Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Haunted by Humans

Reading requires a fair bit more effort than watching movies and TV. Especially along with a job where at least 15-20% of my average work-time goes into reading articles, reports, mails and other assorted keyboard-poop. But I still continue reading books, blogs, magazines...bus-stand print ads, because once in a while something turns up that reinforces my faith in the goodness of the written word.

I finished reading one such book last night.

It's called The Book Thief and it's by Marcus Zusak. If you are one of those who is not put off by book reviews, and book reviewers (but then you probably wouldn't be reading my blog either), you have probably read something good about it already. It might have put me off with the claims of being 'life-changing', of being 'the one book you must read this year if it's the only one you read', of being 'a truly heart-warming story by an author at his prime', and so on, had it not been for a discount on a rainy day at the Landmark store at Forum.

I was bored, stuck inside, irritated with the massive Koramangala crowd hanging out at Forum and inside Landmark, and bought this book because it was on top of a pile of books mercilessly heaped on to one of the tables. It was like Daryaganj inside a mall. With much less scope for adventure, much lower chance of running into a rare, interesting book. The book had a 30-40% discount on it, and the paperback isn't really all that expensive anyway. So I bought it, along with some other more interesting books.

Why I chose to read this one before the others I bought that day is something I fail to explain. It could have been dark in the room I keep my books in while selecting a book from the shelf or maybe I was distracted and just picked one at random. But read it I did. And faster than I have read any book since I left engineering college two-and-a-half years back.

Because it's really good. I have tons of great movies with me that I want to watch, but I left everything, sat down on my bean bag with my thin, cosy blanket wrapped around me (it's getting slightly cold in Bangalore now), placed my legs on the chair in front of me, and read away to glory.

It's a story of the life of a young girl, who comes to a home in Germany during the 2nd World War at the age of 10 and leaves when she is 14. It's about how words meant a lot to her. It's about how some memories stay with us for ever. How one regrets not having said a few things once the people those things were meant to be said to are gone. How everyone holds more within than one shows. And how the simplest of acts can go on to save lives. Or take them.

And it's narrated by Death.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Wall-E*

Spending Diwali away from home sucks. I have spent a good number of Diwalis in the last 10 years away from home, at various hostels, doing pretty much nothing. But this one sucks more, because I don't have the general hostel crowd around as well. And I know that this time, for a change, I could afford to go home despite the distance, and time did not permit. But I'll survive.

Was woken up around 6:30 am today. I had known since I was a kid, thanks to a Tam friend in school, that Diwali celebrations begin in the morning in South India, with oil baths, ganga-snanam and such stuff. I also knew that bursting crackers starts along with that right from the morning too. But it turns out that not only are crackers burst in the morning, there's apparently some sort of competition among kids to see which home starts doing it the earliest. My landlord's kids won hands down this time.

But, surprisingly enough, I did not wake up cursing them or at least irritated as I would have in most cases. I was standing in my balcony a while back, watching them play, and their happiness was infectious. Reminded me of the time, ages ago, when bursting crackers used to be fun and not fretting over how I am literally burning money and creating pollution along with it. I am growing really old now.

But, all said and done, I think it's a bit of a waste, or even more of a waste than it normally is, bursting crackers during the day. Crackers are fun because of the light and sound, but this way one just gets to 'enjoy' the sound.

And also, the idiot that I am, the absolute glee with which these small kids in my lane were playing with scary looking crackers made me think of this - we probably train kids in India too well to handle things that go boom. No wonder so many of them start playing with bigger versions when they grow old. We deserve our crackers. And our RDX.

* This usage is a friend's idea, and is stolen from his GTalk status. So often, for me, thinking up the title of a post takes about the same time as writing the whole post. Couldn't think of anything else for this one.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Got done with the three Tamil movies. Ghajini is OK, and I am really interested now in seeing how Aamir Khan scores over Surya. Asin seems like the best thing to be about to happen to Hindi movies in sometime.

Aayitha Ezhuthu was good and, as a friend had told me some time back, better than Yuva. But the best of the lot was Ghilli.

It's an out and out masala film with mindless violence and Prakash Raj doing a typical hamming villain. But I still loved it. I can't recall right now enjoying an unapologetically commercial movie so much in Hindi in the last few years. For some reason, Vijay's antics made me think of Govinda, before his movies got vulgar. He can carry off any damn thing and make it look good. Need to watch more of his movies.

Rapidshare, along with some good people who upload movies on to the internet, has helped me acquire some movies that I had long been searching for. And there are so many more that I am sure are there somewhere and just need proper searching.

One such movie was this one called Mondo Cane. As Wikipedia puts it, Mondo Cane "consists of a series of travelogue vignettes providing glimpses into cultural practices throughout the world intended to shock or surprise the mostly Western film audience, including an insect banquet and a memorable look at a practicing South Pacific cargo cult." This one and the series that it spawned was referred to by John Waters in his 1969 comedy Mondo Trasho. John Waters, as the knowledgable would know is the great man behind that ultimate classic, Pink Flamingos, and several lesser known movies of the ilk.

I am half through Mondo Cane and I have already seen pigs being beaten to death in New Guinea for a mass feast, snakes being skinned alive in Singapore for a homely meal, dogs being chopped in a Taipei restaurant, sharks being fed poisonous sea-urchins and then left to die painfully over a week for their fins, geese being force-fed and kept in small cages to prevent burning of calories to prepare foie-gras, and similar enlightening stuff. Positively stomach-churning.

Human beings should really show a little more empathy towards animals. I think I'll take a break for sometime before resuming the movie.

Time for some yummy Kentucky Fried Chicken right now.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

That Adiga Guy Got Lucky!

Done reading The White Tiger, which surprisingly enough was this year's Booker winner. It's a well-written, evenly-paced story, but the only thing according to me that worked for the non-Indian jury would be that it presents a fairly non-exotic and unusual (for present times) picture of India. Now, this might be a novel novel for them, but for most Indians this would be like reading what they see everyday, something that hardly deserves wasting 300-odd pages on.

What I liked about the book is that unlike most Indian fiction that I know of, the protagonist here is a criminal, with little conscience, and no regret for his crime. He becomes a rich man, mainly because of his entrepreneurship and buckets of good luck, but partly because he decided to take the first step towards that crime.

There's little else in the book that can place it on the same shelf that some of the other Booker winners - The God of Small Things, Midnight's Children, The Blind Assassin, Possession: A Romance, Disgrace and a few others occupy. In style, but also in terms of the way it relies on providence to make things move, its closest cousin could be Q&A by Vikas Swarup. The latter was also a fairly fast-paced decent read, but just another page-turner to be read during, and not much thought about after, a train/bus/plane journey.

A similar feeling of pointlessness was experienced while watching Welcome to Sajjanpur a couple of days back. Possibly one of Benegal's worst movies.

I got original DVDs of Ghajini, Ghilli and Aayitha Ezhuthu from a friend at work today. After recent viewings of Sivaji and Dasavatharam, I have realized that there is definitely sense in watching South Indian movies in the language they are made in if one wants to derive the most pleasure from them, instead of watching remade/dubbed versions. I can't do without subtitles unfortunately or would have done that too.

I realized today that I can't go home or to my cousin's place for Diwali without missing work. That is one thing about being in Bangalore that sucks. I'll probably end up spending the three-day long weekend reading novels and watching inane flicks.

Which might not be a wholly bad thing considering that I have some hectic work-related traveling planned for the near future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Soiled Sons

The whole Raj Thackeray issue brings forth several other problems that cannot be attributed completely to the Great Son of Maharashtra's Soil.

The most shocking was this piece of news that was on top of Rediff's news-stories today for a short while. When I saw it my first reaction was - "Fuck! They actually went ahead and killed someone today for the arrest!", and then I realized that it was a story from last Sunday. Yes, MNS activists did beat the guy up, but not to avenge Thackeray's arrest. And it's really sad on the part of the Rediff news desk to portray it that way. I can think of some hot-blooded Biharis already planning to take it out on Maharashtrians around them.

Another Rediff article led me to this site for Shiv Udyog Sena, which was the brain child of Raj Thackeray when he was still a part of Shiv Sena. They have a good vision, but I don't know if they actually did anything much except create nuisance. Their website sure is pathetic. The funniest part has to be this profile of Bal Thackeray. The page title says Caricatures by Shri Raj Thackeray. And this profile does pretty much look like one.

More than anything it makes Maharashtrians appear to be these weak kids, who had been bullied for ages by North Indians, and who needed this senile cartoonist to finally let them taste the fruits of their own soil.

How can Maharashtrians let this joke of a family insult them every day?

Update: Rediff seems to have removed the page now. They are better than TOI and Aaj Tak in that they at least feel shame and correct their mistakes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Point Counter Point

The slowdown in the markets has finally hit us. No, we aren't being laid off en masse. But since the banks, PE funds and everyone else has gotten really cautious with their money, deals aren't moving fast enough. In fact, most of them are not moving at all. We need to think of something innovative to make things work right now. But until that happens, I suppose I can blog from office.

Last week's Economist had an obituary of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, the Opposition Leader from Singapore. This was the first time I was hearing of him (which happens with most people that Economist has obituaries of), even though I have read and heard stories of how difficult it is in general for the few prominent opponents to the People's Action Party rule to lead a normal life.

This and a debate on our IIMC message board about Narendra Modi, made me think again of an issue that I have brought up while talking to a lot of people. My own opinions regarding this have changed drastically, several times, over the years.

How important is democracy/secularism/socialism to a country? I use the terms together because I believe that one of the three alone is difficult to exist without the other two.

Even though Mr Modi might not have been personally responsible for the carnage in Gujarat, he pretty much did let it go on unabated for too long. Just as Mr Yedyurappa let Christians be killed and churches be burnt in Mangalore. Both chief-ministers - the former having already shown results, and the latter at least making the right noises - symbolize the minority progressive and development-oriented section of India's politics. Objectively speaking, for someone like me - a well-educated, economically well-off, Hindu - a smooth road, 24-hours power and water and industrial development matters a lot more than some Muslim or Christian family being hacked to death in some village or ghetto. Objectively speaking.

Similarly, even though in some cases it might have been for fear of persecution, across my interaction with people in Singapore, most of them seemed pretty happy with the government that has ruled them with a fairly strong fist for around 40 years. I don't know of any major human-rights violation in Singapore, but an opponent can be made to bleed in other ways too. Economically for one, as Mr Jeyaretnam was. And this is a government that could be the paragon of good governance across the world.

As I said, I don't have a conviction strong enough to be on either side of the debate. I commend Mr Modi for the development Gujarat has seen. I was awed by Singapore's at-times spooky efficiency. And I would much rather live in a place like Gujarat or Singapore or even Bangalore, where I would have a better standard of living than some other place in India or abroad where everyone's treated equally and everyone's safe (though I can't think of any such place at the moment off the cuff) even though living standards might not be all that great.

But not being able to decide for either side actually makes things worse because I get offended by both sides' arguments. How can one ignore taking away a person's right to expression, freedom and even life itself just because the culprit is a good administrator? How can one even compare the two? On the other hand, how much does a few lives lost, a few families destroyed matter when the greater good is being ensured? Aren't more people killed in Bihar, even though it has been ruled by 'secular' governments? Bajrang Dal wasn't responsible for 1984 (ok, George Orwell was, but I am talking about the Delhi riots - the most cited example in such debates).

Yeah, I am as confused as ever.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Same Old S***

We moved into a new office recently. This is a three-storeyed building of our own, as against one half of a floor of a three-storeyed building earlier. It's fun to be able to move one's chair without banging into my neighbor. There are other benefits that the new location entails, including being next door to Garuda Mall, which has got an INOX as well. And I just realized while typing this that I can walk over to Blossom now during lunch and browse for some time. I love Bangalore even more now!

The road outside our building is a one-way and gets jammed every evening from 6:30 to 7:30. Last night, we were playing cricket for a few minutes in our office on the first floor and people stuck in the jam and rain outside started staring at us. Well, playing cricket is a better way to ward off tension than shooting one's family!

The Rapidshare account has been one of the best investments in recent times. That and a software called Free Download Manager (FDM) have helped me be in regular touch with TV series as well as watch a lot of movies I hadn't been able to get my hands on for a long time. Am on a Robert Altman film festival these days. All his movies are these beautiful conversational ensembles, with striking camera-work. A Prairie Home Companion was the last one I saw. Am watching Short Cuts, which is 3 hours long, in stages. Have M*A*S*H, The Player and McCabe and Mrs Miller with me. But my favorite will probably remain Gosford Park, easily one of the greatest ensemble acts ever.

Finally finished off Sea of Poppies. A really good book, and am waiting for the next in the trilogy. Reading White Tiger now, which seems rather ordinary in the first few pages.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Hi Stranger!

Life's moving too fast for me to bother making posts. Have left several posts unfinished because I found them too pointless.

Work's been real fun lately. For a long time I had been apprehensive whether what I am doing now is what I would want to be doing for the rest of my life. The question remains unanswered, but I do feel that doing this for the rest of my life would be a pretty decent thing.

Having a full-time person to take care of food and other household things has also helped me concentrate on work a lot better, and rid me of the guilty feeling I used to have earlier of not working enough for the money these guys were paying me.

And time outside work has been taken up by reading some great books and watching some amazing movies. A recent visit to National Market and a recent purchase of a Rapidshare premium account have ensured that there are always more movies available than I have the time to watch. I am almost averaging one movie per day now, which means I am back to sleeping 5-6 hours a day, which is not as unhealthy as the health experts would make one believe. I survived B-school on less than that.

After a lot of scouring I came across this site a few days back that has the most amazing collection of movies available on it. A good part of it consists of foreign movies and I have been just going orgasmic marveling the potential it offers.

I saw Mishima: A Life in 4 Chapters today. I have been in awe of Paul Schrader ever since I read about a year back that he had written Taxi Driver and contributed on the screenplays of some other Scorsese films. And I have been quite intrigued by Yukio Mishima ever since I read about him over three years back. This is one of the most well-made biographies I have seen, which incorporates an author's life and some of his most famous literary works in a very subtle manner.

One of the movies I saw a few days back is this film called Porky's, which is the highest grossing movie of all time in Canada. What got me interested is that it is supposed to be the precursor to all the American Pie type sex-comedies we see Hollywood churning out with disturbing regularity now. I actually like most of these movies. Porky's is fine, but not great enough to be a top-grosser. I would take American Pie any day. So, this brings my respect for Canadians even lower, which was pretty low to begin with considering their depiction in American pop culture, and the fact that they take in Surds in such large numbers.

The other movies from the ones I have seen recently that I would recommend are - In Bruges, My Beautiful Laundrette and Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

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