Aarthi Ramachandran explains why the Jaipur coronation marks a decisive moment in Rahul Gandhi’s political journey

When Decoding Rahul Gandhi went to press in July 2012, a bigger role for Rahul Gandhi was in the works. After months of speculation about designation and timing, the 42-year-old Rahul took over as Vice President of the Congress on 19 January, 2013. The long-awaited event happened at the Congress chintan shivir (brainstorming session) in Jaipur. It marked a decisive moment. If it was a personal milestone for Rahul, then it was no less momentoufront_rahuls for the Congress. The baton had been passed to the next generation, the dynastic leadership tradition renewed.

For Rahul, it was also a moment of growing up. He was taking centerstage finally, eight years after he joined politics. In this period, he had been operating on the margins of politics as the All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge of the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students’ Union of India. He shied away from the day-to-day running of the Congress and articulating his views on important national issues. The irony of the situation was not lost on anyone – Rahul was no marginal man. As the chosen inheritor, he was the de facto number two in the Congress.

The Jaipur coronation altered all this, simply but inexorably. He was now accountable, not just powerful.

Towards the end of an emotional speech at Jaipur, Rahul Gandhi, Congress VP, showed he understood things had changed, quite literally, overnight. ‘…for me the Congress party is now my life. The people of India are my life,’ he said, sharing with an auditorium full of Congress leaders and workers, how he woke up in the wee hours of January 20 to a sense of ‘responsibility’ for all those ‘standing behind’ him.

The rank and file of the Congress will have big expectations of Gandhi in the days to come, not to mention the polity as a whole. The biggest is correcting the Congress-led United Progress Alliance government’s image deficit as he spearheads the party’s 2014 general election campaign. His performance will be a measure of how much he has learned in the many years he spent preparing for his new role.

Aarthi Ramachandran is a political journalist who has worked with leading Indian newspapers such as The Economic Times and Business Standard. She has written about the Congress for the past seven years and tracked Rahul Gandhi’s political career closely.

‘SPEAKING OF ADS…’ by Kenny Deori Basumatary

Kenny Deori Basumatary

I sat on one of the footpaths in Mindspace, a BPO hub in Mumbai, looked up at the sleek buildings and thought to myself: if things don’t work out, I’ll have to look for a job here. This was in December 2007, when I had just moved to Mumbai, intending to leave my mark on this world through the frivolous pursuit of working in films.

 I told myself that I would go for a hundred auditions. If I didn’t get a single job out of those 100, then I would look for something more mundane. Like a regular office job. What a dreadful thought.

 So I started going to auditions. The first one I went to was for a dance film. The venue was a pretty large hall, with tea and snacks laid out for the hopeful, hungry masses of struggling actors. (I’m exaggerating). I was pretty impressed – wow, they give you food as well – nice! That good feeling didn’t last too long as I soon asked someone whether all auditions were like this and they said of course not.

 I didn’t get the role that I auditioned for there. In fact, as far as I know, the film hasn’t even been made yet, a fairly common occurrence as there lie many, many a slip between the cup and the lip when it comes to getting films made.

 Most auditions are for TV ads, so after that rare debut of a film audition, I started auditioning for ads. Fortunately, I didn’t have to toil through a hundred rejections before my first selection: a Godrej Washing Machine ad.

 According to the audition script, as far as I can remember, I was to play an actor receiving an award, walk on stage and wave at the cheering crowd, then yank the award out of the presenter’s hands and blow air kisses. I did a decent job of it – the casting director chuckled.

 An old Hero Honda catchphrase used to be – fill it, forget it. My policy for auditions is similar – do it, forget it. There’s no point daydreaming about what you’ll do with the money you get for this ad, because getting selected or not selected is completely out of your hands, unless, of course, you’re related to or good buddies with somebody in the production house or you know the right kind of dirty politics to play – wish I knew that.

 So I was pleasantly surprised and highly thrilled when I got the call that I’d been selected for the ad. Yahoo! My first acting job in Mumbai! Which cliché should I use – over the moon, on cloud nine?

 I was summoned at 8 am, and I dutifully arrived on time after a little confusion regarding the location of the location, and soon realised I was the only bloke there apart from the carpenters and electricians. Half an hour later, people started arriving; we had breakfast, and were then assigned to respective vanity vans. I shared mine with two other actors – Dr Sharad Nayampally and Nikhil Ratnaparkhi, whom you’ll easily recognise from several ads and also as Ali Zafar’s cameraman inTere Bin Laden.

 Wow, I thought, as I sat in the comfort of the air-conditioned van, actors are pampered, eh. My addendum to that thought now is: more than they deserve. Nikhil was called to shoot after a while, so I spent most of my time talking to Dr Nayampally.



The hours went by. 10 am, 11, 12. They still hadn’t called us. Lunchtime. We ate heartily. Wow, lots of food – I was happy again. The afternoon went by. 2 pm, 3, 4. They still hadn’t called us.

 Anupam Kher has said, as an actor, you’re not paid to act – you’re paid to wait. Wait for the set to be readied, wait for the lights to be put in place, wait for the camera to be placed, etc., etc. Most regular folk would probably be bored to tears by the actual experience of shooting.

 At around 6 pm or so, we were finally taken to the set. Remember, I had been called at 8 am. So for nearly 9 or 10 hours, I’d been doing nothing but sitting on my arse and getting fat.

 Now, remember the part I’d auditioned for – the actor receiving the award? Well, it turned out that I’d been selected all right, but not for that. I was simply gonna be a passenger on a plane where Preity Zinta’s life-size cutout would be. No action, no dialogue, nothing. I was to just sit down in a dummy business class seat doing nothing but reading an in-flight magazine. All the doing would be done by the air hostess and Nikhil, who was playing Preity’s secretary. Talk about comedowns.

 As for being seen in the ad, well, between me and the camera were the following obstructions: one more passenger, the air hostess, Nikhil, Preity Zinta’s cutout, and the tiny aircraft window. And it was all over within 20 minutes or so. After about 10 hours of waiting. But that’s how shooting life is. No complaints.

 I stopped watching TV in 2004, so I don’t have one. As a result, I never got to see the ad, but I suspect that my appearance in it was limited to my left trouser thigh.

 Epilogue: I’ve managed to get quite a decent amount of acting work so far. My first decent-sized film role is in Dibakar Banerjee’s political thriller Shanghai, to be released next Republic Day.

 (Kenny Deori Basumatary is an actor, and his debut work of fiction, Chocolate_Guitar_Momos, has been published by Westland/Tranquebar.) 


Indu Balachandran

Almost every copywriter in any advertising agency will tell you “there’s definitely a Book inside me…” Only it seems like very few actually prise that book out. (One possible reason: there’s always, but always, a super-urgent, serious-panic, life’s No.1-priority, ad campaign to get out of the way first.)

When you think about it, there’s no better training ground than Advertising to help one write a book that should be a potential best-seller.  Advertising trains us writers to first find a clear, compelling Idea around  what we wish to say.  Advertising teaches us never to bore our readers, to stay fresh and engaging.  Advertising hones us to look for human insights; and build the characters in the story around some universal truths.

This creative urge to ‘do it my way some day’ with all the training advertising provides, is true of ad film-makers too. After honing their craft at story-telling, usually within just thirty seconds – in which they aim to establish the scenario, characters, plot, dialogue, song, a twist in the end – ad film makers long for the unbridled space of a two and half hour feature film to say a good story with all the time it demands. And we’ve seen great examples of this happening, like ad film maker Rajkumar Hirani and his Munna Bhai films.  And of course there’s the sure-fire hit-film-maker-come-ad-man, R Balki, who debuted with Cheeni Kum.

Perhaps not many know that Salman Rushdie and Joseph Heller began life as copywriters. Salman Rushdie worked part time at Ogilvy to help pay bills, while writing his first novel, and is famous for his one-liner for cream-cakes: ‘Naughty. But nice.’ Joseph Heller worked on ad promos for TIME while plotting his bestseller Catch-22.

From our own crop of desi-Mad Men of the 70s, prominent personalities who’ve written books include Alyque Padamsee (A Double Life); Ram Sehgal (9 Secrets of Advertising), Ivan Arthur & Kurien Mathews (Brands Under Fire).  The prolific Anita Nair (Ladies Coupe, Mistress) was once a copywriter too. More recently we’ve seen the most insightful collection of observations on life, by Santosh Desai (Mother Pious Lady), once a celebrated ad man with McCann.

Don't Go Away, We'll Be Right Back: The Oops and Downs of Advertising

In the circle of advertising copywriters that I know, Cauvery Madhavan, a copywriter from JWT probably first got us all thinking: I too will definitely write my Book one day! This was following her two instant bestsellers, Paddy Indian and The Uncoupling.  Since then other friends of mine, Anuja Chauhan, Swapan Seth, Sunil Gupta (all ex-JWT copywriters) have written their witty, engaging, fast-selling books too.

And then there’s the ultimate copywriter-turned-bookwriter, James Patterson , the international best selling author. Once a junior copywriter at JWT New York, he has written an astonishing seventy-one novels in the last thirty-three years. His thrillers constantly hit the best-selling charts, and he sells more books than Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined. Plus, he holds the record for the New York Times highest bestselling hardcover fiction titles by a single author: a total of sixty-three. Which incidentally, is also a Guinness World Record!

Call it inspiration. Or call it by its more primeval expression: envy. Nothing like a pang of good old jealousy to make one run right off to do something about that book that’s just waiting to get out.

(Indu Balachandran , former Executive Creative Director and VP, JWT Chennai  is the author of the newly released Don’t Go Away, We’ll Be Right Back: The Oops & Downs of Advertising.)


WRITING by Bishwanath Ghosh

Bishwanath Ghosh

Writing, to me, is a lot like having a bath on a freezing winter morning in a geyser-less bathroom. Since the water spewed by the shower is bone-chilling, you rarely have the courage to stand under it straight after getting into the bathroom.

You have foreplay with the water first: you show your palms to it and slowly wet your arms. If courage still shows no signs of showing up, you raise one foot under the shower and then the other. If courage is still elusive, you put your head under the shower and wet your hair. It is only when you are left with no more choices or are running horribly out of time that you finally decide to take the fusillade of chilling water on your chest. The torture lasts for a few seconds but after that you can spend hours soaping yourself under the shower.

Something similar happens to me when I get back home every night and switch on the laptop in order to write. I stare at the blank screen for a while and if nothing comes to my mind, I get up to fix a drink. It would have been easier if I had a Man Friday who served me a drink, but that would not have served the purpose. The idea is to let your thoughts ferment while you go about finding a glass and getting some water from the kitchen to pour into the whiskey.

Once I return to the computer with my glass and if inspiration still refuses to strike, I take two sips and try writing a sentence. That’s the test. If the first sentence is spontaneously followed by another and yet another, you are on. If not, you have to think all over again. And in order to think all over again, you try not to think for a while and look up the list of friends online on gmail.

"Chai Chai"

At one in the night, there are not many friends online, but those who are there are your kind: people kept up by an unexplained restlessness. They are drawn to the night like moths to the flame. It is only in the night that you talk to yourself: the rest of the day you are talking to others. And when two people talking to themselves talk to each other, you get sufficiently warmed up to stand directly under the chilling shower. By then, the alcohol would also have had its desired effect. Sentences start flowing.

I am sure the result would be the same, maybe even better, if one started writing at the crack of dawn, after a good night’s sleep, instead of midnight. Sentences will come to you if you summon them with sincerity: you don’t need help in the form of alcohol or online friends. But can’t help it. Just like you have a style of writing, you also have a way of writing. We are slaves of habit.

Also, in order to write, you need to think. What can make you think more than the silence of the night, the stimulation provided by alcohol and the solace offered by the invisible arms of an online friend?

(Bishwanath Ghosh is the author of the bestselling Chai, Chai: Travels in Places where You Stop but Never Get Off, recently translated into Marathi. His forthcoming title is Tamarind City: Where Modern India Began, a biography of Chennai, to be published by Tranquebar.)

ON MARRIAGE by Urmilla Deshpande

Urmilla Deshpande

Now here’s something I can talk about from a place of wisdom and experience. If, that is, you agree that this experience made me wise. I’ve been married for two decades, so I have no use for this particular wisdom, and I’m passing it along for someone who might need it. I could give a lot of advice on this subject. But, at this moment, with the limited attention span of most of you out there, with the flurries of distractions to distract you, with– okay, okay, here’s my advice on marriage: Don’t.

Now before you get all hot and bothered, try read the next bit: Not immediately.
So if I still have your attention, here’s what I am getting at. I am not going to talk here about my anti marriage-as-an-institution stance, as I hear the indignant cries of,  ‘You’ve been married so long, what gives you the right… ‘ etc. (I’d answer that being married so long gives me the insight, but not now.)And I am not going to talk about sex and related flora and fauna. ‘What?’ I hear, ‘Where’s the fun in that then?’ Yes, no fun. But bear with me. What I am proposing is, that when two of you find each other, when you are sure you want to spend the rest of your blissful days together staring into each others’ eyes and doing the laundry together and, and, and, consider this:  Maybe, just maybe, if you stayed in that ‘you and I against the world’ cocoon for a bit longer, by delaying the marriage aspect of the relationship, it may last a bit longer. Why? Because, once you tie the knot, or exchange the ring, or take the vows, or circle the fire, or walk between the pews, or spit three times at the ghost, or, as I did, sign on three copies of the perforated government paper in front of three witnesses and a crow, then your relationship is fair game for the world.Friends. From both sides, dreaded parents-in-law, most distant of cousins several times removed, old aunts, great, grand, great-grand, and all manner of aunts and uncles. Neighbours. Grocery store clerks. Banks. The state. The church, temple, or mosque, and the deity or entity who rules it, and the mediums who convey their messages and rules to the newlyweds. Everyone, and I mean everyone, owns the relationship.

Seriously, I just think, if couples held on to their couplehood for a bit, if they gave their relationship time to grow and expand, if they kept everyone– the mothers and fathers and sisters, the government and god– out of it, I think they give themselves a better chance at succeeding in the long run. I think couples should marry after their first child is in kindergarten. I mean, imagine all the heartache and frustration which could be saved if the two of you didn’t have to listen to advice and instructions and follow random rules and be party to atrocious restrictions and if you were free to just be a couple. Imagine how much more confident and stronger and capable of saying ‘No!’ you would be as individuals and as a couple to meddlesome and well-meaning outsiders.

A Pack of Lies

I think a lot of the problems and resentments in a marriage come from external pressure in the early days. I think these resentments grow and grow like slow tumours. I think they are responsible for many many unhappynesses. I think delaying the legitimising and sanctifying of the relationship may just help.

I also know, from personal experience, that nobody learns from the mistakes of others. And although I say all this, I have very little doubt that societal, parental and religious pressures are far greater than common sense and instinct. Still, worth a try, what do you say?
Anyone there? Hmm. Guess you’re all off to buy rings and call wedding planners and such. Ever thought about having a big party at your twentieth anniversary instead? I’ll save that for another post…

(Urmilla Deshpande is the writer of Slither: Carnal Prose, A Pack of LiesKashmir Blues and co-editor of Madhouse: True Stories of the Inmates of Hostel 4 (IIT-B))

THE ROAD WELL TAKEN by Siddhartha Sarma

'East of the Sun' by Siddhartha Sarma

(A new post by the 2011 winner of the Bal Sahitya Puruskar of the Sahitya Akademi! Congratulations, Siddhartha!)

There are different ways of travelling. Some prefer their travel plans to be made by professionals, but personally I feel it takes away from the overall experience of a place if the itinerary has been made by somebody else.
Another way is to make your plan yourself, which gives you a lot of space to make matters interesting. Using this method, you can either choose to take the road many others tread, or go find your own, little-known places. It is entirely up to you.
If you are travelling using the third method, a lot of care needs to be taken about what you carry. Backpacking is the best method, for the obvious reason that you might end up walking a lot, and having both hands free is a big plus. Also, your back can carry a lot more weight than both hands.
As a backpacker, you will soon realise the necessity of packing light. Unless you are the sport of person for whom clothes matter a lot regardless of where you are, you will eventually learn to manage on the barest minimum, depending of course on the duration of your trip. Also kit yourself appropriately for the weather and the climate. This last will not be difficult to do, but there are some places you might find yourself in with vast temperature differences over relatively short distances, and these can affect your body some.
Be ready for different kinds of food, sometimes not cooked in exactly hygienic ways. If your stomach is not accustomed to different kinds of food, it will limit the kind of places you can travel in.
An essential you have to remember if you travel alone is a first aid kit, with medicines for headaches, nausea (if you are into high-altitude travelling) to other ailments which might strike just because the water or food is different. It pays to watch your back, particularly when there is no one to look after you.
Finally, after you’re done packing and have reduced the weight to a manageable level, remember that the new or exotic place you’re travelling to is someone’s home, or homeland. Respect the people and try not to get on their wrong side, and you will find that, no matter where you go, you will meet the most hospitable people you ever expected to encounter.
Once you do that, you will find that your pack weight is much lighter too.
(You could check further details on how to set out travelling in my travelogue, East of the Sun).(Siddhartha Sarma is the writer of The Grasshopper’s Run (published by Scholastic and Bloomsbury) which went on to win the 2009 Vodafone-Crossword Award, and more recently, won the Bal Sahitya Puruskar of the Sahitya Akademi. Westland has recently brought out Sarma’s East of the Sun: A Nearly-Stoned Walk Down the Road in a Different Land under its Tranquebar imprint.)

‘THE BUTLER DID IT’ by Siddhartha Sarma

Siddhartha Sarma

Next to erotica, crime thrillers must be the most difficult to write a half-decent story in. The advantage is, if you write a bad piece of erotica, people assume it sort of reflects on your, shall we say, personal life. No one has yet accused a crime thriller writer of being a bad murderer.

The principal difficulty in writing a crime thriller is to decide which part to concentrate on. As far as I have gathered, the plot, the characters and the technical details are all significant in crafting a whodunit. Some concentrate on one of these three, and the really good ones are known for this concentration. Of course, one needs to do it properly to be, if not in the same league, in the same frame as the masters.

Sherlock Holmes is a character created solely to be a superb analyst. Doyle’s stories, therefore, do not pause much to reflect on the characters, but rather on the elements of the case. As Holmes himself says, in The Sign of the Four, he regards a human as “a unit, a factor” and nothing more.

In contrast, Christie’s novels have a lot more human elements to them. The characters are explored to some extent and the crime is not solved so much by a brilliant little piece of deduction as by gradual probing, not unlike that of a surgeon.

PD James comes somewhere in between. You get introduced to all the suspects, and some amount of details go on about the characters’ motivations. There is more to the plot than just the crime.

Police procedurals, on the other hand, are a more appropriate reflection of how crime is solved in the real world. People like Michael Connelly bring their experience covering crime or being involved in the myriad branches of the
crimefighting world into their plot, and carry the reader along towards the denouement.

Of course, one can introduce elements of the fantastic or eerie into a crime thriller, but here one needs to tread even more carefully. People like Janwillem van de Wettering’s Grijpstra and de Gier conduct lengthy dialogues on the meaning of life and such, which are woven deftly into the plot.

In other words, it takes all sorts to write a good piece of detective fiction. I have not, I must clarify here, read much crime fiction from India, but I hope the samples available do justice to the genre. Like fantasy, as I pointed out in my
blog a while ago, crime fiction is such a small pool in India that only the best need to be published, and some heavy winnowing is in order so the pool does not get muddied.

(Siddhartha Sarma is the writer of The Grasshopper’s Run (published by Scholastic and Bloomsbury) which went on to win the 2009 Vodafone-Crossword Award. Westland has recently brought out Sarma’s East of the Sun: A Nearly-Stoned Walk Down the Road in a Different Land under its Tranquebar imprint.)