An open letter to Jacob Rees-Mogg Esquire

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Note: For the benefit of readers, I am giving below the so-called banned words and phrases shunned by Mr. Jacob Rees Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons under the Boris Johnson administration, to enable you to better appreciate the contents of the letter.

Very / due to / ongoing / hopefully / unacceptable / equal / too many ‘I’s / yourself / lot / got / speculate / invest (in schools etc.) / no longer fit for purpose / I am pleased to learn / meet with / ascertain / disappointment / I note / understand your concerns / And a few rules: provide double space after a full stop / no comma after ‘and’/ use imperial measurements, not metric etc.

Dear Mr. Rees-Mogg,

I am not sure I can address you thus, given that I have already bestowed upon you the recommended ‘Esq.’ appellation in the heading to this open letter. But a repetition of the term ‘Esquire’ might have meant too much of a good thing – even for a man of your ancient linguistic proclivities. That’s three more ‘I’s in that opening sentence than might meet with your approval. Further, I am not quite sure what an ‘open letter’ entails, but the phrase is oft employed these days, meaning presumably that any hobbledehoy who has access to this blog can read it. As very (another one of your bete noires) few people actually read my blogs, there is every chance it will not come to your notice. And, that would be a disappointment. That last sentence begins with ‘And’ and a comma after it. Woe is me! You have every right to squirm, JRM.

 You will have further noticed that I prefer to provide just the single space after a full stop. The eye has grown accustomed to this apparent aberration. What’s more, if I were to provide a double space after a full stop, as advanced by your good self, it looks wrong and Microsoft Word flashes a red squiggle to remind me that I must close the gap. Or, in the immortal phrase of the London Underground, Mind the gap. Do I then go with the Rees-Mogg method or the Bill Gates manual? While I yield to no one in my admiration for your passionate, if antiquated, obsession with 18th century English, on this matter I must come down on the side of Mr. Gates, or William Gates Esq. Just to show there’s no ill feeling.

While I note and understand your concerns, Mr. Rees-Mogg, I find it strange, ironic and (this will get your goat) unacceptable that under the forward-looking, dynamic dispensation of Mr. Boris Johnson Esq. (note that I shoved in a Mr. and an Esq. to bookend BoJo’s name, not wanting to take chances with the PM), you should be so dogmatic and obtusely single-minded in sticking to Dickensian English, when the world is attempting to inject new life into Anglais. As an Indian, I could have also said Angrezi, but knowing how much you love the French, I felt that would have got your attention more readily. And what have you got against lot? Or, for that matter, got? I can understand your concern if I were to convert lot into Lot, with your Biblical worries about being turned into a pillar of salt, as was the case with Lot’s hapless wife. However, no such threat looms here.

Hopefully, you will reconsider your position regarding this ongoing controversy which has led to many people around the world wondering if you are equal to the onerous task of being the leader of the House of Commons. Will a beep go off during Parliamentary debates every time an MP utters any of the ‘banned’ words or phrases? Like that old, wonderful BBC radio programme, ‘Just a minute’, when a loud hoot would indicate that the speaker has hesitated, deviated from the subject or repeated himself. Should be fun. While I have no wish to speculate on what may or may not happen in Westminster’s Lower House, I am invested in the beauty of the English language and would be disappointed to see it stuck in a subjectively selected time warp of English history. I mean, why 18th century, why not Shakespeare’s English? All those stirringly rousing speeches written by the Bard, just waiting to be rephrased and regurgitated. Churchill’s We shall fight on the beaches springs to mind. Perhaps you feel, in your infinite wisdom, that Shakespeare’s English is no longer fit for purpose, but you should speak to all your fellow MPs and ascertain their opinions first.

A quick word on your exhorting your colleagues to revert to imperial measurements, which I am pleased to learn. You have a point there, I readily concede. I mean, I have always felt that Mike Powell’s world record for the long jump of 29 feet 4.25 inches sounds far more impressive than 8.95 metres. Ditto Javier Sotomayor’s high jump record of 8 feet 0.46 inches, as opposed to a piffling 2.45 metres. This is perhaps the only point from your linguistic ‘Style Guide’ that I find myself in consonance with. Style Guide, lovely moniker for your new age / old age language guide! Professor Henry Higgins would have approved. Coupled with your own impeccable sartorial elegance to complement your plummy voice, the terminology is apt.

Finally, something you have not thought of, Mr. Rees-Mogg. No, I am not referring to whether people should any more be burdened with hyphenated, double-barrelled names, which brings to bear its own redolence of imagined regality, urbanity and sophistication, just as your distinguished pater, Lord William Rees-Mogg so grandly sported and, which you have inherited. I daresay as Editor of The Times, he could have punctuated his name whichever way his Fleet Street fancy took him. After all, he was a ‘belted earl,’ to pinch one of Wodehouse’s phrases. No, no. Rather, I am speaking of an Englishman’s (that should properly be English person’s) unvarying habit of introducing strange wordless sounds when he or she speaks, yourself not excluded, Jacob old chap (forgive the informality but after all this, I feel we’ve become close chums). For instance, the sound ‘uurrmm’. Listen to some of your speeches, or Boris Johnson’s, or Cameron’s or even Thatcher’s. I could go all the way back to Churchill or Chamberlain. When they are not reading from a prepared text, this is how they are likely to sound. You may cavil and nitpick that Thatcher was not an Englishman (‘man’ being the operative word), but many will disagree. In common with Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher has often been described as ‘the only man in the cabinet.’ 

‘Mr. Speaker, I have uurrmm, come to the inescapable conclusion that Britain, uurrmm, is not yet ready to leave the European Union. Europe and Britain are, uurrmm, inextricably joined at the hip, and we should, uurrmm, be ever mindful of this. Brexit has placed us, uurrmm, squarely on the horns of a dilemma.’ I realise those words, with or without the ‘uurrmms,’ are from a ‘Remainer.’ As a confirmed ‘Leaver’, those words could never have issued from your lips, but you get my drift.

There you go, Mr. Jacob Rees-Mogg. What’s an ‘uurrmm’ between friends, eh? If you’re partial to ‘eh’ that is. You have been burning the candle at both ends, to say nothing of the midnight oil, waxing lyrical and warning us of words and phrases we should not use. Here’s an ‘uurrmm’ you can and do use and should be formalised and officially enshrined in the Oxford Dictionary.

Speaking for myself, I come from India and there are many of us who feel there are more Indians who speak English better and more chastely, even if a tad archaically (as this missive exemplifies), than do many denizens of the UK. And if you have a smidgen of doubt on that score, we can set the dazzling, silver-tongued Oxford Union debater (he of the exaggerated British accent) and present MP from India’s Congress Party (no longer fit for purpose), Mr. Shashi Tharoor Esq. on you – a man who runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds with equal felicity.

I remain, yours faithfully,

Suresh Subrahmanyan Esquire

Yesterday. Once more.

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My last blog was a celebration of all things bright and beautiful in an English summer full of sport, with Wimbledon and World Cup cricket taking pride of place. Something else happened on that brief and hectic holiday that went almost unnoticed. An English friend of mine and his good lady wife took me to see Danny Boyle’s latest hit film, Yesterday. Most film buffs in India will know Boyle as the Oscar winning director of the hugely successful Slumdog Millionaire. I was so enraptured by this new release, Yesterday, that I felt I should share my thoughts on it. As I need hardly tell you, the movie title is taken from one of The Beatles’ most successful ballads. According to The Guinness Book of World Records, Paul McCartney’s Yesterday has been covered by over 3000 artists, including Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin! The Beatles could have lived happily ever after on the royalties of that one song alone.

This is not intended to be a film review, but if that’s the way it turns out, let the chips fall where they may. First off, it would help in your appreciation of the film if you happen to be a fan of the music of the Fab Four from Liverpool, even if you’re not a full-on Beatlemaniac. I don’t think there are too many people out there, even from today’s generation, who are completely oblivious to the songs of The Beatles. There are even a couple of Hindi film songs that ripped off their hits set to vernacular lyrics and Mohammed Rafi’s voice! As for me, I grew up with The Beatles and if you wake me up at the dead of night and asked me to sing Hey Jude backwards, I can do it. Scout’s honour. The band was an integral part of the warp and woof of my upbringing. So I was dying to see the film. With a little help from my friends.

So when my English friends asked me if I would like to go and see the film, in which the music of The Beatles plays an integral part, I did not need a second invitation. Before actually seeing the film, I had no idea about the storyline. I therefore erroneously assumed it was another biopic of great pop icons, a recent trend that has seen Freddie Mercury of Queen and Elton John being featured in films that were warmly received. Having no foreknowledge of the film was a blessing, as Yesterday turned out to be a delightful surprise in so many different ways. Like the original eponymous song.

Firstly and mercifully, it was not a biopic of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Instead it was about a struggling pop singer, Jack, played with great conviction by newcomer Himesh Patel, whose character happens to be a fan of The Beatles. The story takes off vertically when Jack gets hit by a bus and the world turns topsy turvy. On regaining consciousness, he is the only one on earth who can recall The Beatles and their brilliant songs. While everything else remains the same, The Beatles have been completely erased from the collective memory of earthlings. Even a Google search for The Beatles turns up ‘beetles’ and the insect kingdom.

As to why young Jack is a person of Indian origin is never explained. His parents, played by the celebrated comic duo Meera Syal and Sanjiv Bhaskar, are like any other English couple. Jack could very easily have been a white English boy, but choosing an Asian youth was a touch of genius and inexplicably adds to our enjoyment of the movie. There are two other people in the film who remember The Beatles after the accident, but I won’t spoil it for you.

To cut to the chase, Jack goes through many vicissitudes, sings Beatles hits everywhere and becomes an instant star in England and across the Atlantic in the United States. The songs are believed by everyone, including record producing companies, to be original compositions of Jack’s. His strenuous efforts to persuade his friends otherwise fall on deaf ears. Jack thus becomes a reluctant superstar with a guilty conscience. How the film’s narrative goes on to unravel is something I would prefer you to discover for yourself. I may have already given away too much.

Other highlights in Yesterday include a cameo by today’s mega pop star Ed Sheeran as himself and his being awestruck by the fresh and revolutionary music of this unheard of singer who sings unheard of Beatles songs. An American producer even suggests to Jack that he loves the demo tape of Hey Jude, but strongly feels the song has a much better chance of searing the pop charts if renamed Hey Dude!

With Danny Boyle at the helm, you can expect a tight script laced with typical English humour and excellent acting from the stellar cast. Jack’s love interest is played convincingly by Lily James who will be remembered by those of you who’ve seen the wonderful Downton Abbey series on cable. The cast do a great job on the whole, but it is newcomer Himesh Patel who announces himself with a subtly understated performance. The fact that he is not portrayed as a token Indian with all its attendant clichés, makes the character truly genuine. A terrific debut.

Above all, the music of The Beatles strings the entire film together. So many hit numbers we all know and love. Every time a song came up in the film, it had the audience tapping their feet and singing sotto voce, along with the soundtrack. A few voices were out of key but no one seemed to mind.

One last word. We went to see the film at the Olympic Studios in Barnes in south west London. Before this building was reconverted to a cinema hall, it was a recording studio and some of the greatest rock stars had recorded here including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. The corridors of the theatre were full of framed pictures of stars of yesteryear who had plied their trade at this venerable establishment. An appropriately redolent venue to watch Yesterday, bolstered by its magnificent 3D Dolby Atmos sound system. All in all, if Yesterday comes round to your part of town, don’t miss it. Particularly if you are a Beatles fan. Like The Beatles, the film is funny and irreverent in a nice way. Like this ditty at the end of the Abbey Road album.


Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl,
But she doesn’t have a lot to say
Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl
But she changes from day to day

I want to tell her that I love her a lot
But I gotta get a bellyful of wine
Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl
Someday I’m going to make her mine, oh yeah,
Someday I’m going to make her mine.

That’s if for now. Hello Goodbye.

Luxuriating in William Blake’s ‘green and pleasant land’

My bucket list gets shorter. Having frequented London over the decades and not taking in SW19 (Wimbledon’s affectionate moniker) has been a sore miss. Regrettably, my work or holiday schedules precluded a trip to the sylvan grass courts of the Grand Slam of them all. Mind you, even if I wanted to go, I am not sure my shallow pockets would have run to the price of a ticket. So this year, I planned well in advance, approached friends in the right places and lo and behold, I was let in to the pearly gates – a proud bona fide ticket holder for the first Friday and the second Monday. And to be sitting adjacent to the Royal Box at Centre Court and Court No.1, now also adorned with the amazing, hi-tech retractable roof. That meant, getting to watch Djokovic, Federer and Nadal, as well as Kvitova and the precocious Coco Gauff. Even if the latter names don’t trip off the tongue, the first three were a mouth-watering repast fit for kings. And kings and queens there were aplenty at Wimbledon. Federer is royalty in his own right, never mind Kate, William, Harry and Meghan.

The long walk from Southfields station to the hallowed grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, along with hundreds of other tennis buffs, is a heart pounding experience. Partly because of the deceptively steep gradient of the broad pavements and more because of the breathless anticipation, the thought of entering the holy of the holies. Once you’re in, a magical world opens up. We have seen it on television year on year, but nothing comes close to being there. I shall eschew talking about the tennis. All of you know the results and how the matches went. If you don’t, please cease reading.

From the outside courts where the lesser mortals slug it out, the souvenir shops to the several food courts offering a wide variety of eats and drinks, to say nothing of Henman Hill (or Murray Mound), it was a rollercoaster ride. One simply had to savour the legendary strawberries and cream. Pimm’s cocktails was the most in-demand drink to slake your thirst. Players from the past and present were constantly seen strolling about or relaxing in the ‘Last 8 Lounge.’ Indian stalwarts like the Amritraj brothers, Ramesh Krishnan and Leander Paes were spotted. The superstars of today could only be seen on court. They were preserved in mothballs!

Which brings me nicely to my first experience of Centre Court on a day when both Federer and Nadal were bookending British hope Konta and former champion Kvitova in fourth round singles action. All in spotless whites. The Centre Court is more a temple than a tennis court. The ivy-covered exteriors are brilliantly contrasted with the blue and purple petunias and hydrangeas dotted all over the 42-acre property. Despite the packed house, spectators were guided to their appointed, numbered seats by polite, but firm and knowledgeable stewards. If you stepped out for a toilet break, you had to wait in queue for the players’ change of ends before getting back in. Speaking of stewards, one of them, David Spearing, 83, has been serving Wimbledon for 46 years. I have watched him sitting in the players’ box with his black suit and hat for several years now, a minor celebrity. I had the pleasure of buttonholing him outside and having a friendly nostalgic chat, talking of Borg, McEnroe, Billie Jean and Graff.

As for the play itself, the crowds are scrupulously correct and hardly ever do anything not ‘proper.’ When an incredibly exciting rally ends, the applause and wolf whistles are deafening, but when the Chair Umpire admonishingly intones ‘Quiet please’, the eerie silence can make you hear a pin drop. I was aware of all of this before I stepped on to Centre Court, in a manner of speaking. Nevertheless the live experience defies description. I spoke to some Wimbledon regulars and a couple of officials, and all of them were in unison that you don’t get this kind of unique audience participation in any of the other Slams. The spectators religiously follow their own unwritten code of conduct, a tradition honed and perfected over a hundred and forty years.

Then there’s the ever-so-alert ball boys and girls, scurrying hither and thither in pursuit of stray balls, like cats after pigeons. Not to forget the blazered linespersons, some of them a tad overweight but swift enough to duck and weave out of the way when a blistering ace is headed right between the eyes. The scoreboards, simple, elegant and functional, brighten and dim conversely with the fickle English weather. Finally, the Chair Umpire, the master of all he surveys, who wouldn’t think twice about rapping one of the top seeds on the knuckles if the player’s behaviour so warrants. A place of worship, this Centre Court. A devout Djokovic knelt and consumed a tuft of grass from the court after his monumental vanquishing of Federer. He did the same last year. After all, grass is for GOATs.

Tailpiece: A quick word on the cricket World Cup. In between my two Wimbledon days, I scooted off to Headingley, Leeds to take in India putting it across Sri Lanka. A historic ground Headingley, but honestly I could have been at the Eden Gardens Calcutta. India’s sea of blue was all-pervasive with fans screaming and yelling boisterously in Gujarati, Tamil, Bengali and other Indian tongues, while wolfing down khababs and khachoris. A human Hanuman was seen prancing around. A touch of Ramayana to remind the Lankans! A small plane kept circling over the ground displaying a changeable banner with anti-India slogans, but this was loftily ignored by the Indian diaspora. And the train journey back to London reverberated with incessant chants of India jeetega. Though we didn’t quite jeeta, the Bharat Army lit up the World Cup.

That said, my green and pleasant English summer was all about ‘Game, set and match, Wimbledon.’

The puerile offer autobahn corrigendum

                               

 ‘The perils of the auto-correct’ was my intended headline, but the all-knowing auto-correct took matters in hand. More of that soon. The smartphone is a godsend. We have become craven slaves to its bidding. You can send messages, emails, photographs, videos, order food (one day you’ll eat straight off the phone screen), book movie tickets and restaurant tables, video chat with your near and dear ones across oceans, binge-watch movies and stay up to speed with the latest news. All good. Or is it? I know many people moan about how the fabric of our society has been ruined, how we’ve become self-absorbed outcasts in civilized company, thanks to our smartphone addiction. All this has been analyzed to death by sociologists and other busybodies, like yours truly.

There is a funny side to this social malaise, namely, the auto-correct mechanism installed in all smartphones. Some think it’s a boon, others a bane. The idea of introducing this tool stems from pure altruism on the part of the smartphone brands. However, in my opinion and that of half the world, this keenness to spell check is totally misplaced. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. After all, whether it was the trusty Remington typewriter or our sturdy desktop, we are not badgered with three options for every single word we type, as is the case with smartphones. At least Microsoft Word discreetly underlines words or phrases in red, if they think we may be erring in spelling or using words they don’t recognize. It is entirely up to us to decide whether we take heed of their quiet alerts or not. But they do not, like our too-clever-by-half smartphones, catch us in an unguarded moment and slip in a ‘Henry’ instead of a ‘Hennur’, or a ‘Tooting’ instead of a ‘Thoothukudi’. It is only after you hastily depress the ‘send’ key that you discover the value of the adage ‘haste makes waste’. Or, as my smartphone might sadistically put it, ‘taste lakes Bates’. The receiver of the missive is doubtless wondering if this is some top secret coded message, and spends the rest of his day attempting to decipher it. Bates? Bates? Alan Bates? H.E.Bates? Jeremy Bates? Have a good day.

It then occurred to me that it might be fun to indulge in a spot of contemplation as to what the harvest might have been had some of the greatest passages in English Literature and Poetry fallen prey to the dreaded auto-correct. What if the likes of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, John Keats, T.S.Eliot and their ilk been unmindful of this pestilential technology, had it existed during their time, and the publishers / editors of their books ditto?

Let us, absolutely at random, take a well-known passage of Shakespeare’s from Julius Caesar. Mark Anthony’s memorable opening lines at Caesar’s funeral, ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar.’ Among the Bard of Avon’s innumerable famous speeches this one by Mark Anthony will rub shoulders with the best of them. And yet, if William Shakespeare had keyed in those lines on his smartphone circa 1599, those seminal words may forever have been mauled beyond recognition, changing the course of history and literature. Imagine if you will, Shakespeare’s auto-corrected passage for posterity, ‘Glands, Rheumatism, concubines, lentil manure earplugs; I congratulate berry seizure, non-plussed hymn. The Evelyn that menopause delivers after thermostat. The gluten esophagus intricately withered boney; Salted bee will geyser’.’ Come to think of it, now that I read those auto-corrected lines, they have a certain strange, mesmeric ring to them. ‘I congratulate berry seizure’. Even Shakespeare would have struggled to top that. After all Caesar was known to suffer from epileptic seizures!

    Then there’s the unforgettable opening lines of one of the great poems of modern times, T.S. Eliot’s immortal ‘TheLove Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ – ‘Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table’. And the haunting refrain, ‘In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo’. How would Eliot’s lines have fared under the tender ministrations of auto-correct? ‘Lettuce Gotham ennui / When the weening is spirited angst the eye / Lick of paint ethereally unstable.’ Followed by the reverberating punch line, ‘Infra broom the vermin commando / Tracking of myocardio’. Once again, the auto-correct produces its own whimsical cadence. A kind of nonsense verse or Poetry of the Absurd. Though Thomas Stearns Eliot could be turning fitfully in his grave.

    Equally memorable are the first two lines of John Keats’ ‘Ode to a nightingale’, ‘My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk’. And like many of us, if Keats had been less than hawk-eyed while tapping in those lyrically lugubrious words, he might have ended up saying, ‘My part achtung a lousy bum pains / Licence through Hemmingway I shrunk’.

Finally the romantic works of Jane Austen. Her wonderful novel of manners, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ opens with these lines, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ Would the estimable JaneAusten not have been horrified to read the final auto-corrected version? ‘Its tooth university accidents, that mingles a posse of good farting, must go get a life’.

The smartphone, along with the dreaded auto-correct, is here to stay. Let us learn to live with it, and understand its strange mental processes. That way lies more peace of mind and less tearing your hair out. Enough said, methinks. Or in the words of my trigger happy smartphone, ‘Enema strikes methane’.

(First appeared in the Deccan Chronicle, I greatly enjoyed writing this)

About myself

I am a greenhorn to this blogging business, but I am diving headlong and the devil take the hindmost. I have been an advertising and brand marketing professional all my life. Retired now and avidly taken up writing columns for leading publications. I write, by and large, in a humorous and satirical vein, even when I am being serious. P.G. Wodehouse is my all time favourite author, which should not surprise you. Generally, I favour the British style of understated humour, and many of my other favoured writers and entertainers are mostly British. This will become quite apparent to you, dear reader, when you read my posts. And that is what I intend to do to start with. Will keep posting many of my already published columns which most of you may not have read, and also some fresh material. I am based in Bangalore and welcome people to read my posts and send in their comments. That’s about it. As they say, here goes nothing!

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.