Friday, February 28, 2020

Race - Movie

Jesse Owens story and how black athletes dominated the 1936 Berlin Olympics under Hitler's racist nose. It was an Olympics where Hitler hoped to prove his race theory, that Aryans were superior to all other races in the world. Owens won 4 gold medals including the prestigious 100 m, the 200 m, long jump and the 4X100 relay. Fascinating stuff.

And to think we are revisiting that today.

The Problem with Division

When leaders seek to secure power by dividing the people, there is a problem. When they talk of walls, of superior and inferior people, of insiders and outsiders, of our own and of theirs, there is a problem.

The Divide - Pic.Satish Nargundkar

To begin with, they build a false narrative to promote the divide which works in their favour in terms of polarising votes. The narrative is fear-based, lack-based, that someone or the other is taking away what should be 'ours'. It could be jobs, culture, land, money whatever. What this narrative brings into play is all those who think they will benefit from this ascension in power even at the cost of trodding over people who have lived with them for many years before this narrative began. Greed drives the narrative from the top, while fear fuels it at the bottom.

Secondly, the idea of someone being greater or someone taking away something will become central to this rule. And then, even in those that are left behind, there will be groups which think they are more deserving and that the others should be kept out. So the Aryans will be kept in and Jews kept out first and then some superior Aryans will occupy leadership positions over inferior Aryans. It will play out like that. The idea of Aryan drives the actions among all Aryans, until the inferior Aryans realise they are left behind.

Dividing as a strategy helps in the short run. But in the long run, the inferior Aryans will see through the game of the superior Aryans.

A fear-based leadership can never build anything secure or long-lasting. Both fictional ideas, but both worth pursuing. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Thought for the Day - Silence and Leadership

When you are silent, you are tacitly supporting what is happening.

Pic-Satish Nargundkar

It goes for both the leaders and the opposition.

But it is more dangerous when the leader keeps quiet at time when he should speak. And speaks when he should keep quiet.

Be aware of what the leader says, and be even more aware of what the leader does not say.

Summers Will Never be the Same - Edited by Christopher Martin-Jenkins and Pat Gibson

The book is a tribute to Brian Johnston, or Johnners, who was a cricket commentator, author and TV presenter. Brian was known for his humorous take on anything, making things simpler for viewers and making a complicated world appear easy.

I bought this book in the 'Box' thing - where we fill up our box with as many books as we can. Brian is not someone I knew of at first glance - Henry Blofeld and co I had heard and Brian I might have heard too. I should check those references out and listen to his commentary if it's available somewhere. The book is a bunch of tributes written by family, friends, colleagues and even Prime Minister John Major in whose words the title of the book appears. (the unforgettable Jon Agnew 'leg over' incident)

Johnners was a wicketkeeper and loved his cricket. He played for his school and for many other clubs. He loved a joke and was known for his many pranks as a practical joker. They say he never grew out of school - his humour and take on life was unpolluted by anything adult (he did love his seaside jokes though). He lived like a Wodehousian character they say, enjoying one moment after another. He had this habit of calling everyone with a Godders, Johnners, Aggers, and had nicknames for everyone and everything. He loved chocolate cake, loved making commentary fun by talking about anything but he prepared hard and never missed a ball. Johnners worked with a full calendar until his last day. He was 82 when he passed away and had many speaking engagements left.

I loved everything about Johnners and I am glad I picked this book. Apart from spreading sunshine and not taking life too seriously, he never grew up, which is a great trait to build in I feel. Another thing I liked was how he would call his friends who were not well, every day, or call his friends widows to check on them, or even old friends who were out of touch. He replied to almost all his fan mail in his own pen, and there was tons of it. I am going to pick up a thing or two and practice them.

I found the way the authors structured the book very interesting. They got everyone who knew him to write about him - from a para to a few pages and put them together. Wow! That's simple. The idea being that it's a tribute, but it does get the whole life story across very well indeed.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Thought for the Day - Deciding is the Tough Part

It's making the decision that is the toughest part - once we make the decision - the rest is easy. We all find ways to fulfill our wishes once we decide - buying something expensive, leaving the job, moving houses or towns, relationships - it's the decision that bothers us more than the pain of the consequences of the decision.

Buying a new car, a new gadget is only difficult until the decision is made in the mind. Once it is made, its easy to get what we want. (And once we actually acquire it, we lose all interest in it pretty soon.)

Like MS Dhoni once said, to get better at decision making, make more decisions.

An Equal Music - Vikram Seth

My second Vikram Seth after 'The Golden Gate'. Thanks Vanathi for giving it to me. It's the story of Michael Holmes a violin player and his love for Julia whom he'd met in Vienna when they were in college studying music. And his love for music of course.

It is a highly acclaimed book with a lot of technicalities on music - quartet, quintet, this and that. Michael plays in a quartet in London - the others being Piers, Helen and Billy. One day he sees his old love Julia on a bus. He appears to have left Julia rather suddenly in Vienna and caused her severe hurt. But he tries to track her down in London and fails - only to have her show up at one of his shows. Julia and Michael resume their love affair though she is married and has a child. The information that she is slowly going deaf does not deter her from playing with the quartet on a tour to Paris. Anyway they realise that the affair cannot continue and it affects both their lives and careers.

Nothing about Michael or Julia was interesting to me. Maybe there was a layer that connected them through their music but I didn't get that. To me it looked like Michael just wanted her, without making any commitment, not really caring whether it hurt her or not. Julia seems drawn to him for no reason, except that she wants to get hurt again and she does.

The music bits are supposedly written very well but I didn't understand them much. The human story was boring. i found the characters rather one dimensional, even immature. 

Mr and Mrs 55 - Movie

Guru Dutt. Madhubala, Johnny Walker.

Kushal Mangal Zyaada Savdhan - Movie

Interesting.Bold. Entertaining. A love story of a gay couple who end up marrying.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Thought for the Day - The Truth is That People Want to Hear Lies

The song by Fleetwood Mac 'Little Lies' makes immense sense. 'Tell me lie, tell me sweet little lies' sings Stevie Nicks and for a long time, I wondered why people want to hear lies. But that's the truth - paradoxically, most of us want to hear lies.

The salesman who tells his lies sweetly gets away, just as a lover who tells his lies sweetly gets away or even a politician who sells his lies sweetly. All that matters to the customer, the girlfriend/boyfriend, voter at that point is how sweetly the lie has been told - funnily, most cases they also know they are lies. And then they believe them, like a drug they settle down into a coma, and put up with all kinds of nonsense, abuse until one day they push back.

And once again, the salesman, the lover, the politician tell those sweet little lies and all is well again.

It works beautifully. Though I feel it's manipulation of the worst kind, demeaning the other's intelligence when you do this - I know not many subscribe to it. If they are not intelligent and if they 'ant' it, give it, take what you want and move on.

Be smart!

But you also have to look in the mirror. If you truly loved them, cared for them, would you want them to grow beyond this, or would you keep them there is the question. Women,  minorities, backward classes, is uplifting them, growing them.

Little lies are ok perhaps as long as they are harmless and create some happiness, but if it based only on those, and the opposite is being done, time to wake up.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Girls of Mumbaistan - Piyush Jha

Three thrilling novellas of love and revenge. They are thrilling alright. Piyush maintains a hectic pace, keeps you guessing till the end and leads you on a Bendesque ride through his dear Mumbai.

The first novella, 'The Simple Girl' is naturally about a simple girl who (as simple girls do) finds herself in a situation where she needs a lot of money to get her husband treated. She gets a mysterious call and an offer to earn the money- provided she does something she should not do. She takes the offer and expectedly lands in a whole bunch of trouble. How the simple girl unravels a complex modus operandi where gullible girls like her are cheated makes for a rapid page-turning experience.

'Maid for Murder' is about a maid, a sick husband and a well-off couple who are on the verge of splitting up on not-too-happy terms. The man, a highly paid executive, is smart, the woman, his live-in, equally so, and the stakes are high. The maid finds herself caught in a delicate position - one that even a street smart operator like her cannot anticipate.

'Inspector Hijra' introduces a new character, perhaps a first in IWE, an Inspector hijra (there have been several villains as hijras, so this is a first I should think). The transgender Inspector finds a hot case landing in her lap and she trusts her gut to follow it up in the way she knows instead of waiting to go through the official process. It's a tough call, an edgy time, and we don't know if her high-risk gamble pays off or spells doom.

Piyush is an accomplished man - he directed films like 'Chalo America', 'King of Bollywood' and 'Sikandar'. He has written crime-fiction novels like 'Mumbaistan', 'Compass Box Killer', 'Anti Social Network' and 'Raakshas: India's No 1 Serial Killer'.

I liked the way Piyush kept the chapters short, the narrative tight and really took page-turning to a new level. I liked his acknowledgement of the women of Mumbai and the Hijra community - typical of Piyush - who has deep convictions of the right sort and speaks up for them. There's not an extra word and no indulgent flab in the book; the story surges ahead into rapid twists and turns until it meets a quick, unexpected end. Good stuff Piyush.

Highly talented, with many facets to him, there's a lot more to come from him for sure.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Jojo Rabbit - Movie

Back humour. Kind I like.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Parasite - Movie

A down and out family gets an opportunity to get out of their poverty - the young son gets work as a tutor in a rich man's house and earn some money. He introduces his sister as an art therapist to the rich man's young son. Then the father as a chauffeur and finally the mother as a housekeeper. They all behave as if they are unrelated. On the day the family goes out for a camping trip to celebrate the young son's birthday, the family celebrates at the rich man's house. Until the bell rings.


Once Upon a time in Hollywood - Movie

Quentin Tarantino. Leonardo DiCaprio. Brad Pitt. Hollywood backdrop in the late 1960s. Charles Manson. Murder and mayhem. The real life story of Charles Manson is crazy.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

All the Lives We Never Lived - Anuradha Roy

It's a highly acclaimed book and won many awards and much praise. The story is about Myshkin, named after the character in Dostoevsky's 'Idiot', whose free-spirited mother Gayatri or Gay runs away with another man, a free-spirited painter Mr Walter Spies, a German who relocates to Bali and paints. Now Walter Spies apparently is a real-life character who dies in a shipwreck. The book takes off at a fictitious point where Walter comes to India and meets Gay and influences her enough to run away with him and his friend Beryl de Zoete. Gay leaves her rather rigid, narrow-minded husband Nek Chand and her ten-year-old son Myshkin and flies away. She actually plans to leave with Myshkin but he gets late from school so she leaves without him.

The writing is perfect but I have problems with human behaviour. Why, if she loved Myshkin so much, did she leave him behind? What exactly is the relationship between her and Spies and de Zoete? What is Myshkin thinking - he seems to take her disappearance quite casually except for writing letters? More than the letters he receives from his mother, Myshkin unearths a bunch of letters written by his mother to her friend Lisa McNally where she explains her life in Bali, how she is making progress as a painter, how Spies is arrested and each letter ending with her love for Myshkin. She actually sets out to meet Myshkin finally and no one knows what happened to her after. Myshkin meanwhile has become a passionate horticulturist, fighting to save trees in Delhi.

Dada was an interesting character. Nek Chand too. Gay is free-spirited but what she looks for I am not sure of - love from Spies, freedom from Nek Chand. Somehow Gay never came across as a gay person to me. Myshkin is rather sad as one would expect him to be. Spies seemed like a happy character.

Thought for the Day - You're Only as Welcome as you Feel

The phrase, I did not feel welcome, sparked this thought. On one hand, is a bunch of openly hostile or rude hosts where you don't need to 'feel' unwelcome; you're pretty much being told you are. It's the other, more subtle variety where on one hand one feels unwelcome whereas the host has no clue what this person is talking about because the host is just being normal. Just to cite a case in point - people feel this way at weddings when they feel they are not accorded enough importance.

In such cases, I would like to think that one feels only as welcome as one feels. I can feel welcome - go looking to be part of something, or I can feel unwelcome and look for all the signs of feeling unwelcome and build a story on that.

Whichever way, I guess we get what we want - the happiness of participating and spreading joy for ourselves and others or cribbing about life and creating a drama and spreading unhappiness.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Garden of the Snake - Appupen

George was kind enough to gift me this book. Now he has gone the full hog - it's a silent classic with no dialogue. Two stories 'Heartland' and 'Birds of a Flower'.

This is an independently published comic. If you buy these comics you support the artist. Write to @appupen or to order. Buy it.

If there's one book I want to buy, it's Appupen's. He epitomises a true artist to me. Superb job George. Keep going.

Day Trip to Bangalore

Had to meet Hari Rao my old friend who is down with a stroke, attend Piyush Jha's session at the Times Lit Fest. Alos had to meet Dr Ramaiah for an interview. I asked Vasu if he was game - I was going anyway - and he said he was. So off we went by the 730 flight. I picked up Vasu at his Banjara Hills house and we headed to the airport. Vasu seemed to know exactly where to go, the shortest places, fastest lines etc and we were quickly inside the airport.
Thriller authors! - Piyush at far left and Ashwin Sanghi at far right
At Bangalore we tucked into some heavy breakfast at the lovely food court outside the airport - I ate an omelette and he tried a panini sandwich. Then a Uber to Hesargatta. Met Dr Ramaiah for a couple of hours and ate lunch with him.
Piyush, Richa Chadda and Priyanka
Then we went to the Times Lit fest and hung around. Vasu had a first-hand account of how Lit Fests work and we attended a session on writing thrillers with Piyush Jha, Ashwin Sanghi, Sudeep Nagarkar and Vineta Coelho. It was boring - everyone said they wanted the audience to turn the pages. Ashwin Sanghi was busy on his phone while the discussion was on. The highlight to me was George coming over and we had a coffee and some banter before heading off to Piyush's book launch. George gave me his independently produced Graphic novel 'Halahala' which he gifted for Anjali and I gave him a pack of Osmania biscuits.  We also met Ram, George's documentary filmmaker friend from Chennai who made a film on surfing in Cochin and voila there were two connections - Vasu surfs in Lanka!
A friend, Ram and George posing with the Osmania biscuits! 
Piyush launched his book 'Girls of Mumbaistan' - which has three thrilling novellas of love and revenge. Richa Chadda was the celebrity launcher. The session was moderated by Priyanka Sinha Jha, Piyush's wife, and also the editor of Screen. It was a conflict-ridden session - and fun. Nisha and Rajesh joined us for a bit and we had some coffee again.
Hari and Hari!
After the session, we met Piyush and Priyanka briefly and then Vasu and I took off to meet Hari Rao at his house. Hari is an incredible person - was my senior at MBA. He was the national taekwondo champion then, played brilliant carroms, table tennis and was an irrepressible spirit. He even played cricket for ou college team and helped us win a match we almost lost - on sheer will power and spirit. His 49 against Dharmavanth College will never be forgotten. Then a job with the Indian Airlines, a career in the Income Tax where he rose to the post of Additional Commissioner before he resigned. In between, he found a passion for cooking and opened a restaurant called Dum which served fabulous biryani. His research into making the best biryani in the world led him to discover a stove which saves 50% LPG and he was now an energy efficient man winning awards from the Government of India, the UN and all those. His company Agnisumukh is doing very well.

Six months ago he suffered a stroke while playing table tennis - a game which he upskilled to the level where he wanted to play for India. He hired a coach and practised intensely and became very good at it too - and that's Hari for you. Dive in deep without holding back anything in all that he does. And that is what struck me as missing when I met him - he seemed unsure for the first time ever. He seemed to be holding back as if doubting his old method.

Hari is now able to walk with a walker which is a huge improvement from the paralysis he suffered on the left side six months ago. We spent a couple of hours with him and left. It was good to meet him and listen to him express his fears, understanding of his situation as he gradually began to speak.

A quick visit to Vasu's aunt and cousins closeby and we headed to a Oyo Townhouse close to the airport. It was brilliant! At 1300 bucks, a total steal. Another brilliant thing was the mini tiffin at A2B for dinner and we were off.

Morning flight to Hyd, drive to Sarvi for chai and biscuit and back home.

Another Lovely Graphic - Gratitude Medicine

Gratitude - Panacea!

Nice Map - Wildlife Map of India

A useful map.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Anjali - Kite Flying by Chance

I'm hopeless at flying kites. Anjali had some interest when she was younger - we even bought kites and tried to fly them but didn't work.
We went to the Kite Festival in Hyderabad too and I felt very inadequate at not being able to get the kite to fly. But recently we were driving by and I had a minute's work with Ranjan and I stopped.
Anjali said she would like to come and say hi so up we went and guess what he was flying a kite.

So Anjali got an impromptu kite flying lesson and some flying experience too.

A Lovely Visual

Says it better than most. Thanks Sagar.

Celebrating Life - Edited by Anuradha Jonnalagadda Tadakamalla

This is a fine coffee table book on Vedantam Raghavaiah, a highly talented and gifted Kuchipudi dancer, actor and director. He was born in Kuchipudi in 1919, and the book was compiled and edited by Smt Anuradha Jonnalaagadda, who is also a Professor at the Department of Dance, University of Hyderabad. The launch was held at Ravindra Bharathi and was attended by several prominent personalities.

Raghavaiah trained under Yakshagana Pitamaha Chinta Venkataramayya from a young age and at ahe 7, he won a gold medal for his portrayal of Pranhala Yakshaganam. He soon mastered the form. When he was about 20 years about and had already acquired considerable fame as an artist, he performed in a movie Rythu Bidda. He was the dance director for 22 films, directed 36 films in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Marathi. He started Vinoda Pictures in 1957 wit CR Subbaraman, DL Narayana and Samudrala Senior. His greatest works were Yogi Vemana, Tyagayya, Keelugurram, Swapna Sundari, Bhale Ramudu, Anarkali. Devadasu in 1953 was a runaway hit with Akkineni Nageswara Rao in the lead role. He passed away in 1971, aged a mere 52 years

It was a wonderful tribute to a great personality. The quality of work, the focus on doing quality work and never getting satisfied is something one can learn from these masters. A wonderful effort by Dr Anuradha Jonnalagadda, research scholar Kathyayani Ganti and exponent in Kuchipudi music DVS Sastry.

Dangling Gandhi - Jayanthi Sankar

Dangling Gandhi and other Short Stories are authored by Jayanthi Sankar who lives in Singapore (she's been there for the past twenty-five years). She writes, translates and edits and is also a watercolour artist. She was in Hyderabad in January for a book event and I picked up this book there.

The title catches your eye instantly - but there's nothing to worry - she's talking about a figurine of Gandhi dangling in a cab in Singapore and how the cab driver tells his fares how much he admires Gandhi. 'Did Churchill know' ends dramatically and is a good start to the book. The 'Punkah Wallah' is a poignant tale of an immigrant in Singapore who is earning money for his mother and his deaf-mute sister, until his mother passes away - but the landlords don't tell him even after a year. 'Read Singapore' is about a mother and daughter and their reading habits and how they discover each other in a strange land. 'Am I a jar' is about a teenager coming to terms with herself and her choices.

Jayanthi bridges the two worlds of India and Singapore with great ease. She has a unique, lyrical quality to her prose. She has a light touch and yet draws you into the world she is creating. There is enough research about the topics she wrote about to make it credible and convincing. The characters are interesting and layered. Enjoyable.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Talk at 41ers - Hyderabad Gymkhana Club

Pankaj invited me to give a talk at the 41ers - a club that spins off the Round Table where the members retire from active social work at 40 years of age. In the 41ers they continue to do the good work in a more relaxed fashion and meet once a month. After we agreed on the date Pankaj asked me to come up with a suitable topic. It took em almost two weeks to finalise the topic titled 'What's on your shelf?'. The audience had a few old friends, Ajay Narne from Intermediate days, Pankaj from Engineering and MBA days and a few others.

The talk was primarily about how I discovered, one fine day that there were so many books to read on my shelf, that I have enough to read for a lifetime. Similarly, I also have many movies to watch, things to write about, places to see, people to meet and practices to adopt and master. I have enough things to do. What started with a book or two a year, grew to 12 books a year and then to 20 and in recent times has been 70-80 books a year. Now I get books gifted to me, I got two bookshelves gifted to me and have some 15 books lying on my shelf that are unread and an equal number that I want to buy and read. I also have a list of 1000 books to read so my life is full. It makes me feel very excited to wake up and look forward to the day with so many things to do. Same with movies or whatever else is on my shelf.

Then I spoke about my mother in law Dr. Nalini Nargundkar who at 90 is very active and happy. She lives alone in a big bungalow, her husband passed away 30 years ago. I noticed that she has a very clear routine. From her yoga at 430 am in bed to her lime, honey and warm water, walk in the courtyard, her TV serials, her food, which includes a laddu at midnight, her books. Every minute that we wait at the doctor's, she spends reading a book, mostly a Mills and Boon or some murder mystery. These days she says she forgets which book she has read before so she is happy just reading.
Dayanand giving me a vote of thanks - he liked the concept of deliberate choice he said
When I asked her how she stays happy, she told me that we have to work for our happiness and not expect it to happen on its whims. We have to make our choices and follow them deliberately. That she said, was the secret of her happiness. Even her house - she said 'the house is for me and I am not for the house' - when I asked her how she maintains her huge bungalow. So she only uses the parts she needs and does not care about making the other parts look good.
Me and Ajay Narne, my pal from Intermediate days
So I realised that as my shelf gets filled up, I now need to be more deliberate like her to optimise my happiness. what I read, watch, write, who I meet should be more deliberate. Having got her, that's what I propose to do from now on.

There were a lot of questions and we had fun chatting up on our views on the topic. The key here is simply - do what makes you happy or brings you joy. To the question that I was well off economically to try all these, I said I wasn't. I just lived within my means, how much ever they were.

Throughly enjoyed the interaction and I hope they did too. Thanks Pankaj.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Johnny Got His Gun - Dalton Trumbo

Unbelievably intense anti-war story of a young 16-year-old who goes to war and loses all his limbs, the front of his face - ears, nose, eyes - and how he tries to cope with his life after that. Searing anti-war take apparently inspired by a news item that the novelist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo read about of Prince Charles visiting a soldier in the hospital who had lost all his limbs.

Trumbo keeps the intense story going till the end, with just the internal monologue of this life trapped in a body that cannot speak, taste, hear, smell or move. The realisation that he has lost all his body parts, the inability to do anything about it including scratching an itch makes him try to engage his mind in figuring things out. He senses the distance of the door from his bed with vibrations of footsteps, tries to keep track of time with an intense effort, realises he can try and communicate by using his neck to tap a code. A sympathetic nurse deciphers his attempts, brings in an authority whose first reply in code is 'What do you want?'. A dumber question could not be asked and the soldier seethes in anger - what can you give me he rages inside. But he does convey that if they allowed him some social interaction, even as a freak show, he could earn money and also support others. Schools, colleges, museums, circuses...anything he says. the man from the organisation says 'What you ask is against regulations...who are you'. That's when Joe Bonham realises that they do not want him alive as proof of how dirty war can get. He takes off on the system of war where some people sitting in corridors of power pit people who have no agenda and who only want to live, against one another to kill and maim someone they don't want to kill. As powerful an anti-war story as one can read. Thanks, Vinod bhai.

That said, I must also thank Sagar for giving me the movie 'Trumbo' to watch a few years ago. Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten who were called up to explain themselves to the Committee investigating anti-American activities in 1947 (being part of the Communist party was construed as being anti-American much like what is happened now in India). Trumbo and the Ten get blacklisted and are given no work by Hollywood. Yet Trumbo manages to write classics like 'Roman Holiday' and 'The Brave One' under a pseudonym or for another writer, both of which won Academy Awards. Trumbo wrote 40 screenplays (Spartacus, Papillon, Johnny got his gun, Exodus, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo), 7 books and some plays. Interestingly his bio says he wrote 88 short stories and six novels in the nine years when he was studying and working at the University of California, all of which were rejected. But what a volume of work to write under so much rejection. No wonder he became the highest-paid screenwriter of his time. Another interesting fact - as opposed to the Hollywood Ten who never got a chance to explain themselves by the biased committee, the one anti-communist writer who cosies up to the system is the one and only Ayn Rand!

'Johnny Got his Gun' is a must-read like Vinod told me while giving me the book. But you need to be able to stomach it. Glad I read it.