Ladyboys of Thailand

An entire 90 minute show performed by beautiful (actually better than beautiful, gorgeous-looking) transvestites (ladyboys in local parlance)? I am not joking. You can see it in Pattaya, and unless they tell you, you can't even make out they are transgendered performers. What a brilliant idea to give them dignity in a world that normally forces them to live in disgusting and undignified ways. Hats off! This show, called Alcazar, was a highlight of our two day Pattaya romp. Another was an undersea walk in the shallow sea water on way to Coral Island, an island reached through a thrilling 30 minute ride on a Bond-style speedboat that cuts through the water, front end up at an angle after take-off. The undersea walk needs no training, just wear a helmet (a BIG helmet) that lets you breathe, and a guide takes you for a walk, feeding fish and touching some coral, watching other sea animals floating past you. It beats the Singapore Undersea World any day, though the fish in Singapore are bigger.

Our Thai guide tells me his life story, which like most stories, is about poverty, separation, and need to earn a living. But the important part is, in spite of this, Thailand is called the Land of Smiles, and rightly so. They are charming to visitors, to the point of embarrassment. I think that's why people keep going back to Thailand. Something to learn from them. Though if they could learn more English, they may get better jobs. But who knows? They may lose their humility and become like the Indian touts whom tourists have to encounter.

There was a lady at the reception in the hotel who reminded me of Buddha for some reason-very graceful, and contented looking. A cocktail car (like a minivan, actually) parked in a courtyard of a mall was a lovely spot to unwind after hectic touring. There are also a lot of noisy beer bars and go-go bars that cater to the so-called "nightlife tourist", but this cocktail car was free from distractions.

Their vocabulary being limited, OK, OK, Same Same are commonly used terms. We go to Nong Nooch village and see a cultural show with Thai boxing, songs and dance. The garden is huge, and a bus ride makes us appreciate the diversity of trees- thee is even a Bodhi tree from India. Thais are Buddhist and also do a very nice Namaste like we used to!

There was a restaurant called Bai Bua in our hotel. Funnily, in Marathi, it means a lady (bai) and a guy (Bua). The Bangkok airport- Pattaya highway is flawless, and takes two hours or less to drive 150 kms- tourism friendly like hell. The beach itself is not great, but the water is a light green, blue which looks terrific. The mediterranean has a deep blue, and that looks nice too.

From a marketer's point of view, I found the Alcazar show very instructive. The presentation was power-packed, lot of resources used, editing was tight, not a moment wasted, acts unfolding one after another, each one spectacular, and photography was allowed. Unlike in India, where we guard everything as if it was a nuclear secret, the actors were very participative, and kept mingling with the audience at times, even posing for photos at the end of the show, outside the venue. That's great customer relationship management, and great publicity from these guys talking about it (like I am). Golf tours are also available from Pattaya, all-inclusive and day long to six or seven courses. Hope to go back on one myself.

Pintu goes to Malaysia

The best part of Malaysia is its language. Or words. I was fascinated from the moment I landed in Kuala Lumpur. Salamat Datang is a greeting. Dilarang.....something.. is No Smoking. Teri maa kais hai, or something similar sounding, means 'Thank you'. But the best of them all...a gate is called Pintu. What a fabulous word. Pintu... all the Indian visitors at the airport kept on saying, Pintu this, Pintu that...I am reminded of something that happened in Clemson University a long time ago. I was a student in some course during my Ph.D. My American professor had a habit of asking us a question, and if he got the correct answer, he would shout "Bingo!". One of my classmates, Masoud, was so fascinated, that he would read up before class so he could answer the questions, just to hear the prof. say Bingo! How's that for motivation?

The fascinating words don't stop there. We went to an upmarket commercial and residential are called Bahsong Baru, a Las Vegas and Disneyland combo resort called Genting, and a shopping area called Bukit Bintang. And to top off the musical sounds, their currency is called Ringgit. By the way, at Genting, which is also on a hill, we saw an indoor mall with a meal advertised in a Hong Kong style restaurant. The menu (rather, a big hoarding)on the wall had a full suckling pig meal- reminded me of the wild boar that Obelix and Asterix ate lots of. The magic potion was missing.

Our guide Velu had a lot of style, always wore a batik shirt, and handled us with aplomb. Malaysia is officially Islamic, but a very liberal variety, with bars (though local Malays are supposed to refrain from going there and mostly do), wine shops, and attire ranging from short skirts to the burkha/hijab.

My additional joy (apart from their language, not the short skirts) came from meeting my old classmate from Ph.D. days, who is a visiting professor at Universiti Malaya.

Singha in Singapore

No, actually that is wrong! No Singha beer in Singapore. That's in Thailand. And Tiger beer is from Singapore. Confused? You bet. Price of beer in Thailand? 50 baht-around 70 rupees. Price of coke in Thailand? More than that.

Indian food? No problem. On a banana leaf? No problem. In a restaurant called The Banana Leaf? Again, no problem. Tiger prawn or Chili crab in a Tamil restaurant? Absolutely. A mall like an Octopus spreading its tentacles across three blocks of Singapore? That's Mustapha, a heady combo of an Indian kirana store and the western mall-mania filling eight streets and four or five levels. Big bazaar was (is?) trying to do this in India.

Disciplined or scared of big brother? I could not figure out what Singaporeans really feel. The discipline is awesome, but scary to someone as used to indiscipline (not just from students) as I am. No doubt, Singapore has a lot of man-made beauty and a stupid combo of a lion and fish- wouldn't a mermaid have been more beautiful to look at? Anyways, many questions and no answers.

To end on a high, Singapore has some beautiful restaurants like Riverwalk Tandoor in Clark Quay (pronounced as Key), great public transport, professional and courteous taxi drivers (again a candidate for the Ripley's Believe it or Not), and lots of money floating around (all the banks have tall offices)- at least until the recession struck. Singapore in one word? Unreal!

To buy a car (as expensive as two wives, according to our guide David who looks like Jackie Chan), there is a quota, and you may have to wait a few years. Hamara Bajaj of 1970 was your consultant, maybe? Another thing an Indian cannot understand. Not enough growth in Singapore population, in spite of incentives. Ripley should create a monument to this. Indians would gladly double the world's population, given half the incentive.

The King of Bad Times

I thought I should give some competition to Mr. Vijay Mallya. This is not about beer, but the villains I have watched in Bollywood movies. Who is the best of them all? My vote for the king of bad times is for Ajit, with Pran a close second. Ajit, because he looked so cool, always under control, with a fun element even in the most brutal villainy. Like boiling people in acid baths or electrocuting them or whatever. He also generated jokes that will live with us for a lifetime, some real dialogues and some made up by his fans. Mona and Michael are also immortal, thanks to him.
Pran also was a gentleman villain, usually suave, well-dressed and mostly, well- behaved too. Prem Chopra was a baddie who looked like a leach, Amrish Puri was too loud for my taste, and Manmohan, Sujit Kumar etc. made no impact. Of course, Gabbar's career as a villain was short-lived, though he made a powerful debut in Sholay. Vinod Khanna also played villain in his early days, and so did Shotgun Sinha. I remember in a movie where Shatrughan had some powerful dialogue as villain, the audience even clapped for him against the hero, who was probably Randhir Kapoor.

Cars I Drove Over the Years

Since I am not a zillionaire, these are quite modest and do not include the Ferraris, Mercs and the like, but I just realised that it is an interesting list nevertheless. For example, I started driving at age 18 on a vintage Ford Prefect 1955, which has that old world look, complete with a cranking "handle" to start it like the Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi car, and a floor gear. It also had a footboard on both sides, and we as children used to enjoy standing on it on the drive from the gate to the garage while my father or mother was driving. Great fun!

The next car was a humdrum "Fiat" which was an official car (parents'), which I did not drive much, as it came with a driver. My next one in the US was a giveaway from Alok, my friend who had finished his PhD and bought a new Totota Celica in 1986. His old Datsun (from Nissan)1976 I think, was what I drove for a year. It was a zippy car, by Indian standards, though it had a leaky cylinder which meant one spark plug constantly needed cleaning, much to the amusement of our American friends.

I then bought a 1979 Ford Granada, and we made our first around-the-US yatra in it, going from Clemson to Los Angeles and back. We later made another longer round trip in a similar Ford Lincoln that we hired. The Ford Granada was a luxury car, and was fantastic for long rides, though a gas guzzler compared to the Datsun. But then, petrol was cheap enough for us graduate students to go gallivanting. So we covered around 25 states of the 50 US states in that tri[.

I celebrated my PhD with another used car, a Subaru with a hatchback, station wagon style. This was a great car for its handling, and carrying capacity. We could stuff almost anything, (though we never tried a small elephant, maybe we could have)at the back and we used it for many short trips, including to the Tennessee mountains in Fall season to see the multicoloured leaves.

My first car back in India in 1995 was again a Fiat (Premier Padmini), which I liked a lot for its hand-gears and seating capacity. Six was a comfortable fit. It saw me through Harihar, and my Lucknow days, where I sold it. Next I bought a new car for the first time, the good old Maruti 800. Lasted me 2 years, and I exchanged it for an Esteem when I moved to Bangalore. I drove a lot of the 800, and I drive a lot less of the Esteem, because I am mortally scared of Bangalore traffic. But I did make a couple of trips to Goa and to Salem, and enjoyed the comfort of the ride.

All in all, an interesting bunch of cars.

My Top Ten List

This is Chapter 22 from my autobiography.

My List of Top Tens

Without a list of top tens, anybody’s life would be incomplete. So would mine. To make sure I feel complete, I have made up many top ten lists. Now, I really feel I have achieved something in life. So here we go-

Top Ten Movies (Foreign)

1. The Sound of Music is probably the best movie in this category. I particularly like it for its upbeat ending.

2. In a different genre, I liked The Omen, for its terrifying but understated portrayal of the satanic plans. Even non-believers in Satan were probably scared while watching it.

3. My Fair Lady is a delightful movie, particularly if you like language.

4. Romancing the Stone is a very good movie of its kind, pure fun. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner were superb. So was Danny DeVito.

5. The Pink Panther series was hilarious, period. Peter Sellers, the music, the inspector, the French, everything was simply great.

6. Generally I don’t like war movies, but Where Eagles Dare set against the World War backdrop was just too good. Richard Burton’s greatest, maybe.

7. The Mel Brooks movies, Silent Movie, To Be or Not to Be, Space Balls, History of the World Part I, Blazing Saddles, are all examples of comic genius at play.

8. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and Great Dictator. Classics.

9. The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Both Humphrey Bogart films. Both not to be missed.

10. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The comic caper had beautiful locales in the South of France as a bonus.

I enjoy Bond movies too, but they are cinematically not the best, and also follow a typical formula which rarely goes wrong, so I don’t rate them among the best. My favourite Bond is Roger Moore- I also think he was the best looking one. I liked Pierce Brosnan much better in his serial, Remington Steele. I must have watched at least a hundred episodes of that in the U.S. Another T.V. series I liked a lot was ‘Murder, She Wrote’. In India, I rarely watch T.V. shows these days, but some good ones were Hum Paanch, Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai and Laughter Challenge with Ehsaan Qureshi, Naveen Prabhakar (his take as a bar girl speaking to Feroz Khan addressing him as Feroz bhai was one of the best), and Raju Srivastav etc. was a class act, helped along by Shekhar Suman, Navjot Sidhu and of course, the mandatory glam quotient with Parizaad Kola.


Top Ten Movies (Indian)

1. Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi- music, masti, Madhubala. Aur kya chahiye? One of Kishore Kumar’s best.
2. Anand- it made an impact in 1970 when I saw it. It makes one even today.
3. Rajnigandha- a great example of how to tell a story. Simply. It also has my favourite Mukesh song- Kai baar yoon hi dekha hai, yeh jo man ki seema rekha hai, man todne lagta hai.
4. Padosan- probably the greatest comedy ever made. So stunningly simple, low-budget and yet, irresistible. Can be watched once every year to drive your blues away. Maybe Mehmood’s best role. Meri pyaari Bindu and the line from it ..mere prem ki naiyya beech bhnwar mein gud-gud gotey khaaye is hilarious.
5. Sholay- everything came together in a great symphony. Not one false stroke. Salim Javed were probably responsible.
6. Chupke Chupke- can language be such fun? Yes, if people like Hrishikesh Mukherjee can have a go at it. Om Prakash got a chance to show his great talent.
7. Shaukeen- 3 old men trying to bed a young damsel? Just for sheer novelty of the plot, this gets my vote. Utpal Dutt was hilarious.
8. Yaadon Ki Baraat- One of the best lost and found stories. The song Chura Liya hain Tumne jo Dil ko, Nazar Nahin Churana Sanam…one of the most romantic songs ever.
9. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro- This movie is so funny, that you can barely stop yourself from rolling in laughter. Om Puri and Satish Shah were great. One of the Satish Shah dialogues (he is the municipal commissioner who has just returned from a foreign tour)- “foreign mein hum dekha….peene ka paani alag, drainage ka paani alag” is an all time great. Another great dialogue- “Aadha khao, aadha phenko- yeh Switzerland ka cake hai”. The idea of using a scene from the Mahabharat for the mayhem in the climax was also superb.
10. Johny Mera Naam- A gorgeous Hema Malini, a debonair Dev Anand, three I.S. Johars, and some wonderful music. Masala movie-making at its best. Jewel Thief is in the same category, but a little long.
11. Maybe I will add another one- Teesri Manzil, to this list. Vijay Anand was one of our best directors, I think. Suspense, comedy, great music and dancing. The term disco had probably not been invented, but “Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera” was rocking! So was Helen in the other dance number, “O haseena zulfon wali jaane jahan”.

There are of course, many more which could have made it if it was a top twenty list. But I don’t want to go on and on, like some badly edited Hindi films. As unintended comedies, I’ll vote for all Randhir Kapoor films, and all NTR films in Telugu ending with the name Ramudu, with prefixes like Driver, Adavi, and even Challenge.

Top Ten Songs

Since I don’t listen to English music, this is essentially Hindi music.

1. Yeh dil na hota bechaara- Jewel Thief
2. Are yaar meri, tum bhi ho ghazab…Teen Deviyan
3. Pyaar diwana hota hai mastana hota hai..Kati Patang
4. Chalte Chalte mere yeh geet yaad rakhna….Chalte Chalte
5. Phoolon ke rang se, dil ki kalam se…Prem Pujari
6. Zindagi, ittefaq hai…Aadmi aur Insaan
7. Ek Chatur Naar…Padosan
8. Hum the woh thi aur samaa rangeen…Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi
9. Dil dhhondhta hai phir wahi…Mausam
10. Mehbooba Mehbooba…Sholay

Here again, there are many more that come close. Some recent songs from Gangster, Metro, Raaz, and so on are very good. So are a few more oldies. For example, Aane wala pal from Gol Maal, Tum kitni khoobsoorat ho from Jungle mein Mangal. Seene mein jalan…from Gaman, Musafir hoon yaaron from Parichay, Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai from Guide, Hey maine kasam li…from Tere Mere Sapne, Haal kaisa hai janaab ka from Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Gum hai kisi ke pyar mein..Rampur ka Lakshman, Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa…from Aandhi, Chingari koi bhadke…from Amar Prem, Ai meri zohra jabeen….Waqt, Thandi hawa yeh chandni suhani…Jhumroo, Aa chalke tujhe main lekke chaloon ek aise gagan ke tale…from Door Gagan ki Chhaon Mein, O mere dil ke chain, and Deewana leke aaya hai …both from Mere Jeevan Saathi, Aap ki aankhon mein kuch.. from Ghar, and so on.

Ghazals by Ghulam Ali are another thing I rarely get bored of. He is one of the artistes who I liked even better in a live performance. Hungama hai kyon barpa, Dil mein ek lehar si uthi hai abhi, Kal chaudhvi ki raat thi, shab bhar raha charcha tera, Apni dhun mein rehta hoon, main bhi tere jaisa hoon, …the list is long.

Some Mahendra Kapoor songs are also very good. Neele gagan ke tale, Aankhon mein kayamat ke kaajal, Laakhon hain yahan dilwaale, par pyaar nahin milta. The lines “Woh afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin, use ek khoobsoorat mod dekar chhodna accha”…from the song that starts “Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi ban jaayein hum dono” in Gumraah.

Maybe the lady singers need a special mention, though they come behind Kishore Kumar on my list. Some fantastic solo songs by Asha Bhosle include those from Don (yeh mera dil yaar ka deewana), Lootmaar (jab chhaye, mera jaadu), Caravan (piya tu, ab to aaja), Shikaar (parde mein rehne do, parda na uthaao). My Lata Mageshkar list is very short, but some songs are really impressive, like Yeh dil aur unki nigaahon ke saaye (I think from Prem Parbat) and Rajnigandha phool tumhare (from Rajnigandha). Her duets in Aandhi with Kishore Kumar were great, though.

Top Ten Heroines

1. Madhubala
2. Saira Banu
3. Tanuja
4. Kajol
5. Vidya Balan
6. Rekha
7. Moushumi Chatterjee
8. Smita Patil
9. Chitrangada Singh (of Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi)
10. Neetu Singh

Is there any common characteristic in all the above? Maybe that all have a great smile, some sauciness, and a talent for acting their parts well. And at least one great role each. The foreign heroines look very similar, maybe because many of them don’t have too many clothes on. One I liked a lot was Ingrid Bergman. Though I only saw a movie or two of hers, and in Black and White. Of the recent ones, Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge was very good, I think.

Singapore

Singapore, here I come. I never went East, for some reason. Though I have travelled to Europe and the US, somehow an opportunity never came to travel in Asia. I will make up next week with a trip to Malaysia and Singapore with our students who go on a foreign study program as part of their course. Classes at MDI Singapore are clubbed with some sightseeing and cultural exposure. Should be nice to see how people live in other parts of Asia. Unfortunately, we only focus on negatives around, like terror in Pakistan (or from there), fights with China, strife in Lanka and so on. But these and other neighbours must be doing good things occasionally, I am sure. Particularly East Asia and its 'tigers'. Hopefully, will learn a bit about how they did it. Singapore is like a Mumbai suburb, I am told, but its progress has been astounding, to say the least. And the same Bristishers had left their legacy there too. Only, Singapore was smart enough to shake it off and start doing their own thing far before and faster than others.
Yes, and the rains are finally here- late, but life-saving for Karnataka citizens.

Hunger for Water

Almost all reservoirs in Karnataka seem to be running dry. Whether it is El Nino or some other culprit, can we be so dependent on the vagaries of rain? Can we not develop other energy sources for power at least? What use is the millions of engineers we produce if we cannot break out of the clutches of a few mega power plants? In the olden days, we survived reasonably well on firewood and other stuff easily available for our energy needs. It now looks like we need to generate our own power and maybe use our own wells (like we did hundreds of years ago), in spite of a municipality and power company existing to ostensibly do the needful. Why can't we do something about the basic human condition-urban and rural?

I read a book called The Black Swan, which was very interesting, about the effect of major random events and random discoveries on our lives. Basically the author argues that life is highly unpredictable (so is business, and everything else). I am reminded of some quote which said, "Life is what happens to you while you are busy making plans for something else".

My Name is Anthony Gonsalves

No, of course, it isn't. I am simple trying to recall some songs which made an impact when I first saw them on screen. Some like this o...

These Were Liked a Lot