Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

'Of Mice and Men' is a slim book, 105 pages long.But it tells a story so disturbing that it haunts you for a long time after you read it. Some of the scenes and characters are unforgettable. Published in 1937, Stenbeck's novel has been made into three movies and a Broadway play.The story is simple and stark. But where it hits you is the way it engages a load of human emotions that are stretched to the limit.

Two friends George Milton and Lennie Small arrive in rather mysterious circumstances at a farm to work as farm hands. George is the smarter of the two (and much smaller) while Lennie is a giant with amazing strength, but the brains of a little child. George looks out for Lennie who does not know his own strength and has the kindest and gentlest of demeanours. He is happiest when he is stroking rabbits, small pups, mice or anything small, vulnerable and soft. George repeats all his instructions to Lennie several times to get it across to him and answers for him as well.

The two are running away from a situation where Lennie, easily susceptible to small, pretty things, caresses a young woman's dress, and when she complains holds on in his terror to her dress. Those are the times of depression and the two friends have a dream of saving enough money to buy some land and grow their own produce. Lennie is enamoured with the idea of having rabbits on the farm and makes George repeat that story again and again. At the new farm they find their boss and their supervisor Slim who seems to understand this rare friendship. Slim even gives one of his dog's new pups to Lennie (who promptly breaks its neck with his excessive stroking).

Enter the boss's son Curley who hates Lennie and his strength and is constantly challenging him. Now Curley also has a wife who has many desires and she keeps provoking the men out of sheer boredom. One day the suspicious and insecure Curley challenges Lennie and hits him upon which George asks Lennie to hit back. Lennie crushes Curley's hand into pulp. Curley's wife is now impressed with Lennie's strength and starts hitting on him. Lennie is obviously too naive to handle her.

When another farm hand Candy buys into their farm idea and wishes to invest the dream takes shape. But then Curley's wife cannot keep her boredom out and pushes her luck with Lennie. When she realises the gentle man's strength as he holds her she panics. Lennie freezes and the obvious happens. Curley is now looking for revenge as Lennie is missing and his girl dead, neck broken. George finds his friend Lennie who is hiding in their secret rendezvous and gives him the easy exit out. Lennie's gentleness and innocence have no place in this world and George gives up after doing the best to protect the gentle man.

The scene where Candy's old dog is shot by one of the farm hands to put it out of its misery, Candy's response to it, Lennie's crushing of Curley's hand to pulp, Lennie stroking his little pup out of his overwhelming affection and suffocating it to death and Lennie's terror struck clasp on a panicking Curley's wife make your blood go cold. Lennie reminded me of the death row prisoner with healing powers in 'The Green Mile' (one of my favorite movies) and the gentle giant portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan. It's sad that Michael is no more - I saw his obituary in the Oscars yesterday. Anyway reading this book was so disturbing that I got nightmares that night of frail bodies jerking without control having their necks broken.

Never once does the book do anything but tell the story of its characters honestly. Steinbeck is a master.       

Goa In Pictures

Goa this time around was on work. But there were two days off and lots of free time in the mornings and evenings. I also had Vivek and Vidyuth for company, who know Goa pretty well, which meant that I could now get to see much more than what I normally would have. Left to myself life would not have gone much further than my hotel room, the breakfast corner around and perhaps my routine mandatory walks. And I think, what a stickler to routine I am, how difficult it is for me to step out of the routine, to indulge myself.
Casinos early in the morning on the Mandovi river

The fish market in Panjim

The interesting thing was that we chose to drive to Goa. My faithful Santro ran up the 800 kms (one way) brilliantly though the air conditioning protested and gave up early. Then you realise life is not so bad after all, even without an air conditioner. The things we could do without! The route we chose was the Mahbubnagar, Raichur, Lingsur, Hungund, Bhagalkot, Belgaum, Sawantwadi and Panjim route. Most of it is the state highway which is in really good condition save one small stretch of 30 kms between Raichur and Lingsur. After Lingsur and Mudgal we hit the NH near Hungund (one must keep an eye out for that). Turn right, and after a few kms turn left on to the state highway again towards Bhagalkot. By pass Bhagalkot, head past the diversion to Badami caves on the left and you're coasting along to Belgaum. It will take you 13 hours to reach Panjim though.
Panjim gymkhana where we saw the Zakir Hussain concert

Old Goan buildings

Another lovely Goan building

With some sun fx

Yet another one

The promenade where I walked everyday along the Mandovi

Lovely sights

In Panjim I had planned to visit Dona Paula and the route that Meghna and Aditya took in their walk - Panjim, Fort Aguada, Baga. Nothing much else really. I got up early and enjoyed the early morning walks on the promenade along the Mandovi where one can see the floating Casinos. I'd walk up to the Panjim Gymkhana, past the morning fish market, some early morning walkers and a tranquil sea, and head back by the time the sun started lighting up the eastern skies. I knew that the Miramar was just round the corner but never had the time to go there which is a big regret. But I will return. Soon.
Goan road

Old Goan house

Yet another

I am not much of a casino type guy. I think I am happier sitting on a bench on the promenade looking at the trees or the sea. The first real outing was checking out Butter, a new bar in Panjim with Vivek. Good food, bang in the middle of the town in the Patto area, and nice retro music. They all have this new system of paying upfront for a charge on which they give you a card from which the balance keeps reducing each time. In Panjim Butter is a good choice to go for a late night drink with some good company.

Fort Aguada

Vidyuth enjoying the view

Me enjoying the view

The lighthouse in Fort Aguada

The other places I visited in Panjim were another restaurant 'Baba's' in the Foutainhas area which served lovely thin crusted pizza made on some oven type contraption. It was a house that was part furniture store and part hotel, set in the middle of old Panjim, and owned now by a lovely foreign lady who looked genuinely pleased to have us there. Looming over us was a beautifully painted temple, in colours we normally associate with movies. Then Vivek took us along to another pub 'Down the Road' along the Patto bridge with live music where the singer sang beautifully despite her bad throat. Her renditions of the Carpenters etc were lovely to listen to. After another stop at Butter, I was drunk heavily on fresh lime soda and snacks and we decided to call it a night.
Beautiful church seen from Fort Aguada



Temple near Baga

One other evening I went with Vidyuth to a crowded Baga beach where shacks were outdoing one another with loud raucous music that was good enough to give you a headache. It's amazing to see the number of newly married couples honeymooning - all in shorts and t shirts or rather skimpy skirts. But you cannot beat tradition in India and with their hip t shirts and tight shorts, the girls wear those twenty odd bangles that Punjabis apparently do in the early days of their marriage. Ah, the land of contradictions, of so many sides pulling at us, so many wants and desires. Anyway after listening to some Punjabi music we headed off to the quieter environs of a nearby restaurant cum hotel by the side of the river, aptly called Riverside. Now this Riverside has a lovely ambience, is right by the river, and has a wonderful restaurant run by Danny, who seems to love his food and loves serving it to his customers. I enjoyed all he served. I don't remember what I tried except that I loved it. I also ate a bibanca which is a Goan speciality and then headed back rather late in the night.

On the rest day I forced Vidyuth to crawl the beaches with me. First we drove along the rather long route that goes out of Panjim, heads down the road to Candolim and onwards to Fort Aguada. We walked along the Fort, small and compact, with a neat little moat, but offering a spectacular view of the Arabian sea. Built in 1612 Fort Aguada was built by the Portuguese for protection against the Dutch and the Marathas. It served as a watering station for passing ships and had the largest storage capacity in forts of its kind. It also had cannons and secret tunnels, and was later converted into a jail. (Aguada means water.) On the way to the fort one sees a lovely church on the adjoining hill top, so beautiful that you want to stop there. Wonder who built it. We headed down and drove along towards Baga where we met Vivek at this fine hotel that also has a beach shack. What was that called I wonder now but its a good place to hang out or even stay.
Land and water

Water and land

Preparations on the way

From there we crawled upwards to the northern beaches, passed by Morjem, where there was once a resort that Vivek built and sold and finally ended up at a nice beach, shallow as the ones in Maharashtra where you go deep and deep and only wet your ankles to show for it. A I fail to recollect but I know how to get there! We watch the sun dip and then we parted ways. Vidyuth and I watched a small wedding ceremony attended by just the bride and the groom, the priest or someone who was standing in and a girl who clicked pics. It was all over in a few minutes but they made enough arrangements on the beach to make it a special sunset wedding.
Preparations for this wedding - lovely stuff


Lovely sunset on the way to Anjuna

Vidyuth decided to aquaint me with the wild side and led me to Anjuna where the famous Curleys and Shiva Valley shacks are situated. I remember a time in another lifetime when I went with another cricketer friend on a long, unguided tour along these beaches, led only by the wildness of one beach after another. Loud trance music, a beach party going on, little vendors selling Snickers, bread omelette, chai, baubles, trinkets. More fresh lime juice for me, a lovely moon right on our heads. An hour or two and off we went to Mango Tree, Vidyuth's favorite haunt by Vagator. Now this is an informal joint with some great food and even greater prices. It appears open all night and has a whole load of Indian students populating it. Full marks to Mango Tree - but go only if you don't mind a student type of a no-frills joint.

The Arabian Sea

Then there was Angel's which is a lovely little joint on the road that leads up to Calangute and one must stop here for a leisurely drink or a meal. Right opposite my hotel was this cute little joint called Mojo's which was pretty small and has some rather uncomfortable looking high stools but well worth a visit or two. Decent music, too loud for me though, a good food. I got a card from them too. There was yet another Goan food joint that Vidyuth and I stopped by one one of the days - a real Goan bar with zero frills but some amazing kababs. Totally downmarket stuff but well worth the money.
Sunrise on the way back

More sunrise

State highway

Sunset as we approach Hyderabad

I enjoyed clicking all the old churches and somehow managed to miss the main one in Panjim. I did shop around for some wine, some cashew and some stuff for Anjali on the last day. I'd have loved to roam the beaches some more but I'll save it up for later when I get here on vacation.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Anjali - On Why Those Who Love Us Shout At Us

This was a bit too much for me. Anjali and her Mom are at each other everyday, being the strong headed women that they both are. Anjali's pet grouse is that her Mom shouts at her 'all the time, in the morning and evening blah blah blah'. But today while travelling in the car with me she was all praise for her Mom and the wonderful Barbie she got her. I listened intently to Anjali's wide eyed praise when the conversation took a curious turn.

'But we both fight so much with each other,' she ruminated in an amused manner as she looked out of the car window.
Realising that perhaps there was something here, I asked her how it is that they fight so much but still her Mom buys her all those Barbies etc.
'Because she loves me the most,' said Anjali simply.
'But how can you fight and love at  the same time?' I asked.

Anjali turned towards me, put on her school teacher tone when she figures I am asking stupid questions, and explained.
'Nanna, see. You will shout at someone only if you love them na. If I am doing something wrong, only then Mamma will shout at me na. Why will she shout at me if she doesn't love me?'
That was pretty intense stuff for me. Anjali was cool about it all and pretty amused about it all.

'But you and I don't fight so much,' I protested trying to get some attention back to me. 'Does that mean we don't love each other?'
Anjali had an answer for that.
'Arre, we love each other so much,' she said. 'But we don't shout because you tell me normally na.'

For all that shouting, one thing is pretty clear. Anjali's list starts with her Mamma.
Me, I come a distant second.

Excerpts of Talk with Anita Nair at the Hyderabad Literary Festival

I was in conversation with well-known novelist Anita Nair at the Hyderabad Literary Festival recently. Anita is a highly prolific writer, having written 13 books in 14 years of her writing career. With 5 novels that include ‘A Better Man’, ‘Ladies Coupe’, ‘Mistress’, ‘Lessons in Forgetting’ and ‘Cut Like Wound’, short story collections, children’s stories, a screenplay, a play and a translation among the many genres that she has explored, Anita has already written much that we could converse about. The setting was a seminar hall in the new Maulana Azad Urdu University, Gachibowli, on the first day of the Literary Festival. A decent-sized crowd was in attendance.

I began by asking Anita how she managed to write so much and how she accomplished such a large body of work in such a short time. Anita said that since she turned into a full time writer (after giving up a career in advertising) she writes for a living. As a full time writer she is disciplined (writes everyday as in a day job), devoting her morning hours to writing (in long hand, her preferred method of writing). On what gets her to write with such discipline, she said that she loves the writing process and that she looks forward to writing, first thing every morning. It is not as if she forces herself to write, she loves the process she said.

I asked her how she experiments with so many forms so easily. Anita said she finds it challenging to experiment with new genres and mediums of writing and story telling. She does not see herself restricted to only one type of writing. While on the process of writing so prolifically I asked her if she gets into rewrites or ideas that end up nowhere which could set her back in terms of her productivity. She said that she starts writing the story only after she is clear about what she wants to write. She develops the idea, the structure, and once the framework is set, she writes within that framework. She said that since she thinks of the story in terms of scenes, it makes it easier for her to move from one scene to another and also add a visual element to the story.

Anita’s writing is bold and unapologetic and I asked her how she expresses herself so boldly without holding herself back. She said that for a writer it was necessary to let go and let the characters do what they have to and not control them. Whether it is a love scene or a sex scene or a violent scene, it is about the character and what he or she needs to do which is important, and the writer must remain honest to that. She says that when she writes it is not about her anymore but the people in her stories who take over.

I asked her if she thought it was part of her evolution as a person that makes her comfortable with writing the darker shades of human behaviour or emotions so easily. For me who writes about the goody goody and nice parts of human emotions I find it difficult and uncomfortable to write explicit love scenes or about sex and murder. Anita said that she writes without filtering and without apology and that it is the way it should be – about the story and the characters.

I asked Anita how she thinks the publishing industry in India has evolved, more so since she has been a part of it right from the time IWE really took off in India. She said things have changed for the better and the industry has grown. But at the same time there was scope to improve in the Indian book publishing industry.

I asked Anita her opinion on the boom in IWE with so many new writers expressing themselves. She said that it was good that so many new writers are writing and getting published but the writing was qualitatively better in the earlier days. There is a lot of writing now but not of the quality one witnessed in early years.
I asked her if we were still scratching the surface in terms of our identity as people and whether our stories could get better and more honest. More about the real us beyond the urban landscapes (and the 'English' people). She said yes, there are certainly many more stories in India that could be told with more honesty and understanding. She said that she would give it another ten years before our writing can get to that level, where we go deeper into our identity as people, our fears and doubts, our dreams and aspirations, and our histories.

I asked Anita which medium she liked writing in - the novel, the play or the screenplay. She said she loves the novel the most because she is in complete control of the situation unlike a screenplay which could change with the vision of the other people involved in the process. But each one has its own challenges. I asked her if honesty pays in writing. Anita said that to her it is very satisfying to know that there are loyal readers who read her novels and she is happy with the fact that she is writing for them.

On her new novel ‘Cut Like Wound’, a murder mystery in the literary noir category which has received fine reviews, Anita said that she had to research a bit to find the unique murder weapon apart from exploring the streets of Shivaji Nagar where she set her world of male prostitutes, cross dressers, and murderers themselves. Her protagonist, Inspector Borei Gowda and his unconventional life and career, has created enough impact among her readers in ‘Cut Like Wound’ and she is now writing a sequel to it.

There was much more to ask and know, to converse, but we ran out of time. Anita Nair was far more clear, articulate and expressive when she spoke on the above subjects than I could ever capture in this piece and I found talking with her highly educative and enjoyable. She read excerpts from her novel ‘Lessons in Forgetting’ which has since been made into an English movie with the same name. We ended the session with questions from the audience and thanking Anita Nair for finding time and joining us at the Hyderabad Literary Festival.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Thought for the Day - Use Hurt Positively

There is much use for negative emotions. Don't throw them away. They do not need to drain you. Hurt, pain, disappointment, frustration, resentment are strong and powerful emotions that can be channelised beneficially.
Pic courtesy. Prarthana Nargundkar

Next time you feel those negative emotions, step back and let then wash over. Feel them. Feel their power. Then direct that energy to do something positive. Maybe just physical work, maybe creative work, maybe capturing the mood, anything. A book, an idea, an article, a painting, practice at a game, run, swim, anything that lets you express that feeling. Whatever you do must be an expression to tell the people who made you feel that way that you will use that energy to drown them. Go at it with a vengeance. See what a beautiful thing you can create with that power.

But whatever you do, definitely don't smother it inside with alcohol or drugs or negative company. Express it through an act. It will be beautiful. Each time you feel these emotions, use them to find a spurt of energy to create something positive. They are not so bad after all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Surprise Outing - Zakir Hussain In Concert In Goa

Vidyuth got this idea. He had seen an advertisement for a concert at Panjim Gymkhana, a few minutes away from where we were staying. The concert had Zakir Hussain playing with Edger Myers, Bela Fleck and Rakesh Chaurasia. Sponsored by the Navhind Times which was celebrating its 50th anniversary, the concert was set to start at 7 p.m. We took a chance and headed to the venue hoping to get some tickets or passes and guess what, entry was free. Now, that was something.

The Panjim Gymkhana is set right on the banks of the Mandovi river and has tall casuarina trees (I think) surrounding it from all around. It is a scenic location and the perfect place for a concert of this proportion. I recall fond memories of playing on this ground in the Arlem Trophy in 1984 where we, the Wills Willowers team, a young side, held a start studded Tata Steel side till the last over. Tata Steel then had Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri (just back from winning the Champion of Champions Trophy in Australia), Kiran More, Milind Gunjal. Raju Kulkarni, Balwinder Sandhu and others. That was a long time ago.

Back to the present now. People started trickling in and we found ourselves a couple of chairs at a place that offered a decent view without getting crowded in. The Governor of Goa arrived on time and the concert took off. It was a beautiful experience listening to the maestros play - Zakir Hussain was magical on the tabla, Edgar Myers a double Grammy winner in the recent Grammys on the double bass, Bela Fleck on the banjo and the young Rakesh Chaurasia on the flute. I closed my eyes and let the sounds, the music, permeate me. It took me all over, to the deserts and the seas, the mountains and the plains, as the music swept through me, rising and falling, receding and flooding.

The evening was pure magic. Thanks Vidyuth, Navhind Times and Panjim Gymkhana for bringing together such a lovely experience.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thought for the Day - Kill the Cribber

Yup. Kill the cribber inside you right now. He is by far the most dangerous enemy you have.

He rushes in with comforting arms and lends you his shoulder, as if he cares. When all that he wants really is to weaken you further, debilitate your spirit and finally kill you.
Pic. Prarthana Nargundkar

Once you lean on him, he will introduce you to his two slimy friends, Mr. Blame and Ms. Excuse. They will take you to their house called 'Illusions of Self Righteousness'. They will ply you with self-pity, a potent and addictive concoction. Then when you are intoxicated with it they admit you to the victimhood fraternity.

And once you are addicted to all these, you begin to die. Good bye life. Good bye, career. Good bye, self-esteem.

The next time you feel like a victim, just shut the f..k up. Don't crib to anyone, least of all to yourself. Accept the blame. Take responsibility. Clench your teeth and go back to the grind. There is obviously a  lack from your side somewhere.

Kill him before he kills you. Now's your chance.

The Paradoxes of Life - People Admire Us When We Do Our Best for Ourselves

We all seek praise from our audiences. Most of us suffer anxieties to please our audiences.
Pic. Prarthana Nargundkar

But is all our work to please an audience? To please someone else? We create a little and then look up to see how the audience is reacting. If it is nodding we are pleased, like a puppy. If they are not too happy, we are sad. At every moment we are worried about what they think.Would that be how we get our best work done? Looking up every moment for their approval? Perhaps not. We would get some response to that, perhaps some praise, and a smattering of commercial success.

But would it be the best we can produce? My guess is that it would be a two dimensional work with no soul. It can bring on a nod. But it will never set the audiences' soul on fire.

Our best comes from deep within. It is something that only we can feel. It is something we do for ourselves without the confines of others' expectations. It is for us only and not for anyone else. It does not matter what they think of it.

It is between you and you. You and god. And as you create it, play it, write it and paint it, you find no need to look at the audience. You look at yourself. Is it good enough for you? If not, work some more, and more, until you cry. Until finally your heart smiles at it and you say 'that is me'. No praise in the world can be more fulsome, can make you happier than that feeling that you have pleased yourself. You, the greatest critic of them all.

These vague, undefined, unfettered works that transgress human understanding are what beauty is all about. It touches the heart deeply, the devotion, the courage, the flight, the thought. This is what makes people admire in other people, their art, their expression. This is real beauty. And it stays with you forever.
When it stays with you, it stays with the audience too.

When we please ourselves the most, the world is also pleased with us.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Thought For The Day - The Link Between Growth and Happiness

Growth is always about being out of the comfort zone. Always about something new. It will make you feel on the edge, feel fully aware and never secure. Growth makes you feel fully alive. A new experience, a new person, a new dish, a new piece of danger - growth comes even from doing all the things that you shy away from.
Pic courtesy: Prarthana Nargundkar

Growth, obviously, makes you happy. The exhilaration of merely trying a new thing, expanding an unknown boundary, brings a rush of happiness. A joke makes you laugh, because it presents a new viewpoint. Anything new - a visual, a thought, a sound, a perspective makes you happy.

When we stop growing, in ideas and in thoughts, we become unhappy. Everything looks the same. When in fact everything is as dynamic and exciting as it is to a little child. It is just our perspective that has remained stagnant. We are looking at the same frame we want to look at life with. We just do not want any other viewpoint. We do not want growth anymore.

Try to look at life without those old frames. Remove them and be open to growth. It happens by itself if we are open - we do not need to do anything. Watch your happiness fill you again.

Growth is, in my opinion, the only reason for happiness.

Thought For The Day - The Gap

One is our potential. One is our current performance. What we need to address, is the gap between the two.

The gap requires us to constantly grow. In little steps. Bit by bit. Every step of the growth - the small successes - must be celebrated. Must be understood and acknowledged.

As you grow closer to your potential, you find that the outer ring, your potential has shifted a bit more from what you anticipated. But now it's fun. This growth path.

Why do we get stuck? Because we do not get started on pushing our current status further. We link it to immediate return. Don't. Look for growth.

First push that limit to go to the next one. What it means is that we must, irrespective of the return, give our 100% and push. Grow.

The journey begins. The gap gets smaller. We're growing. We're happier.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Golconda Sound and Light Show

Went to the Golconda Light and Sound show recently. The English show starts at 7, or so the brochure said, but it started at 630 p.m. What's with these guys?
Some part of Golconda Fort

A bit of a queue. There are some tickets called Executive tickets. We walked along the dungeon like places that smelled of bats and old caves. We were warned many times against the use of cameras and the consequences (penalties). We headed on bravely still. Until we came to a clearing and what do we see? A million people already seated and waiting for the show to begin. There was little to indicate where the non-executive seats were and where the executive seats were. After some enterprising moves by Shobhs we found the executive section (it is on a slightly raised platform). We did not get seats in a row and just split up and sat.

The English version began. Amitabh Bachchan spoke about the tale of Golconda and how the name came by from Golla Konda or Shepherd Hill. The story of the Kakatiyas, the Qutb Shahis, the Taramatis, the shifting of the city, Charminar and all that happened in Golconda were covered. Nice. Some part of the sound was bad for a while but mostly it was fine. The lights part was good. The mosquitoes were aplenty. There were several who could not resist clicking pictures of the show despite the ban.

Pretty nice overall. Worth a visit. But it makes sense to actually go and climb the fort. Ideally get to the fort by 4 p.m., walk around the fort and get down by 630 to see the sound and light show. But you may not feel like it then. Outside the fort there is a Cafe Coffee Day.

Anjali - On Life of Pi

I decided to check with Anjali a few of her reactions to the movie 'Life of Pi'. She got scared when the tiger roared and the animals killed one another and expressed her desire to go home. But she changed her mind pretty fast after that as well and demanded her 3D glasses back to watch the movie. Considering that she watched the entire movie and was laughing at the end, she appeared to have liked it.
Add caption

Q. Did you like the movie?
A. Yes.

Q. What did you like about it?
A. Richard Parker.

Q. Why?
A. He is so beautiful. He has such a lovely colour and beautiful eyes.

Q. Did he not scare you with his roaring?
A. Yes. A little.

Q. What did you not like about the movie?
A. I don't like big people's movies because there will be all killing villing.

Q. What do you think the movie was about?
A. Bravery.

Q. Whose?
A. Pi. He was scared of the tiger but he still helped it.

Then she turned away and said she did not want to do any more interviews on Life of Pi. Normal interviews are okay she said.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Prearranged Love - Anusha Vishnampet

'A Prearranged Love' is a breezy, love story based in Hyderabad in this debut novel by Anusha Vishnampet. Now Hyderabad being my home city is a place close to my heart, and I was really glad to note that Anusha set her story in our city where not too many novels are. Wonder why. The other two novels that I read recently are the Eighteenth Parallel by Asokamitran and Hussaini Alam House by Huma Kidwai.

Anyway Anusha takes us go headlong into the story of Rekha and Arjun, two young, twenty somethings, who are set up by their parents (read as mothers) who are good friends themselves. The two, Rekha the firebrand advertising professional with a mind of her own, and Arjun, the handsome (perhaps arrogant) software techie, get into a love-hate relationship that starts with the latter and progresses to the former. From a matchmaking date which goes all wrong to an accidental meeting as professionals - Anusha representing the service provider and Arjun the helpful client - the two go on a roller coaster ride in their short relationship that could end up anywhere given their unpredictable temperaments. The duo keeps going around Hyderabad as they meet one another and I wished Anusha had described a few more places in the city to give the Hyderabadi readers a stronger feel. 'A Prearranged Love' is funny, visual and a nice quick read.

Anusha writes well with an ease that is rare for a debut novelist, and I am sure she will produce many more stories. The characters are well etched out, the conversations are zingy enough and she does not shy away from the odd passionate kissing scene which is a rarity in itself in Indian Writing in English. I felt another thirty pages could have given it more depth really, the characters and the supporting characters, their motives and their challenges. But on the plus side she does not complicate the plot too much and keeps it straightforward which is nice. The scenes are highly visual and stay which is another huge plus for her. The book itself has an attractive cover and is well produced by Jaico which has now ventured into popular fiction.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Seven Years of Highly Defective People - Scott Adams

This is a 256 page book filled with hundreds of Dilbert cartoons. As the cover says it's the Scott Adams Guided Tour of the Evolution of Dilbert. For a cartoon strip Dilbert is not easy because Adams does make you think, and more than once I did go back to read the cartoon and found something that I did not find the first time. I am lucky I did not meet Adams in his years at the workplace else he might have added a character as he did with almost all the other characters he has in the strip (including Asok the Indian).

Dilbert's resentment of cubicles, pointless meetings, management decisions and their justifications, his own reactions to management and those of his colleagues are some of the subjects of the cartoons. Dilbert was probably never meant to be funny as in rolling over the floor types (or maybe there are those types who get these jokes better than I do). But I must say that I enjoyed Dilbert a lot.

What Adams is so good at is in showing corporate world that there are really no clothes there. Most things that he says are funny because they are true and there's no escaping it whether you're in USA or India or wherever. The Dogbert, Ratbert and other animal characters add their own set of opinions and demands.

Good stuff Scott. I don't know if it changed anything but it sure did add humor to the workplace. And the world in general.

Life of Pi - Movie Review

'Life of Pi' was explained in two lines that Pi says. Something to the effect that Richard Parker , the tiger, kept Pi alive through those lost days in the Pacific. The tiger first strikes the fear of death in the young boy thereby keeping him awake, aware and alive as he looks to survive. Then, as he begins to understand the helplessness of the tiger and starts to take care of it, Richard Parker gives him a purpose to live. That responsibility gives Pi a power far higher than thinking of his own life or death. God did make a masterpiece when he made man - it's always easier for us to rise above our own lives when it comes to others - our children, family, subjects, anyone. Wonderful stuff.

'Life of Pi' is told by the protagonist Pi (short for Piscine Molitor, a swimming pool in France, though why anyone would name their first born Ravi and the second born Piscine Molitor beats me). Pi is the second son of a zoo owner in Pondicherry and he grows up developing a deep faith in god, in all gods really. The family decides to move to Canada upon the imposition of emergency in India, animals and all, and boards a Japanese ship. The ship hits a storm and soon Pi finds himself on a small boat with a Bengal tiger, a zebra, a hyena and an Orang Utan. The three animals die, killed by one another, and its Pi and the tiger, and how they survive the 227 day journey across the Pacific. Who survives and how is the story.

I did read Yann Martel's work on the recommendation of my good friend Naresh Raghvan a decade ago almost. It did nothing to me then. I was stupid and younger then. I am stupid and older now so it made some sense. Need to read the book again. I think it's a wonderful tale, told in a stark and brilliant setting. It's either the tiger or you. And when you survive that, you think that the tiger is thinking the same thing. Could it be that we survive the journey, not in spite of one another, but because of one another? Are our worst enemies really our best friends?

(Interestingly the writer of the book Yann Martel was accused of plagiarism from a novella 'Max and the Cats' written by Brazilian writer Moacyr Scliar - a story of a Jewish-American who shares a boat with a jaguar. However I'd like to think that stories probably go beyond their setting and that Martel, who later agreed to being inspired by a review of the novella, built his story on a different premise.)

Ang Lee is a master. To take such a complex tale and show it so powerfully on screen, to entertain throughout without a single moment that stretches your involvement, to show it so wonderfully and get the message across must be very satisfying to him. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I have a feeling that the movie and its idea will stay with me longer than I think it might. It does endorse a view I am pretty convinced about now - life gets boring if there is no challenge and it takes on a higher plane if there is purpose.

There were moments when Anjali got scared with all the growling and shouting and the imminent sense of danger but full credit to the movie that the five year old got back to watching the movie after those few moments. And this one is even better, she says that her favorite character in the movie was Richard Parker. I think she may have some more to share - might be a good idea to interview her on this. It's a classic this movie, a visual treat, and deserves all the praise and recognition it got.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Thought For The day - What More Can I Do?

It popped up while I was talking to a bunch of young employees the other day. One of them brought up the all-important question - what is the company doing for me? Why am I not getting paid more? Why should I work harder?

My experience teaches me that it never works that way. If you are not getting whatever you want, it is plain that you do not deserve it yet. The question to ask in such a situation is this - What more can I do to get what I want? There is no doubt that there is still some work left to be done because if you deserve it, nothing in the world will stop you from getting it.

Instead of complaining about not getting what you want, look for what else you can do. Add value to yourself. Prepare yourself, and you will get what you deserve.

What's In It For Me?
Most times we are more concerned with the regressive question - What is in it for me? This question stops all growth instantly, increases resentment and makes one a bad influence on the team. It affects not just the individual performance but team performance as well. It is a sure path to slide down and get into a situation you don't wan to get into.

What More Can I Do?
Instead, shift your thoughts and answer this question - What more can I do?

You will grow. You will be an asset wherever you go.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Tragic Story Of The Malnourished Newspapers

I was shocked by what I saw today. The Sunday newspaper was badly malnourished. It looked so bad that it looks sure to die. How could it have deteriorated so rapidly despite being under my gaze daily?

But the government and society in general must take into account this observation of mine and act instantly before the poor newspapers die and become extinct. I remember a time when the daily newspapers were healthy, bonny, full of beans, innocence and good stuff to share with all of us. They had lots to share, good stories, great content, came with a certain moral uprightness about them and passed on what they saw in an unbiased fashion. We read stuff about politics, sports, local news, movies, art, books, culture, people, travel, cooking, humour and could not get enough of them. There were middles, slice of life stuff. Newspapers could keep people occupied for half a day. And one newspaper could do that because it had enough content to tell, share. People improved their vocabulary by reading the newspaper, many improved their knowledge and prepared for exams and several men kept out of their wives paths by reading every word, end to end. But those were times when newspapers were healthy.

Over time the newspapers must have been afflicted by some mysterious disease. Perhaps it started when they began to believe that they could shape people's views. Thy began to see themselves as creators who could create whatever they could. And destroy what they could. Once they bought into this belief, they forgot about good content, about good news, and started to publish stuff that would create or destroy. It was not healthy diet anymore. It was not about the reader anymore, it was now about the person who'd be affected by the news - one who could be created or destroyed by the newspaper. The disease grew slowly and was largely undetected. The newspapers hid the sickness behind dramatic news, glitzy ads and lots of commercial pamphlets.

The first signs for me was when the newspapers were done within 5 minutes for me as against the earlier half an hour. The content shrunk. The second thing was that most of the news not of any real use to me nor well written. The last straw was when I began to think that perhaps life is not so bad without a newspaper anyway. I knew the rot had set in but had never imagined it would be so bad. Now the paper that comes in in every morning is emaciated, ribs sticking out of its back and not a good thing to start the day with. The first page and the last page are practically the same. Its shocking that we cannot seem to give a healthy diet to our newspapers.

It's probably too late. Only the most drastic measures may work now. The newspaper is dying a slow and painful death. Can someone give it good, healthy nourishment? Can we create news that will interest the newspaper so it can become healthy again?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Midnight's Children - Movie Review

As I watched 'Midnight's Children' I was surprised that I was able to recount names, sequences and even lines form the book that I read more than a decade ago. Much credit to Salman Rushdie for writing so well. But my memory stopped at a stage when Saleem Sinai starts meeting his extraordinarily talented midnight children, maybe a third into the story. It was then that I blanked out totally. I vaguely remembered Shiva and Parvati the witch, and all else was a blur.

The movie is a visual treat but. The story took off well from Dal lake and the first half moves rapidly, and you wonder at Rushdie's clever plot. The story of a boy whose life is bound to that of India's, both born at the same time and both having the same hopes and expectations pinned upon them. How Saleem Sinai falls from his exalted position, finds out that his life was not really his, and goes back to make peace with a life that is salvaged from whatever is left completes a rather uninteresting part of the story. Once the cleverness ran out, it got boring. Actually once the children grew up, it got boring really. The older Saleem Sinai, Parvati, Shiva - none of them had the energy nor the conviction about them for me to expect anything interesting from them. What the midnight children were up to with their extraordinary powers that cannot save them, why Saleem Sinai does much of what he does with his life did not draw me in. It went by superficially until a lame and abrupt end. Silence.

The story could have worked as a commentary on India's reality up to the time of Emergency and after. Or it could have worked as a story of the extraordinary children. But it does neither. It's rather comic in its treatment which might not have been the right tone for the issues that are portrayed. Disappointing to me. Rushdie's novel was extraordinary for his brilliant writing style and I'd think it would be most difficult to bring his flavour, an overriding component of the book, into the movie. It would have been safer to choose a lesser road, so the story is told at least.

But movie apart what was a first to me was this. For the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the show there were just the three of us, Koni, Ranjan and I, watching the movie - on the first day's first show. The hall filled up to about 50% capacity later on. But watching a show just for us - a bit like Amitabh booking the entire show in Sharaabi - only we did not. Everyone came late. Why would they? I wonder.