Monday, January 30, 2012

The Color of Paradise - Movie Review

This is a movie that has been on my desk for months together now. Sagar had given me this DVD along with a bunch of other Irani films but for some reason I postponed watching it. When I saw it today, I could not but help wondering at the film making ability of the Iranian film makers, Majid Majidi, in particular. To take a simple theme and play it upon your heart strings so well, so deeply - its the work of a master. Never will forget this movie, ever.

'The Color of Paradise' is the story of a blind boy Muhammad who studies in a school for the blind in Teheran. On the vacation break all parents come to take their children except his father who comes late, reluctantly. Muhammad knows his father does not love him and feels that he is a burden to his father. The scene when he runs to his father and says 'I thought you would not come' had me - and I cried. The duo go to their village where his two sisters and granny live on a farm. Muhammad's father Hashem now wants to marry again (his first wife is dead) and starts the proceedings with a girl's family around. Meanwhile Muhammad is having a great time with his sisters and his granny and even goes to their school and impresses everyone with his knowledge and skill with Braille. But Hashem is ashamed of his blind son and thinks it might impede his marriage plans, and one day when the granny is away, takes his son to a blind carpenter and leaves him there. When Hashem returns he finds his mother is leaving him; she dies eventually, worrying more about her weak son and less about her blind grandson. Her death is seen as ominous by the future in laws and they call of the marriage. Hashem brings the boy back but on the way back home the boy and the horse he is sitting on, fall into the river. Hashem waits for a moment, not sure if he wants to rescue the boy who is drowning but finally decides to save his son. But it may have been too late. Never have I prayed more that the last scene would show some sign of life in the lifeless boy's body. And for making a movie like this, Majid Majidi, I salute you.

This movie killed me. I cannot even try to describe the emotions that it took me on in its simple story, in man's quest to find love from those who somehow refuse to give it to them. The blind boy, his father, his granny, his sisters, his teachers - that is about the entire cast. The movie is shot so well that it does appear to be paradise, every shot is so visually arresting that it sinks into you. But the story in itself went deep into my heart and my soul and I felt for the blind boy and his wanting to be with his sisters, his granny, wanting his father's love. It seems so pointless, so sad, to want love, to feel equal. to want to try so hard to be like so many others. Majid Majidi, take a bow. Muhammad and Hashem and this movie will remain forever with me. Truly master class. If I could think of one story like this, in its simplicity, in its human drama, I'd consider it a huge achievement. And if you have not seen this movie don't even think twice, watch it. You've seen nothing if you haven't seen this.

Horrible Bosses - Movie Review

Watched this zany movie and laughed like hell. It's a story idea that is so hilarious that you wonder why no one thought of it before. It's about three guys who have horrible bosses and how they decide that their lives are going to be better off without them. So they decide to eliminate the bosses.

One of the bosses is Kevin Spacey, boss to Jason Bateman, is a self promoting, sadistic mad man, Colin Farrell, boss to Jason Sudeikis, is another who is a sexed out dope head who thinks he is a Kung Fu champ and the third is the super hot dentist Jennifer Aniston, boss to Charlie Day, who is sexually harassing him. Now their first attempt at finding a hit man ends up with them finding a guy who specialises in wet work. Only after he comes over with a full bladder do they understand what wet work he specialises in. They end up paying him 200 dollars though. And then they walk into a black bar looking to hire a hit man and find Jamie Foxx, a.k.a. M.F. Jones (yes, you got it right!) who agrees to do their job for thirty grand and then reduces it to five grand. He finally tells them he will not do the job but he will be their murder consultant. He advises them to kill each other's bosses so they don't get caught.

As the three gentlemen go about trying to get a fix on their bosses, they are involved in a series of capers that end with Kevin Spacey shooting Colin Farell, suspecting him of having an affair with his wife. Jennifer Aniston is taken care of by some slick photography by M.F.Jones and it all ends well for the three with all three bosses taken care of. I loved it and will watch it again.

Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You - Marcus Chown

Or so I thought when I picked up this book (Quantum Physics Cannot Hurt You, Penguin Books, Marcus Chown, Rs. 450) to read. At 158 pages it did not look like it could harm me really so I plodded on hoping to be able to be better off on subjects such as the Theory of Relativity, Gravity, Quantum Theory, Atoms and so on. But sadly, despite the chatty language Marcus uses, the Quantum Theory whizzed past and I gave up. I do not think I can speak with any authority on it yet which has more to do with my capabilities than Marcus Chown's. Clearly I am not yet ready for Quantum Theory.

What got me to try this book was the cover which looked like a 'Quantum Theory for Dummies' one. But they really must have had some more evolved dummies in mind. The back cover is very interesting though and hooks you. Stuff like 'the entire human race would fit in the volume of a sugar cube' (that's how empty we are), 'we age faster at the top of the building than at the bottom' and 'every breath we take contains an atom breathed out by Marilyn Monroe', does make you want to figure out how and why but save the first, the other two are still gobbledegook for me. It is not very comforting to think that we are breathing in atoms breathed by dead people however attractive they may be.

But I am a better man still, for having read the book. I understand the small world or 'Small Things', a world that lives in these atoms that make up everything in the Universe a little better, the world of the 'Big Things' such as the planets the Universe and why they behave the way they do. Again, it reiterated to me that Einstein's genius, his creativity, has much to do with courage. He would apply the grandest of his thoughts to the Universe, beyond what one could conceive and that to me is interesting. It does show that to create something path shattering you need lots of courage, even to think. That's what creativity is about, it looks like.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Paradoxes of Life - The Resist-Persist Paradox

This is something I read in a book - perhaps in Louise Hay's 'You Can Heal Your Life'. What you resist, persists.

So the thing you don't want the most, the thing you resist the most, will always follow you. Never leave you. Until you stop resisting it.

Accept it and it goes away. Simple as that. Flies, mosquitoes, people, situations - accept.
Don't resist.

The Paradoxes of Life - The Silence Paradox

It is the silence that communicates far more than words - in all things that matter.

Silence shows up this paradox wonderfully. Try remaining silent and stop communicating with words for a while. It shows how much we speak unnecessarily and without any meaning or purpose.

One thing I noticed was that while adults speak around in circles and ask redundant questions in spite of the silence, children do a fantastic job of communication.

To communicate more, be aware of the gaps.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Story Idea - The Losers

This is the story of a bunch of forty five year old losers. Their marriages are on the rocks, their careers are the pits, they are perpetually broke and they have nothing but hot air between them. One of them is always scheming on how to get rich quick and has some of the most fantastic schemes that are just one step away. One of them has given up on life and is always throwing a dampener on things. One of them is always thinking of the good old days and is always stuck in the past. The last one is the narrator and he is the one who has a small job and seems quite happy with his life.

One day while dreaming up ways to spend the fortune that comes their way they actually do come across a fortune. How the four losers get rid of the entire fortune in a period of 24 hours and are back to square one and doing what they love doing best, talk about getting rich, is the rest of the story. Lots of gaps to fill but it could turn out interesting.

Friday, January 27, 2012

My Friend Pinto - Movie Review

 Promo looked interesting but the movie was not half as interesting. As the title gives it away, it is about Pinto - friend of the world, (has to be Mumbai or Goa, leaning to Goa, yes, you are right!). Pinto is a guy who lives in Goa with his mother and upon the demise of his mother is sent to meet his hen pecked friend in Mumbai for some reason best known to the Father (church Father type). Anyway Pinto quotes extensively from his mother's teachings, most of which are taught by all mothers, but Pinto takes these usually to-be-taken-with-a-pinch-of-salt teachings very seriously and looks like that is about the only education he has ever had. Anyway Pinto is a cross between Forrest Gump and Charlie Chaplin and some others surely, and the movie is a cross between Kabhi Haan KabhI Naa, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron and so many long titled movies and we stumble along with him, hoping that somewhere the punch line will drop in. But the movie sails by and the punch line sails by too and we are all looking amusedly, waiting to be amused, when the movie ends.

Pinto 'is played by Pratiek Babbar with a wide eyed, wondrous look in his eyes of someone who understands nothing of how this world functions it seems. The movie begins with this Pinto coming to Mumbai, meeting his friend, messing up his marital peace, friend and wife getting stuck in traffic jam where they sort of their marital discord and do almost everything except have babies. Meanwhile Pinto lands in a neighbour's house, meets two warring lovers, befriends a Don, makes friends with Don's girlfriend, gives gyaan to a taxi driver's gambling nephew and does all sorts of stuff. There is a dead body, two dumb and dumber types with glasses and all, a woman who is saved from being sold off to the bad bad world, a grand dance at New Year and all ends well.

Not soon enough for me though. It kind of made me sick because it just had no energy going forward, just one cute scene to another, one cliched theme to another. Highly avoidable even on the reduced rates on satellite television. Catch up on sleep or meditate. Or even better start working on your Income Tax papers. Way more interesting.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Paradoxes of Life - The Helping Paradox

To help others, you must first help yourself.

Too many people out there are full of great intentions of helping society, humanity and the less privileged, but with no clue of how to help themselves to begin with. In fact one might appreciate this better when one tries to help oneself and finds that it appears to be a difficult question to answer. It will require much honesty and much clarity and love to address that issue.

In most cases it is the self that needs help first - from you. Once you take care of your 'self' you will find both the depth, the security and the patience to help others in a way that truly benefits them.

Yourself first. And after being fully sated, you will find it easy to share. To give.

The Norway Issue - Cultures That Are Worlds Apart

The recent news item about the Norwegian authorities taking away a three year old boy and a five month old girl, siblings, from their Indian expatriate parents who are working in that country exposes how, despite all the talk about the world becoming a village, we are all essentially entire worlds away in terms of cultural understanding. Some of the evidence that the Child Welfare authorities have put forth in their defence for seizing the babies and putting them and their parents through unimaginable trauma (its is traumatic to even hear about such a thing) are things that are common in any Indian home. For a three year old son to sleep with his father, for parents to feed their children with their fingers, for not having appropriate toys for their ages, (for being jerky and awkward in movements?) for having hit the boy once - the children have been taken away and will be kept in foster homes until they are 18, by which time they would have grown into complete strangers to each other and their parents. As a concession, the authorities have followed some equally twisted logic and granted the parents three hours of time thrice every year separately with their children. What such a thing should do to the kids I cannot conceive - make them more secure and loving citizens? This has to be the cruellest thing I have ever heard. I really feel for the young parents and hope that this unfortunate issue is resolved soon.

For those of you who do not understand the Indian culture here are some eye openers then. We eat with our hands and the normal way of feeding young children here is to feed them with the fingers. An entire population of 1.25 billion has survived this kind of an upbringing and is doing okay. In Indian homes it is common for children to sleep with their parents until they grow to be much older than three, until three, almost every child sleeps with their parents here. In many homes where there is a space constraint, the entire family sleeps together in one room - and it could mean more than one family. Things work out just fine still. In India children play with anything they can lay their hands on - there are no soft edged toys with big red letters and figures warning the infants not to swallow them or eat them or not to use them to shoot people down - here. They play with rags, with sticks, with wooden toys, with plastic toys, kitchen utensils, mud, anything. What is appropriate for them is what they enjoy playing with. Rarely does anything go wrong. They do not swallow, do not eat and even if they do, they survive. And they do grow up fine, with a sense of humour, a sense of right and wrong - and not a sense of deep righteousness which cannot tolerate another point of view, another culture. That deep sense of misplaced righteousness is the reason why we have such strong cultural gulfs, why people cannot accept other cultures today.

For young mothers who are coping with young children and a new culture, sleepless nights and all the attendant problems of child rearing or infant rearing included, the perfect responses to authorities looking to take away the children may  not be forthcoming. And that I suspect is at the root of everything, the mother's responses, must have been alien, causing her to be bracketed as 'unfit' to rear her own children. In India there is generally help in the form of parents and maids and children grow up quite well, hale and hearty, in the heat and dust, dirt and anger. In India it is not a crime to slap a child (not beat him or her senseless of course, but the occasional slap is part of our culture) and it is not done to inflict trauma. Most of us have grown up with the occasional whack on the side of the head and we are not the worse for it. What would be traumatic really, is if someone took the child away citing these reasons, and separated it from its parents when it is three or worse, five months old, for the next eighteen years.

The West has always missed the forest for the trees in this aspect. There is too much technique, too much logic and too little heart when it comes to dealing with children. All this stuff of 'protecting' the children could cause more harm than anything else. I'd advise them to come to India and see how children grow up here, including the ones born to the poorest of the poor, the ones they love to show in 'India' shots of slums, villages etc. The children may not have much of the above mentioned facilities, but most grow up as secure, well rounded citizens who have the capacity to laugh, to love and to help. Almost all Indians of whom you may have heard of, have grown up in the circumstances mentioned above.

Children who grow up with a sense of isolation could well turn to other forms of expressing their dark emotions, something that we hear of often these days in terms of shootouts in schools and such in the West. Ironically, yesterday, there was a byte from Oprah Winfrey who spoke about how wonderful it was that Abhishek Bachchan still lived with his parents. I am glad the Bachchans live in India and not elsewhere - they might have been sent off to all sorts of institutions under the guise of protecting them. Come to think of it, I am glad that I live in India, where the heart still rules the mind.

The Peaceful Warrior - Movie Review

This 2006 movie is based on the book by the same name, by Dan Millman, an athlete, gymnast, author and speaker based in the US, and is largely autobiographical. It is about the struggle of Dan Millman as a college student to make it higher in the world of gymnastics. He knows he is good but he is still trying to find that elusive something that makes him feel in control. In one such restless bout, he goes off for a jog early in the morning and bumps into an old man at a service station. The conversation with the old man who speaks with amazing clarity on issues that Dan is confused about, coupled with the speed, agility and gravity defying moves, make Dan want to meet him more and more. The old man, whom he fondly calls Socrates,  teaches Dan slowly the process of being the 'Peaceful Warrior' where one has to conquer the war on the inside.

The young gymnast does not understand the old man's ways at all and gives up many times. Once he quits and goes back to his old ways of partying, philandering and it is then that he has an accident that shatters his leg and puts even his ability to walk, under a cloud. The old man comes to him and asks Dan to train for his gymnastic dreams, without any attachment. Dan slowly but surely understands the way of the 'Peaceful Warrior' and makes an unlikely comeback into the gymnastic team.

"Being in the present moment", "being the move", "knowing the three things in life - paradox, humour and change", "the journey being more important than the destination", "the pursuit of excellence without attachment to the reward", "that there are no ordinary moments", and many more such concepts and thoughts are discussed by the guru and his protege. Another protege is shown, a girl, with whom the young gymnast appears to fall in love but that thread is left unresolved.

'The Peaceful Warrior' is an interesting movie with several quotes that one can use in one's pursuit of excellence. Especially in hard demanding times, when there is doubt and fear, the movie's dialogues do breathe in much inspiration. Most of the stuff is what we have heard before but that does not make them any less impactful. Certainly worth a watch for anyone.

On the negative side, a rather irritating side at that, the movie tends to tell all and show nothing. Everything is said by the guru and his protege in conversations, nothing shown. The guru's amazing speed etc is not on evidence anywhere except in one scene, in the rest of the movie he is plodding around slowly. Almost every concept that Socrates tries to tell the young man is discussed and not shown through practice which makes it a rather lazy way of telling the story. It would have been far more interesting if they had found ways of showing how those concepts are realised through practice rather than simple showing the boy coming in through windows, doors, and adopting such needlessly cute tactics. But despite all that, worth a watch, because there is some stuff that makes you introspect and can help.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar's Burden - How to Get the 100th 100

As he draws closer to the hundredth hundred, the burden on Sachin Tendulkar is clearly showing. It is no mean feat, a first of its kind, and would naturally weigh heavily on his mind each time he prepares for the next match, the next inning. Without doubt he would visualise the achievement, the applause, his own actions, his reactions later and all this clutter would add heavily to his burden. After a couple of decades of playing in a certain manner, preparing and implementing his strategies on bowling sides all these years, it is time now for Tendulkar to perhaps rethink his preparation. To perhaps lighten up a little and go back to enjoying the game. The century will come, if he does not get in the way which he is right now.

For starters- to turn all his preparation upside down - he could just forget about the hundredth hundred. (And that goes for the team as well.) He could make it all a big joke and get on with his game. He could just go and enjoy every moment of the game he loves so much. And as he gets closer to his hundred, it is important for him to just stay intensely in the moment, and not ahead of the moment i.e. the hundred. It will come when he is ready for it and right now, in his tense manner, he is not. He must do what he probably believed in all these years, that the game is bigger and that he must allow it to happen - not control it fully. Control, true control, comes when you let go.

It is another record and one that could be broken as all records are sometime or the other. It is easier to be happy and to continue doing what gives the most happiness to him - playing the game. If the pitch is any indication to go with, his big chance is  in this Test and I suspect that if he just lightens up a bit, he could do it right here.

Well Done Rajasthan - Fantastic Job

This has nothing to do with the Rajasthan police or the Rajasthan government's methods at keeping Rusdie away but more to do with its Ranji Trophy cricket team. Rajasthan was way down in the order of states who were likely to win the Ranji Trophy for several years and when they won it last year, there was much delight and surprise. But to win in twice in a row shows that they have perfected a process that is worth emulating by other smaller states, most of which seem to have no self-belief, no conviction. In fact why just the smaller states, even bigger states such as Mumbai, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal can do well to take a leaf of out of the Rajasthan method.

The Rajasthan team is not one that evokes fear in the opponent's minds. It has some former players, ageing certainly, like Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Aakash Chopra, and several rookie players that no one has heard of. But they play to their strengths and they play hard. The way they started off against Tamil Nadu on the first day, in Tamil Nadu's homeground, was itself the kind of a start that would have sent alarm bells ringing for the sheer display of will, of desire to win. For all of the first day, the two openers, Vineet Saxena and Aakash Chopra, batted resolutely,  giving a glimpse of the purpose, grit and resilience the team was made up of. The start itself would have made the opponent's wonder at how seriously the Raasthan players took this campaign, the pride that went into it, and that would have won more than half the battle. Compare that kind of resolute batting with the across the line shots that the TN batsmen played and you know the mental framework of both sides.

Kanitkar and Chopra did their job, the professionals from Maharashtra and Delhi, but the local lads Vineet Saxena, Bisht, Rituraj, Pankaj Singh and every other player came up with heart warming performances. It has been a show where there are no stars - everyone played for the team. Surely everyone must have backed one another, stoked the desire in one another to wrap their hands once again on the Trophy, followed the basics well and helped one another out. I do wish  Aakash Chopra, a writer of considerable talent himself, writes about his experiences with the Rajasthan cricket team, which could be an eye opener for many team related activities.

Congrats Rajasthan and well done!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shagird - Movie Review

This was a surprise by Tigmanshu Dhulia. I had never heard of this movie and only watched it because Sagar recommended it to me. 'Shagird' has some shades of a Hollywood movie of a bad cop and his good assistant cop but goes beyond that in its adaptation. In the end, quite entertaining, with a few twists and turns that surprise you.

Nana Patekar is the bad encounter cop in Crime Branch who makes deals left right and centre and makes pots of corrupt money for himself and his bosses, a Minister. To his corrupt team of cops joins a new recruit, Mohit Ahlawat, (was Recruit the movie I am looking for) fresh wish morals and idealogies, and there is  seesaw between the two. Mohit cannot understand the trigger happy ways in which Nana kills off people, makes money etc and Nana though initially suspicious of how this rookie got a prime posting as this, believes him when the rookie saves his life a couple of times. But then the rookie's girl friend, journalist Rimi Sen gets kidnapped and there is talk of terrorists and all that being released along with a dreaded gangster. The gangster and the terrorists are released and then killed off by Nana who is also planning a double cross of the Minister. He realises too late that there was a bigger game plan behind after some interesting twists and turns in which almost everyone dies.

One of those thrillers that entertains without too much engagement from you, with perhaps a couple of loose ends, or rather slack at some places. A decent watch overall, with a story where some thought has gone in to surprise the viewer a couple of times. Funny how it came and went and I never heard of it.

The Rushdie Episode - Do We Ban a Thought or the Person?

It is interesting to see all the drama that is going on at the Jaipur Literary Festival about Salman Rushdie's coming to attend the festival, the famed assassination plot, the claim that the assassination plot was a ruse planted by the Rajasthan police to keep Rushdie (and therefore controversy) away, the readings from the banned book of Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' (which earned him the famous fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, the first of the many fatwas I had heard since) and now subsequent clamour for arrest of the authors who read from the book, prosecution of the Litfest organisers or the authors for hurting religious sentiments and so on. For all those liberal voices who have come out in favour of Salman Rushdie (what are they in favour of, lifting the ban?), there are also conservative voices, especially from the big boss of Indian fiction, Chetan Bhagat who has said that such banned books and banned authors should not be made into 'heroes'. More fuel for the fire surely.

But what is interesting to me is this - do we ban the book or the person who wrote it? Do we ban the thought or the person who thought that thought? Can the person come and visit (suparis and fatwas notwithstanding) as long as one thought of his is banned? When the person comes, does he bring his thought along with him or does he leave that thought behind? How does one ban an idea, a thought? If Salman Rushdie, the person where the thought originated from, is free to walk in the country, and is not banned, can the thought be banned? The book cannot enter India but Salman Rushdie can. It is a curious case to me that the person is treated as separate from the idea.

Since publishing of books is a collaborative process, are all others in the process banned too? Not really - because the ban it appears to me covers only the idea, the book. I read somewhere that much of this furore has to do with the UP elections and the Muslim vote.

The world will move on - Rushdie or not. For all his perceived faults the winner of the Booker of Bookers, an Indian by birth, is an exceptional writer, a rare talent, and no one would deny that. It is even more interesting to know that while M.F. Hussain, another Indian of rare talent, has been hounded out of the country by Hindu fundamentalists and lived abroad and died there in his later years, Salman Rushdie could well be facing an almost similar fate, being banned by the Muslims.

But I still wonder, in these times of the internet especially, how anyone can ban an idea.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

10 Words that only a Hyderabadi will understand

Having been asked to discuss a theme called 'Salaam Hyderabad' recently I have been thinking ever since about what is the true test for a Hyderabadi. Here is a preliminary list of words that I will put up and to which we can keep adding along the way - of things that only Hyderabadis understand the meaning of.

1) Kaiku
This is an invitation to engage in a long discussion on anything because one can keep saying Kaiku for ever and at one point the other person will have no answer. Roughly translated it means 'But why?' but its only a rough translation. Only a Hyderabadi will not take this seriously and launch into giving answers forever.

2) Parson
Technically means 'day before' or 'day after' but this is a time frame that extends from three days to about ten years and more and no Hyderabadi ever takes this literally. 'Parson hi mila bhai' could mean a few months or years ago.

3) Cutaan marna
This is a Hyderabadi expression for those who maro 'cuts' on their motorbikes i.e. weave through traffic in a zig zag manner.

4) Pauna
A milky version of chai available only in Irani cafes.

5) Potti patana/ lighting maarna
Potti patana was made famous by Amitabh in his song in one of his movies as he tries to patao Hema Malini. This process is also called 'lighting maarna', a term that only Hyderabadi would understand. The person who maros lighting is called a 'lighter'.

6) Abich aatu
Technically means 'I will come just now' but as with 'Parson' it could be his polite manner of saying he is going away to the USA for ever. In all likelihood you will next meet that person after many many decades.

7) Darkhari
This is a Hyderabadi term for a 'dada' or a 'don'. And from it comes words such as 'darkhari pana' which means doing things that 'darkharis' do.

8) Latkor
No meaning exists for this word that I know of. It means something completely below par, detestable. Like 'latkor kaaman kaiku kar reyaaron'

9) Chillar
A close relative of latkor, 'chillar' is of a lesser intensity than 'latkor' and more acceptable version of something downright cheap.

10)  Sarak gaya
Hyderabadi for having lost it. Or a noun that explains it all - 'birak'.

Next, some of those things that Hyderabadis like to eat in their Irani cafes.

The Monk, the Moor & Moses Ben Jalloun - Saeed Akhtar Mirza

I bought this book entirely on the basis of what I heard at Saaed Mirza's talk with Mohana Krishna Indraganti and Vijay Kumar at the Hyderabad Literary Festival. Impressed by Saeed Mirza's views on many things I wanted to see what this book was all about, bought one, got it signed and got down to reading it.

'The Monk, The Moor & Moses Ben Jalloun' (Harper Collins, Rs.450, 247 p) is a novel, thinly veiled as one, which deals with the western world's gradual cover up, and at times downright plagiarisation, of the original work done by the Islamic civilisation in the periods 800 to 1300 A.D. or thereabouts on practcially everything - astronomy, medicine, mathematics, music, art, literature, science, chemistry, alchemy, architecture and what not. The novel starts with four students of English Literature in a University in the USA - an Indian, an African, an American and an Arab - who are studying Dante's 'Divine Comedy' in their class. Omar puts forward some material that he has found in the 'Book of Ascent' which shows similarities between what Dante wrote and what has been written much earlier in the Islamic civilisation, a hint of plagiarisation. Though the Professor does not take him seriously, the four friends decide to follow up the thought and get together to make up a 'House of Wisdom', a weekly meeting place for the four, where these issues are researched and presented.

The basis for Omar's theory of the Islamic civilisation's contribution comes from a small document in his possession, a diary of one of his ancestors who lived in the 12th century. The diary has details of conversations between a Christian monk, a well-read Islamic Moor and the Arab, Omar's ancestor, as they get together to translate some important documents. The four students read from these diaries and understand what went on on those times, through the recorded conversations.A third string is fitted in, of the Islamic scholar Abu Rehan in the 900 A.D.'s and his student Rehana. Abu Rehan's work in Mathematics, Astronomy, Science and many other subjects, his contemporaries, Ibn al-Haythan, Ibn Sina, Musa al-Khwarizmi, and their work in medicine, surgery, fractions, laws and a host of other subjects are an astounding body of work.

Using all three strings (and a fourth, a soliloquy) to propel the story forward, Saeed Mirza, with amazing research that is condensed brilliantly and fictionalised for the average non-academic reader, tells the story of how the West has over the years taken credit for much of what has been already discovered by the Islamic civilisation, the Hindi civilisation, the Sumerian civilisation. He talks of how Persia and other Islamic states were hubs of these 'Houses of Wisdom' where scholars from Hind and many other places congregated. He convincingly tells the story of how Islamic scholars had a wonderful period of creativity where they polished and fine tuned many theories and subjects already being propounded in the East. A period which somehow faded later on.

It is a fantastic tale. Saeed Mirza's research is amazing and the devices he uses to tell his tale are wonderful. He tells these three parallel stories from different periods of times, and gets the main message across clearly - that the Islamic civilisation is not one of barbarians, is not one that needs to be civilised, but actually was way ahead of other civilisations, particularly the West, which systematically destroyed, plagiarised and covered up its contribution. In many ways it is a tale of how the Orient and the Middle East has always focussed on creating, on knowledge, while the West has been actively involved in marketing them, something which it still does.

I had no problem with the fact that Saeed Mirza spoke through the characters, his research coming across in long paras of dialogue because it was interesting and was all contained in 247 pages. Would it have been better as a non-fiction book? It might have needed more research, more seriousness, would have entered far more needless debates, and would have reached far fewer people, which would not have served the purpose of instigating a thought - which I suspect is the purpose behind this book. With an intriguing title like 'The Monk, the Moor and Moses Ben Jalloun' the book is certain to have a great readership, of serious readers. There is tons of content, of intelligent thought and I loved the idea of a 'House of Wisdom'.

Saeed Mirza once delves half-heartedly into making the characters come alive as people, with a love affair between Linda and Omar, which for all reasons could have been avoided as well, but what the hell, it does no harm to have some romance. More so since the message gets across crystal clear, and this could very well be the start of a debate, a questioning, a start of many such works on the contribution of the Indian civilisation as well, and a setting right of what the world has been led to believe. Great job Saeed Mirza, for bringing out such a deviously woven novel to tell the story of an advanced civilisation that did not get its due. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Paradoxes of Life - The Friend-Enemy Paradox

The ones who love you the most could be your greatest blocks to growth. They stop you, strangle you, suffocate you, blackmail you constantly with their sympathy, fears, doubts, needless sacrifice and 'love'. They are the real enemies one needs to watch out for. The ones who stop your growth with their limitations and their 'love'.

The ones who hate you the most and cause you great harm - who cause irritation and resentment, humiliation and criticism, anger and revenge - they are your greatest vehicles of learning. They hit you on the head and make you realise, make you purposeful and drive all your energies towards making something better out of you. They are your angels of growth.

Thought for the Day - The Heart and Mind Connection

This is a thought that comes from the 'Memory Paradox' earlier, where I worried about how our memory was being transferred to gadgets, leaving us completely devoid of memory, and then, feeling. With gadgets taking over our original thinking, I am more than convinced that we have been reduced to being people with a lot of backup memory - that we carry in our hands, pockets, bags etc. Now this current thought explores the connection between heart and mind (with memory playing a crucial part in the drama of course) - a thought that always intrigued me.

When the mind is kept active, or 'actively inactive' as gadgets tend to make it, I suspect we find no space for reflection, for original thought, for feeling. This active inaction, could lower the amount of 'feeling', which is the space of the heart, and also the space where original thought grows from. So we could be looking at a whole lot of people 'busy' with gadgets, but who have no experience with real feeling (all feelings have been reduced to pressing a 'like' or a 'love' button, which can be done with superficial engagement). This could also explain why when the real feeling kicks in, due to a real experience, people cannot handle it anymore and are killing themselves for the smallest of reasons. The over engagement with the mind, and underused heart is at the root of this.

The changing of a relationship status on facebook to 'single' is the reason for many heartbreaks in this superficial world of the 'mind'. In a real world of the 'heart', it would require the person to face the other and tell him or her why he/she chooses to end the relationships - a decidedly traumatic and emotionally draining experience. Even if one had to write a letter to explain it, the feeling, emotion or heart element would come into play. But clicking a button?

The more superficial our world becomes, the more superficial and mediocre stuff we will create. And since all of us are products of this backup memory generation, we will know nothing better than to clap at the mediocrity on display. Where people use words and emotion without knowing what it is to experience them fully - merely read a book on 'how to', see a few movie scenes and say 'hey that seems to work so let's copy that', and then make up everything - from software programs to music to movies to writing - and beat our chests about how wonderfully successful we have been in marketing it to the tastes of the audience.

To me the true test of the work of the heart, the original thought, is in its longevity. Would it be remembered for its feeling, its thought - and influence viewers, creators and readers many years later? To me it would be in exploring the parts of us that remain hidden and bring our feelings that we hide. The great classics do that - they make us feel noble, happy, sad and all that. They make us feel better, as people, even if we had always felt lesser than others, and leave behind a taste of that noble, 'real' feeling. They do not simply aim for greatness by making us relatively happy, by mocking at those who are lesser than us.

It's time for creating some space for the feelings, for the heart. Space between us and these gadgets that are as clingy as some shallow and dishonest relationships can be in the name of 'love'. A love that seems to thrive on physical contact and always possessing. Having all the bytes, without experiencing the making of even one.

More heart then, more space to feel, and to create. More time with oneself. So we can create. A gadget-free day could make us all realise this connection between the mind and heart. And bring hearts closer. Life closer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Paradoxes of Life - The Memory Paradox

This is inspired by something Saeed Mirza said at the HLF about our memory being threatened by gadgets. And so it is, the bigger the memory of the gadget, the smaller the memory in your head is going to get. Phone numbers are a good place to start, we don't remember even five. And the more memory you have the more videos, songs, games, numbers, messages, pictures you carry - but you don't have the time to see them, enjoy them, remember them, respond to them, write to them, feel for them. nothing you have storage all over, have stuff in it, but you cannot do anything with it almost!

The more memory your gadget has then, the less your memory is going to be taxed. The less effort you make at prioritising things in life, about deciding what is important to you and keeping them close to your heart. Imagine if we were to throw away the mobile, or even have a no mobile day, a no computer day, a no gadget day. A no gadget week.

Life would slow down, and we'd remember at least one thing. That we are alive. And  that it is wonderful to be alive.

Hyderabad Literary Festival - Day 3

And for the third day in a row I landed up at the picturesque Taramati Baradari - the drive and the place seduced me as much as the HLF. Vinod took another day off and we drove together and walked into a wonderful session - Vijayasree in conversation with Suniti Namjoshi. Suniti is a writer and poet who quit her IAS and went back to her first love, English literature, many years ago. She spoke wonderfully with great lucidity, clarity and insight. Mark Tully could not make it but there was a session on adapting to India where Gillian Wright and Robert Bohm spoke, part of which I missed. And then readings from new English fiction from an all girl gang - Srilata Rao, Swati Chawla, Sagarika Chakraboorty (whose book I reviewed earlier, and who read very well at the reading), Sudha Balagopal and Priti Aisola of Hyderabad. I stayed back after lunch to hear a fine reading by The Little Theatre group which paid tribute to Indira Goswami, Arun Kolatkar and Vaclav Havel. Many school and college students attended and it was fun to have them around. i was happy to see Aparna, my friend Ranjani's daughter, and she apparently won prizes in poetry and story writing! Wonderful.

I would have liked to stay on more and be around to clap at the valedictory but had to return early. Fantastic work done by GSP Rao, T. Vijay Kumar and their band of volunteers, young and old. I certainly do see this festival growing and becoming much larger for many reasons. Good work  then, team HLF, and a pat on the back for all concerned. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, made a few new friends, and am sure so did many others.

The Hyderabad Literary Festival - Day 2 belongs to Saeed Mirza

I was wondering if I should drive all the way to Taramati Baradari yesterday morning again, alone, as Vinod went back to work at the Disaster Management cell, but the first session of the day was too tempting to ignore. A conversation with Saeed Mirza, the maker of many wonderful movies and more importantly the TV serial 'Nukkad', with Mohana Krishna Indraganti, director of 'Golconda High School', 'Ashta Chamma' and 'Grahanam,' and Vijay Kumar of Muse India. It was exhilarating stuff and the best session at the HLF so far for me.

Much of what Saeed Mirza spoke was the result of some fine issues raised by Mohana Krishna and Vijay Kumar. Saaed Mirza spoke clearly that he would like to speak as a writer here, since his second book 'The Monk, the Moor and Moses Ben Jalloun' which is just published by Harper Collins is out. He said that he felt that the cinematic medium could not contain all of his ideas and he needed more space, which he felt the novel allowed him. He spoke of how mediocrity ruled the day today and how we put everything on a pedestal and genuflect before everything - the novelist, the film star. He would rather be concerned with ideas than mere promotion of mediocre stuff. I agree.

The West he says has its own ideas of civilisation and was trying to push these ideas to us, which we unfortunately are lapping up. He was unhappy with the 'civilisation of Islam', of the idea of fundamentalism, and more importantly of the colonisation of the mind. He felt that war is a western concept, in current circumstances, and it was being thrust on us, the people of the world and worse, we are buying into it.

Interestingly, he said that all the games, gadgets and stuff that everyone is lapping up today are aimed at shortening or reducing our memory. And when our memory is shortened we forget our history, our uniquenesss, our identity. Speaking vociferously against the concept of democracy that was being advocated and followed, he says we are far away from that concept and will take many years to reach there.

He also poked fun at how snobbish we were, as Indians, how smug, as a nation, happy in the thought of India Shining and that of an impending superpower. 'Can you imagine how we will behave if we do become a superpower?' he asked. 'We will be genuflecting before all that is higher and kicking all that is below us.'

While on the subject of the West dictating terms and ideas to us he recommended the book 'Orientalism' by Edward Saeed. 'We've been had,' he said. 'And that is the first thing you realise once you read that book'. To Mohan's comment that the filmmaker must 'fight the audiences as well' he mentioned how when he was in Cannes for 'Albert Pinto to Gussa Kyon Aata Hain' he saw a promo of Superman on a plane, a stunt that cost four times what it cost for him to make his movie. We must fight them he says, from here. He debunks all the institutions of Nobel Prize, Cannes and says that there is nothing sacrosanct there that we need to ape shamelessly. In fact one must keep experimenting and pushing the envelope, even within the framework that is set already. While sipping tea later he was chatting with us and I asked him whether this phase of mediocrity will ever be pushed over, and he said it would be - but it will be after much violence. When the priest ad the businessman get together, it is a dangerous sign he said.

I love the kind of passion that remains in Saeed Mirza, and people like him, and would like to retain such passion myself. So impressive was he that I got a copy of the hardback of 'The Monk, the Moor and Moses Ben Jalloun' at a princely price of Rs. 380 and got it signed by him. He was most gracious and signed it for me. I forget now the questions that Vijay and Mohana Krishna asked exactly but they did a fine job and kept it going wonderfully. A case for having the right kind of moderators to make sessions come alive.

Iceboys in Bellbottoms - Krishna Shastri Devulapalli

I was at the book launch of this book in the Park a few months ago with Raja and Vinod but we somehow postponed buying a copy of this book for reasons unknown. It was a different kind of a launch with an irreverent and funny trailer at the beginning, that was followed by the novelist being engaged in a discussion and a reading of a few pieces from the book. Krishna displayed his funny bone in ample measure that day, his constant stream of wisecracks flowed effortlessly, a lifetime of practice behind it surely, of not letting go of an opportunity to rip open the slightest of opportunities and in many occasions, as I later discovered, creating humour where none existed. I enjoyed his reading on the bit about Saikumar's entry into their household and his singing talent, a piece that brought much laughter and cheer into the gloom. We need more Krishna's in this world.

When I met him again at the Hyderabad Literary Festival a couple of days ago, I remedied my earlier fault and got myself a copy, which was graciously gifted by Chitra, his wife, who insisted that I do not buy the copy, and signed by him for me. It has a fascinating cover (designed by Krishna himself, who also draws, designs and illustrates apart form writing novels and film scripts) and that sets the tone for the book really, along with the highly intriguing title of 'Iceboys in Bell bottoms'. Bell bottoms set the time frame, the seventies, a time I am familiar with.

'Iceboys..' is the story of the growing up years of Gopi as he survives his dysfunctional family, his unwittingly dangerous friends and their games, the many unknown visitors to their house and Gopi's own imagination and experiences. Gopi's grandfather Meghamala (who becomes CG for the rest of the novel, the family abbreviation for the literal translation of Meghamala in Telugu which goes as Cloud Garland) is a famous Telugu film personality, a poet, lyricist who is a celebrity in his own right, and he takes to encouraging all kinds of talent from Andhra Pradesh that latches on to him to promote them in the film industry. Gopi's own father has been deprived of an education by CG who believed that there could be no better education than hanging out with him and helping him out. So Gopi's father educates himself while hanging out and helping his famous father and collects a large library of American magazines and becomes the resident expert on all things American, especially Hollywood, before branching out into a world of art, business of greeting cards and a love for the horse races. Gopi's mother is a rebel, the lone voice that fights CG and she has a penchant for watching as many noon shows as she can, roll on the floor when she finds anything funny and so on. Gopi's two sisters, Lalli (older) and Kavi (younger) and a grandmother who enjoys eating her food, complete the main characters in the household. There are many characters that flit in and out, Saikumar the  singer being one, Jhansi the aspiring singer who 'brought breasts to their house', Dr. Sarathi the nutcase doctor who experiments on the family with his magic medicine i.e. industrial-strength steroids, Buster their highly sexed dog, the family of Renu aunty, CG's adopted daughter, and her deviant lot of children, Dodo, Sachu and the lot. As Gopi discovers the world of 'Iceboys', the localised version of 'I Spy' and then later on, bell bottoms, his life moves on in a hilarious roller coaster of experiences, of characters like Pistol Rangarao, the detective novel writer, his friends in school Deshbush (Debashish), Ramki and others and somehow survives his first encounters with love, sex, drink and growing up in the Chennai of the seventies.

'Iceboys in Bellbottoms' is hilarious. Krishna's imagination and creation of situations is something that comes naturally to him and the funny situations come quick and fast, line after line. Spend a few minutes with him and you know that he can do this all day. Undoubtedly one of the funniest voices in Indian English fiction, Krishna looks at life perhaps as the illustrator does, the cartoonist does, and has this wonderful ability to make those cartoons up in words, when he writes. His powers of articulation of what he sees in every situation, his use of language, his obviously well-stacked experiences from various fields, will serve him well as he writes more books and explores larger landscapes, funny or unfunny. What interested me was the slowing down on the frenzied life of Gopi as the book drew to a close, the seriousness that grips his life, and the change in mood and emotion from the funny to sombre, as Krishna slowly and expertly pulled on the brakes and ended the book without a lurch. Akin to a silken smooth landing in an airplane.

In my opinion that holds a lot of promise because he is equally comfortable with the slapstick, wisecracking world as he is with a world that explores other emotions of guilt, love, loss. To shift so easily is, I think, a hallmark of a writer with much promise and Krishna, if he sticks to writing novels, busy as he is with many other creative pursuits, can write the whole range, and well. Humour to me is the top of the pile and if one can pull of something like this, he can pull off anything else. Apart from Sidin Vadikut of the 'Dork' series, I find few Indian writers who can write really funny stories and there is much we can laugh about in India, ourselves and our lives, our volume, our diversity, our aspirations. Krishna has a wide and unexplored field ahead of him, more so as he can write confidently about everything - the toilet going habits of Indians to scratching publicly to all the obnoxious things we do - and I do hope that he writes many more funny books, and whatever books he would like to write. I'd definitely buy them.

Well done, Krishna, and take a bow. Here's wishing this wonderful book and its many endearing characters, a great journey into the hearts and minds of many readers. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I suspect, I will read it a few more times. Highly recommended to anyone who is looking for good humour writing in Indian Writing in English. Fabulous debut.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Calendar Too Crowded - Sagarika Chakraborty

'A Calendar Too Crowded' (189 p, Rs. 295, Niyogi Books) is a book of short stories and poems written by the multi-faceted Sagarika Chakraborty, a student of ISB. Hyderabad. Sagarika is a lawyer, presents papers on corporate governance and such complicated matters all over the world, writes, is a creative artist and salsa dancer and studies at the highly demanding course at ISB. The book is featured to be launched in one of the sessions at the Hyderabad Literary Festivals and there is a reading from it too.

The book is divided into the months, January to December, each month highlighting days that are dedicated to issues concerning women. Sagarika launches head on into a cause she believes in - women and the circumstances that appear to rule their lives, sometimes imposed by society and sometimes by themselves, sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly. Each story has a nameless protagonist and the circumstance she is trapped in. There are a few poems as well.

So the stories go - of the prejudices the girl child suffers from the womb to her death, of mothers consumed by their motherhood and losing themselves and their children, widows who are blamed for their husband's death, modern mothers who live life as a reaction to their mothers' lives than a choice of their own, of the caste system and untouchability, of sexual harassment, of prostitutes and their children who aspire to have a life, of women who give birth to girls, of reactions to the death of a forward 'club going girl' who is gang raped, the angst of a born again Draupadi who finds the hypocricy of society unbearably backward, of malnutrition and mothers who have to work for a living, the adopted girl child and her frustration, of quiet women achievers, of geriatric mothers who find love in old age homes, dowry harassment and so on.

Sagarika writes well. She has all the basic qualities of a good writer. She knows and uses the language well, has a flair for writing, writes with conviction and with credibility. She has a vivid imagination, feels deeply for her characters and does her research thoroughly. Her voice is distinct and there is no pretence, and she tells the stories simply - straight from the heart. It is evident that this is an issue that bothers her much, and one hopes that she has been able to rest some of these demons, these doubts and frustrations at these injustices, after writing the book. For one so young, she would hardly be in her mid twenties I'd think, she impressed me with her knowledge and research into mythology, the many references to the Mahabharatha, and more,  spanning into the plight of Tibetan refugees. What struck me as most impressive, was her ability to get into the lives of these women and sound so convincing. To think like a mother, a violated refugee, an old woman in an old age home, a prostitute's daughter, a daughter-in-law in an old fashioned household and so many more characters would have been  difficult for a college going young girl, unless one has met such women or read about them extensively. Even if you did, it still drains a lot out of you to visualise, feel for them and write it all down.

But then Sagarika has chosen the difficult route. In a world where selling chicklit is easy, something which she could easily have written given her age, her ISB days and her considerable writing talent, she chooses to write stark, difficult stories that force the reader to think, to look at oneself. She raises difficult questions that are easier shoved under the carpet. Once she chose this path it was always going to be difficult to find ways of telling these stories differently and making them deliver the message and the desired impact. But that is a choice well-made and I laud her for that - for not having taken the easy route and written a romance set in the ISB for which many top publishers would have queued up for.  After all, there is a market for those kind of books - a vacuous market that one need not pander to, even if it is a large sized one!

The book is intense and drains the reader as well. They are real stories and one can only read helplessly, hoping that the women find their own peace, their own path out of this hole. Sagarika writes powerfully and conveys her point more than adequately and I think she would be a champion fighter for women's rights and causes. I do hope she puts her education, her prowess as a writer, her training as a lawyer and her passion and create something that would provide some direction and help to all the women who suffer namelessly in our societies and homes. I read somewhere that she is compiling some kind of a handbook for awareness about citizen's right and responsibilities - one that is badly needed as most of us don't know either.

On the negatives side of the book, I think the voices get too shrill and rant and rave sometimes. But then, since Sagarika chose to tell the stories through nameless characters, she could not tell this in any other way without making the same impact (and also perhaps, the stories themselves get into your system and you want to look away). I feel strongly that had she put in characters, fictional even, and told the stories through them, it would have left haunting memories. The characters would have brought in a lot of depth, would have told the story themselves and then the voice would have been theirs, different, clear and separate from the author's. They would have brought in their own stories, more facets to themselves.

The stories, powerful as they are already, would have been far more impactful had they had characters and dialogue. In the one story where there are shades of characters, the one of Ammi and Chupki who write letters to one another, this point comes across clearly - the characters can never be forgotten and that story to me, is easily the one I will never forget of this lot, because it aids me visually, gives me a character and a name to hold on to.

But Sagarika is young, and is a far more accomplished writer than I would ever have been at that age and am sure she will produce many more fine pieces of writing in what appears to me a very promising writing career. Good luck Sagarika. I have learnt much for reading your book and I am sure many women would find inspiration to remedy their lives or think differently after reading your book. Hopefully men as well. Here's wishing you and 'A Calendar Too Crowded' great success.

Another Heart Warming Incident

Anjali wanted to fly a kite this Sankrathi and we were planning to buy one for her. The winter being one of the coldest in Hyderabad in recent years, we both got out of our house for a stroll on the Sankranthi day afternoon, towards the nearby park next door. There we found that our highly security conscious colony society had locked up the gate to the sand pit area with a brand new lock, probably fearing that the young kids from the slums who sometimes come to play there may just steal all the sand! Or worse, they may get some happiness! But since those kids never use any entrance and are adept at scaling all the walls in the world, this lock is for law abiding citizens who seek permissions.

Anyway, as we walked back out there were two young boys, one about 14 and the other 8, dressed out in traditional clothes, blowing the flute-like instrument they go with for Sankranthi, along with their gangireddu, and collect alms. The younger of them had just picked up a kite that was lying on the road, and the moment they saw Anjali, the elder one took it from his younger brother and gave it to her without a thought. When Anjali whispered a feeble 'Thank You' the older of the boys said distinctly 'Welcome' and walked on, his back erect, his head held high. Probably going to school. They were both exactly that age when kite flying is the most fun for boys and it was a good kite in good condition. For them to give it to a little kid without batting an eyelid was wonderful, just as the manner in which they accepted the thanks and walked off. It was a noble and kind act and they did not stop by for more than a second and disappeared around the corner. 

I am more than convinced that such acts of kindness and nobility only exist in those who know that real joy lies in thinking of what the act means to others, more than what its loss means to them. Most times I see such acts coming from people for whom what they are giving up means a lot - they truly know its value - just as they know the value of what it means to the recipient of their kindness (the poor and the needy). On the other hand many people who can afford things hold on to their precious little, even things they do not need, and behave in such an ungracious manner that it sickens the soul (the middle class and the upper class).

There is little we need to live by, and if we can simply find the value, the true spirit of giving, it will enrich our existence and of those around us, so much more. Those two kids were giving much more than they were taking that day. Somewhere, in our hearts, we need to find that spot where those kids are coming from.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Hyderabad Literary Festival - 2nd Edition

The 2nd edition of the Hyderabad Literary Festival kicked off today at the picturesque locale of Taramati Baradari, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, a small distance from the historical Golconda Fort. Legend is that the king could hear the songs sung by Taramati while sitting in the Fort, an acoustic miracle, one of the many that the architects of the Deccani Kings came up with. This edition of the Hyderabad Literary Festival brought in names such as Gulzar, Saeed Mirza, Adil Jussawala, Kiran Nagarkar, Jaishree Mishra, Indu Sunderesan. Amish Tripathi, Dileep Jhaveri, Mark Tully, Meena Alexander, Aminudddin Khan, Kartika of Harper Collins and many more. From Hyderabad there were Sachidananda Mohanty, Hoshang Merchant, Mohana Krishna Indraganti, Sridala Swamy, Priti Aisola, Shankar Melkote and others.
Taramati Baradari

Vinod took a day off from his usually busy schedules and we planned to meet at Minerva at 830 am, grab some breakfast and ride to the venue. We were joined by Rasana Atreya, who is making strong progress as a novelist - her debut novel 'To tell a thousand Lies' has been shortlisted for the prestigious Tibor Jones Award for unpublished manuscripts and is one among six, and is also being lapped up by major publishing houses in India - and we all drove out on a relatively traffic free Monday to the destination. We marvelled at the place, attended the inaugural presided over by the Principal Secretary Chandana Khan, with Pavan K. Varma, diplomat and prolific writer as Chief Guest and Gulzar as the Guest of Honour. After the inaugural we went off to a panel discussion moderated by Meena Alexander where the panelists were Vamsee Juluri, Kishan Sastry Devulapalli (both hailing from families with a rich background in Telugu film industry) and yours truly. We spoke of Hyderabad, as the theme was 'Salaam Hyderabad', read from our works then proceeded to attend a talk with Kiran Nagarkar.

Lunch and then I roamed about and bought a couple of books while Vinod attended a translation session, and then we all met for an interesting session with Amish Tripathi, Jaishree Mishra and Indu Sundaresan. Some awards and by then I was ready to go but the indefatigable Vinod wanted to stay on. We finally decided to head back after a brief walk up to the dance hall which offered spectacular views of the sunset.

It was great fun all day specially being in the company of Krishna Sastry and his lovely wife Chitra, Vinod, Vamsee, Sheel, Sreenath, Vijay, Giri, Vijay, Dr. Suryaprakash Rao and his wife, and many others. Vinod, Raja and I had attended the book launch of Krishna's debut book published by Harper Collins, 'Ice Boys in Bell Bottoms' at The Park Hyderabad. It did sound very funny  from what I had heard at the launch and .now having met Krishna, I am waiting to read the book quickly. Chitra is also writing her first novel. We all had a good time hanging out together and I suspect the day would have really dull without Krishna and Chitra for company. They gifted me a copy of Krishna's book and I gifted them copies of mine.

There were many young faces which added to the festive mood. The location was brilliant. It was a perfect day and the evening had more promises to come - a jazz concert followed by dinner in the lawns. Vinod and I missed it with a heavy heart and drove back, hoping to go back again sometime in the next couple of days. G.S.P. Rao and Vijay Kumar and the team at Muse India, great work and a fine start. I enjoyed myself thoroughly. More to come in the next couple of days.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thought for the Day - Health and Responsibility

I might have jotted this down somewhere earlier but this time, its with a new awareness. In all areas of our life there are a few that we deal with responsibility and some that we do not. Typically the ones we deal with responsibility work for us because we go back and sort them out ourselves - they are 'our' problems, not 'theirs'. The ones where we takes less responsibility are those that don't work, have someone else to blame, and cause much tension. The moment we catch ourselves say 'Oh God, why me?' or 'It's all because of her/him/that /this' we are headed for trouble. That helpless feeling where nothing is in our control. Fear sets in and we panic.

Nothing exemplifies this more than the area of health for me. I had started running to the doctor and frightening myself with all sorts of dangerous probabilities until I realised how easily the symptom - a niggle here, a quiver there, a twitch here - disappeared soon after paying the doctor's consultation fee. So the last time I had a niggle, a cough, a bad throat, I held myself back (it's cheaper). I started doing the things that the body needed, rest, warmth, comfort and a healing environment - and miracle of miracles, the bad throat, the dangerous twitches disappeared pretty soon. No massive doses of antibiotics, no scary possibilities, tests and so on. This small experiment gave me much confidence and the nest time I had a small twicth i held myself back. Once again, it disappeared a day after. A small home remedy, some rest and a feeling of I'll deal with it.

I re-realised that the body has a powerful healing system. All it needs is a little faith from us, a little support. (I am talking here of issues that are being played in the mind, of course, not serious ailments or conditions for which one needs to rush to the doctor.) But with minor issues, I'd say, step back, take responsibility for the body. It is something you have created in your body and you can rectify it. Visualising the healing of that part of the body helps, being kind and gentle towards it helps, and most importantly not going into panic mode helps. You can handle it (a wonderful lesson from Susan Jeffers in her book 'Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway' where she mentions that the biggest fear is that we cannot handle things). Most times it's this I-can't-handle-whatever-this-is panic that starts the chain of fearing everything. Step back and it will almost always be healed. Handle your body with care, love and a sense of responsibility.

I think it should be the same approach with anything or anyone we know. If the body shows a sign of discomfort we must slow down instantly and listen to it, tell it that you will support it and handle it. Then the body goes into its own healing mode knowing that you support it. But if we instantly say I can't handle you like this and I will rush you to a doctor in panic, it will feel lost and unsupported. Imagine if our child comes with a small discomfort and we go into panic, or if a team member comes with a personal problem or if a friend or family member shows signs of distress and we refer them to someone else and panic   We cannot treat people that way to get them to give their best for us, nor can we treat our body that way.We need to be patient, supportive and caring. Most of all, we need to take responsibility for it. For all that goes on in our life. It will normally handle it by itself, it we show some faith in it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Paradoxes of Life - To Get, Give Up

To get, you must learn to give it up. You give it your best shot, feel it, want it, burn for it - and then - give it up. And then you get it.

As long as you want it, it will elude you. It will tease you but stay out of your reach. And when you give it up, it will come to you.

It's an Ad mad World - Old Idea, New Idea

This one irritates the heck out of me. First this guy asks the elderly guy if he can use his phone, then turns him down because he finds his phone rather old, and then becomes completely offensive to the extent of even feigning to hit him at the end. What's with you mate? It tops the list of irritating ads these days for me for its sheer offensive content, and the pandering to the 'youth' segment even if it means you behave like a lout with someone old enough to be your Dad. Come on guys, you can do better than that.

So the story goes of a miserly son of a gun who is generally filching calls off other people's phones. He asks an elderly gentleman if he can use his phone. But it appears that our ero does not want to use the phone to make calls and receive calls which is pretty 'old'. He'd rather fly to Mars on it you see. And he makes all sorts of faces at the old man's phone before flashing his own phone. Now if you had one already, why do you need another guy's phone? Then he shows the old man some sneak peeks on his new phone and gets back at him with some classic lines and cheap stunts. Not funny at all. Even if someone said that the old man was offensive when he says 'main paise nahin loonga' - I'd say this guy deserved it for the faces he makes when he sees the phone. To push his phone under the old man's face and repeat 'main paise nahin loonga' is not funny.

This idea that the youth is all wonderfully connected, tech savvy and rude to old people is all fine. What we don't need is middle aged actors going about behaving like college kids in an effort to make the youth think its too goddam cool. To me this ad goes to the bottom of the pile for its totally unctuous and offensive tone.

Creators - Paul Johnson

'Creators' by Paul Johnson (Harper Perennial, 287 p) is an insight into the lives of 17 creators chosen by the author. It was a nice quick read and I got a glimpse into some of these creators of which I knew very little. Johnson begins by analysing creative courage - of how everyone can be creative in their chosen field and how it can be brought out to make life more fulfilling. he also talks of how creativity requires enormous courage to be constantly original.

Johnson begins with Chaucer, the English writer who wrote 'Canterbury Tales' sometime in the 14th century. Then we have Durer the painter, Shakespheare the English playwright, Sebastian Bach the musician, Turner from England and Hokusai from Japan, both painters, Jane Austen the novelist, Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc, architects, Victor Hugo, the French writer, Mark Twain the American writer, Tiffany the American glassmaker, T.S. Eliot the poet, Balenciaga and Dior from the fashion world, Picasso the artist and Walt Disney from the movies. They are all extraordinary characters and it is fascinating to see how they worked, created and lived.

Most of the above have a large body of work save a few like Jane Austen who died early, at forty one, having written only six novels. They range from the multi-millionaires such as Picasso, Tiffany, Turner, Hugo and others while the Hokusai's and Bach's were hard up. Some received recognition in their lifetime while some did not. Some chased their fame and coveted it like Hugo, while some remained in the background, happy working and creating. But what comes across strongly is that all of them almost created with a mad frenzy, an enormous amount of work. Be it words, paintings, drawings, sketches, ideas, dresses, designs, movies - all of them worked as if they were possessed. The painters Turner and Hokusai painted almost from an age of three to their death, in their eighties, almost with no break. They were all extremely hardworking, had a great eagerness to learn from multiple disciplines (they met and created with experts from other disciplines as well) and most were also self-taught. They all had a passion to be the best in their business, loved the process of creating and kept at it for hours and hours.

I think there is a point to be taken there - creativity gets honed as we create more and more. As with ideas that we get when we write more and more, so it is with anything, the more we produce the more ideas we get. All these creators support that thought with their huge volume of work, which was their beginning and their end as well. One cannot create or wait for creativity to strike at an opportune moment to produce the great work. To create itself means 'work' - to produce. We must make the mind a fertile place that is favorable for the growth of new ideas, by coming up with ideas and more ideas, by exploring them, bringing them out. If anything Paul Johnson's book emphasised to me that creation is all about that single minded focus on doing what one can do well.

'Creators' also delves into their personal lives, their sexual preferences, their vanity and nobility, their fragility and their strength. Some were noble, some cruel, some generous, some tight fisted. They came from all sorts of backgrounds, some had no education, no training, no money - but they created and spoke through their creations that remain till today. One can read it without much involvement and get a glimpse into the lives of some masters.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dhobi Ghat - Movie Review

Watched 'Dhobi Ghat' last night. It has a different take on Mumbai and had a few moments when it drew me into it. And for a first time director I think its pretty well-made. It is visually appealing, is unhurried, explores new nooks and corners of Mumbai and its UP-Bihar-rest of India connection, traverses the class divide from the highest to the lowest. But overall I found it unconvincing simply because I never bought the story of the two rich people, the investment banker (though she does a really good job) and the artist (reliable and somehow almost muted to the extent of looking like he is gagged). The story of Yasmin is what drags you in and to some extent the story of the dhobi, rat killer, aspiring film actor, Munna (Pratiek).

I don't know why Kiran Rao chose the name 'Dhobi Ghat' but anyway, the story is about a rich investment banker from New york down in Mumbai with her rich real estate tycoon Parsi parents on a sabbatical. I assume she was doing some photo-project on livelihoods in India. She meets an artist Arun (Aamir Khan) who is not comfortable with people, with anything in fact. We come to know he has recently been divorced, and that his wife lives in Australia with their six year old son. The two (artist and investment banker) somehow land up in bed at the artist's house that night, though I saw no signs of amour in the artist, and the girl did not appear highly sexed either. Anyway they wake up the next day and we find a 40-45 year old artist apologising to the investment banker who is actually telling him that she found the experience really enjoyable. His apology seems to bring up some bad memories in her and she storms out of the house, offended, for god-knows-what. To me that scene was the most unconvincing and perhaps needless as well. Why sleep when you don't want to? Why apologise? Why get offended?

Anyway they get on. And then they meet Mumbai's only dhobi Pratiek. This is another loose end because no dhobi can take on more than a single building's loads in Mumbai and even that's a bit too much. But here is this guy traversing all over the town and doing dhobi services for Arun and investment banker and also throwing in some extra services for one more rich, fat, middle class madam. For some reason the investment banker drags the dhobi to be her guide to livelihoods in Mumbai and he shows her the dhobi ghat where she takes pictures. They also see some movies, drink chai at home, takes him on drives in her cars and leads him on big time. Her work is never shown, her motives are unclear. Is she in love? Is she doing her project and needs him for that? Is she using him to get to the do-it-first- and-then-apologise artist Arun? Anyway she shoots Munna's portfolio for his movie chance and gives him prints. Meanwhile she is also taking pictures of the apologetic artist surreptitiously for reasons best known to her.

But the best part of the movie are the three videos made by Yasmin Noor, a girl from UP who comes to Mumbai after her marriage. She makes the videos to send to her younger brother Imran in her village. But by the end of the third video the chirpy and happy Yasmin finds that her husband is in fact already married and is a shady customer in reality and decides to kill herself. She is brilliant, her voice haunting, the lines given to her the best. 'I can tell the sea all my secrets, and it will keep them safe from me' or something to that effect. Anyway her tapes lie with the artist who realises that Yasmin had killed herself in the very room he is sitting and he instantly changes houses. I mean, people die everywhere but you don't change houses so often do you? The movie ends with the investment banker finding the dhobi by chance, hugging him and telling him to keep in touch and call. It is apparent that she wants to get the artist and not the dhobi now. The jealous dhobi does not give her the address of the artist but later, after she leaves, has a change of heart and follows her rather dangerously (why did he not call on her phone and tell her?) and gives her the address of the artist. She is grateful and sheds a tear and that ends it all.

I'd have liked the artist to have gone after the girl Yasmin and I would have liked to know more of her. Perhaps even a bit more of the dhobi and his dreams. Some resolution of their lives. Even if it meant that the investment banker and the artist get together for that cause and fall in love in their unconvincing manner. For me somehow Kiran Rao stopped short of taking this story to where I wanted it to go. By not following Yasmin, and by not really helping the dhobi, the artist and the investment banker show themselves as hollow people. The least they could have, if they were so moved by the plight of these two characters. It all ends as it does in real life. In all likelihood the artist and the investment banker will meet, sleep together and go their separate ways. The dhobi will do what he does best, wash clothes and kill rats (why?).

It had many possibilities this movie and I am disappointed that it did not choose a more courageous path. Still it gets into your system through its visuals, its pace and perhaps a connect to the two stories that I really liked. For Kiran Rao then, a more than decent debut, and hopefully the evolution of what appears to be a promising career as a sensitive, subtle director. As she gains more confidence I think she will make some fine movies.

Among the performances Yasmin takes the cake, she is brilliant with her voice and her eyes and with almost no movement but in front of the video camera, she draws you into her story. Pratiek is good, I loved the way he walked when he comes with the ironed clothes and the way he opens the bundle and takes out the clothes (I did not much like the comfort with which he sits in the backseat of the Audi though). Aamir is gagged and has little chance to express. Investment banker Shai, Monica Dogra, the American singer-actor, who has a role in Rock On, is the presenter for Dewarists, and who has her hown rock band in Mumbai, is pretty confident and good. One of those quiet evening, late afternoon views.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Climbing Mount Jadcherla

This has been a long pending expedition planned by the original Chris Columbus, Koni himself. A hillock near the town of Jadcherla, a distance of about 80 kms from Hyderabad, has been the object of his affections for many a year and he has been enticing the rest of us to climb this magnificent hill. We made many half-hearted attempts earlier, and once even went halfway (to the hillock), but we finally did it. And wished we had planned the climb a few years ago.

The ride to Jadcherla is smooth on the magnificent Hyderabad - Bangalore highway. We passed one toll booth, paid the to-and-fro fare of Rs. 74 and followed the signs until we happened upon the turn to Jadcherla. The big hillock with the flat top is the one, a tree and some small temple like structures can possibly be seen. We wound our way through some small colonies with narrow roads and reached the base.

The climb is steep. It took us less than half and hour, but it does take a bit out of you if you are not doing some exercise. Kiran, topping the fitness levels these days, easily running the 30 kms in good times, easily reached the top, followed closely by Vardha,, who is easily doing the 21 kms run these days. Non-sportsmen both twenty years ago.

Then went Koni, who is into walking five to ten kms a day on given days and one blessed abundantly with good health. I followed him wheezing and panting and sweating and I was followed by Ranjan, likewise.

The time was pretty good, the view worth the climb.

There is a small temple in a cave, a dirty well full of water. We saw the views, sat on the boulders and took in the large flat landscape that stretched across the horizon. The usual mad banter that only childhood friends can share and then we threaded our way back after an hour or so.

It was four p.m. when we stopped at a dhaba for some snacks and beer, at Hillridge for some late lunch and finally at Koni's office for a final drink to celebrate the achievement.

Notes to be made, need much more fitness, lose weight, exercise more, do more outdoors, laugh more.

Anjali - The First Home Grown Tomato

After almost three months of caring for and watering the saplings gifted by the energetic Dr. Suryaprakash Rao garu and his band of merry men, Anjali and I, co-partners in this venture, saw the first of the many green tomatoes turn red. Her joy at seeing the heatlhy-looking tomato was immense and she quickly walked across and plucked it before I could utter a word.

The brinjals are still not showing any signs though there is some progress on the potato front. Exciting times ahead.

Memento - Movie Review

Ever since I saw 'Inception' I've become a fan of Christopher Nolan's films. II saw 'The Prestige' later and was impressed by what I saw. I also knew that 'Ghajini' had the same elements that Nolan's 'Memento' had, of short term memory loss and a plot of revenge and seeing the original was always at the back of my mind. 'Memento' is one of those movies that treads a path for the first time (at least as for me) and thereby expands my world. All else behind it will only make small improvements.

'Memento' is the story if a young insurance executive, Leonard Shelby, who suffers short term memory loss (i.e. he cannot store any new memories), after a violent attack on him and his wife. In this condition he forgets even the beginning of a long conversation, faces, names, numbers everything. However he remembers everything clearly up to the accident, including all the skills he had on his job as an insurance investigator and the last thing he remembers clearly, the murder of his wife who had also been raped by the murderers. He remembers two intruders while all evidence collected by the police points at one intruder, the one whom Leonard kills in the attack, and the case is closed. But not for Leonard who has to battle the haunting memory of his wife's death, the infuriating handicap of his memory loss, and find the real killer in a world that is out to use his condition to its gain. In a cold blooded, calculated and organised manner where he makes notes, sifts for facts that he tattooes onto himself, , clicks pictures to remind him of his car, his hotel, his friends etc, Leonard follows the kills the killer - John G.

The fantastic thing is that the entire movie is shown in reverse. (In fact the hotel front desk manager tells him that Leonard's life is in reverse - he knows what he wants to do next but has no idea what happened before, unlike most of us who know what happened before but have no clue about what happens next!) The first shot is the last shot, of Leonard killing John G, and then it goes backwards scene by scene, unravelling the events that led to his finding John G. These backward going scenes are interspersed by a black and white conversations of Leonard over the phone about his condition, how he is going about it and a person named Sammy Jankis whom Leonard had investigated. Ironically Sammy gets the same short term loss condition which Leonard disallows in the insurance claim believing it to be reversible - an error that leads to Jankis's wife's death. As we understand the guilt that Leaonard carries of misunderstanding of Jankis's condition and his wife's intentions, her death and how he learnt from Jankis's own condition (all available from long term memory), we also slide back in the real story. Leonard meets Natalie who gives him the clinching lead about the real John G and he finally kills him. But not before realising that the real John G had been using him to kill his adversaries, as did others like Natalie.

To me its the audacity of thought that Nolan brings to cinema that is amazingly refreshing. he uses guilt and forgiveness, vengeance and other extreme emotions to drive his characters, paints them into a corner and lets loose from there in a manner we can barely think possible. To tell it all in the first shot and unravel it as we go backward, making each moment count for the viewer, making the viewer involved totally in figuring out what happened without losing connect is the work of a master. I wanted a few questions answered and sat back watching it all again for a good part of an hour. I probably will watch it again. A must watch.