 

Here’s a link to my site.

 

http://www.ease-grace-flow.com/

 

 

If you really want to be a writer and you are looking for a way to make that the priority in your life, you might want to check this out.

 

Fill in your details and I’ll give you a call within 24 hours to see if you’re cut out for this way of living.

The Three Friends: Call of the Valley

An absolute MUST HAVE for any music collection.

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Among the handful of Indian records that have found a significant audience in the ‘west’, Call of the Valley is undoubtedly the most loved. Listeners gush when they talk about it, indulging in multiple superlatives and 5 star ratings. It’s no surprise that George Harrison, the quiet and Hindu Beatle, loved the record. But when one considers that grumpy old Bob Dylan has given it a thumbs up as well, one does take notice.

The album, released nearly half a century ago in 1967, does deserve its reputation as a classic. Probably no other album of South Asian music has sold as many copies. The general consensus is if you only have room for a single Hindustani classical record in your collection, Call of the Valley must be it.

My first encounter with the album came in the 70s when a cassette came my way in wintery Minnesota. I missed…

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Rare Pressing: Mehdi Hassan

The first LP from a collection of old Pakistani and Indian music that came my way out of the blue1

Harmonium

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It just so happened that a friend and former colleague messaged me one day. Her father was getting rid of his music collection and there was quite a bit of vinyl of old Indian and Pakistani music. Should she bring it down to Melbourne next time she was in town?

The gentleman in question, who has so kindly gifted these records to me, is a Sikh from the Chakwal area of Punjab in modern day Pakistan. At the age of 11 he was forced, like nearly every other Sikh in that part of the world, to flee with his family to India. The biggest transaction of human capital and one of the biggest human, not to mention political and cultural tragedies ever to visit any country was underway in the form of the Partition of British India.

Our hero studied agriculture in India but left for Australia to pursue graduate…

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