Thursday, June 22, 2006


I've not checked my blog for more than two weeks, shameful indeed.

But then, life always stands around the corner with a sandfilled sock to hit one behind the head. Lets see what all transpired in this intervening period.

I've locked myself out of the car on two occasions. Ahem. Not a very nice thing to do when you have to go and launch the jazz club...of course I could have jumped into an auto-rickshaw to get robbed in royal style. But in the nick of time I remembered the rear door had not been locked properly.

Now The Beast is singularly unattractive with its dull red colour and its attachments hanging loose like a witch fallen on bad times. An old hag of a witch... I mean. Also the size of the vehicle, being an SUV [sports utility vehicle] I suspect is anti-burglarly. So I coolly opened the rear door, slunk in and crawled up to the front seat. In the bargain I found a pair of spectacles, lost during late March when I had visited Hans and Ameeta in Velachery. What a pleasant surprise. The second time I locked myself out it was past dinnertime and I was so fatigued, I just went for snacks and went to sleep quietly.

What a full night's rest can do to a tired mind, can be rivalled only by having a banana. Some doctor sent me an email forward saying bananas are wonderful anti-depressants, so I have been keeping some in the car too. They work wonders, near-miracles. I was in the morning, experimenting with all sorts of devices, and toying with the idea of bothering my landlady's enterprising son, who seems to be driving four or five different cars, that a bunch of keys could come in handy. The device that nearly came close to the shape and thickness of my car keys was too humble to mention here [lest someone steal my car!] but it opened in a jiffy. What a relief....

Today morning I outdid myself. I dropped the housekeys somewhere on the way to my morning coffee, newspaper and a bit of snacks at Dr. Terror's. Of course I dropped them, in spite of the main key being close to six inches long because I found a biggish hole in my pocket. Someone should have videographed me, when I returned after the long walk and snacks. My face must have gone through a rainbow of emotions from tickling voltage to hair-raising jolts... when the truth dawned on me. Saying a litany of prayers, I retraced my long trek, at least three kilometres in the scorching equatorial sun -oh yeah, this is a thrill I was using a website to see Chennai through a number of satellites and it chilled me to the bone to see we have Zero Degree latitude passing through our city.

I sweated a bucket, my knees were bending involuntarily, hope was diminishing in my sleep-starved body and sinking heart. The last night, a gang of mosquitoes had invaded my bedroom God knows from where and how. They kept me awake half the night. What's more, I was nearing the climactic end of John Cheever's " Falconer", a spine-chilling tale of a high security prison by the same name. Sleep was turned out from my place like a rabid dog, till the shy sun peeped over the horizon. Mischievously like a schoolboy up to no good.

There's no happy ending to this sordid tale of my forgetfulness, lackadaisical attitude and mounting worries... it was nearly ten o'clock before I could enter my own house. The landlady's son was very gracious and handed over about one kilo of keys, none of which fitted. I have developed a feeling, that Kaka knows things, the manservant in the dog house, if the readers recall. He had after all fixed a leaking tap early on, when I had just taken possession of this oven I call home. Late at night the temperature hovers between 33 t o 34 degrees Celsius, obscenely challenging my new Plasma A/C. The latter always wins, but the challenge seems idiotic. This Plasma effect, how befitting for me, a plasma technologist is nearly as anti-depressant as a sudden banana.

The landlady's smart son, shrugged his shoulders and made a lousy face when I suggested Kaka would know. Who him? He seemed to imply, why the moron doesn't know a thing... I didn't argue but I knew for sure the old man knew which key. He is better informed than the landlady herself. By the time I had time I had exhausted one full kilo of keys, Kaka ambled up holding just one single key in his long artistic fingers. He smiled, he turned it and the lock opened. I smiled copiously back at him, and said with a joyous whoop : Nalla joli [good work, it means in Malayalam, though I wonder if Tamil meaning is the same?].

He gestured me to pocket the key, something the landlady's s one would not have liked. There was talk of getting a duplicate key made, carpenters to be invited to fit a latch, since someone who found my original key could rob me blind. In the mean time, Chalta hai as we say in North... let things work, let things roll on.

(c) Max Babi 220606.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Chennai Jazz Club

My friend Ashok Gupta, originally from Kolkata and now a full-fledged Chennaite, had been revitalized by me, to go and meet Dr. Gabriele Lendwehr -the director of the well-appointed Max Muller Bhavan here in Nugambakkam, a prime property in virtually the heart of the town some weeks back.

I reached at 10.30am, though the show was slated to start at 11.30am. My friend Dr. Purnima Rao thought I was mad to go so early -but whilst organizing events, it's alway better to reach early than late.

The first one to turn up was a bright and sharp young lady, Anuradha whom I patronized for a while thinking she had come to join the nascent jazz club. When she told me she was from a music channel and her crew was about to materialize, and would I mind giving her some 'sound bytes' [ I like this jargon, sci-fi maestros, we are nearly there...where you always tried to take us...] I froze. Before I could gather my thoughts gone haywire the gang was upon us, straitening my shirt and passing a collar-mike through my shirt, tickling me pink in the process and making me look into the camera, and all that video jazz.

Soon Ashok ambled in, he who ambles around like a tourist on a lifetime vacation, he who never seems to be in a hurry and he who goes around with a mob following him. Well, later on Madhav Chari -Chennai's own brilliant pianist, whose renditions of Duke Ellingtonian classics on 28th April, a day before the giant jazzman's birthday, were a huge treat indeed, came in quarreling with his father. Both guys are 'hyper' or super-hyper to give them a better epithet, and both seem to argue over trifles like a much-married couple. I was treated to five or six of their juicy arguments, in typical high-class Tamil Brahmin style, which I am beginning to isolate very easily now.

Dr. Gabriele came all a fluster, looking hurried and tied up -for her it was a working day she said

Purnima and hubby Sashi also came, waved and settled down. Over 20 persons turned up including Brian, a very soft-hearted guitarist [I talked to him to find that out], good ole Dr. Placid Rodriguez, ex-chief of the atomic research centre near here, and one of the most revered metallurgists. Also Mr. Laxminarayan, the ex-President of Madras Jazz Club [now defunct for perhaps for over a decae], quite a character, came looking uncertain... introduced himself and got lost in the crowd.

Ashok told me later when we were alone, that he went looking around for Max Babi.
Where's she? He asked Ashok.
The mischief-monger Ashok said, there she is sitting, one with the red beard...

The MMB has a fancy plasma screen display which made the DVD look amazingly crisp and clear... there was Diana Krall, my favourite singer, pumping away at her funky piano and singing to a huge audience, Live In Paris. Those who were really into music, despite the people chattering around us, loved the music in snatches. Those who were more into social contact and things, were busy talking in clusters.

Purnima wanted me to ask someone to explain what is Jazz... to begin with. I suggested Madhav Chari -who usually speaks very articulately about these matters. Once he got going, I got worried he may put some people completely off music... since my own experience earlier had been a disappointment. He did well, though well-meaning dad kept interrupting.

Ashok played a little bit of Charles Mingus Dynasty, which I thought was a risk with so many newbies in the audience but it seemed to go well. I noticed the video guy focusing on my feet, tapping in rhythm absentmindedly. There in lies the rub. If the music gets your feet tapping, you are bound to come back for more... that has been the philosophy of our jazz club at Pune, now in its fifth year and growing daily.
Chennai seems all set to rock !
(c)Max Babi

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Wandering Around In Madras Central

Sundays are a pain for me.

Work keeps me busy all day long, in the evenings I take long walks in the lush green Anna Nagar, have endless cups of coffee, visit a cyber cafe to write something, visit a new restaurant, try out a new cuisine. But Sunday hangs heavy on my hands rather like a wet carpet that I can't figure out what to do with.

Last Sunday was different. I didn't want to spend half of it in bookstores or poring over used books on pavements, or go to a 'Sale' and one of the many exhibition halls here. If I have read six books in two months, I still have eight unread ones. Old habits die hard, I was to discover soon. They just fade away, to hide at the street corner with a sand filled sock in hand.

At first I finished my customary walk around Thiru Vee Ka Poonga, I love this name as much as I love Charlie Kattampally's God-given handle. I was late, and sweated profusely what with one short spell of rains having made Chennai soggy and litres of water I keep drinking finally doing its thing. After my fourth cup of coffee I got so tired and sick of walking and imbibing the strong brew, I decided to go to Broadway. Why Broadway, you may ask, very legit query. Because, from Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, belching coffee I walk towards the famous cemetery in Kilpauk area, right next door. What I see on turning my head is something like five to six buses per minute, all going to Broadway.

With Sound Of Music and My Fair Lady's ditties ricocheting in my fatigued mind, for the long walks in the sun can take their toll indeed... I passed the Redeemers' Church where a morning service had just ended. All the redeemed souls nearly crushed me to bits, or pushed me into the middle of the road where the Bus route no:7F to Broadway would have unwittingly crushed me like a cockroach. Saving my soul and body both, I hurried on to the next bus stop. None of the drivers liked my red beard nor my attitude much. Even the buses which were half empty did not veer towards me, poor ole me sweating like a pig under the shed and looking piteously at them. No effect.

With a reluctance as heavy as a set of ball and chain, I dragged myself from shade to shade, and thank be to God, there are many tall well-spread trees everywhere on that route, till the next stop. One bus had to stop for some people were desperate to get off. I sneaked in and paid a royal sum of Rs3.50/- for the whole journey. Paying such a paltry amount would necessitate your removal from the bus, in Pune where the local transport seems ten times more expensive to me.

Before hitting Broadway with its total lack of theatres or theatrics, I got off at Madras Central, as Chennai's main railway station used to be called before the nationalistic fervour got the better of local politicos. Felt a little sentimental, a tad nostalgic at the huge railways station where thirty years ago I used to arrive so often, stay at a hotel close by, and take a train to Thiruvottiyur, for work at an old engineering company that's defunct now, I heard. It's changed a lot, become much bigger and better managed, but the character has been protected very well.

Went around walking, bought a ballpen, had coffee and emerged out towards what used to be Moore's Market, my old haunt for used books. Thousands of books I had purchased on my numerous trips -during my early career I used to miss a meal to be able to buy a book, a record... since the travel allowance used to be a pittance. Or walk for kilometres to save the bus fare. Saw that the old booksellers have been thrown out and they hog the pavements. One of the largest collection I saw inside a sort of gateway connecting the huge compound of Madras Central to the road that leads to the market.

Spent nearly an hour and chose five books, all very interesting, in good condition. At twenty rupees a book, it seemed a bargain. Been reading some, am very smitten by Gustave Flaubert's book of three tales. Those who do not believe in translation, should read this book and see how competent the English translation is.

Went for a longer walk, and the sun shone fiercely, making me scared of catching a sunstroke. So stopped for a cold drink. One particular beggar had been chasing me for a half a kilometre, which tried my patience. I had run out of change. So I kept saying No No No... endless number of times. He wouldn't stop his litany with 'khana' and 'chai' two words I could understand. Finally I turned, yelled " A hundred times No!" and taken aback, he shuffled away.

Wound up my walk and returned the same way. Tried 'meals' at a Khwaja Hotel, close to the Masjid, which I had noticed when the bus arrived via Vepery. The surprise was a piece of chicken in rice plate as this meal would be called in Bombay or Pune. Lovely food it was. On may way out I saw the same 'khana' and 'chai' asking beggar hogging the entrance with another equally dessicated female counterpart. He smiled expansively and softened by food, I gave him a coin of good value.

Nothing notable happened on my way back, having taken a bus to Broadway, which is total washout as a locality. That being a bus terminus, I waited for fifteen minutes to get roasted medium-rare before the driver climbed in ponderously and took us back via the same route.