Saturday, December 29, 2007

Beauty lies in Observation

“It is a tough job those philosophers have who want to rank beauty as one of the absolute values. When you call something beautiful all you mean is that it excites a specific state of feeling in you, but what that something is depends on all manner of circumstances. What sort of an absolute is it that is affected by personal idiosyncrasy, training, fashion, habit, sex and novelty? One would have thought that when once an object was recognized as beautiful it would contain enough of intrinsic worth to retain its beauty for us indefinitely. We know it doesn’t. We get tired of it. Familiarity breeds not contempt perhaps but indifference; and indifference is the death of the aesthetic emotion.

“A thing of beauty is not, as Keats said, a joy forever; it is a thing that excites in us a particular emotion at a particular moment, and if it does that it gives us all that beauty can give. It is absurd to despise people who don’t share our aesthetic opinions.” – Somerset Maugham.

Living in Bangalore has been a beautiful experience so far in that it has bestowed the opportunity for me to observe a variety of people in a truly cosmopolitan setting and their manner and actions have many a time been a source of not a less pleasure.

At times, I wonder whether we really observe what goes on around us or are we too preoccupied and more often than not react with indifference. For I have come to recognize that if we do observe people – friends and strangers - and nature, we’d be amazed at how beautiful an environment we are in.

Consider these:

You walk along a busy thoroughfare and look up towards the sky to find a group of birds flying their way on an exquisite blue background.

In the morning as you walk to the bus stop, you find an old man pillion-riding in a two-wheeler driven by his daughter with his face basking in a faint glow of pride.

You catch a young woman smiling to herself in reflection of some pleasant memory just before reaching your seat.

As you ride back home after work, you see the round orange sun playing hide and seek with you between tree tops and roof tops.

You see a young couple with their kid daughter on a walk; the young one holding her parents’ hand symbolic of blind trust and gauge from the parents’ satisfied faces, their happiness and pride and catch in their smiling eyes a thousand dreams and ambitions waiting for fulfillment.

As you walk to have your dinner, you observe a mother trying to feed a toddler; the little one stubbornly shakes her cute head this way and that; the mother in a tone of pleading affection struggles to balance the curd rice filled plate and the baby.

Do we ever find beauty in these things or have we forgotten the fact that little things like these can go towards making each of our days a lot better!!

Staying very much close to this topic, I cannot help but mention here this incident that so moved me one day. I was practicing this observation (If I may claim so J) sitting on the upper portion of a mini-hill structure close to a nearby temple when I happened to notice a curious pattern:

Young couples, if they happen to come together to the temple stop at the foot of the structure. To climb the structure requires some initial guts but it cannot be termed daunting either. One has to be just careful with the first few steps that one makes and then it is an easy climb thereafter. The girl first looks into the eyes of the boy with an expression that appears to convey something like “You know that I can climb on my own. But, you can help me take the first few steps by lending me your hand.” The boy’s look says something like “I understand that you can climb on your own. But since you need my hand, I am only too glad to help you.”

On that one day, this was a uniform trend and upon observing the looks exchanged, I was convinced that the World is beautiful. One has only to observe and one shall never fail to notice beauty!!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Part of the cheering crowd!!

The area around M G road and Cubbon road wore a festive look. One could see the Indian tricolor everywhere. She was on sale for anything between 30 and 200 rupees depending on how much one was willing to bargain on and what size one had in mind. The atmosphere was one of eager expectancy and excited talk. People got their faces painted in saffron, white and green, draped themselves in the three colors and were all head towards the Chinnaswamy stadium. All of Bangalore – from the vegetable vendor next door to the omnipresent IT professional – waited for India to continue from where she had left the previous day.

Starting at 365/5, the day saw another run feast with several records getting rewritten. The crowd at the stadium was witness to:

Ganguly alias the Bengal tiger, reaching his maiden test double century,

Irfan Pathan on a comeback scoring his first test century,

Bangalore registering its highest ever innings total and many more such records.

In India, cricket to borrow a cliché is a religion and if anyone needed proof, the applause and roar of the crowd should be proof enough. Add to that, Sourav Ganguly was playing a flawless game that was a pure pleasure to watch. I don’t know what it is about left handers that make their game beautiful particularly when they are in good form.

How can one forget to mention the redoubtable master in this context – Brian Lara – when he is at his best? Sadly though, West Indies cricket is at its lowest ebb and one can only hope that things start to fall in place soon. Enough digression!!

When we were anxious at the fall of Karthik, who perished yet again to a foolish shot, in walked Irfan Pathan, and made the day a truly unforgettable one for himself in his career. He treated the bowlers with true disdain in his innings which was dotted with four hits that cleared the ropes by quite a good distance. The crowd couldn’t have asked for more…

Some were desperately trying to get themselves into the television screens. The Bengal tiger suddenly became Bangalore tiger and every chart had something to say about how good the NEO sports team was!!

The sweltering heat (The weather pundits got it completely wrong once again for a partly cloudy forecast turned out to a brightly sunny morning) didn’t dampen a trifle the enthusiasm and energy of the Indian fan. But the Pakistani fielding though it was mostly patchy wasn’t left unappreciated either when the occasional dive was on show.

When the Pakistanis came out to bat in the final session, all eyes were on the Indian fielders. When Pathan and Harbhajan came to field at the third man position near our stand, the crowd kept calling them hoping that they would at least for a moment turn their heads and acknowledge the mass. It was akin to getting a rare darshan at close quarters in a temple.

When Kumble struck trapping Hameed leg before, the jubilation reached a high point. After all, the Jumbo was a local boy recently elevated to lead the Indian eleven. Debutante Ishant too got the crowd’s attention and respect he’d have hardly expected. But in a game that is adored by millions that should hardly be a matter of surprise.

The Chacha from across the border was briefly the cynosure of all eyes. A little boy was relentlessly crying out ‘Dravid!! Dravid!!’ and ‘Salman Butt, out!!’. His cries rose above the din and every once in a while a face would try to search among the multitude for the source of that enthusiastic cry.

As the Pak batsmen got into the groove, the crowd started to leave in little groups perhaps because some of them had got more than their money’s worth for the day. As we got up and started walking towards the exit, we could still hear the roar of the people and our heart was heavy with a tad of disappointment that the day had drawn to a close, but nevertheless our tired faces glowed with satisfaction too, having been witness at last to what every avid cricket lover would yearn for in is life – Watching A good day’s play.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


At first glance the title would look like a contest, in a sense it is - for readership!!

I have been reading The Hindu for close to six years now ever since I inculcated the habit of reading a newspaper. My relationship with The Times is relatively recent having started after I moved to Bangalore from Chennai.

This post is an attempt at bringing out my own feelings on reading these two dailies by looking at what they offer the public.

Somnath Chatterjee while speaking on the occasion of the National Press day on November 16 said: “Except for some honorable exceptions, today the political leanings and political predilections of newspapers and TV channels are well known, and these obviously affect dispassionate presentation of news and also views”. Precisely this has resulted in the facts getting distorted and ultimately the public is left with confusion as they are at a loss in discerning which TV channel or newspaper is presenting the facts as they are.

This begs the question: Can facts be laid before the public as they are, without distortion?

Edit pages:

The Hindu’s editorial to this day is being advocated as an everyday lesson in improving vocabulary and reading comprehension skills by trainers of competitive examinations to the aspiring students. Apart from that, it used to attract my attention first everyday. But of late, there is a palpable lack of objectivity so much so that one can feel the anti-right, and hence left leaning editorial policy. This was evidently pointed out by several readers but expectedly the response of the reader’s editor has been that he has little influence over the editorial policy. I feel sad that this has led to the loss of ‘impartial and objective’ feel of the column.

On the other hand, the op-ed articles have class written all over them and this is because the paper has some of the best writers writing for it. Their columns are a pleasure to read and one can’t help but be marveled by their in-depth knowledge over what they report. Some noteworthy names include Harish Khare, Nirupama Subramanian, Vladimir Radyuhin, Siddharth Varadarajan, Pallavi Aiyar, P S Suryanarayana, Ramesh Thakur, P Sainath and Praveen Swami.

The Times of India on the other hand does not to my knowledge captivate the reader to that extent with its editorial. But my humble perception is that its leanings are a bit difficult to discern just from the editorials alone.

The pieces that stand out and attract good readership are the regular ‘The Speaking tree’ which has discourses by spiritual gurus apart form several motivational writings. The sacred space with some shrewdly drawn choicest inspirational quotes is another of my favorites. The two distinctly different views (Times view and counter view) provide the reader enough room to see issues from opposite perspectives immediately. It would take me some time to appreciate more the regular writers as I feel my experience is a trifle short. But the Sunday columns by Swapan Dasgupta, Shashi Tharoor, Ankleshwar Swaminathan Iyer, Shobha De and Jug Suraiya certainly hold my interest.

Finally sample this to know the starkly different editorial stands…

On Nandigram, the following is how the editorials of the two dailies read:

The Hindu: “The Governor’s public statements on Nandigram both challenged the wisdom of the government’s approach and came down on the side of the critics of its action. Further, Mr. Gandhi laid himself open to the charge of remaining silent when the supporters of the Left Front were at the receiving end. His conduct through this crisis has been constitutionally indefensible. The Central government, which depends on the Left for survival, has eventually responded to the request by the Government of West Bengal by releasing a battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force for deployment in the Nandigram region.”

The Times of India: “There are reports that the state's law enforcement machinery blinked when organised groups took human shields and 'recaptured' land and erstwhile homes of CPM workers who had been driven out of Nandigram by the Save Farmland Committee (SFC) activists. The immediate task before the government is to open a dialogue with all the aggrieved people in Nandigram. CPM leaders can lecture the governor on constitutional propriety after that.”

To conclude this comparison, I cannot but help draw attention to what Sevanti Ninan who regularly writes on ‘Media matters’ for The Hindu magazine had written in his article titled ‘Polarised coverage’ relating to the reportage on Nandigram: “Is the CPM the chief perpetrator of the current violence as The Indian Express, The Times of India and The Telegraph among others have reported? Or is it the Maoists and the Trinamool as The Hindu has reported?”

I consider it beyond my abilities of discernment to take either side.

Bangalore times V Metroplus:

The Hindu’s Metroplus is like a conservative maiden clad in a sari who expects the reader to probe and exact what he wants while BT is like a contemporary lass who draws the reader in…

On a more serious note, the Metroplus team needs to do more if it wants the readership of the Bangalore junta. It doesn’t even have the movie listings in the city which by contrast the Chennai edition provides. I wonder why this difference? BT makes no bones about what its focus is on. Covering the latest rumors mills, scandals and gossips, it is Page 3 happenings all the way…

The Hindu magazine v Times Life:

The Hindu magazine is a joy to read. With articles by Kalpana Sharma (Women’s issues), Sevanti Ninan (Media matters), V Gangadhar (Slice of Life) and many others, it has something for all age groups and classes to look forward to.

By contrast, The Times Life is aimed at the youth and the average upwardly mobile urban middle class Indian.

Another area where The Hindu emerges a clear winner is in the literary review section every month. It has interviews of established novelists and reviews of the latest releases – fiction and non-fiction, English and vernacular.


Prominent difference also lies in the presentation of news. While The Hindu falls under the classical school in this regard, The Times of India is more favoring experimentation with a tad more success. Right from photographs to headlines of news stories, The Hindu feels it is better off being classically stylish. But it has not been without its cost.

The people in Bangalore prefer The Times of India more to The Hindu. The reasons are manifold. They range from the perception of The Hindu by some sections as more of a ‘Chennai based daily also published in Bangalore’ to its old school style of reporting.

The Hindu can do much better in some areas while The Times can also improve in some areas. If they do so, ultimately the common man in the street who awaits his newspaper by his side before his first sip of coffee is the beneficiary.

I conclude this post with the following words of George Orwell that have in them something that our journalists need to bear in mind: “A writer must never be a loyal member of a political party”.

Because if he is, it is objectivity that suffers…

Thursday, November 15, 2007

To my friend, Mani!!

I am indebted to have found you,
Thank you God for being magnanimous…

With your sweet smile, you have
Made me smile many a time.
With your soothing words, you have
Consoled my soul many a time.
With your uncanny witticism, you have
Given life to my life a countless times…
With your amazing memory, you have
Sprung many a surprise…
With your words of wisdom, you have
Raised my hopes many a time…
In your presence, I transform into
A different and better being…

Let this birthday herald a year
Of richer and happier experiences!!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Night-mare on wheels

Of late, the TN Government is going all out to ensure that the buses it operates are eye-catching to the potential passenger. This has resulted in ‘DVD – audio’ and ‘DVD – video’ long distance buses. I implore the Government to prefix ‘Board at your own peril’ signs to them. For traveling by these buses is nothing short of a exhausting and patience-sapping experience.

It is one thing to go to a cinema hall and see movies like ‘Paruthiveeran’, ‘Aaru’ and ‘7G Rainbow colony’ and a totally another thing to be forced into seeing these movies whilst traveling. It is not that I blame the filmmakers but the work of the censor board becomes pointless. The whole journey loses its charm if loud music and crass uncensored in-your-face dialogues blare at the passenger.

Imagine sitting in a bus while Priyamani pleads with men who attempt to rape her. The opinion of the passenger is rarely solicited and the volume level is always at the maximum much to everybody’s annoyance. One can’t even hear what the person sitting next to you is trying to say!!

To top it all, the cheap songs have subtitles as if to aid people poor at understanding Tamil. One sequence read ‘If I give you big fish, you ask for exotic fish’…

Please, stop this harassment!!!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Indian Idol - Dreams happening!!

Sony TV would have little expected the response that the third series of Indian idol has generated among the public. The TV show has directly managed to achieve what was urgently needed – to bring a region that has long been neglected by the mainstream media and the press into the limelight at least for a few weeks.

What talent shows like Indian idol do is offer the Indian public some change form boring television serials that constantly show the Indian women in extravagant attire and long bindis backbiting and plotting against each other. I have little knowledge of music and am in no position to comment on the relative talents of singers who were part of this series and compare their abilities with people who were part of other like shows.

I vaguely remember watching the first series of the show and how the song ‘Mohabatten Lutaoonga’ was on everybody’s lips. Abhijeet has had some success so far but a start was made for Indian television nevertheless. I did not watch the second series but when this third series started, I was glued to it right from the preliminary stage of the show.

The show had its share of drama with Richa and Suhit – the former, a girl about whom the public seemed undecided as they could not figure out whether she was childish or putting on an act and the latter a stylish Delhi lad who had the attitude but not the matching talent to get him through. Ankita and Chang are two contestants the public would have found hard to vote out because of their very personalities. Ankita, a STD XII student made almost every judge dance with her boyish approach and choice of songs. Chang, a professional dentist whose ancestors are Chinese impressed all the judges with his mastery of pronunciation and originality of voice.

Among others, Abhishek from Bangalore could have been a dark horse but had only himself to blame for getting voted out. Parleen had a charming personality but couldn’t raise his standards when it was required. Deepali and Charu were unlucky to be voted out early in the finals. I was most impressed by Deepali as she was able to live up the judges’ expectation but couldn’t influence the public voting to stay in the contest.

Each contestant that made to the top twelve deserved their place. From there, it was one elimination each week ending in a final that saw three young boys vying for the top spot.

Most girls felt that the talent of the boys who made it to the finals was superior while the views of the boys was more in accordance with the judges and ultimately this got reflected in the early elimination of many girls.

Emon with his likeness to Sonu Nigam certainly deserved his place in the top three. Amit Paul from Shillong was too good in every department in which the contestants were judged but had to be satisfied with the second place ultimately. Prashant Tamang, a police constable from Darjeeling with no professional learning has finally bagged the title and his triumph means the north east has finally something to cheer.

The response and enthusiasm that the contest has managed to inspire in the people there makes one feel that it is still not late to make an effort towards lending an ear to their genuine concerns and addressing them.

The Indian public’s response to the show is understandable as they see ‘one among them’ trying to live out his/her dreams. So, the public laughed and cried with the contestants and discussed their favorite idols’ in their living rooms. It gives the common man hope that if he dreams big and works hard, his dreams too can one day see the light of the day.

Chak De - A refreshing start

When my friends suggested that I see ‘Chak De’, I thought ‘why should I?’ as at the outset it seemed like another masala movie in which the aged hero romances girls half his age.

The first half of the movie is a little too dramatic but the second half more than compensates with its doses of reality. Hindi cinema has of late made some bold starts with respect to the subjects it has chosen to handle but they have not been met with expected appreciation and encouragement. Movies like Swadesh, Black, Water and Omkara have proved that our filmmakers are not afraid to experiment at the cost of commercial losses.

Chak De does what very few movies have managed to do. It has the potential to make the average Indian movie-goer question his stereotypical mindset when it comes to the abilities of the sexes.

Shahrukh deserves some praise for boldly accepting to play the hockey coach of a girls’ team. In his own style, he has done credit to the role and is in most part responsible for the movie’s success. The hockey stick wielding girls have fit their roles perfectly and one is able to believe when they doubt their abilities and cheer when they defy stereotypes and beat odds.

What is the reaction of friends, lovers and parents when women want to make it big in their careers? What is the status of a sport that so badly needs encouragement if it has to be in the nation’s consciousness? Ingrained societal outlook is challenged in the movie and that is why it deserves to be seen.

The girls have managed to portray emotions to the right degrees and the viewer is forced to cheer and laugh with them when they prove to the world that if they believe in themselves, they can accomplish what they aspire to. Special mention should be of Vidya Malwade and Chitrashi Rawat who play the Captain and young forward respectively.

A movie well worth the time spent…

Maximum City - Reality revealed

It was with a little hesitation that I started ‘Maximum City’ by Suketu Mehta for I am not much of a non-fiction lover. But, the first person narrative soon drew me in and I was deeply satisfied when I completed it.

The book starts with the longing of the author in his childhood to be back in Bombay. When he does come, he has to adjust to the Indian way of how things move. The manner in which he has described the lack of proper planning of flats offers an insight into how people are duped by the builders and the maintenance staff into paying for stopgap facilities endlessly.

Each of us would have seen many Bollywood movies where the hero comes to the city with high hopes and aspirations and triumphs in the end beating innumerable odds. There is a difference though in the lives of such people one comes across in this book. They are strange, have dreams, tire hard but reality wins ultimately. Gang lords, hit men, politicians, slum heads, police men, actors – one gets a glimpse of their routine and interesting lives in a sense that is totally different form the movies.

Many of us would have come across such characters but it needs the observation of a writer to convey how dangerous and unpredictable a life they lead in a city that cares little for its citizens but ceaselessly accepts many people like them into its fold. As one reads the interactions of the author with such people one gets a vision of Bombay that is chilling, sad and ruthless.

What drives the bar dancers, encounter specialists and the gang lords of the city to behave in the manner they do? How does one change gangs and give oneself up to the demands of his leader? How does a woman begin to love the attention that she gets by dancing even as yearning and hungry eyes watch? What sort of a life does she crave and long for and why does she become susceptible to fits of depression?

How does a superhero come to terms with his sudden imprisonment? How do political parties exploit the poverty and innocence of loyal and ignorant folk? What are the fears of the city’s rich even as they try to hide their wealth for fear of extortion? How do warring gang leaders manage to evade the law? What goes on in the mind of people who abandon their homes and hope to make it big in the cine field? The questions that the author has posed and tried to answer with the help of people he has met are endless…

There are passages in the book in which the human spirit triumphs and there are some in which the characters are doomed to their sorry destinies. On the whole, the book is a great read if one has some patience and interest to know about how lives are lived in India’s most populous city.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Beginning to love Bangalore

As a gentle cool breeze disturbs the leaves, I rewind the tapes of my memory and find myself a little afraid and a little excited but ready for a new chapter in the book of my life. I had come to Bangalore to make it my new home. As thousands of Indians have done before and are doing now, Bangalore was ready with its inviting climate to wrap me and welcome me.

The Inevitable:

Certain things happen unconsciously or rather semiconsciously in the mind that it takes a while to appreciate that they have actually happened. Ever since I set foot on Bangalore, my mind started to compare the life here with that in Chennai though I never deliberately tried to draw comparisons.

All through my school and college life, I have observed the life in Chennai closely. The city has a ‘conservative and traditional’ tag attached to it though it is breaking out of its shell to join the ‘truly cosmopolitan’ league of cities.

What would a person’s feelings be if he is constantly or for the most part of the year living in 35+ degrees and high humidity? The relentless sun and the inescapable heat together make a person irritable. On the other hand, if there is a pleasant breeze teasing one’s skin all through the day and one can’t exactly tell the time without a watch just by feeling the heat, one tends to have a more pleasant countenance. To me, that sums up the difference in the attitude of people in Chennai and Bangalore. That is also the reason why people easily settle down in Bangalore more than Chennai.

A sense of belonging:

As a person changes address, he carries with him a baggage of emotions and attachments some of which can be shrugged off with little effort while some remain in place. If one constantly looks at things with a fault-finding comparison lens, one can easily find a lot of things to be dissatisfied with. I was from the beginning determined not to fall into this trap.

Very few cities in India can boast of a diverse mix of culture that adds to the charm and attracts people from all walks of life. IT has done exactly that to Bangalore. It has made the city home to such a cross section of society that I’d not be exaggerating if I venture to describe it as an urban Indian microcosm.

Right from a person who ekes out a living by ironing clothes to a person manning the counter of a supermarket, every person knows another language on top of English and Kannada. This language factor plays an important role in putting a newcomer to the city at ease.

Exploring the city:

The thing that struck me first in the city is the large number of malls. Every street corner seems to have one and all of them boast of as being one-stop shops. While people find it easier to shop in these malls and have a wide variety to choose from, more often than not, they end up buying more than what is needed.

The very first week in the city I went book-hunting to the Sapna book house. It lived up to what I had expected. The collection was astoundingly impressive and like every avid book lover, I felt even a whole day wouldn’t be enough just to browse through it. Sadly, the British council library here is not stocked as good as Chennai.

The forum is a good place to hang out especially if one doesn’t know what to do during the weekends. The Ragiguda temple close by is so beautiful that I have made it a habit to visit the temple at least once every week.

I live in Jayanagar now which is around ½ hr travel under ‘normal Bangalore traffic conditions’ from the Majestic bus terminus. The place is a residential area with well planned roads and trees that, perennially, one feels the whisper of Mother Nature even as the traffic creates a continuous hum.

As I return after work, the sun bids goodbye for the day and twilight sets in. A feeling of romance sets in if rain decides to pay a visit during that period of dimming natural light. As I hum songs and walk, I observe a father playing shuttle with his son, a little girl fast asleep in the lap of her mother who is busy selling vegetables to an old lady, children coming out after their classes form the Urdu school…

(To be continued)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Maugham on Friendships

I have now ventured into the next phase of my life after college and I am meeting new faces. It is time to make new acquaintances and new friends. To be able to do that, I need to be free from prejudices and conclusions. As I have come to understand, people tend to make their conclusions very fast and end up losing a few potential friends. In this context, I’d like to use this blog to convey what Somerset Maugham thought of friendship when he writes beautifully in his mostly-autobiographical work – A writer’s notebook.

“There are two kinds of friendship. The first is a friendship of animal attraction; you like your friend not for any particular qualities or gifts, but simply because you are drawn to him. It is unreasoning and unreasonable; and by the irony of things it is probable that you will have this feeling for someone quite unworthy of it. This kind of friendship, though sex has no active part in it, is really akin to love. It arises in the same way and it is not improbable that it declines in the same way.

The second kind of friendship is intellectual. You are attracted by the gifts of your new acquaintance. His ideas are unfamiliar; he has seen sides of life of which you are ignorant; his experience is impressive.

But every well has a bottom and finally your friend will come to the end of what he has to tell you; this is the moment decisive for the continuation of your friendship. If he has nothing more in him than his experience and his reading have taught him, he can no longer interest or amuse you. The well is empty and when you let the bucket down, nothing comes up. This explains why one so quickly makes warm friendships with new acquaintances and as quickly breaks them: also the dislike one feels for these persons afterwards, for the disappointment one feels on discovering that one’s admiration was misplaced turns into contempt and aversion.

Sometimes, for one reason or the other, however, you continue to frequent these people. The way to profit by their society then is to make them yield you the advantages of new friends; by seeing them only at sufficiently long intervals to allow them to acquire fresh experiences and new thoughts. Gradually the disappointment you experienced at the discovery of their shallowness will wear off, habit brings with it an indulgence for their defects and you may keep up a pleasant friendship with them for many years.

But, if having got to the end of your friend’s acquired knowledge, you find that he has got something more, character, sensibility and a restless mind, then your friendship will grow stronger, and you will have a relationship as delightful in its way as the other friendship of physical attraction.

It is conceivable that these two friendships should find their object in one and the same person; that would be the perfect friend. But to ask for that is to ask for the moon. On the other hand, when, as sometimes happens, there is an animal attraction on one side and an intellectual one on the other, only discord can ensue.”

After reading this, I am amazed at the way Maugham has managed to convey what a majority of us sometimes struggle to understand. As always, I am indebted to the person who introduced me to the world of Maugham and his works.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sivaji – A visual delight!!

Few movies have been made in Tamil cinema or for that matter in bollywood too that have seen such a tremendous response as Sivaji has. It has broken umpteen numbers of records even as it is still in the first week of its release.

In director Shankar, actor Rajnikanth is lucky to have got a man who is known to make movies that enthrall the audience visually. Boys, Gentleman, Anniyan and Mudhalvan had one thing in common – lavishly created sets to shoot songs and some good music that left the audience asking for more. Following the same trend, Sivaji sees the return of Shankar-Rehman duo and quite expectedly, the result is a visual delight.

It would take extreme courage for any producer to make a movie that is believed to be the most extravagant in Indian cinema’s history. But, if the hero is Rajnikanth and if his last release was 2 years back, it is no surprise at all.

Coming to the movie, it has got everything that an ardent Rajni fan expects of his icon. From a good dose of style to a larger than life image, the veteran actor proves once again that he can still attract crowds in his inimitable style.

The hero takes on the tax evaders and in the process, one gets to see some fight scenes that only the super star can do without appearing ridiculous. The first half could have done with some editing as the first song obviously drags. In the company of Vivek, Rajni manages to make the audience laugh and the jokes are not rehashed 0nes either. The standout ones are those in which the superstar experiments with fair and lovely to win over his lady love and those in which he imitates MGR. The make up artists have done their homework commendably well and all along their effort and work has not gone unnoticed.

The second half is more action packed and stylish. Special credit should be given to Shreya Saran who does her job neatly. Looking glamorous seems to be her only job and in low-waist saris and skimpy costumes, she does that. I am curious to know how she fares from now on as undoubtedly, this movie with the superstar would give her a wide visibility.

Apart from having all the ingredients of a blockbuster, the movie sends subtle hints of a political career for Rajni. The hero has a huge fall from riches to rags and the next day, he outwits the villain and laughs in his face. That can happen only in extremely imaginative cinema, but who cares for reality and possibilities anyway!! The movie is definitely a ‘paisa vasool’ mass entertainer that will keep the cash registers ringing for a long time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Political analyst Cho Ramaswamy once remarked in a television show: “If the Left has a future, India will have no future left.”

In India, the left parties comprising the CPI and the CPI (M) enjoy power with absolutely no accountability and sense of proportion. Wielding considerable political clout only in three states – West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, they get to have a say on almost everything the centre does and expect the centre to toe their line too. They don’t form part of the union cabinet and yet the UPA gives in every time they raise a hue and cry. The latest episode is their rejection of presidential hopefuls – Shivraj Patil and Karan Singh.

They comment on the entry of foreign firms in the retail sector, FDI caps and agricultural policies to be pursued and the Government like a good school boy listens.

Yet, North Bengal is literally one area in the country that competes for the top spot when it comes to hunger related deaths and malnutrition. The SEZ row in Nandigram doesn’t seem to head towards a quick solution either.

It would be better if the communists of this country respect the people’s mandate and confine themselves to wielding a proportional sense of power. It would definitely be in the larger interests of the society!!

Is this Empowerment?

In the past few days, we have been constantly hearing about the nomination of Pratibha Patil to the post of president by the UPA-Left combine. Her are some comments that are being flashed across the news channels on her “elevation” and what it means to womenfolk of the country.

Pratibha Patil: “It shows that women are respected in this country.”

“I’ll not be a rubber-stamp president.”

Congress party spokesperson, Jayanti Natarajan: “The opposition should gracefully refrain from contesting against the UPA-Left nominee.”

Sonia Gandhi: “It is a historic moment for the country.”

Shobha De: “It is an insult to women.”

DMK Chief: “From here on, it is your rule.” (To a woman journalist)

Some questions that her candidature has thrown up:

Is her gender getting unfair attention?

Were their more worthy candidates (Men and Women) for the post?

Who is Pratibha Patil?
Born in Maharashtra, she made a mark in state politics by rising from humble beginnings. She has served as a minister in the state cabinet; has been deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha and more importantly has maintained a low profile and has a clean, non-controversial public image. One thing that clearly went in her favor is her loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family.

This shrewd political move on the part of the congress largely due to the absence of consensus on other candidates has been turned into an attempt on the part of the Government towards empowering women. If it is really what it is being made out by the Government, the centre should have considered only the names of women from the beginning. Instead, it went about trying to build consensus on Shivraj Patil, Karan Singh and Shinde and only when these attempts failed, it found the Rajasthan Governor to be the perfect choice acceptable to all parties. The flipside is that she is being judged even before she has occupied the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

By choosing a political person who has been a lawyer and who has been an efficient administrator, it has opted for the right person. But in the process, many other names that enjoy greater stature and who have been in the public eye for greater lengths of time have lost out. The reason put forward is that, one cannot try and please everybody.

Women hold critical decision—making positions in the Indian political scene with Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati being prime examples. Yet, there are no strong women ministers in the center and in UP. And ironically, the Government expects the people to be fooled by this elevation of the Rajasthan governor to a nominal post!!! One only expects our womenfolk to see through all this and decide for themselves.

Monday, June 4, 2007

In the city's trains

Chennai city has its share of attractions like all major cities do. The electric train and the marina beach would be at the very top when one tries to compare the city with any other Indian city.

This post is totally devoted to my experiences traveling in the city’s suburban trains. Traveling by these trains always leaves one with a myriad of experiences if one has the eye to look around and observe people. The sheer number of vendors trying to sell their wares at any point of the day is mindblowing. Each person has his/her own way of wooing a potential customer.

I have just tried to capture a single day’s experience here.

It was a hot Sunday but by Chennai standards, a relatively bearable one. I boarded the EMU at Mambalam that day. Ranganathan Street is a paradise for the city’s shoppers and inevitably always crowded. People got into the train with their shopping bags full. I was surprised to see a gentleman getting in carrying a cycle. It was a small bicycle he had just brought for his little son who was all smiles.

I got myself a seat luckily and looked around at my co-passengers. Sitting across from me on the opposite side was a young lady and a boy, apparently her friend. She was tall, had thick eyebrows and long hair. Simple and beautiful looking, she attracted quite a few approving glances. Her hair kept blowing in her face and her hands were making almost involuntary movements to keep it in place. She was looking a little tired and soon her eyelids drooped.

The bicycle meanwhile was touched, caressed and commented on by some curious passengers. Everybody seemed to have an opinion all of a sudden. A few were appreciative of its color, a few were critical of its cost, some commented that the tires wouldn’t last long... all this was going on while the boy was happy and smiling to himself on his father’s buy.

A little child of around 2-3 years was trying to touch the cycle and his toothless smile was directed at the boy. Soon enough, he was trying to sit on it with the boy’s help and his face glowed with pride when he was comfortably seated.

As stations sped past, the child was placed in the lap of the small boy while his parents carefully made sure that he wouldn’t fall. All these simple and common place incidents were occasionally spoilt by the glaring ring tones from somebody’s cell phone. But, they nevertheless provided me with much needed amusement and lifted my spirits after a long hot day spent in the midst of a mad shopping crowd.

Many people spend a good amount of time commuting in these trains and for them these little incidents serve as pleasant diversions. For these alone, I have always preferred the trains over buses. One has to just look around and be rest assured that one’s short journey is full of amusing experiences!!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Movies should be made like this...

I don’t know Telugu. On a friend’s recommendation and thanks to subtitles, I decided to see Bommarillu. After 2 hrs and 45 minutes, I felt very happy that I had seen it. All my myths about Telugu movies were completely shattered.

The film is a romantic entertainer in every sense of the word. The lead pair, Siddharth and Genelia fit the bill perfectly as young lovers. Prakashraj as the father of the hero tries to guide his son in every step that he takes with the good intention of making his son happy. When the hero wants to be free from his father’s influence, it proves to be extremely difficult.

Genelia as the girl who talks non-stop and does things as she wishes could not have given a more convincing performance. The hero is drawn to this vivacious and freedom loving young girl and how he manages to secure his father’s approval for the marriage forms the remaining story.

The music by Devi Sri Prasad is very good on the ears and the lyrics have been given good attention. The costumes on the lead pair look good and both of them carry their roles off with utmost ease. I was laughing through most of the second half and not because one actor was trying to belittle another but because of the manner in which the heroine was trying to impress the hero’s father.

The movie tries to appeal to the parents of this generation of youth to give importance to their sons’ and daughters’ wishes instead of forcing their likes. In an indirect manner, it also gets across the point that one shouldn’t expect one’s partner to change according to his/her wishes.

When movies are made to target specific audiences and skin show seems to have become common, this one appeals to all age groups with a limited dose of everything thrown in to impress any interested movie-goer.

As I write this, I am planning to see this one again...

Movies should be made like this...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tour memoirs - Final part

The trip from the hotel to the Jallianwala Bagh memorial was for a good part by horse carts. The poor animals were made to draw carts loaded with 10 of us. Many Kodak moments were captured during the ride and it would simply stay forever in many of our memories. At the memorial, the cumulative energy was palpably on the lower side probably because many of us knew that General Dyer had brutally opened fire on an innocent gathering at that very place. The Amar Jyothi and the well where people had jumped to escape humiliation truly stirred patriotism in our hearts. Mani captured every description on Anand’s mobile with an interest I envied.

Our next visit was to the golden temple and words would simply be unable to convey the beauty of the structure or the calmness/serenity of mind one felt at the place. We tied orange cloths to cover our hair before we stepped in. The structure was so beautiful even in the foggy morning that it seemed to draw all eyes towards it and every one of us made sure that we did not miss looking at it from all possible angles.

From an elderly Sikh gentleman, we learnt that people of all faiths flock to the temple and that their holy book has something valuable for everybody. When we were about to exit, Prashanth shot a video of Meera and a little child. The child’s parents were all smiles and VP as always did a good work...

As we walked back to the carts, we could observe the hustle and bustle of the small city and we really felt part of the diverse Indian society like never before. The young girls were dressed in traditional Punjabi fashion and made the beating of our hearts a little quicker. The ride back was eventful with some good haggling for the amount to be paid for the horse carts.

In the evening, we went to the Wagah border to be part of the flag march that takes place with much pomp and show. Flags, CDS claiming to have the march and numerous other ‘patriotic’ souvenirs priced exorbitantly were sold by young men almost feverishly before the gates opened and we were let in to have a closer look. Boys and girls were meticulously separated at his point.

Across the border, we could catch sight of our Pakistani friends and jawans. The crowd there was not much except for some school children. Emotions ran high and soon shouts were matched by louder shouts and claps by louder claps. Prathiba, Thendral, Kamakshi and JD did us proud by carrying the Indian tricolor. Later, we requested the Jawans to pose for a few photos. Some of them relented while a few didn’t seem to care. We left with the feeling of having been part of a big event.

The night ride to Manali was taxing on all of us. After the supper, we were struggling to get some sleep. VP entertained us and to a large extent, made the night ride possible with a good number of songs from his repertoire. The beauty of his voice coupled with the fresh air and our driver’s passion for a ‘steady’ ride got us through.

In the morning, we stopped for breakfast at a breathtaking place. It was actually a school and everywhere we could see monkeys and small hills. Deepti/the little angel got talking freely that morning. She reeled off anecdotes about her class teachers (actually said, she doesn’t like the face of her maths teacher) and friends (said, she hates a boy who always copies from her during the exams and then tries to act innocent).

The bus resumed and it appeared as if we would keep traveling. We passed a long tunnel and it was a funny feeling to have darkness surround us all of a sudden. The condition of the road progressively worsened as we got closer to Manali. Finally, we reached the hotel by 12’o’ clock and after a good and hearty lunch got some sleep. The view from the hotel – of snow capped mountains and fading sunlight – was of nature at her peak.

In the evening, we went for a walk and it was really chilly. We rented a metal rod that provided some respite from the cold. That night, we made Vichu’s birthday a truly memorable one by literally making his face ‘sweeter’ J

The next day we started after breakfast for snow point. Rohtang pass was closed during that time of the year due to extremely low temperatures and snowfall. We rented fur coats and boots for Rs. 100 and it took us quite a good amount of time before everyone was happy with the size of the coats and boots they got.

With a long stick to support ourselves in the snow, we arrived at snow point. Everywhere we could see ice and the place was straight out of some movie where a hero and his love might sing a romantic duet. We had fun throwing snow balls at each other and some boys even went to the extent of posing bare-chested in that ridiculously low temperature.

I, Muthu and Saranya climbed higher and higher leaving others and stopped just when we decided, we won’t be able to climb any further. Soon enough Vasu and BK joined us and we took snaps of each other.

Then it was time for the yaks to join in the fun. They were patient when we took turns sitting on top of them and a mini photo session was in progress. On coming down, we went to a little shop nearby and had piping hot noodles. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to visit the Hadimba temple famous for its appearance in a small role in the film ‘Roja’. Small rabbits in the temple premises bowled us over with their cute looks and soon everybody was having one in their hands and smiling into the cameras.

That night would go down in the entire journey as the most memorable one. We had ‘campfire’ in the hotel and it was so cold that many of us were wearing more than 3 layers of clothing and the unavoidable gloves. While it was ‘antakshri’ that started the proceedings, it was Ayyappa who in his inimitable manner got everybody’s attention glued when he started to pick out people among us who had grown close to each other in the course of college life and asked them about the incidents that had brought about such an intimacy.

I remember many interesting responses and this account would be meaningless if I fail to recount some of them.

Raj & Ambi: Attendance blues

Prathiba and nithya: Hostel woes

Thendral and Indu: Joint study

Meera and Usha: Hosur and same cutoff!!

The next day, we visited a Tibetan temple nearby. It was a beautiful one close to the main thoroughfare of Manali with a large statue of Buddha and the prayer bells which are a familiar sight in all Buddhist shrines.

It was then time to drag our luggage down to the bus and bid Manali goodbye. The bus started its journey down slope and we stopped at a roadside temple soon after. I once again observed the subtle differences in the manner in which my friends paid their obeisance and offered prayers. It is one thing that happens always to me at temples – observing people around me praying and their expressions when they try to surrender themselves to the supreme power towering above us all.

That ride to Delhi was the worst experience for me in the whole tour. I was sweating and feeling cold alternately and the sudden increase in the speed of our bus didn’t help matters either. I hardly slept during the whole of that ride and I guess, I was the only person who felt an immense relief when we reached Delhi in the early hours of the morning.

We were let free that day to roam Delhi on our own and I started early by taking a walk in the area surrounding the hotel and brought almost all the English dailies that the closest newspaper vendor had...

I joined Mani, Vasu, Avinash and VP and we boarded the metro to get to Red Fort. The metro stations were amazingly clean and it gave us a sense of being part of some hi-tech movie when the doors opened automatically and people got out. Announcements were made in Hindi and English to help the passengers know which station was approaching. Warnings were made to make sure we stay well clear of doors. When we steeped out on to the road leading to the red Fort, the contrast was sharp. It seemed as if we had gone back in time when Old Delhi met our eyes with its relative poverty and the rickshaw-wallahs struggled to keep alongside CNG buses in the busy traffic.

I did not much admire the Red Fort but liked the immense greenery inside. It was a large park like area for the Delhiites to relax whenever they wished. We spent quite a lot of time needlessly at the fort and it was already close to sunset time when we headed for the Samadhis of the congress leaders. That again was more of a park for young couples to get together after work and over weekends to have long chats.

The ride to the market area by a rickshaw certainly brought out the glaring inequalities prevailing in our society. In the morning, I was marveling at the clean and efficient metro system and in the evening, I was sitting in a rickshaw and a puny old man was pulling it with all his might. How some people resort to such back breaking work to earn their daily wages while a few spend freely without any qualms remains to me a mystery!!

The market did not meet our expectations and soon we were back on the metro to Karol Bagh area. There, again we headed towards the market. We spent a looong time there forgetting our supper and ended up getting very tired. We haggled like it was a profession and in the end, I don’t think we made a bad bargain. A lot of handbags (of course, all for our mothers, sisters, girl-cousins J ), travel bags, winter clothes and shoes were added to our luggage.

Early morning, the next day, it was time for us to bid goodbye to Delhi. We caught the morning fast passenger to Agra and that ride in itself gave us precious time to relax and play games.

At Agra, we had our lunch before leaving for the fort. The fort’s history was given to us by a rather ‘typical’ guide in a rather ‘typical’ fashion which interested us little. We were more interested in where the king was imprisoned and the queen had her bath... The view from the fort of the Mahal was impressive though not very much clear.

The road to the Taj Mahal was out of bounds for polluting vehicles. Camels and battery operated cars were the modes of transport apart from a few rickshaws.

The Taj in itself was to sound cliché grand and I was truly marveled by the structure’s effect on the people around me. We had some unforgettable photos taken inside with Vasu and Avi trying some remarkable air stunts. It was good to walk round and round the Mahal and we really didn’t care about the time... We did some really good speculation on the genuineness of the structure and it threw up more questions than we had expected in the beginning...

Back outside, we did some sweet shoppingJ. With a lot of memories to cherish, we boarded the Grand Trunk express back to Chennai. The return journey was not without its share of events with an army man getting nasty after drinking and a ‘thank you all’ speech by Babu and Ayyaparaj.

Going on long tours with friends gives the experience of getting closer to them in many ways and this one will remain the most pleasurable and memorable.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Online Identities

Online identities

Why are people more expressive when they are chatting online?
Why are blogs and chatting rooms so popular among the young and the old alike?
Why is telephone getting relegated to the background?

Such questions are very common in today’s world where people look to the internet for information. Gone are the good old days when a person had to rush to a library and search among a pile of thick books to get what he needed. Friendship, bonding, information, shopping, banking and what not- everything is available just a mouse click away.

But as the aphorism goes: "every coin has two sides". We are increasingly living in a world where messaging is fast replacing the spoken word and e-mails have already made letter writing an obsolete art. But the crucial question here is whether anything can replace a good long conversation face to face over a cup of tea or coffee. The lure of the internet lies simply in the fact that a person need not reveal his identity but at the same time he can make himself heard.
Not surprisingly this façade gives the ideal reticent youth more freedom in terms of expression.
The danger ultimately lies in the perception of reality. There have been numerous cases of online flirters being moody and even girls turning out to be jobless middle-aged men. That apart, there have also been cases that have ended in marriages and long lasting friendships. So eventually the correct perception of reality rests with the person himself.

He may take his new found freedom calmly and use it to the benefit of the society or he may turn violent and over confident. At this stage comes the question of education. With virtually no means to check what a child is up to while surfing, the responsibility lies with the child himself. It is up to him not to misuse the trust of his parents. At the same time on a more subtle level, the parents should be able to rightly influence the child and create an atmosphere wherein the child can share his feelings freely with them.

"Why do even the best of people seem to be something back, something secret from the others? Why not just put into words whatever you have in your heart, if you know you mean it? Yet everyone tries to look more forbidding than he really is, as though afraid it would be an insult to his feelings if they were displayed too soon." - Dostoevsky in his famous story ‘White Nights’.

The above questions don’t appear to hold true when one looks at the numerous blogs and online forums at least from the outset. Right from how a person got up late to how he ended up tired, he can share every feeling of his in an online forum without having to feel embarrassed about questioning or puzzled looks. He can at will express his feelings for/against the ruling Government and make his views known on a wide range of public and social issues which he would have normally avoided otherwise.

Along with this freedom comes a price and this is self deception and obsession. Many people end up deceiving themselves and getting too obsessed with their online selves. A perfect moron may claim himself to be intelligent and a terrorist may claim to be of service to the society.

Another issue that deserves special mention is that of online friendship. Many people with amazing alacrity make online friends but shy away from a chance to meet them at the slightest provocation. Why? Is it because they want to deceive themselves? In cases where they actually meet many end up disappointed. So they feel that it would be better if they continue to correspond online. That is the prime reason why the friendship online refuses to move beyond a certain personal level. When one party tries to get too personal, the other party begins to have doubts and second thoughts about the claims made by the former.

The two parties thus agree to carry along playing the same game with both of them knowing all too well that this friendship will never reach a more intimate level.
Let us consider an online social forum that has achieved a tremendous popularity within a short span of time – orkut. It shatters the barriers of internet groups and anybody can virtually become anybody’s friend provided both the parties agree. There are a lot of communities under different categories right from lesbian-only to cryptography. One can very well imagine what benefits and dangerous repercussions this can lead to.

All said, it is eventually the maturity of the person himself which will decide whether these trends will be to his advantage or not. .

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Water - A Review

It is perhaps a reflection of our intolerance that ‘Water’, a film that deals with the subject of widow remarriage and directed by Deepa Mehta was not allowed to be released in India. Sadly, the commendable work has so far remained out of the reach of the Indian masses – which it was supposedly targeted at.

The shooting of the film was obstructed at the banks of the Ganges and the crew had to move to Sri Lanka where it was almost entirely filmed. The media was all appreciative of Deepa once the movie made it to the final five of the Oscar nominees list in the foreign language category. I wonder how many Indians have seen the movie and feel it is fit to bag the coveted award that has remained elusive to India, though if it does manage to win, it will be as a nominee from Canada.

I am no seasoned reviewer but then I sincerely feel that the movie has nothing offensive or objectionable and on the contrary, every avid moviegoer should see this work.

Recently in a special edition of India Today, I came to know that around 1984, a special team of reporters was assigned the task of writing about the appalling conditions of hundreds of widows in Varanasi who had been neglected by their families. They were living in abject poverty and the less said about their living conditions, the better. In the name of obeying age old laws, their families had abandoned them and left them to fend for themselves.

Ours, being a patriarchal society, it is only now that working women are not frowned at and slowly women are gaining their rightful place in the society. It would perhaps take years for them to break several existing myths that the society imposes on them. So much for the western influence!

It is in this context that Water becomes all the more importantly a film that should be seen by Indians to be able to know the double standards of our society when it comes to treatment of womenfolk. I salute the crew of Water for coming out with a brave and praiseworthy attempt.

The film opens with the laws of Manu and immediately one knows that this is not a run of the mill commercial flick. The setting is India – 1938.

A child, chuyia (played by debutant Sarala) of around 8-10 years is led to a widow ashram by her own father and she silently goes through the trauma of having her hair removed. After an initial period of believing that she will be rescued by her mother, she reconciles herself to the harsh reality.

Throughout the film, Sarala impresses the viewer with her excellent acting. Be it the scenes warranting expressions of innocence, playful childishness, amusement, friendly bonding, amazement, resignation, happiness, mild anger.. – Sarala scores everywhere. Shakuntala (played by Seema Biswas) is introduced as being seemingly strict with Sarala, but she effortlessly nurtures affection on the child.

Kalyani (played by Lisa Ray) looks stunningly beautiful and takes an instant liking to the child. The scene in which Narayan (played by John Abraham) is introduced has been beautifully conceived. He is shown as one who is sensible enough to see the real picture and wanting to give Kalyani a better life. The scenes where he tries to make Kalyani understand the cruelty of her own position could not have been better filmed.

Certain sequences leave the viewer with tears in his eyes. That which stands out is the one in which Chuyia asks where the ashram for male widows is…

As the film progresses, one gets to see the ignorance and hopelessness that are intertwined in the lives of the widows and almost make them feel justified about their state.

The song ‘aayo re sajan’ rendered by Sukhwinder Singh to AR Rahman’s music stands out. The costumes perfectly suit the subject and the time.

Kalyani tries her best to escape her plight but that is rendered impossible by a startling revelation. Narayan loses faith and decides to join the nationalist movement led by Gandhi. Revealing more about the film would be meaningless.

The film concludes by reminding the viewer that there are 34 million windows in India according to the 2000 census and that many continue to live in conditions of deprivation.

Now, we are seeing working women who are confident and are ready to take up any challenge. But what about those who still believe in different laws for man and women and there are doubtless many people like them in our country, but sadly they don’t catch the eye of the media and the press and rarely is their plight told…

Whether ‘Water’ manages to win an Oscar or not is immaterial. What is urgently needed is openness at the heart of every Indian to address some important questions earnestly.

Thank you, Deepa Mehta.