Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Decade needs a new maxim

The Times Of India's Speaking tree column today has a very relevant article to mark the end of the decade - Balance your desires to avoid suffering.

Consumerism, world over came of age in this decade. As our economy began to bear the fruits of liberalization, the Indian consumer too became obsessed with brands. Material greed and instant gratification summed up and characterized by "Live as if there is no tomorrow" meant that values, morals and ethics assumed a lesser importance relative to competition, profits, greed and progress.

There is nothing wrong in working towards fulfilling our desires but the question to be asked is - Is there a sense of proportion and balance? Let me try to illustrate...

  • Recession - Primary result of too much speculation assisted by negligence and oversight. (Remember the age when the word loan was not invented)
  • Climate Change - Product of "We will grow come what may!" Whatever be the cost to the environment, I shall consume meat and drive to work every single day/it is not my concern - whether the earth is a better place for my progeny- as long as I am happy. (Remember your neighbor in office who is planning his vehicle upgrade and who consumes meat day in and day out)
  • Tribal/indigenous populations' unrest - Same story: As long as bauxite and iron ore fetch money, to hell with landslides and flash floods/My country needs resources and I will procure them if not within our borders, then in far off Africa. (Remember China in Africa and wealthy corporations in tribal lands closer home)
  • Civil wars and the threat of terror - The law is an instrument that is open to interpretation based on the need of the hour. Yesteryear friends can be today's foes if it suits me and keeps my country safe. (Remember US support for fundamentalists against Soviets in Afghanistan and the aerial bombings now)
  • Technology infiltration - When was the last time you smiled to a stranger? (Remember how listening to music on a ipod is more important and satisfying than striking up a conversation with a stranger while traveling)
  • Change in the nature of hobbies - Shopping with an obsession for brands, splurging on food and movies and the like...
  • Erosion of roots - Our memories are becoming weak particularly in remembering the lessons taught by history. We are forgetting our roots and relegating past to the back-burner in the crazy urge to pursue the future.
All these problems have their root in "Live as if there is no tomorrow"taken to its extreme. The high levels of testosterone in every sphere, the triumph of the individual aspirations (Remember vulgar displays of wealth, reality television stars and instant celebrities) and an appalling disregard for conventional manners and values - these are all defended steadfastly as part of the RACE to emerge the winner, however momentary and fleeting that position might be.

What we need in the new decade is a new maxim to live our lives by. This should factor in the consequences of our present actions and give room for introspection. "Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!" - Viktor Frankl wrote in "Man's search for meaning", a book I recently got to read. He explains that this maxim essentially means "Imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed, and amended". How beautifully worded to factor the consequences of our actions beforehand!!

Here is hoping that the new year and the new decade is more gentle and empathetic. All of us, through our actions should resolve to strive and make the world a better place for our brethren in the remotest corners and for our future generations.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Buddy - You will always be a gem!

Vasu, with whom I have been fortunate enough to share accommodation in Bangalore from the time I came here, left the city today. It is a huge vacuum that he leaves me with.

Vasu is simply too good a human being to be real! His voice, his understanding of any matter and situation by getting to the bottom of it even with very little information (that intuition to completely imagine his friend going through something), the sound of his heartfelt laughter and his profound sincerity that always shines through, make him a gem. I wonder if God makes human beings like him anymore.

We have had the occasional disagreements, but as with people who know that such things shouldn't be allowed to dictate attitudes and behavior for long, we have warmed to each other quickly.

I have learned a lot from him - single minded focus, commitment, dedication (imagine all the synonyms - each one would be applicable) 100% empathy and the passion for things he really loves (AR Rehman, Sachin and algorithms of every hue and color) - to term them simply strong would be either due to my limited vocabulary or the inability of the English language to offer any better word. It is also not necessary for good friends to share interests. It is enough if there are the best of intentions for each other.

There are some things that get so inseparable when thinking about a person - these are random events or conversations we either partake in or exchange with that person but which will always jump into the foreground whenever we reminisce. I still remember in vivid detail, the night, we were talking about expectations (we have) from people we get to know- his viewpoint and my viewpoint were poles apart. An excitement runs through my veins every time I think about it.

Bangalore is never going to be the same. I have written before about missing people and saying goodbye to them. I wish this is not a goodbye. I wish that our paths and destinies cross often and life would once more bring us together sometime soon. I wait for that day to dawn.

3 Idiots - Meets Expectations

Five Point someone is not a great book; by Chetan Bhagat's own admission, his intention is to make everybody want to read his novels. Likewise, 3 idiots is not a great movie; it is made for consumption by the masses.

What works in the movie?/what would make it a huge hit?

  • Casting - It is as perfect as it can get. This movie will catapult Sharman Joshi to new heights. Any other actress in the place of Kareena is unthinkable. The svelte beauty bowls you over in Zoobie Doobie with a range of sweet expressions that makes her stand out as a very fine actress. What is acting without a little exaggeration when it is demanded?
  • Humor - The first half is fun all the way with pranks, friendship gyan and the "All izzz well" number. Though the jokes are not quite for the prudes, their placement shifts the attention. Wise scripting!
  • Friendship - In a bollywood movie with three friends taking center-stage, this is a no-brainer. Some sequences that are honest to the novel help here like the one when Aamir drives Sharman's father to the hospital.
  • Music - What sounded more than average on the ear is actually excellent stuff. When songs don't sound discordant placed in context and the choreography + cinematography is very good, viewing on the big screen is a treat! Shantanu Moitra of Parineeta and Yahaan fame doesn't disappoint and neither does the lyricist Swanand Kirkire. 'Behti hawa sa' is one of the best songs of 2009.
  • Gyaan - In small doses, with a good amount of sentiment and drama for accentuation, this is passable. In fact, the second half is a touch over the top. Sometimes, this medium in India finds the temptation too irresistible to curtail indulgence when delivering a message.
What doesn't make it great?

  • Everyone idolizes Aamir. It works in parts but makes him less human. In Indian cinema, this is forgivable.
  • The extreme caricatures of the rote-learning student Omi and the "Life is a race" mouthing Boman Irani.
  • It is not Aamir's best though I love him in the movie.
Watch it for the beautifully worded songs, the humor, the college sequences and for its actors. Its message has its heart in the right place though something else that is essential is missing.

2009 had better movies for the discerning viewer but 3 idiots would score higher with the common man who wants to live his dreams and pays to get entertained.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Dragon's Pearl - Complex web of politics, diplomacy and history

China - It is a mysterious nation to most Indians partly because our media loves to hate it (Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Dalai Lama etc) and partly because there is hardly any window we have into what is actually taking place there. I always get intrigued whenever I chance upon any fictional account set during historically significant periods or of late, non-fiction that is lucid, informative and wraps a subject that interests me.

Politics, be it in Sudan (Tears of the desert by Halima Bashir), Ethiopia (Sweetness in the belly by Emily cabb), Libya (In the country of Men by Hisham Matar), Kenya (The In-between World of Vikram Lal by MG Vassanji) or Iran (The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer), when read in bboks through the eyes of protagonists is a different subject altogether. All of a sudden, history and politics conjure a world full of possibilities - one complementing the other.

Coming to the subject of this post, 'The dragon of the pearl', its author Sirin Phathanothai writes in the 'Acknowledgments' - "To me, as to many others, China seems a repository of myths; living in their midst, I found I could only occasionally pierce them. And without my so choosing, I was borne along on the current of tumultuous political change and struggle occurring both in China and in my native Thailand." That is probably encapsulating the enormity and significance of the events that she has lived through much too simply...

The author in the relatively quieter period of late 50s is sent by her father - Sang Phathanothai, a prominent Thai Politician and adviser to Marshal Pibul - along with her brother to live under the care of the first Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. The Chinese Premier warming up to the trust imposed by such an action - read as a signal for bolstering backdoor ties with China - lavishes affection and care on the two children, Sirin in particular.

In a sense, the autobiography starts there though initially the reader is privy to the close ties between Sang and Pibul seen from the author's eye. In China, Sirin and her brother Wai take time to get used to the harsh life having to forsake luxuries. They live through the Great Leap Forward. Sirin contributes to the movement by joining the "steel campaign" as she puts it. She learns how politics works everywhere and she describes it beautifully - "Public statements about events (by political leaders) did not have to conform with private evaluations of them". It is in these places that the book scores highly giving a glimpse, in anecdotal details, about the conversations she has with Zhou Enlai.

As a reader, the descriptions of her experiences studying in a Chinese school and later at a music conservatory, made me feel as if I was living through them too! This is one of the greatest assets of reading books - I get the sense of being transported to a black and white past where events and people constantly buzz around with myself in the center. It is an experience that affects my dreams and some times, pervades my activities so much that i have to shake myself out from them.

Wiki describes Zhou thus: "To a large extent, Zhou epitomized the paradox inherent in a communist politician with traditional Chinese upbringing: at once conservative and radical, pragmatic and ideological, possessed by a belief in order and harmony as well as a faith in the progressive power of rebellion and revolution". As I progressed through the book and got to observe Zhou in his various avatars, I realized how challenging it must have been to maneuver so delicately across the political waters in such turbulent times!

The book loses pace after the 'Great Leap forward' and picks steam during the cultural revolution. (There is an excellent and informative photo series on the revolution) Sirin is forced to separate from Liao Chengzhi whom she and her brother come to view as a father figure. The events that unfold gave goose-bumps to me. As I read the accounts of Sirin living in the countryside and later denouncing her own brother and father, my pulse raced.

Indeed to a person who knew nothing of the cultural revolution before reading the book, this was like a history lesson - one not written by any academic body. History is often spoken of as written by winners; an objective account of history is by definition impossible to achieve unless one can travel back in time and live through momentous times ourselves. In the absence of such an absurdity, autobiographies like these might come very close to the actual truth!

Coming back to the book, The Gang of Four in the struggle for control with Zhou Enlai wreck havoc on the lives of loyal party leaders. In the meantime, Sirin's father is arrested by the military junta that captures power in Thailand and is later released. His role after the release and his constant conviction in belief are lessons in attention to execution come what may.

The book ends when China embarks on economic development under Deng Xiaoping. Sirin lavishes praise on Zhou Enlai even as she quotes the Premier as often saying "Life is a negotiation". How true it is ! This book is one of the richest as far as the information and the manner in which it is presented goes. I am immensely happy after completing it and sharing the experience through this post!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Choices on a Sunday Morning!

This picture tells the tale of a Sunday Morning!

Too many things to read, I was spoiled for choice. Should I start with -

  • Sunday Times - Weekly columns by Swapan Dasgupta, MJ Akbar, Chetan Bhagat and Swami Iyer.
  • THE HINDU Magazine - Articles by Harsh Mander on the Ayodhya demolition and aftermath, Sevanti Ninan and the captivating Wayfarer column that features Ladakh this time...
  • Times Life - Its available space (prominent inner wear ads dominate it) devoted to the usual Soul Curry column and celebrity takes on Spirituality.
  • Times Crest - A newly introduced magazine-like Saturday special with in depth stories. This week has climate change as the topic!
  • THE HINDU literary review - First Sundays of any month are always made special by the literary review! This week has a review of "The difficulty of being good" by Gurcharan Das, a book that I have been dying to read ever since I heard of it.
  • Two States by Chetan Bhagat - An entertaining masala ridden fare by a writer with no pretensions.
Now, imagine my plight on where to start! Sometimes, choices are good when each of them offers something interesting and new and engaging especially on weekends, not to speak of Sunday mornings. I would have appeared deaf when, with all this competing for attention in my mind, I managed to take this picture!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The unfortunate problem of plenty!

This is the last thing I wanted to read. An article that talks about children getting affected by plain stupid stereotypes and weak role models!

"The media pretend to enhance their capacity to take on the challenges of modernity whereas in fact, it is training young girls to accept oppression as a way of life." - Very true. Media seems to target the fringes - extremes would be more apt. There is no middle line, no moderation. Its stupidity at one end V stupidity at another. So, you can get to enjoy Balika Vadhu on one channel and Roadies/Splitsvilla on another. Now, if you say, you enjoy both, you need to visit a psychiatrist soon.

The whole gamut of serials and reality shows do not appeal to the majority of the sane youth today. I don't see anybody discussing Roadies, Splitsvilla, Big Boss and their like, at least not the set of people I move among regularly everyday. I am thankful for that. My sanity is intact!

Mera sindoor bantt gaya lekin main patni dharma nibhanungee" - how much more substitute your favorite curse word here can it get? Imagine hearing blip, blip continuously once every 30 seconds, supposedly to cut off the choicest filthy phrases, that is the alternative available unless you choose to forget thinking about alternatives and decide to abandon by switching off!

It is sad that with an explosion of choice, quality is getting compromised. I remember those days when DD National had something called Public Masti (the host name was Tarana) in the morning Subah Savere show. Tarana used to go to the public, pose some question and this part of the show had some 5 songs played - all short capsules. I fell in love with her. (Later in my life, Juhi who is still with channel V stole my heart!) I used to see it till the end, then tie my shoelaces and run to school that was just 5 mins away! Those days, their simplicity is in stark contrast to the mind numbing choices we have with the remote today.

Sadly, with regards to quality, I pity the generation that is growing up now. Pointless Social networking, computer games and dumb TV shows have replaced a far simpler life - a life of fewer choices it was, but much more joyous and healthy! Cricket in the evenings followed by Chitrahaar and the weekly countdown shows, Crazy Mohan dramas - how I yearn for them now! Choices are not always welcome especially when they offer no relative merits over each other.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Project S.T.R.I.P - Intellectually stimulating!

Play - How powerful is this medium in today's age?, an age that is increasingly embodied by impatience and instant gratification. Play as a creative medium, requires an extraordinary amount of patience, commitment and practice. Doesn't this look like a contradiction? Indeed, yes at the outset, but then aren't we all victims of an atmosphere that feeds stereotypes and worships them? If we reach out to cultivate varied interests, we find that there are passionate youth with a creative energy that somehow doesn't catch the limelight devoted to page 3 parties, gloss and fashion! Some food for thought here...

Project S.T.R.I.P - a play written by Bangalore boy Ram Ganesh Kamatham and directed by Quasar Thakore Padamsee - was staged at Rangashankara on the 13th and I was very excited about the concept - Environmental exploitation - from the moment I had the printout of the ticket in my hand. I was lucky to find enthusiastic company in Pratibha and Omkar. The three of us thoroughly liked what we saw even if it sounds a lot cliched.

Caricature and Satire- how skillfully they can be leveraged as a means to emphasize the gravity of environmental issues? The play is an essay in demonstrating it. It is the story of a cash rich greedy corporate fixing its eyes on an island for mining and how it impacts the indigenous tribe living in the island. The number of issues that the play touches upon in a span of nearly two hours is simply astounding!

Are you against Progress? This is the question posed to the activist Aarti (Dilnaz Irani) in the play. In one stroke, it sums up the apathy and indifference inherent in such a simplistic interpretation of an issue that is laced with several nuances and is quite obviously being stripped to a generalization here. We should honestly try to introspect to examine if we have also been victims of such crass ignorance.

Revealing the exact story would be committing an injustice so let me try to stick to the aspects that appealed to me. A conglomeration of issues that has been beautifully woven with apt doses of humor - now this is hard to achieve given the nature of the subject being explored. But this play does that exceedingly well with aplomb.

The mythology, knowledge and customs of tribes, the plain indifference and vulgar greed of corporates, the power of money when used to destroy entire ecosystems, the disastrous consequences of unbridled exploitation unleashed on fragile and delicately balanced ecosystems (landslides), the silent and ignorant majority to whom progress and development hardly have multiple dimensions, the dubious source of fancy cosmetics and eatables - in the midst of all these, violent players with confusing intentions - like pawns in an unpredictable game whose rules are blurred - and activists with genuine interests of the victims on their mind's radar! That is Project S.T.R.I.P for you, a thread linking all of these!

Immense credit is due to Ram for coming up with such a taut script and the cast and director for executing it to perfection! Aarti - the audience relates to the sincerity, helplessness, passion and conviction they see in her. Oh, the power of youth! When every character is an attempt at caricature, the degree becomes important - beyond a certain point, it would appear lacking in earnestness, but here, the line is so deftly managed.

With umpteen number of jokes thrown in interspersed with piercing dialogues, you have a winner... I can't help relate certain characters to those in the news - Arundhati Roy, the Maoists, the mining giants, the inhuman state with hints at Salwa Judum - to name a few. Hats off to the main cast - Dilnaz Irani (the passionate activist), Tariq Vasudeva (the indifferent CEO), Shruti Shridharan (the secretary busy taking meeting minutes), Harssh Singh (the executor of plans, Roy) for an intellectually stimulating play. Only one regret - the cast members could have introduced themselves on stage :)

As Arundhati Roy says in her essay in outlook, perhaps we should start thinking more about the question - "Can we please leave the bauxite in the mountain?"

Meanwhile, as Arundhati Nag
remarked in the end, we should feel proud that the future of Indian theater lies in the hands of able young men!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

ILPOSTINO - A lyrically sublime beauty

Mario: "How do you become a poet?"

Neruda: "Try and walk slowly along the shore as far as the bay and look around you.."

Mario: "And will they come to me, those metaphors?"

Neruda: "Certainly"

This is one of the most beautiful exchanges in the movie between the simple Italian coastal villager and the famous poet Don Pablo Neruda.

I have taken a fancy to the "International movies" section in a few shops and that is where I happened to pick this one. I must admit that whenever I buy something like this, I have high expectations and sit down to see these movies with an intention to like them and enjoy them for what they offer. So far, I have succeeded!

Coming to this particular movie, the novelty of the story caught my eye. I am somebody who gets smitten by the cover of a book or a DVD and if my instinct tells me it would be good, I would go for it. I have heard of Pablo Neruda but after seeing this movie, I am hunting online for his poems.

The movie is a sublime gem - lyrical in its setting near a coast and in its background score and beautiful because so much is so deftly understated and conveyed brilliantly. As the Wiki entry says, it is a fictionalized account of Neruda in exile for a brief time in Italy when his communist affiliation drove him out of his land of birth -
"His 1952 stay in a villa owned by Italian historian Edwin Cerio on the island of Capri was fictionalized in the popular film Il Postino ("The Postman", 1994)."

The story is simple - a villager who is unemployed gets the job of delivering mail to the famous poet. Slowly, he strikes up a conversation with the genius about poetry and metaphors. As he gets lovestruck by a local beauty, he asks the poet for help to woo the damsel. Neruda's love poems do the trick. The hallmark of the movie is the friendship that evolves slowly between the postman and the poet, their exchanges on poetry and love. The Italian youth hero-worships the poet and even decides to name his child after him.

Some scenes stand out - when he reads poetry to his love, the delight in his lover and when Neruda leaves the village, the moment of departure. Never too dramatic and the waves always forming a backdrop, this movie is something that admirers of elegance and finesse shouldn't miss!

Some lines from Neruda's 'Tonight I write' -I loved these!

"My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her."

How true it is when Neruda says in the movie: "When you explain it, poetry becomes banal. Better than any explanation is the experience of feeling things that poetry can reveal to a nature open enough to understand it." A collection of some of his poems are available here. The movie had some references to this poem - Walking around.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Kailash Kher evening - Hum tere Deewane!

"No need to understand man, just go with the flow man!" What Kailash was trying to say amounted to this: Nowadays, music is truly international. Even people who don't have a clue about his style of music in terms of language and understanding of the words enjoy it because they enjoy the feel of it!

Kailash Kher was at his best in the concert at Palace grounds on Saturday. (24/10/2009). Thanks in large measure to my friend Gai (He is called Karthik @ office) and to Sharad who in a sense brought us all together, I got to enjoy a rare music filled ecstatic evening. When we got to the venue, there was no sign of the concert getting underway. At around 7 clock till the arrival of the maestro, a local band entertained the audience to some rock music. The instrumentals were enjoyable.

It was just a little past 8 when Kailash Kher emerged in his characteristic enthusiastic style carrying with him a confidence and poise that only the very accomplished and talented radiate. After "Rang deeni", a famous Sufi style number, he asked the audience to unwind and unwind we did in some style!

We had a couple of first time visitors to Bangalore - a guy from Norway and a girl from Latvia - who were colleagues of my friend. In their company, this concert was even more enjoyable. Listening to how they like the singing, the nuances of culture and so many other random things, I should consider myself lucky that an idea like this crossed my friend's mind scape. Initially the girl was a little reserved, but gradually she began to get into the groove, in her own way I should say!

There was a very cute Punjabi couple dancing unmindful of the setting they were in. Totally engrossed in each other, the guy with the typical Sikh beard and the girl in "Jab we met" Geet-style pants, they made quite a couple. Seeing so much of love for each other and so much of sheer innocence so closely was touching and a little disconcerting, though I know not why I had that mixture of feeling.

Meanwhile Kailash made it a point to explain the meaning of the lyrics for one number that went like "Masjid todo, mandir todo...lekin dil mat todo...". That number touched a chord with everybody for its language was truly universal - the language of human warmth, values and affection. The crowd went a little sentimental with Saiyan - truly soulful music. The evening ended with the audience hungry for more but alas good things have to come to an end too!

Dinner at a hotel nearby - Listening to our guests speaking about the night life of Norway and the population of Latvia - brought the memorable evening to an end. This is undoubtedly one of the best evenings I have had the good fortune to experience!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The agony of goodbyes...

Goodbye - "used when you are leaving someone, or when they are leaving" says the dictionary. It is one of the most uncomplicated and straightforward meanings but the experience of uttering it can be very heart breaking and emotionally wrecking when the relationship is something more than a casual acquaintance.

Life in the fast lane - how do we define it? Or rather is this the term that we should be taking time to define? It is an axiom of modern times that we come across so many people in our lives - people who don't make an impact on us and who do make an impact - that a gigantic effort is required to understand each and every one of them with respect to "us". How they affect us, impact us, influence us, gain space in our thoughts, lay claim to our time, so on and so forth...

It is not surprising then that until the moment arrives to say goodbye, we don't realize the space they have occupied in our lives! When we leave people, (to leave town to pursue work or studies) or when they leave us (to work elsewhere for example) we are left pondering over this question. We are at a crossroads in the relationship we shared with that person, be it at work or at a personal level. The roads diverge almost in a literal sense when circumstances beyond our control come into play and the decisions are made without our say. That is when we are bereft

Even if our lives are anchored for the time being, at times, don't we all doubt the strength of the anchor. Family and relations - the anchor here is a given, and always available. But our interactions with our parents and relations, particularly living life as we are, is slowly waning. Instead it is our friends and our colleagues at the workplace who have come to slowly occupy that space - where we let go, share things and be ourselves. It is also a matter of having things to say to each other that resonate with the same tones.

Now, the whole point of this post is that soon enough, it would be time for me to say goodbye to a friend. It is abrupt, the nature of this goodbye as is most often the case, these things leave us unprepared however well in advance they spring up. So, let me just say that despite the presence of the social networking phenomena, when priorities divulge in life and important decisions are made, it is never the same again. Nothing can ever substitute seeing a friend and talking face to face. They can try to compete for inferior alternatives at best.

Often enough, when the goodbye moment is upon us, we think of the potential that the relationship could have had, the quality that the interactions could have taken. It is but natural to think so. We take each other for granted day in and day out; subconsciously we are not programmed to visualize the goodbye moment and that is why it affects us.

People move in and out of our lives. How best we can deal this with flow remains open for us to define. We can cherish their effect on our lives however brief it is and make promises to keep in touch, leaving it to the tide of life to ultimately fashion the destiny of the relationship. We shall keep in touch through mails, phone calls and social networking sites, watch with curiosity and interest, the paths we fashion for ourselves. If we are lucky, we would get to meet each other soon in the flesh so that we would be delighted to see the smiles of recognition and warmth in each other's faces. Until then, goodbye! Sayonara!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The cornerstone of Happiness

This post is the outcome of a long walk that I enjoyed this week. I was at the silk board junction and I decided to walk the whole way home...a good 40 minute walk listening to music from my mobile. It was refreshing though physically exerting. It made me ponder over a few things happening lately in my life. Happiness - Is it ephemeral? Is it fleeting? Yes because most of the time, we don't make an effort towards holding on to it. Either our ambitions or our fears surface too strongly (with an emotional overtone attached) to wash away the happiness. We are then left yearning again. This is a cycle that repeats itself ceaselessly. We can best avoid this cycle if

  • We find a few people around us who genuinely care for us and have the best of intentions for us. We should hold on to them like a man dying of thirst and never leave them. These few people might vary in different periods of our lives but happiness will remain elusive without them.
  • We don't harbor hate towards anybody for long. Hate is an emotion that slowly kills and works like a parasite. The sooner we realize that we are harboring hatred towards somebody (however bad he/she might behave towards us), the better we can take care of our own health.
  • We assess and count the blessings we have around instead of always running behind rainbows lurking in the distance. It is good to have lofty goals but to trod on obsessed over them without action is one road that will definitely not lead to happiness.
  • We possess a child like enthusiasm for the world outside our living room. I am fortunate in this regard to be living with such a roommate. His raw enthusiasm and complete involvement in any activity that he takes up/gets involved in is a rarity in any human being.
  • We cultivate an eye to admire beauty in little things. It might be the smile of a child or the manner in which a girl's hair catches the light. These are the things that keep us fresh and youthful - beauty is an elixir when understood properly. A fertile and uncluttered imagination can certainly help here.
  • We clearly define the set of people whose opinions and views about us matter to us. If we don't define this clearly, we may end up trying to please or care for people who would be indifferent to it or on the other hand try to define our own interests too narrowly and end up being insensitive.
  • We have multiple interests in life. These serve as cushions to fall back on - when one is not going right for us, it doesn't eat away our happiness, we always have the others to take solace in. It might be a hobby, a passion or a unique skill to which we have an outlet.
  • We take good care of our memory. Carefully pruning what we remember and making sure we forget things that should not be piled up, we can build a reservoir that will support us in the worst of times.
  • We see the past and the future in perspective so that the present is not lost. Every moment we have is to be cherished and made the best use of. If the past and the future stake too much claim on us, it is time for some conscious effort to correct the imbalance right away!
  • We try to make others happy everyday. Nice gestures, kind words, intent listening - these can work wonders. A smile in the face of a friend or even a stranger because of us - we might ourselves not realize the impact it can have on us.
This list is purely an attempt at making sure that there is something handy whenever that word - happiness - is spoken of. It is the result of personal experiences and learning that ought not to be forgotten!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wake Up Sid - Youthful exuberance!

तुम में और दो कप चाय, यह भी तो पार्टी है ना? says Aisha Banerjee ( Konkona Sen Sharma) when Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) suggests something more conventional to celebrate the former's birthday. He then proceeds to improvise by making a 2-minute birthday cake out of bread and jam to make Aisha happy. Such is the pleasures of life that many of us envy and yearn for! Life's joys lie in such moments when friends and well-wishers make us happy by simple acts of love, warmth and affection.

Wake Up Sid celebrates the exuberance of youth - the confidence and the "we can do it" attitude that this generation has come to idealize and live by. Pampered by his parents, Sid grows up to find himself suddenly confronting life's decisive moment - what to do for a living after college? As in a fairytale, he meets Aisha in a party and the very first encounter ends with a walk in the middle of the night.

In a flash of wounded ego, Sid walks out after a tussle with his father and moves in with Aisha. This is a scene that is beautifully played out - so complete is his trust in Aisha and so assured is he of her acceptance that I was truly moved. Then begins a journey of exploration - Aisha and Sid slowly get to know each other well as destiny shows its rosy side.


Konkona Sen stands out yet again essaying a role that is quite challenging, confident in a new city and yet vulnerable to emotions, looking for acceptance at work and initially showing a sisterly side when the boy needs it most. Anupam Kher (Sid's father) sounds a little loud and Supriya Pathak (Sid's mother), a little dramatic. I loved the part played by Sid's college friends, especially the obese girl whose smile was something so natural that it didn't look like she was acting in the first place.

Music, songs and dialogues:

The music by Shankar Ehsan and Loy is among their best fare. Not a single song sounds average on the ear. Javed Akhtar - he is a legend! I would be stating the obvious if I say, the lyrics are in tune with the youth. How he does this again and again is something that is amazing! Niranjan Iyengar seems to deliver some memorable lines with Karan Johar as this says. Watch out for the lines towards the end - something you are bound to carry home.

The package:

This movie as a package will work well with today's multiplex audience. The camera captures the interiors of the single bedroom flat very well. Lonely existence in a big city can get to the nerves and friends do a lot to make it enjoyable. I can vouch for that. This movie with its sweet romance and clean entertainment is a glimpse into the lives of two people who but for each other, would have had very different futures. I loved it!

Thank you, Mr. Ayan Mukherjee!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Compilation of Practical Antonyms - Our Choices in Life

Is love just the opposite of hate? Is slavery the opposite of freedom? Certainly no! But in a world where everyday is a gift to be cherished or a struggle to be overcome, depending on perspective, here is a compilation of some antonyms that are practical and are not therefore stamped with approvals from sticklers of language.

Everyday, we are faced with choices. It is up to us to choose and if we do choose correctly, we can stay happy and healthy while the wrong choices can be truly devastating in every sense of the word. As a good friend at work remarked, it is in our reactions that we have the luxury of displaying maturity. It is not always necessary to turn the other cheek when the same impact can be achieved a lot more easily!

  • Positive X Negative
  • Polite X Rude
  • Calm X Rude
  • Composed X angry
  • Self-Assured X Brash
  • Polite X Brusque
  • Mature X Immature
  • Maturity X envy
  • Measured - Impulsive
  • Reason X Emotion
  • Warm X Cold
  • Radiant X Frowning
  • Smart X Guileless
  • Tactful X Abrupt
  • Thoughtful X Impulsive
  • Diplomatic X Self-defeating
  • Empathetic X Cold
  • Supportive X Unfriendly
  • Optimistic X Pessimistic
  • Cheerful X Gloomy
  • Presentable X Shabby
  • Embracing X Cynical
  • Praise X humiliate
  • Love X hate
A simple look at this small list is sufficient to know that the ones on the left have the potential to transform our lives positively. Everyday and every hour, we face these choices - between the ones on the left and the ones on the right. Consciously, we should strive to choose the left for a better and rewarding life!

Sometimes, simplification is necessary to confront problems that life poses to us and this exercise is nothing but an exercise in simplification.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Naariyal Paani - An awesome experience!

I had never been to a play till today. (The only one I went to in Chennai, hardly counts!) Rangashankara, quite a popular place in JP Nagar, Bangalore - as a venue and producer for plays - always appealed to me whenever I heard people speaking about it. I don't know why until today, I had not bothered to try the experience of seeing a play there. Thank heavens that I tried!!

This particular play, written and directed by Sandeep Shikhar, is a hard candidate to describe in a few words. With no frills attached and quite straightforward in whatever it wanted to convey, it proved to be the ideal first experience. How happiness washes over us, particularly when we try something, expecting hardly anything concrete to emerge out of it, but it proves to be extraordinarily fruitful and enjoyable! This experience was exactly like that...

Hardly a handful of performers, some very fine scripting and acting along with meaningful and down-to-earth dialogue and lyrics, it really makes for a perfect combination for viewing. Humor is one aspect which is very difficult to pull off successfully while acting. Achieving it in a play is all the more so considering the very nature of the medium. Yet at no point during the hour long play did anybody in the audience feel that the humor on offer was affected or exaggerated.

एक फल की दुकान में वो नारियल पानी पी रही थी.

I don't want to share the entire story of the play. It was very simple as the summary - "The play begins with a character madly in love. Every time this character tries to share his story with others, he is stopped. At one point, he makes the decision to clarify his story to the general public by hiring Rangashankara as a platform to tell his story.It is from this point that the play begins. Taking the stage with the main character, played by Vivek Vijayakumaran, are two musicians playing the tabla and guitar. The musicians are actually co-actors in the performance" says.

I was elated when one of the musicians, Anupam readily obliged to the audience request to perform one of the songs again. Any good story will have something concrete to take away and this one had a number of messages conveyed in a delightfully engaging manner. The audience I was part of thoroughly enjoyed every bit and the appreciation was heartfelt. Hats off to the actors and the director for this wonderful piece of theater that has made me yearn for more!

An experience like this sometimes gets me thinking - What am I doing in this world everyday struck in a routine? The wide world out here is for us to explore. By cultivating a wide range of interests, each one of us would be doing ourselves a world of good. Let us all try to appreciate things that we might not be good at, but nevertheless deserve the recognition and respect. It is the first step towards knowledge and a broadening of the horizon!

Friday, September 18, 2009

The essence of friends and friendship

  • A friend is a person who understands me. He knows when I am feeling bad and why I am feeling bad. He tries to genuinely know the reasons behind and makes an attempt to help me.
  • He seldom needs any explanations for my behavior because I know he understands me and so I don't need to make an attempt to explain the why.
  • He is somebody with whom I can speak my mind without any fear - fear of backbiting, betrayal, rejection and fear of sundry other consequences. He is somebody in whose presence I exist as me.
  • He may not share my interests and my likes but he neither discourages me from pursuing them nor belittles and disparages them.
  • He makes an effort to know why I like what I like and why I dislike what I dislike. He expects me to understand him, his likes, interests and tastes.
  • Expectations - they confuse and confound. But with good friends, it is fair and good to expect consolation and soothing words in times of despair.
  • The true test of a good friendship is the test of time and understanding. Years may pass, but the qualities in a good friend that endear me to him never change and it takes little time to catch up on lost time.
  • A good friend is almost always a good listener too. This is another test that can be applied to this bonding.
  • A friend would be sensitive to my feelings. He would try to think through things from my perspective.
  • A friend would not have a self-interest that conflicts with my genuine intentions.
  • Friends don't keep secrets from each other unless those are the kind of secrets that they would themselves be unwilling to confront.
  • Friendship gets complex with diminishing innocence. Consequently when there is scope for power struggle and one-upmanship, it doesn't thrive.
  • There might be some instances when friendship might not be fair in terms of expectations getting skewed. In my opinion, a good friend will always realize when I am expecting a little more from him and would rise to the challenge.
If this reads like an ideal list, I think it is meant to be. In this age of fast evolving relationships, friendship is something that is getting defined by social networking sites. What a truly sorry state of affairs we find ourselves in!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How I want to live!!

Crushed sugarcane cheek by jowl with fresh cow dung,
Dense concrete that overlooks a grand old tree,
Weak limbs on support bearing a little child all young,
Defeated hopes and misplaced expectations clothed in
fancy brands. Humble and joyous spirits decked in
rags. The world is a strange place where opposites lie

Men yearning for the rosy past and dreaming about
lush futures, Women weighed down with yesterdays
and trying to rise above tomorrows. In the midst, the
careless children digging their heels in the present,
soaring high and breathing in the little pleasures.

If the world is a theater, children are the best actors.
If it is a mammoth canvas, the young are the brightest colors.
Vibrant, joyous with hopes, showing their true spirits,
they march to a tune that is music only to their ears.
In this pendulum of hope and betrayal that life is, little do they
know what waits at the end!

The past is over and the future is yet to unravel; to live
in the present is to experience the finer moments. Blessed
are those that have short memories for the slate can be
wiped clean soon. Like a cloth that absorbs easily, I also
yearn for an unfeeling heart that cares little for the pain
and looks to the next moment in anticipation of gain!

When the World is a testimony to contrasts of every shape and size,
When the only way to forget is to erase and live in the moment, what
better examples to emulate than the young and the tiny? One moment,
happiness and the next moment, sadness, their every breath a comment
on this irony!

Here I come! I know not ego, I know not memory, all I know
is that the next moment is for me to live, not judge and brood!
Ignore me, slight me, curse me, strangle me, betray me, I shall
absorb all and rise again. I shall do only the good for I am incapable
of the bad and the ugly. I know deep down that ignorance of truth
and conscience is the biggest sin and I am not guilty. I am a child!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Today morning, I was reading this in THE HINDU literary review. The first Sunday of every month is always special because of the literary review, one area in which this news paper, I am sure, cannot be beaten easily. Navtej Sarna writes about Old Delhi - "Her new fancies stare me in the face, I notice her love of brick and mortar, of steel and glass; I rue her fascination with glitter. I watch her flaunt, with an imperial sweep of her overly bejeweled hand, her soaring new flyovers, the rising stadiums, her shiny new metro, her crazily crafted road corridors, her multiplexes and malls. And I shield myself against the callousness with which she has rejected so much that we once shared - my flower-laden roundabouts, my little theater cafe, my corner shop and even my favorite bookshop, owned by an owner who knew his books."

Now, this is writing of very fine quality that, reading it becomes an act of indulgence. What is beauty? Is it only about physical perfection or only about the pleasure of the senses? Apart from the sensuous aspect, is there anything more to it? To me, the answer is a resounding yes! Indeed, as the dictionary says, it is a "combination of qualities giving pleasure to the sight, mind etc"; "an excellent specimen of something."

When I read good books, what I am in fact doing is indulging in beauty - a fact that is lost to people who say it is boring and monotonous to sit in a corner with a book. How I wish they knew what they are talking about so carelessly! How I wish that they partake in this indulgence and experience the pleasure themselves! The pleasures and advantages of reading are multitude.

To sum them broadly, I would say:

  • Reading expands the horizons of the mind. In helping me imagine far off lands, cultures and customs, not only does it introduce me to whole new worlds, by making me every bit a part of the unfolding stories, it broadens the knowledge of the world.
  • It has helped me empathize with others readily. To be able to acknowledge the feelings of others and see them for what they are requires a conscious effort to observe minutiae and perceive with a keen attention. I am indebted to the books for this more than anything else.
  • Books as companions - this is something wonderful particularly when loneliness threatens to engulf. I pick a book and forget the world around. At first, I thought I was escaping reality and getting cocooned elsewhere in the confines of an imaginary landscape, but with age, I have brushed aside these thoughts.
  • Reading good works, as the first few paras of this post demonstrates, is to the intellect what sensuality is to the senses. Beauty is more often than not, elusive. In imagining that it is obvious to the wandering eye, we deceive ourselves. It is in the detail, often deceptively petty, but on a keener discernment, quite evident. When I chance upon an especially good work, I get the feeling that I am blessed and relish it with happiness.
This post is inspired by reflections on reading the article quoted in the first para. When words transcend their perfunctory existence on paper and assume greater meanings that our intellect assimilates, there is no greater joy to the reader. Great authors never seem to take an extraordinary effort; instead there is an easy rhythm by which we are swept away. In being moved by writing, we exhibit a sense of humility and surrender which is so pure. Perhaps that is why - since books give so much and demand little - mankind will continue to be fascinated by them as long as the written word exists!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kaminey - Raw and Racy!

I remember seeing Omkara and being fascinated by it. It had a rawness in the music and in the rusty setting. The story itself didn't bother about sophistication and showed all emotions unmasked as they ought to be shown for the viewer to grasp the frailty of human nature and the folly in believing otherwise. Another Vishal Bharadwaj product that I loved immensely was Blue Umbrella. It had something so pure about it that was hard to put a finger on, yet brought a charm and appeal to the innocent village life and its sweet pleasures in the hinterlands of the country.

Kaminey, though the critics seem to have a taken a liking to ever aspect - doesn't meet the expectations I had after Omkara and Blue Umbrella. It definitely depicts the gangster world and deals again with fickle minds that get swayed hither and thither by the hunger for power and money. The first half is riveting stuff. It brings out the contrast between Charlie and Guddu (the two brothers played by Shahid) very well. The songs are sincere attempts in that they sit well with the story and I should admit that in hindi cinema at least, of late, there is a marked departure from dreamy lines that serve no purpose.

Songs - the lyrics and the music - a vital part of our movies, go a long way in bringing the audience to the theatres. "Dhan ye tan" and "raat ke dhai baje" will make anybody dance with joy! The background music is also good making the viewer an integral part of the action on offer. There is hardly any story but this doesn't need a story to convey what it wants to. In terming the movie "intelligent", I would say that some critics have underestimated the audience.

The second half, save for some marathi intensive exchanges and funny dialogues with two characters trying to shoot each other disappoints in comparison with the first. Vishal Bharadwaj, quite admirably paints a caricature of the regional vote bank inclined politician and succeeds in exposing his true colors. When we know that money and power hold considerable lure to people who lead lives constantly on the edge and get excited easily, the confusion on offer with competing bids to divide loot, will, depending on perspective, draw applause or indifference. I wasn't much impressed.

Acting wise, Shahid Kapoor has proven that he can be more than just a chocolate boy and Priyanka Chopra, more than just a glam doll. Probably, the stutter instead of lending more credibility, did the opposite and I am less inclined to attribute much better adjectives to Shahid because of that. The supporting cast is good enough. What lacks in the movie is something more concrete for the viewer to take away. I would say that I have seen better cinema on similar subjects in tamil. To sum up, a raw and racy movie that could have been a little better!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Losing innocence - Aimless meanderings!

Nostalgia strikes more often at inopportune times when one is sad. Recently I read that happiness is something that we realize in hindsight after the event responsible for it has ended. How true it is! When we identify that we are happy, it flies off, elusive and out of grasp...

I am back home after a good three months and everything feels so alien and so intimate at the same time. Talking to friends I realized that even though we hadn't seen each other for some time, things have rarely changed. We chatted away like the good buddies we are and topics weren't hard to come by and conversation didn't cease for a minute. There wasn't any uncomfortable silence. I have eperienced it only with people that I have spent reasonable time with.

I do feel that social networking and its cousins have made the word "Friend" so commonplace that its meaning sometimes gets lost. Some things take time to happen and friendship is certainly one of them. Unless one spends time with someone, gets to know the person they are slowly and begin to share with them events in one's life, and they in turn, the events in their lives, friendhsip will not get nurtured.

It is also important that compatibility is not so often about sharing the same likes and interest than about a tolerant nature that is willing to give the other person enough space. Incompatibility, the word that is bandied about so readily is more a sign of impatience than real conflict. Today, we are so conscious of time and so selfish to pursue our own interests that we find that we are also becoming increasingly impatient, with ourselves and with others. As a result, we lose the ability to see things as they are. Inconsiderate behavior, marked by glaring insensitivity to other's feelings, a brutal hurry to get things done at any cost and placing one's own interest at the foremost of everything - these are all consequences of a lifestyle that we have come to adopt.

That certain people think they can get away with anything and everything by attributing rude behavior to a sense of business is pathetic. Aggression and testosterone can get people only so far. Sadly, due to a premium placed on the ends rather than the means, sensitivity and concern take backseats and aggression gets rewarded leading to a vicious cycle.

The whole point of this post is that we are losing our innocence and falling prey to a way of life that breeds indifference, intolerance and hatred. If we look at ourselves in childhood, surely we can learn a lot of lessons. Some memories never lose their freshness and remain evergreen in those crevices of the mind that nothing can penetrate them and steal them away! There was no malice in the games we played, no hate in the words we spoke. Instead there was a hope that we nurtured, a hope for a tomorrow full of brightness and color. We surely believed that there would be competition, but perhaps never realized that it would be at a great cost!

Is love the opposite of hate and is freedom the opposite of slavery? Not at all! In defining love and freedom like this, we delude ourselves into believing that we love each other and we are free when the reality is starkly different. We can fool ourselevs as long as we don't want to confront the truth! Money, fame and rewards are not equal to peace of mind and ultimately that is what counts! The means and not the ends!!!!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Love Aaj Kal - A commentary on the changing mores

"Main Vo Hoon
Jo Chahoon Vo Paoon"

"Haaan hota hoon mein jis raste pe
Aaye khushi wohin"

Ever since the first trailers started to come, I wanted to see Love Aaj Kal. The songs had an energy and the visuals going to and fro between the past and the present, an appeal. I was not disappointed when I saw it yesterday.

As societal mores change, so do the preferences of the young. In a world which places a premium on pace, where is the time to hold on? Where is the reservoir of patience to maintain relationships as they pass through turbulent waves, get tossed and turned due to the pulls and pressures of a demanding career? The "practical" way out does seem to be "move on". That is why Love Aaj Kal starts with a breakup party. Meera (Deepika Padukone) and Jai (Saif Ali Khan) decide to breakup since Meera is going to pursue her dream in faraway Delhi.

As the movie progresses, they realize that they have shared too much with each other to forget, to take comfort in another relationship, that their time together led them to understand each other in ways that increasingly seem more natural in hindsight. I have told the story pretty much here.

Deepika apart from looking as gorgeous as ever, scores in the acting arena too. She has essayed her role with marked elan and grace. Playing a character that requires an uncanny sense of humor is not very easy and she comes out scoring pretty high. Saif Ali Khan, we know did extremely well in Hum Tum and this movie demanded something of that humor. He looks very natural and we can recognize in him a certain kind of male who at face value wants to take life as it happens, has lofty dreams, but scratch the surface and one finds that he has a heart too. (Bollywood style!) Rishi Kapoor as the reminiscing old gentleman makes one smile.

The movie's biggest plus is its music, lyrics and dialogue. All the three resonate well with the modern youth. The dialogues are fast, short and confused. The music is peppy, has some flair and sits well with the storyline. Lyrics - some quoted in the beginning - don't touch a discordant note though they aren't too deep. In funny lines, we see the characters singing for joy and yearning for distances to be bridged. Neeraj Sridhar appears to have taken up playback singing for movies full time after Billu Barber. We now know where Mohit Chauhan is a complete natural and he delivers again in "Yeh Dooriyan". All the songs are well shot and the lead pair has worked hard on their dance moves.

The first half is thoroughly breezy while there is some emotional melodrama in the second to make the package complete. I would recommend to go for this one and enjoy the fare on offer! Imtiaz Ali knows how to deliver hits that the young can identify with. I thank him for that!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

There are times when...

There are times when...

  • I get frustrated easily.
  • I feel like I am being cynical and skeptical of everyone.
  • I want to share my feelings with someone but find none!
  • I think of the past when I didn't miss some friends...
  • I remember my worst deficiencies and brood over them.
  • People doubt my integrity and the occasional frank-speak.
  • Somebody I know says I am not confident enough and I start believing it.
  • I think destiny has nothing but the worst plans for me.
  • I see a look of intense hate even in strangers.
  • Life seems like a monotonous drag.
There are also times when...

  • I smile to a stranger and he smiles back.
  • I think, maybe this girl seems nice and talk to her and she opens up. (this is very rare :) )
  • A person makes a sincere comment of appreciation and it goes straight to my heart.
  • I cycle for some distance and strangely, happiness overwhelms me for no particular reason.
  • I see a monkey sniffing at a flower on the temple steps and the sight calms me.
  • A song I love plays on the radio just when I want to listen to it.
  • I unearth a gem of a book by instinct and savor it every bit.
  • I feel a spring in my step and a rare streak of empowering confidence.
  • I get a call from a friend after a long time and we tease each other over those good old days.
  • I feel my worries are no big deal compared to what others go through.
There is a good amount of difference between these two sets of feelings.

When I realize that:

  • People have their own idiosyncrasies that are inflexible no matter what.
  • I should not expect a great deal of attention and words of comfort too often. After all, I am a grown up :)
  • Intense observation is powerful enough to make me forget my worries.
  • Whether I am confident or not depends solely on me.
  • Friends may be busy and have their own worries to occupy themselves with.
  • A smile and a brisk walk will wash away any signs of tiredness and boredom.
  • It is up to me to make my life interesting.
  • I should not look for approval, instead proceed to do whatever is right.
  • I can make the first step towards a conversation but not always; if somebody finds my company good, they'll also take some steps.
  • There are some people who don't need explanations to understand me.
That is when I enter a realm and I don't judge anybody, am comfortable in my own skin and the whole world seems a lot more friendly.

If this seems like a boring post, it is!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Reader - Pithy and Poignant

Pithy – Concise and expressive; Poignant – evoking a keen sense of sadness. This is how my Pocket Oxford Dictionary defines these words and this is exactly how I feel now after completing ‘The Reader’ by Bernhard Schlink. Some novels leave me drained emotionally and in a sense physically too though in a strange fashion. I get so involved in them that to be disturbed from reading kindles unreasonable anger and a strange state of weariness. I become irritable and often find myself at a loss to respond to any conversation.

This novel would squarely fall under that category. With its pithy prose and taut flow, it was unputdownable and intellectually stimulating, always pushing the borders. Some readers of this post would have seen the movie though I haven’t. I would like to hear from those who have seen it on how they felt. I am very curious to see the movie now because to capture such a novel in visual form would require great skill and craft.

Coming to the novel, Hannah is a woman who has worked as a prison guard in the SS during the Nazi period. Post war, she leads a routine life until she meets Michael, a 15 year old in strange circumstances. What follows is a period of lovemaking – Michael wants to feel grown up, is eager to forget his illness and finds in Hannah an attractive Woman who is determined and forceful in a manner that is seductive. He is eager to please her and wants to be in her good books.

Hannah indulges in this “kid”, their difference in age rarely getting in the way of each other’s needs. Slowly, he begins to read to her from novels which she encourages and admires. Years later, Michael meets Hannah in quite different circumstances when the past seems to have caught up with her and she is charged with the crime of standing by indifferently when several prisoners are engulfed by flames. The circumstances of their death make her seem brutal while nobody could comprehend the reality in a way Hannah seems to.

She has a secret: her illiteracy. She guards it with a determination that is self destructive. When Michael comes to know about it, he is confronted with several moral questions. Should he against Hannah’s wishes try to save her? Is she a criminal? Did she have any alternative when flames were engulfing the innocent prisoners? What is the role of law in retrospectively delivering justice? What is the moral position of people who looked the other side when the establishment cruelly targeted a community?

In raising all these questions, there is a never a discordant note. Michael is unable to lead a normal life; Hannah follows him in his memories whatever he does. The writing is beautiful in several parts when the author unravels the working of the mind.

“But behavior does not merely enact whatever has already been thought through and decided. It has its own sources, and is my behavior, quite independently, just as my thoughts are my thoughts, and my decisions my decisions.”

“Is this what sadness is all about? Is it what comes over us when beautiful memories shatter in hindsight because the remembered happiness fed not just on actual circumstances but on a promise that was not kept?”

Towards the end of the novel, I was overcome with sadness at Hannah’s fate. The manner in which we take others for granted, assume things about people without ever confronting is conveyed so matter-of-factly that it deserves a place among the very best books I have read.

In categorizing books we make the mistake of choosing words that are worn with overuse. While talking about them, we make the same mistakes. ‘The Reader’ presents a complexity that is quintessential here. This is a must read for any serious book lover. It tells a story that would have a resonance with every man and woman!

There is always a greater satisfaction I experience from reading literature that is not contemporary. Is it because such books satiate a yearning within me that is hard to define or is it because contemporary subjects don’t afford the pen a certain gravity and poise? The question is open and answers are welcome…

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Islamist - a complex web unraveled

When Islamist terrorism is being discussed the world over, more as a reaction to cruel and barbaric acts, this book written after the July 7 London bombings is a revelation. It seeks to dispel several myths which we, as consumers of popular media stories, take for granted and often use to perpetuate several other myths amidst our friends in cycles.

This particular book written by Ed Husain and the cover of which says “Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left”, is a narration that will have few parallels in the publishing world for its sincerity and honesty. It is not easy to examine one’s past critically, come to terms with it and move on to a better existence that is not misguided.

Ed Husain writes about a sweet childhood spent in the company of understanding and loving teachers, English countryside and caring and religious parents. He moves on to describe a turbulent adolescence that leads to self doubts and isolation. Evident throughout the book is the nature of British society, tolerance and freedom of speech that was exploited by wide ranging elements who seek to recruit young adults into their myriad organizations often under the guise of a “better Muslim way of life” .

The cocktail of politics with religion that some organizations espouse by interpreting the works of Abul Ala Mawdudi, the founder of Jamat-e-Islami and Syed Qutb, an Egyptian Islamist ideologue is laid bare through the author’s personal involvement during his teenage years (in the 90s) with YMO and Hizb ut-Tahrir. The allusions to the blatant intolerance and vocabulary of hate preached with abandon across college campuses by charismatic and brainwashed speakers sends a chill down the spine.

The hate propagating agendas these groups stand for is at odds with moderate and traditional Muslims to whom religion is a private entity, writes Ed Husain. In writing about the threads that separate such groups and gives each its own space, there is a complexity involved. The funding for these groups particularly those that have roots in Wahhabi literalism is shocking. In striving to bring out the differences between the lifestyle of Muslims in Damascus and Jeddah – two places where the author spends considerable time – the book scores heavily. The irony is nowhere lost when one reads how Syria is part of the ‘axis of evil’ and Saudi Arabia, considered to be an ‘ally’ in the fight against terrorism.

Racism and subjugation of women, rampant in Saudi Arabia combined with the Wahhabi literalist rigidity makes the kingdom more than just an exporter of oil as the author suggests. “Al-queda is a hybrid beast, a marriage of convenience between Islamism and Wahhabism whose offspring is terrorism”. In contrasting such hate with the practices of Sufism to which the author gets exposed in Turkey, the author makes a strong case for Islam as a religion of peace.

While it is the contemporary relevance of such revelations that is striking in the beginning (events of 9/11 run parallel to the narrative), the more important aspects of the book are those that shed light on how nearly two generations of British Muslims are led astray by bigotry. To be persuaded by the simplicity that the media so assiduously strives hard to impose and to brand every Muslim a terrorist is a crime. Once we as a people realize and confront the prejudices we harbor, there is hope for a better tomorrow. The sooner we dare do it, the more peaceful our atmosphere will be.

Read this book to know about the experiences of a man who has been through the good and the bad and confronted his mistakes in the past most sincerely. It is indeed a complete eye-opener (The Times describes is aptly here).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Skandagiri trek - A sojourn in the lap of pristine nature

When the whole being is attentive, there is an awareness and silence;
we begin to hear, see, smell and feel as if the senses were asleep all along...

Plans and preparation:

This is one trek that I always wanted to experience ever since I went to the KP trek and learnt soon thereafter that this is equally thrilling and exciting, but quite in another manner. Apart from this "high" expectation, this trek has also given me a sense of confidence which, only the slightly peculiar circumstances could have helped unearth.

It all started off quite a while before when I was more eager and thirsting very badly for some adventure. As events tend to shape eventually, a man who is denied food hardly longs for it when the hunger subsides. To cut this needless part short, we set out (18 of us) on Friday night from Deepika's apartment complex.

Fun on the way:

From the time the journey started, a mood of "spontaneous gaiety" set in. I suppose it was the nature of the people on board that was responsible. Whilst we were still in the outskirts of the city, JK introduced his friends and dumb charades got underway. Hindi and English movie names were equal in number and the challenges were quite hilarious. As is the outcome with this game, I found out some innovative actors in the bunch and a lot of crazy movies that can be a real spot of bother!

Sneha and Mr. D (I opt for the popular name here) had quite a reservoir to draw from, while Niranjan, Saurabh and Deepika added the most fun with their funny lines and some times really high decibel levels. I doubt if anybody slept except Gauri! The driver accelerated outside the city as a gush of chill air belied what the journey will offer...

Anxious moments:

At Chikballapur, we missed the chance to ask the few policemen on duty, the exact way to Skandagiri. Instead we moved on straight ahead only to get a little apprehensive some 3-4 kilometers later. Finding no source of correct information to throw light on the route, Devesh with his presence of mind used the Google maps on his cell phone. We had to make a turn which cost us a good half an hour. We hardly had any wind of a surprise when we eventually took the elusive "left" turn.

Reaching Skandagiri, we would have almost missed the trek if we had relied on "initial" reports of a "no trek till 5". The few moments spent discussing the alternatives seemed to change the will of destiny. We were all joyous when the policemen relented and allowed us to trek at close to 3 AM.

Walk to nature's lap:

The torch lights were pulled out and with that went away any traces of sleep waiting to gnaw its way in. The crowd at the place was quite huge and in equal proportion was the excitement. Some people are naturally good at livening up the environs and we fortunately had plenty of such folks that day. Singing anything that comes to mind, making sure that our group kept together for the most part, passing the few torches to each other, it was fun all the way.

Suddenly when Sneha and Deepika started off with "Nirma washing powder", they had everyone in splits. A stray dog gave us company for some time, walking by our side and enjoying the mood every bit. A variety of languages, from Tamil to Punjabi could be heard all around. A sigh here, a smile there, a thumbs up here and a gentle rebuke there - Sleep and the fact that it was very early in the morning was nowhere in the vicinity of our minds.

Teaser - that was how I read this trek described somewhere on the Internet and teaser it turned out to be. Whenever we felt we had almost made it, the route had other intentions, not always comforting, when energy levels were dwindling. Finally near the peak, we relaxed for some time and took a few good pictures. Thinking that we might yet get a chance to catch the sunrise, we carried on only to find that the clouds and the mist had neatly wrapped the Sun between them.

As things turned out:

A moon light trek to catch the sunrise turned out to be a torch light trek to watch the mist and clouds play pranks. The winds were chilly and quite strong enough to frisk away loose caps. Saurabh and Hema decided to try some stunts and went to a secluded edge and oblivious to the wet rock, lay down blissfully. Later, Hema said, he was trying to vent out his frustrations...ideal place to do, I should add!

We stayed at the top for a little more than an hour striking all kinds of poses for the few cameras around. Once in a while, it needs a visit like this to know what people in the city miss. The clean, fresh, unpolluted morning air, the natural smells, the ever stretching hills with rocks scattered hither and thither - experiencing this is like attempting a communion with one's roots. I got the feeling that the trees and the clouds were whispering to each other - what, I know not and nor do I want to be privy to intimate moments!

Back to the plains:

The walk down lent a new look to the surroundings with the early morning light filtering through the clouds. The dew made the climb down tricky. Pausing every few minutes to take pictures, we were so happy and overjoyed that each and every person was in their own world - just about accessible to others, but having a thin veil to hide the tide of imaginative landscape that their minds were busy constructing.

The ride to urban madness:

In the bus, some dozed off too tired to resist the waves of sleep while some others dreamed beautifully of a pleasant and fantastic world nearly within reach. Alas, the noise of the traffic towards the city jolted us to remind that a return to madness was inevitable. I hated the sounds of horns and loud mobile ring tones throughout the weekend. It was like a rude intrusion after an intensely private conversation. But the door to madness has to be opened...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cycling in Bangalore - Adventure of sorts!

Yesterday I saw a guy with a super cool bicycle and on a whim decided to get one for myself. I am not exactly honest when I use the word "whim" for it was some thing that I was always wanting to do though I never quite thought the eventual decision would be so quick and it surprised myself. I would like to think of myself as a little cautious and not prone to spontaneity of this variety. In the end, unless one finds oneself in a situation that tests some prejudices and stretches them to their elastic limit, one can't really know oneself. There are some mental blocks that as human beings, we develop and persist with quite unreasonably and to our loss and discomfiture. When we break out of those shackles, it is a pleasant feeling that takes over.

Now coming to my new bicycle, it is a Hercules Ultima Shox 6 SP. I don't know the technicalities pertaining to the vehicle for as I write this, its only the second day that I have it in my possession. I wanted to commute to office and did that today with reasonable success. 12 kms in 45 minutes in the morning and 1 hour in the evening traffic is, I suppose not bad for a start. Its an adventure of sorts navigating Bangalore roads with a bicycle.

One never knows what lays next. Is it a forlorn horse looking terribly bored or a buffalo suddenly about to shit? The roads seem to abound with possibilities; something akin to a tight rope walk after which the feeling is like that of an elated circus performer. Where rules are only on paper and signals exist to be deceived unscrupulously, the stage is set for a dramatic act of juggling. Indeed, I shall not be exaggerating if I say so. So, when I started off at 6 in the morning, I was thoroughly excited and when the mission was accomplished, I was ecstatic with joy.

The evening was even better and I grew in confidence. The Sun was blazing and the path was winding; the cyclist in me was up to the task. This is certainly one adventure that every person should attempt - in the interest of the environment, to conserve non-renewable resources, to have some exercise and fun at the same time. I hope that this new found love of mine keeps me enthused in the near future with her stupendous ability to invoke pride, respect, admiration and joy- that intoxicating combination that turns a person on and gives a "real" high!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A cute little encounter

A Saturday morning - a little chilly with a nice and gentle breeze...a disappointing start to the day for me when I learnt that Gayle and Co were out of the reckoning for the T20 World Cup.

After having my breakfast, I was on the way to the park in Jayanagar 9th block, it was nothing unique considering that it is my weekend routine for lack of a better pastime. Some incidents, the way they transpire, on first sight don't look extraordinary and on the contrary appear perfectly plausible and routine, but on retrospect have an aura and halo about them that one can't find it easy to just forget them. They lend a brightness to an otherwise dreary and boring existence particularly if our mood verges on the despairing and insipid side. So, if you get the context I am trying to place this post in, read on...

On that particular street, one of my favorites in the area - there is a sense of indifference to beauty. People don't seem to admire it as intently as I like to think, I do. They appear too preoccupied. Rather, I think city folks are in general too preoccupied anytime, rarely finding time to indulge in something for themselves purely for pleasure and amusement.

Enough of digressions...let me come to the point. Try to imagine this if you can, for I am not sure, I would be able to do complete justice to this post and the encounter in question -

A huge dog that was quite menacing in its proportions was held on a chain by a boring guy. The guy was oblivious to his surroundings and must have been dreaming. He was standing with the dog on one side while on the other side of the street, another dog, small and undernourished, was walking by with its owner, an old woman. The two dogs met and there was the usual reaction, only this time, the small one was really scared. The big dog was growling and pouncing, trying its best to get out of the guy's control while the small one was struggling and dragging the old lady further into the pavement on the side.

Meanwhile, a girl, (she must have been under 25) was about to start her Honda Activa as a gentleman, presumably her father, told her that he was ready to go. She was on the side of the street close to the big dog and had been witnessing this with a keen interest. Silently, almost in a whisper, she asks her father - "Oru nimisham irukkela" - in chaste Tamil. (translated to English as "Can you wait for a minute?") Gently with agile, light and quick steps, she crosses the street and almost immediately, (rather too soon to be almost shocking) the small dog in a cute fashion, jumps up to her and tries to cuddle. It was very spontaneous and was like love at first night.

They were all over each other like two kids fighting or playing with each other. I could not figure out what caused the dog to behave like that for I am sure it was a stranger to the girl . Their affection towards each other was unbridled and went on for nearly 4-5 minutes. Nobody seemed to notice this spectacle except me and another guy in the terrace of an adjacent house who was having a toothbrush in hand. The girl and the dog spoke to each other without any need for words. We humans, even with the benefit of words rarely understand each other and often, end up with assumptions, suspect, back bite and take each other for granted.

Not frequently do you come across such sights, very unusual in their spontaneity and nature, unexpected if your mood is not great for a weekend. But that encounter was something special. It had beauty written all over. Was the girl good looking or not? - I can't reollect for she never removed her helmet and I was a little too distant to notice her exact features but her act certainly was! In the end, the old lady had to restrain her pet with some strength and resolve to prevent it from running away with the girl. She quickly walked back across the street and with some style and gusto started her Activa and whizzed past me in no time.

I think I saw a hint of sadness in the face of the big dog, the natural bully, while the guy was well and truly awake. In my riveted attention, I forgot that I could have used my mobile to capture the cuteness for things of beauty are joys forever. Aren't they?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The 15.

Here is my list of 15 books after seeing this post from Shefali.

To associate one word is very difficult. Let me try though -

  1. Epic - A fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
  2. Shock - Blindness, Jose Saramago
  3. Wit - The picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
  4. Poetry - The Writer's notebook, Somerset Maugham
  5. Life - Commentaries on Living, Compilation of J Krishnamurti's gems
  6. Philosophy - Under the Net, Iris Murdoch
  7. Incredulity - One night at the Call Center, Chetan Bhagat
  8. Brilliance - Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
  9. Depression - The Brothers Karamazov, F Dostoevsky
  10. Sadness - Tears of the desert, Halima Bashir
  11. Genius - The remains of the day, Kazuo Ishiguro
  12. Frenzy - Disgrace, J M Coetzee
  13. Confusion - The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
  14. Adventure - Power of the Sword, Wilbur Smith
  15. Dreams - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J K Rowling
Thanks Shefali :) I enjoyed recollecting this!

A birthday to remember!

A birthday comes once every year and who wouldn't want it to be memorable! I just wrote the most cliched sentence...

My 23rd birthday certainly turned out to be - cliche or not...I wasn't able to believe my luck when I got a mail saying I had been invited along with 49 other lucky participants of the Sunfeast Marathon, to dine with Deepika Padukone. The mail was drafted with precision and had all holes covered. Like a man shouting from the roof top, I announced it to all my friends and relatives. When the day dawned, I even did the unthinkable and went to a nearby salon and surrendered my face to the lone soul t
here. I have no clue what he did. There was facial, ayurvedic massage, bleach etc etc and I let him do as he pleased for half an hour and came back feeling something akin to surprise and elation. After all, I had survived the experience :)

When I reached the hotel, I was almost literally sailing in the clouds hoping to get at least an autograph from the star. Starstruck - I was the quintessential definition! I met Ashish and before I could gather myself and adjust to some weird behavior on the part of the ho
tel staff, the whole team was everywhere wishing me. There was no Deepika Padukone but here was a team that had taken every effort possible to cover their tracks and planned the whole affair to such perfection. Team work is often bandied about carelessly but if I am asked to give an example now, I would remember June 8...

There were balloons, a delicious cake and my team wearing big smiles. The affection and warmth I felt then, can hardly be put into words. Having fallen for a neat little prank, I hated myself briefly, though I guess I am using the wrong word here.

This post might sound confusing. Indeed some occasions bring out the child in us however otherwise the advancing time might lead us to believe. It was one such day and I am glad that, I am part of a team like this. Bangalore is all the more beautiful when people make it so!!