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Showing posts from 2015

Riding the Back Beauty

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Those steamy, smoky and sooty days
Sometimes I sit back and think of some of those jolly train rides in the Indian railways. I have always liked them, and even though I could opine like most others that it is desirable that those trains be cleaner, punctual and efficient, they still cast a spell on you, from all the way back to the period when the role of the elephant was usurped by this mechanical beast. Today people are richer, are on their own, zipping through in their cars and bikes and planes, but it was not so long ago that a ride in the train was any day better and safer than on the fully laden Ambassador careening through our potholed roads. Or if you were on two wheels, consider the scene where you are perilously perched at an angle on a rickety ‘hand me down’ Bajaj scooter or hunched over, helmetless, on a roaring Jawa motorbike zigzagging through a mass of humanity and a collection of beasts on their two feet. Yeah! The train ride is in comparison so serene, and a great opp…

The Sitar in Norwegian Wood

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George Harrison and the sitar, the Beatles
Beatles remain a favorite of mine and I have always liked the perky number Norwegian Wood. The opening chords stayed stuck in my memory and the other day I was wondering about how this instrument got used for the song, assuming naturally that it followed from the much talked about visit of the Beatles to Rishikesh and George’s training sessions with Ravi Shankar.  As I started checking it out, I found that the song predated their visit to India and that it had an interesting story behind it. So for those who like the song and the Beatles, here goes…
1964, The Beatles had a great tour in America, George Harrison the lead guitarist characterized it ‘every bit a knock-out’ and it was a time when they met equals like Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. Beatlemania spread in America and a second tour was announced for 1965. The last two shows at the Hollywood bowl were smash hits.
Just before they crossed the Atlantic once again, they finished shooting f…

The Cochin Jews in Israel

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At the turn of the twentieth century, the Pardesi and the Malabari Jews around Cochin were a reasonably content lot. But as days went by and as the only country which never persecuted the Jews, became independent from the British, the entire Jewish community of the region started to leave on their Aliyah or calling. Today there is less than a handful left. Books have been written about them, anthropologist studies have been completed and films have been made. People who arrived in Israel wrote books of their past in Kerala and their present, while others wrote about them and a few still trickle back to see their old homes in India and satisfy their last longings before they move on to the next world. Why did this all happen? Whatever happened to the people who left? We track regularly the stories of Indians who moved to USA, Europe and the Middle East Arab countries, but there are so few references about these Malayalees in Israel. Are we upset with them, perhaps the Malayali ego is …

Because what you read matters…

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Allen Lane, Pelican, Penguin and Krishna Menon
Was Allen Lane responsible for the animosity Krishna Menon had against Britain and for that matter against other Western countries?  What exactly was their relationship and for that matter the exact involvement of Menon with the paperback empire of Allen Lane? This had intrigued me for some time, so I got to work unearthing the details. It was an interesting journey, to say the least.
The story actually starts in Britain, during the second decade of the 20th century, with two high school going brothers Richard and Allen Williams, the latter being the older one by 3 years. The elder who had some aversion to sports, got involved in various kinds of mischief as the younger took to cricket. They were nephews of John Lane Senior who owned a reputed book firm named Bodley Head (named after Sir Thomas Bodley), which had been publishing among others, Oscar Wilde since 1887.
John Lane had a falling out with his partner Elkin Mathew and after the …