Sunanda K. Datta-Ray

Sunanda Datta.jpg

Bengal’s split personality

Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, “a hulking, obese Babu whose stockinged legs shook with fat”, was the ultimate Bengali schizophrenic. For this figure of fun who spoke what was called “Babu English” was the James Bond of his time, nursing a canny mind under his comic exterior. British India’s espionage service knew him as R.17.
The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India and British secret agents (called “pundits”) in Tibet are another story.

The Justice League

For all that he brackets himself with Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai as one of the creators of modern India, Sam Pitroda, “Mr Technology”, the telecom prophet come out of the West, will have a tough time galvanising West Bengal’s creaking judiciary. I hope he succeeds.
But listening to his plans for India’s future reminded me of Marie Stopes, the British scientist and campaigner for birth control, explaining the menstrual cycle to Indian village women and giving them strings of beads to count the days.

The colour code

Indira Gandhi didn’t have a nose job done when a heckler’s stone hit her in Bhubaneswar in 1967, but even if she did — as some claim — it would be for reasons of pardonable personal vanity, like breast augmentation and liposuction in the United States. The increasing popularity of efforts to blur racial characteristics like dark skin, crinkly hair, snub noses and slanting eyes is a different matter indicating that thousands, perhaps millions, of Afro-Asians are eating their hearts out because they don’t look Caucasian.

Anna & the telly tale

Watching — and, I must confess, enjoying — the gusto with which our television channels project Baburao Hazare is a reminder that the excited debates of more than 40 years ago on the miracles the new medium could achieve ignored story appeal. TV was seen then as “an instrument of power and responsibility and wonder,” as a British commentator put it. No one imagined it would emerge so strong as to be able to choose its own agenda.

An Indian architect

One of the many regrets of my professional life is not to have written a paper on the Babri Masjid’s demolition for P.V. Narasimha Rao.

Nations and peoples apart

For once, Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism cannot be blamed for a massacre. But that offers no sense of reprieve, for race and religion also sparked the weekend butchery in Norway.

No trains to safety

The Kalka Mail’s tragedy holds sharp personal anguish for someone who was brought up on the railways in another age of travelling in comfort and security. Sunday afternoon’s derailment in Uttar Pradesh might possibly be due to sabotage (like that of the Guwahati-Puri Express the same day) but my instincts say this is yet another consequence of the mismanagement that marks an India that is trundling to the moon in a creaking bullock cart packed with diseased and undernourished people.

Solomon’s calling

The fuss over whether the chief justice of the Madras high court should have invited Ms Jayalalithaa to tea to celebrate the start of her current chief ministership raises questions of propriety and protocol that are generally either ignored in India or taken a shade too far.
The second occurred to me recently because of the consternation when I asked a Calcutta high court judge, a newfound kinsman, for his card.

Rule of fewer laws

Bursting with patriotic pride, I told the customs officer at Dum Dum airport who asked what foreign currency I had brought back that I had only Indian rupees. I even took out my wallet to show him that returning through the Far East after a summer at Harvard, I had changed my last cent into rupees in Bangkok.

No countdown to caste yet

Deep turned round to stare at me when Rahul Gandhi popped the question, “What’s your caste?” It’s not that my son didn’t know. But he was thrown because he didn’t think of himself in terms of caste… which is precisely what Mr Gandhi intended to highlight as emblematic of the emerging secular, non-sectarian India of his and Deep’s generation.

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I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.