Saturday, June 22, 2024



Illicit liquor claiming the lives of poor labourers in Tamil Nadu is so very par for the course, that most can hardly be bestirred to protest. However, the staggering scale of the recent tragedy, which took place in the village of Karunapuram in TN’s Kallakurichi has raised eyebrows. Latest reports indicate that the illegal sale of moonshine has claimed as many as 55 lives, with over a 100 hospitalised in critical condition. 6 women are among those dead but nobody wants to talk about the fact that many women drink or are driven to drink by the drunken men in their lives who beat them up and grab what little money they have to fuel their addiction while leaving them to fend for themselves and the children as best as they can. But that is a story for another day. Meanwhile, this is not the first time, spurious liquor has claimed lives in TN, and if the past is any indication, it won’t be the last.

Around this time, last year, 416 arrests were made in Villupuram district (Kallakurichi’s neighbour), stores of hooch were seized and a flurry of transfers were carried out among govt. officials when 25 died and over 50 were hospitalized after downing illegal arrack. In June 2023,  PMK President – Anbumani Ramadoss demanded an audit of liquor outlets run by the TN State Marketing Corporation Ltd. – TASMAC (the state’s cash cow irrespective of which party comes to power) while protesting the continuous deaths brought on by the consumption of TASMAC sold booze and the death of a 35 – year old youth who had died in Salem district following a bout of drinking, facilitated by TASMAC. There are similar cases, going back over the years in TN with the usual round of protests from politicians belonging to the opposition, the call for prohibition (which is hardly the solution), the rounding up of shady sellers of arrack and seizure of their stashes of the devil’s brew and the inevitable transfers to give the impression of taking action against corrupt officials (who actively participate in and enable this ugly business), while actually doing squat. This has been going on for yonks now, with nothing by way of accountability or concrete action to avert a preventable evil. Which is why, one is forced to conclude that since we have chosen to turn a blind eye to the state’s history of deaths resulting from alcohol poisoning, we are doomed to repeat it.

This is also symptomatic of a deeper malaise within the system where politicians as well as well-heeled folks who don’t have to perform hard labour for pitiful wages in order to not be able to make ends meet, are perfectly content to let the poor and wretched remain poor and wretched. Why tsk at the Hindujas who have been sentenced to prison, having been found guilty of exploiting domestic workers when most in India are guilty of the exact same offense? In India, nobody cares that too many have been condemned to die in misery below the poverty line without access to food, clothing or shelter or that even more are denied access to basic requirements like drinking water, 3 square meals, sanitary living environment, electricity or quality education for their children. We would rather ignore the poor when not judging them for drinking themselves to death, and wile away the time, looking at pics of the Ambanis' umpteenth pre – wedding festivities.

But this cannot be allowed to go on. Politicians who talk about prohibition and shutting down TASMAC outlets before the elections without actually implementing any of their promises must be pulled up for their gross negligence and officials responsible for being a part of this godawful business must join the small fry who have been jailed after the tragic deaths at Kallakurichi. Rehabilitation must be provided free of cost to impoverished labourers wrestling unsuccessfully with full-blown addiction. Fair working conditions as well as access to a decent quality of life for all must be a level one priority as befits a developed nation. If we continue to be wilfully uncaring of the plight of the poor in this country, we are complicit every time a tragedy strikes them pushing them deeper into penury and abject misery and deserve the exact same punishment that has been handed out to the Hindujas.

‘River Prince’ book review: An Epic Translation of an Epic


Kalki was the consummate storyteller and in his chosen genre of historical fiction, showcased a dazzling skill for resurrecting the past with his immersive style of narration, intricate detailing, humour, masterfully crafted plot, and ability to create memorable characters capable of worming their way into the hearts of readers. His beloved series – ‘Ponniyin Selvan’, a murder mystery and thrilling adventure focuses on Raja Raja Chola, when he was still Prince Arulmozhi Varman, a remarkable youth with all the potential in the world, but beset by a treacherous web of deceit, conspiracy and betrayal within his family and the royal court.

 Nandini Krishnan has undertaken the task of translating his magnum opus from the original Tamil in a ten – part series and is doing a tremendous job. Balancing with aplomb on the tightrope between nailing the essence of the original text and making it more accessible to modern readers who may not necessarily have the patience for verse and lyrical prose at its most descriptive. This reader was charmed by her decision to transliterate the original verses with the translations beneath so that one may savour the exquisite wordplay achieved by a brilliant wordsmith without fumbling unduly for the meaning. The addition of notes enhances the reading experience without ever disrupting the flow as it is replete with nuggets of historical facts and delectable particulars pertaining to Tamil culture and the ancient language itself.

 In her skilled hands, ‘River Prince’, book 3 of Ponniyin Selvan is unputdownable and so deeply engrossing and fun, readers are likely to pester the translator and publishers to complete the series in one go and drop it all together on the market so that they can binge read and re-read to their heart’s content. In the River Prince, readers who in the first two books had only been given tantalizing glimpses of the jewel of the Chola Kingdom who went on to become one of the greatest emperors in history, finally get to meet him, at the exact same moment, as the protagonist and ever popular Vandiyadevan who has risked life and limb to come face to face with the prince, who is in the thick of fighting at Lanka in order to personally deliver a message. But this meeting would not have been possible without the cleverness, resourcefulness, and daring of beautiful Poonguzhali, the boat girl and fan favourite, whose heart and intentions are as unpredictable as the choppy sea she effortlessly traverses.

Meanwhile in Thanjai, Princess Kundavai crosses swords with the exquisite and deadly, Nandini, who has sworn to destroy the Cholas. The beauties who are at cross purposes with each other keep the reader mightily entertained as they battle it out, both determined to outmanoeuvre the other. A secret from the Emperor Sundara Chola’s past which contains a clue to the identity of the mysterious Oomai Rani is also revealed. The rip-roaring pace never lets up and every juicy plot twist leaves one hankering for more.

Kalki himself was unprepared for the impact the Ponniyin Selvan had, and though he is gone, it would have no doubt pleased him to witness the enduring popularity of the book with succeeding generations of readers, thanks to the efforts of committed translators like Nandini Krishnan.

This book review was published in TNIE magazine.

Are we Raising a Generation of Jerks?


The world is a horrifying place that can beat the goriest and most grotesque of horror movies hollow on any given day. There are terrors and monsters, frights and chills lurking around every other corner in the spectral forms of war, crime and calculated acts of evil. Most individuals encounter the seven deadly sins – pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth, on a daily basis and when they aren’t the victims, invariably they are the perps. But one of the most jump – scare inducing phenomena witnessed in recent times, is the behaviour of kids which is often so abhorrent they make the creepy children depicted to chilling effect in scary films with their translucent skin, lank hair, and blank but knowing eyes, seem like cuddly cherubs.

For those who have grown up screaming themselves hoarse after watching Samara from The Ring crawl out of the television to kill her victims in puke-worthy ways, seeing pint – sized brats plonked in front of handheld gadgets in public spaces looking somewhat like Rosemary’s Baby can be deeply unsettling. Similarly, the sight of temper – tantrum throwing tykes rolling on the floor, attacking their caregivers with lethal little fists when denied a third helping of ice cream can be reminiscent of Chucky – the serial killer doll, and can loosen the most turgid of bowels. Snotty adolescents and young adults with their rudeness and entitled ways seem to herald a doomed future where Damien from The Omen is in charge of the planet and his mini acolytes feed the adults to sharks and crocs because they can no longer be entertained by the vacuous content on streaming platforms or porn. 

Naturally, most parents would disagree. In their eyes, their precious boos are perfect little Princesses and Princes who deserve nothing less than everything served up on a platinum platter. Many mommies and daddies are committed to raising their beloved babies in a cocoon of love and indulgence minus discipline which will maximise their chances of becoming a popstar, superstar or sports - star or fast – track their way to an M.D/Ph.D or Noble Prize. Naturally, this means insulating the child from any semblance of normalcy and ensuring they retain the spoilt – brattishness that is being inculcated into their Peter Pan personas so that they never ever grow up to become useful human beings who are not a menace to society.

Since a majority of parents have proved incapable of modelling kindness, decency and generosity in front of their kids, it might be best if parenting were entrusted to trained professionals. We seek expert help when the AC needs to be fixed, when diagnosed with cancer, or if a murder has been committed. Why then do we not do the same when faced with raising children which is the toughest task of all? Since the future depends on gen next, it might be best if we employ radical means and conventional wisdom to make sure they don’t all grow up to be hardened jerks. Like us.

Disclaimer: No brats were harmed in the writing of this article and not all children are ruffians in the making.

This article was originally published in TNIE magazine

Sunday, June 09, 2024



Cases of strays or pet dogs, routinely attacking citizens and claiming lives, including those of children regularly makes it to headlines. Recently, a 5 – year old girl was mauled by two Rottweilers at a Nungambakkam park leading to a widespread public outcry. This prompted a typical knee – jerk response with the TN govt. declaring a ban against the import, sale, and breeding of 23 dangerous dog breeds including Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Terriers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks, similar to the one issued by the Central govt. in March only to withdraw it within a matter of hours because the Madras high court and a few others had stayed the directive in response to protests by pet owners and breeders.

This non-resolution to the canine crisis in India is typical and has re-ignited the debate on how to deal with the problem with animal lovers and activists arrayed against concerned citizens demanding stronger guidelines to deal with the strays and aggressive pets. The statistics are chilling. India accounts for about 36 percent of the World’s rabies deaths. Deaths related to attacks by man’s best friends and dog bite cases are staggeringly high. Worse, many such instances go unreported, especially in rural areas. Packs of strays running wild on the streets and roads, are ticking time bombs, endangering themselves as well as the citizenry.

A suitable solution is possible provided committed action is taken by the Animal Welfare Board, state administration and the general populace working in tandem. Strays need to be gathered, vaccinated, neutered, and rehabilitated in dog shelters and sanctuaries to curb the burgeoning stray population and prevent attacks. Concerned citizens need to chip in with their time, money, and a willingness to adopt in order to supplement the efforts of the government. Pet control laws must be strictly enforced with owners ensuring that the four – legged members of the family are responsibly cared for and when taken out in public are suitably collared, leashed, and muzzled if necessary. A common complaint is that many people arbitrarily feed strays without taking overall responsibility for the dog’s welfare which leads to these animals becoming territorial and more prone to attacking the unwary, when they are not fed. Which is why raising public awareness and educating people about how best to protect themselves while dealing with strays, treatment options for rabies, etc. are key to making it possible for humans and animals to coexist without harming each other.

Ending the canine crisis entirely is going to be a challenge simply because heavy funds are required to sterilize and shelter these animals. Municipal bodies that aren’t corrupt or committed to enriching themselves at the expense of others tend to divert the limited resources towards more pressing concerns prioritising human over animal welfare thereby endangering both and allowing a bad situation to worsen. There is also the question of euthanasia or culling unwanted strays demanded by practical necessities, but which raises questions about promoting cruelty to animals and failure to safeguard their rights. A sustainable, lasting, and humane solution to the canine crisis is not impossible to achieve but it remains improbable.

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express.



Imtiaz Ali’s biopic on Amar Singh Chamkila is a wakeup call. The singer, known as the Elvis of Punjab and his singer – wife, who sang wildly popular ‘dirty ditties’ were gunned down in 1988 and their killers were never caught. Chamkila’s detractors accused him of peddling sleaze with his ribald lyrics and raunchy beats, though the man seemed to have prided himself simply on giving the people what they wanted. Which was mostly horny humour and catchy tunes. After all, sex sells. Then, now, and forever more. But back then as is true even today, folks needed to pretend for the benefit of fellow hypocrites that they were committed to worthwhile pursuits that did not include appeasing the demands of the flesh. Few admitted to listening to his music, let alone liking it even as Chamkila’s records were sold at exorbitant prices on the black market. Many continue to mourn his loss and celebrate his legacy, but our collective commitment to false virtue and callousness makes us complicit with the criminals who hounded, harassed, extorted, and excoriated him in life, before inflicting the violence that ultimately claimed his life. 

This senseless tragedy made me wonder about the kind of dubious individuals who consider themselves the guardians of societal morals while committing deeds so far removed from morality that permanent denizens of hell would weep and curse the degree of monstrosity unleashed. Which begs the question… What manner of creatures are these? What happened that left them incapable of compassion or basic human decency? Did their parents hate them and leave them to fend for themselves in foul cellars while they were off dancing up a storm at raves? Or is it more likely, that in the land where the Kamasutra was written, we have the unhealthiest possible attitude where sex is concerned? Which, in turn breeds hell spawn who feel compelled to inflict pain and death on the innocent over their artistic or personal choices.

Sex is considered ick in this country where it is more socially acceptable to piss than kiss in public. We don’t bother with sex education for our youngsters or even creating a safe space for them to address their questions and concerns about their bodies or desires, preferring to leave that irksome job to pornography and pop culture. Forget the youth, so – called adults are very far from reconciling bodily needs against societal stigma and shame even as they obsess over the sex lives of others which ensures that their own is entirely lousy. The overall dissatisfaction and resentment boil over creating a toxic environment ripe for violent deeds.

Then we turn around and blame films and artists for corrupting the minds of murderers in the making and failure to preserve our supposedly pristine culture. Artists are subjected to endless persecution, simply because they are easy targets unlike the many others who are far more deserving of public ire. Such censorship is almost always counterproductive unless it is directed at the self. If we can muster the courage to look ourselves in the eye, we will think twice before turning a destructive gaze upon others. 

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express.