Monday, November 28, 2005

Auto drivers beware!

I am back in town. No trip home is complete without a gory fight with the auto dude. Yesterday in Ernakulam:

Auto dude(AD): That was Rs 25.

Moi: What?

My aunt: But the meter has only 14.

AD: I told you it will be 25 and you said yes.

Moi: Well no. You said 25 and then you said that's what the meter we will show. We said let's see. Your meter now says 14.

AD: No no. Its 1.5 times the meter charge.

Moi: At 1 in the afternoon?

AD: Yes yes. I told you that already.

My mom: No, you did not. This is a rip-off.

AD: No, no. You pay me 25 now.

Moi: Why do you even have a meter then? Amma, get him 20, that's enough.

AD: You be happy that we don't rip you off like you people do in your place TamilNadu and give me Rs 25.

Moi: Oh, I see. You have just gifted Trivandrum to TamilNadu. That's interesting.

AD: Whatever. All I am telling you is that we don't rip you like you people do. Give me Rs 25 now.

Moi: Amma, no. Here, give me 15. Here. I will not give you a paisa above 15. Lets just say that I am ripping you off like I have been taught to do.

AD: You cannot do that. You give me 25 now.

Moi: Ofcourse I can. I have a reputation to maintain. How can I go back home and tell people that I did not rip off unsuspecting Mallu auto driver? Here's your 15. If you have a problem, go complain to the police. We will be in this store for the next couple of hours.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Dollar exchange

The boy came to drop me off at Bombay domestic yesterday. We had arrived a little early, so we stood there outside the entry gate chatting about life, universe and the wedding. This shady dude came over to the boy and asked him whether he wanted to exchange dollars. Needless to say, I was in my best "I don't know a word of Hindi" mode, so I was spared. The boy said No, but this dude started telling him about how he gets the best exchange rates in town. The boy again said No and the exchange dude went away to some corner, stood there for 5 minutes and then came back promptly and asked the boy which city in Amrika he was from. The boy just shut up and pretended to talk to me in Tam. Ofcourse I couldn't understand what he was talking about, so I started speaking back in Mallu. It was a pretty entertaining coversation. After listening to our conversation for another 5 minutes, the exchange dude finally gave up and went away.

"How the @#%^ does he know we have dollars? He doesn't seem to be ambushing anyone else. Is it that obvious?"

We looked around and realised it was actually quite obvious. We were the only shabbily dressed people within a 50 ft radius!

Ich bin ein Frankfurter

Well, atleast Frankfurt flughafener. Next time you are in Frankfurt between two eight hour flights, this is what you do. Go to Goethe plaza Terminal 1, Concourse B. Right next to a monstrous McDonalds, you will see the restrooms. Walk towards them and you will see signs for showerstalls. Pay $6 to the person in charge and you will get the cleanest public shower room ever all to yourself for the next hour. Pure heaven. Its like you did not step out of a transatlantic flight 30 minutes ago.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

In which I abandon the windy city for the winter

Well, some part of winter. I am off today on a 5-week trip to India. Will be back after New Years. As regular readers of this and the Bride blog no doubt know, I will be going around the country getting married. A wedding and reception in Kerala, followed by a reception in Calcutta followed by a reception in Bombay will keep me busy for the next month. Needless to say, the Bride blog will be updated more regularly with all gory wedding details.

Here's my favorite Sandburg poem to keep you entertained while I am gone. On Chicago ofcourse. What else will it be?

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Here in Chicago, when you say Ludwig, we think Meis. That is how much we value our buildings. No visit to Chicago is complete until we show off our concrete. But I would be the first to admit that there are certain buildings that I would be very careful not to show any visitor. These stretches of the city can give the Vegas strip a run for its money and its best if you skip them altogether. A recent addition to this stretch is a monstrosity of a McDonalds, to avoid seeing which I freeze to death every morning waiting for a bus that will take a different route to work.

Note to aspiring terrorists: Can you come up with a better target than this for furthering your cause whatever it may be? I think not.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Blog Mela

Spent a good couple of hours going through as many blogs as I could think of and got completely lost trying to classify posts. So here's this week's Blog Mela, Shuffle style:

Sonia Faleiro writes about how a theater group is making a difference to the lives of the Chhara tribals. Sakshi Juneja writes about the hypocrisy surrounding virginity. Aekta examines the pros and cons of abortion. Primary Red has a two-part post on the Quiet Anti-Oil Revolution. Ash goes to see the Monkey trial. Vikrum Sequeria visits Ellora and Ajanta. Sublime Thoughts has some memorable moments in Delhi. Saket questions the Indian Legal system; Shivam responds. Rashmi Bansal shares her impressions of Indore. Nilu is bothered about Oscar categories.

Jai Arjun Singh pays his tribute to Spartacus. Falstaff reviews the latest Marquez. Great Bong mourns the passing of a friend with a heavy heart. Chandrachoodan bids Adieu to the blogosphere. Bombay comes back to Neha Viswanathan on the London tube. Thennavan has some suggestions on blogging etiquette. Amardeep Singh thinks Abu Salem is a Natural Born Killer. Samanth Subramanian reviews Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Karthik finds the anthology of Sujatha's works a little too long and a little too repetitive.

Pratik Mhatre(yes, I know that's not his real name) has a new blog. Sunil L claims that the Pacific Northwest does have a fall and has photos to prove it. The Compulsive Confessor explores alternate professions. Shoefiend contemplates time. Arzan has a post on who owns the Internet. Sooraj thinks India is in danger. Ravi is confused. Sapphire has a story about twenty five sheets. Gaurav Sabnis on Pawar, the Maratha Machiavelli. Anita Bora on two noteworthy performances. Neelakantan is hooked onto blogs. Reuben asks whether the $100 laptop makes sense. Abinandan revisits IIPM faculty pages! Dilip's follow-up post on GDP. Sagnik on that first gift. And Uma di is on vacation. Sigh.

Want more? Go here. They do it full-time.

The next Mela will be hosted by Amit Varma at India Uncut. To sign-up to host a Mela, go here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Blog Mela Time

A late annoucement but hopefully we will get back to schedule!

Here are the rules:

1. Posts must either be made by Indians or must focus on India or Indians.
2. Please send permalinks to the blog entries only, not just the blog URL. If the permalink is not working, send me the title and date of the blog entry. Whole blogs are not accepted as nominations.
3. You can nominate your own posts or someone else's.
4. All posts made between Nov 14, 2005 and Nov 18, 2005(both days inclusive) can be nominated
5. Not all entries nominated might make it to the Mela.
6. The Mela will be up on the evening of Friday, the 18th. (PST)
7. You can drop the nominations in the comments section or you can email them to me at veenablogs[at]gmail[dot]com

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The origin of species

I couldn't find it online, so imagine this: Calvin's Dad-like figure sitting in his armchair reading a newspaper. Calvin-like kid crawling on the floor. Kid looks up at Dad.

"Pa, what's all this talk about Evolution?"

"Son, I will have to consult my attorney before I can answer that question. I might be sent to jail for it."

Nope, it ain't 2005. It's from 1925, the year of the Monkey trial. Some things never change, do they?

PS: How to get your copy of The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker - When all else fails and all your friends refuse to take subtle hints such as these, go make friends with a fellow blogger who lives a couple of blocks down and invite her to a random party. Believe me, it works.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wind of Change

"Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
in the wind of change
Walking down the street
Distant memories
Are buried in the past forever
I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change"

- Scorpions, Wind of Change

I was 11 years old. I woke up early and went downstairs to find both my parents poring over The Hindu. My mom never reads the newspaper until late morning and so I was surprised to see her leaning over my Dad's shoulder to read. They both looked up at me and my mom said: "Come, come read this. And then I will cut it out for your scrapbook. And we will cancel going to A uncle's house tonight. You wouldn't want to miss The World This Week."

I am pretty sure it was a Friday. Also remember seeing images on The World This Week. Or was it just the regular news?

Where were you when you heard the news? Today, 16 years ago?

[Update] - I thought this was one of my earliest political memories. But Anand, in his obituary to KR Narayanan reminds me of 1984, way before 1989.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Dowds and Carries

Overheard at the next table yesternight. A bunch of yuppie women were sitting around talking about work. After a couple of drinks, the conversation turned towards Dowd and her NY Times article. Everyone seemed to be raving about it for some inexplicable reason. (Though now that I think about it, it ain't so inexplicable. These women are Dowd's target audience. What did I expect them to say?) And then this:

Woman One: "I think Dowd sees herself as Carrie Bradshaw. You know what I mean."

Woman Two: "Well, don't we all? I mean, show me one woman who is not a Carrie Bradshaw wannabe."

Why, you ask, why do I go to such places? Because I am a masochist, thats why.

Anyway, I think its a good time to inform the world that there are millions and millions of women who are not Carrie Bradshaw wannabes and the only reason you might not know them is because you take Maureen Dowd seriously. Granted I don't watch TV but I have been made to watch a couple of episodes of Sex and the City and have been subjected to so many Carrie Bradshaw stories over lunch and dinner that I do think I know this woman. And I think any woman who claims to be Carrie Bradshaw or wants to be Carrie Bradshaw should be taken to a shrink.

Here are some reasons why some of us are not Carrie Bradshaws - You see, some of really don't like shoes that much. (Apologies to Our Lady of the Shoes). Why would anyone wear anything other than flats is way beyond us. We have to pay hard-earned money to buy those monstrosities which will make our life more painful? We'd rather buy The Da Vinci Code, thank you. And some of us actually have friends who are not desperate, frustrated and white. We also have friends who happen to be gay; we aren't friends with them because they are gay. See the difference? And some of us don't like Mr. Big. What a jackass. Some of us also have lives which don't revolve around the newest bar in town. We really have no desire to hang around Page 3 celebrities and we don't particularly like Fendi handbags. And as much as this surprises you, the burning ambition of our lives is NOT a visit to the Playboy mansion. I could go on and on but I see you begin to get the hang of it.

And btw, some of us actually know that Michiko Kakutani is not a figment of Ms Bushnell's imagination.

So please Ms Carrie Bradshaw wannabe - You wear your red stilettos, sip that Cosmo and ogle at the bartender but please keep your sweeping generalizations about womankind to yourself.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Feminists Strike Back

[Update - Nov 4] - Uma di has a comprehensive post on all things pertaining to this topic. Go read.

Wanted to post these links a couple of days ago but forgot all about it. Well, better late than never, so here. As soon as I read Maureen Dowd's What's a Modern Girl To Do? early this week, I knew there was going to be trouble. The article which is an excerpt from Dowd's new book was most definitely asking for it. Interviews with fellow journalists and TV show personalities, long-debunked research like this piece of trash the Times passed off as journalism a couple of months ago, and a picture of herself with red heels and fishnet stockings - who are we kidding here? I was shocked to see the article shoot up to the top of the Most Emailed Articles list and stay there for a couple of days. But never fear, dear reader. I am happy to report that reaction is trickling in. The usual suspects are having a field day.

Here are some initial responses:

From Womensnews, here's Rivers and Barnett with Why Dowd Doesn't Know What Men Really Want. They say it so well - "Dowd's writing is fun, but is basically a bunch of irritating fluff".

Lakshmi Chaudhry, she of Alternet says Maureen needs a date.

Here's Echidne, the Greek Goddess with her two cents.

Jessica of Feministing says here that "feminism wasn't a fucking dating service". Now if only I could make people realise that!

Gawker attempts to translate Dowd here but fails.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Rest, then disquieted heart

The bestest poem on Diwali ever written, here is Vikram Seth's Diwali. Via.

Three years of neurotic
Guy Fawkes Days-I recall
That lonely hankering –
But I am home after all.

Home. These walls, this sky
Splintered with wakes of light
These mud-lamps beaded round
The eaves, this festive night,

These streets, these voices...yet
The old insensate dread,
Abeyant as that love,
Once more shifts in my head.

Five? Six? generations ago
Somewhere in the Punjab
My father’s family, farmers,
Perhaps had a small shop

And two generations later
Could send a son to a school
To gain the conqueror’s
Authoritarian seal:

English! Six-armed god,
Key to a job, to power,
Snobbery, the good life,
This separateness, this fear.

English: beloved language
of Jonson, Wordsworth’s tongue –
These my “meridian names”
Whose grooves I crawl along.

The Mughuls fought and ruled
And settled. Even while
They hungered for musk-melon,
Rose, peach, nightingale,

The land assumed their love.
At sixty they could not
Retire westwards. The British
Made us the Orient.

How could an Englishman say
About the divan-e-khas
“If there is heaven on earth
It is this; it is this; it is this.”?

Macaulay the prophet of learning
Chewed at his pen: one taste
Of Western wisdom “surpasses
All the books of the East,”

And Kalidas, Shankaracharya,
Panini, Bhaskar, Kabir,
Surdas sank, and we welcomed
The reign of Shakespeare.

The undigested Hobbes,
The Mill who later ground
(Through talk of liberty)
The Raj out of the land ...

O happy breed of Babus,
I march on with your purpose;
We will have railways, common law
And a good postal service –

And I twist along
Those grooves from image to image,
Violet, elm-tree, swan,
Pork-pie, gable, scrimmage

And as we title our memoirs
“Roses in December”
Though we all know that here
Roses grow in December

And we import songs
Composed in the U.S
For Vietnam (not even
Our local horrors grip us)

And as, over gin at the Club,
I note that egregious member
Strut just perceptibly more
When with a foreigner,

I know that the whole world
Means exile of our breed
Who are not home at home
And are abroad abroad,

Huddled in towns, while around:
“He died last week. My boys
Are starving. Daily we dig
The ground for sweet potatoes.”

“The landlord’s hirelings broke
My husband’s ribs-and I
Grow blind in the smoke of the hearth.”
“Who will take care of me

When I am old? No-one
Is left.” So it goes on,
The cyclic shadow-play
Under the sinister sun;

That sun that, were there water,
Could bless the dispirited land,
Coaxing three crops a year
From this same yieldless ground.

Yet would these parched wraiths still
Starve in their ruins, while
“Silkworms around them grow
Into fat cocoons?”, Sad soil,

This may as well be my home.
Because no other nation
Moves me thus? What of that?
Cause for congratulation?

This could well be my home;
I am too used to the flavor
Of tenous fixity;
I have been brought to savour

Its phases: the winter wheat –
The flowers of Har-ki-Doon –
The sal forests - the hills
Inflamed with rhododendron –

The first smell of the Rains
On the baked earth-the peaks
Snow-drowned in permanence –
The single mountain lakes.

What if my tongue is warped?
I need no words to gaze
At Ajanta, those flaked caves,
Or at the tomb of Mumtaz;

And when an alap of Marwa
Swims on slow flute-notes over
The neighbours’ roofs at sunset
Wordlessly like a lover

It holds me-till the strain
Of exile, here or there,
Subverts the trance, the fear
Of fear found everywhere.

“But freedom?” the notes would sing...
Parole is enough. Tonight
Below the fire-crossed sky
Of the Festival of Light.

Give your soul leave to feel
What distilled peace it can;
In lieu of joy, at least
This lapsing anodyne.

“The world is a bridge. Pass over it,
Building no house upon it.”
Acceptance may come with time;
Rest, then disquieted heart.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Wires and lights in a box

"Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live."

When I heard these words at the beginning of Good Night, and Good Luck, I naturally assumed it was the scriptwriter. But I was wrong. Google tells me that Edward Murrow actually said this in a speech at the RTNDA convention in 1958. It's been nearly 50 years since he made this speech and if he were alive today, I am sure he would be happy to know that we don't insulate ourselves from reality anymore. We now have reality TV.

In a country obsessed with The Apprentice and Desperate Housewives, in an age of embedded journalism, I wonder why anyone, least of all George Clooney would want to make a movie about Murrow and McCarthy. How exactly is he going to make his money back? That the theme is quite relevant to the present times where almost every other day we seem to hear of curbs on civil liberties in the name of national security is besides the point. Anyway, I am glad the movie is out there. Regardless of the unnecessary and probably unwarranted glorification that it indulges in, I still think its one of the best movies made this year.

Shot entirely in black and white, almost all the action happens inside a smoky newsroom, smoky being the key. For those of us born long after the hazards of smoking had been clearly established and smoking bans were put in place, the smoke that pervades every scene of the movie seems strange, even disturbing in a way. But it seems as if this smoke is also the perfect backdrop to convey the hazy nature of events that occured in this country and in the newsrooms of CBS for a few months in 1953-54. The movie traces the six-month period from late 1953 to early 1954 during which Murrow used his CBS series See It Now to launch an attack against McCarthy's witchhunts. A stoic David Strathairn plays Murrow brilliantly; his resonant voice transports us back to the golden age of radio journalism. A subdued Clooney plays Fred Friendly, producer and partner of the show. McCarthy plays himself - snarling on TV screens as usual. (For no apparent reason, I got a kick out of seeing the same clip I was used to seeing years ago in trivia events where they ask you to identify the personality!)

The movie starts with Murrow's 1958 speech, and then flashes back to drop you at the newsroom with no context, no background whatsoever. If you didn't know who McCarthy or Murrow was, this movie is definitely not for you. It then takes you through Murrow's(and Friendly's) machinations to get the report on McCarthy and his victims on air. At all times, the newsroom seems to be in a heightened state of tension which spares no one in the room. That you know what's going to happen to Murrow and McCarthy doesn't in any way dampen your interest in what's happening on the screen. What's different about this movie is not really Murrow's fight with McCarthy as nothing happens there that is unusual or unexpected but its Murrow's stand-offs with Paley, the boss man, and his conversations with Don, his mentee which gives us an inkling of how things are not as simple as they seem, and how there are more shades of grey than anyone would care to admit. Especially a Hollywood movie.

So what did I not like about the movie? Just one thing actually. Glorification of Murrow to the extent that an uninitiated viewer might be misled into thinking that Murrow single-handedly brought down McCarthy and no one else ever spoke against McCarthy. But as this is a movie after all, not even a documentary, I think I can be conned to overlook this one mistake.

Oh and before I finito, here are some more excerpts from Murrow's speech. I think its as relevant today as it was 50 years ago though you would be hard pressed to find anyone who is willing to listen.

"Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East. Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged? Would the stockholders rise up in their wrath and complain? Would anything happen other than that a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country, and therefore the future of the corporations?"


"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Quake Relief Day

Today is Blog Quake Day. Desipundit has taken the initiative for organizing a day of quake relief awareness in the blogosphere. Go do your bit towards quake relief and contribute to your favorite charity. If you are looking for a place to contribute to, I suggest Sepoy of CM - he has a personal drive where all proceeds go to Edhi foundation and he also has other suggestions.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

How to make friends and get married

If ever there were a contest in the blogosphere for the title of "the most snobbish of them all booksnobs", this man would win it hands down. He has a post up on 42 today about books, bookshelves and snobs and methinks its a good time to unveil to the world my "how to make friends and get married" formula. It involves a certain amount of snobbery, for sure, but stay with me and you will see that its all very much warranted.

What's the first thing you look for when you enter a stranger's apartment for the first time? I almost always look around for the bookshelf. No bookshelf? Okay dude, see ya, or rather, not see ya. Wait, you say there is a bookshelf? Good. Next time I see you in the street, I will nod. Now, what books does it hold?

Needless to say, this is the round where most people get eliminated(or saved if you want to think of it that way). Some usual suspects:

1. Java programming, The complete SAP guide, The Little SAS Book - "Oops, wrong apartment, sorry" or "You have an extremely boring roomate?"

2. Rich Dad Poor Dad, Barron's GMAT types - These people are actually the easiest to spot so you can avoid going to their apartments in the first place. Any conversation you have with them will start with their business school plans and their investing interests. They will give you investment advice which they read on Motley Fool an hour ago and will go on and on about Mr Buffet. But if you ever ask them whether they have read The Intelligent Investor, they will look at you like you just landed from Mars. These types also tend to talk about popular TV shows and football games, another sign that one should stay away from them as much as possible.

3. Dan Brown, John Grisham, Sydney Sheldon et al. - These readers(if you could call them that) are quite funny. Once they see you looking at their books, they will immediately start a conversation on the latest Dan Brown - "I thought it was interesting how he talked about the Golden Ratio. What do you think? Oh, have you read the book? I just assumed you did. You see, I am a voracious reader and I usually forget that people have other priorities". My reaction usually goes something like this - "Did you find me lying on the street completely stoned and bring me to your apartment? If so, thanks but I gotta run."

4. Richard Bach, Paulo Coelho, Kahlil Gibran and an occassional Ayn Rand - These types are actually quite dangerous as they will not only go on and on about what they call their philosophy on life in general and themselves in particular but will expect you to listen to them and agree to whatever they say. If you ever find yourself stuck in an apartment belonging to one of these types, the best thing to do is to keep nodding your head and pray for a terrorist attack.

5. Booker, Nobel winners etc. - These people can be easily made to shut up. They just buy books, never really read much. All you have to do is to make up some nonsense about what happens in the latest Coetzee on their shelf and they will just keep nodding. When I am stuck in such an apartment, I also try to play a game - I try to guesstimate what percentage of the books in their shelves have actually been read. Note: It's not really necessary that you should have read the book. It actually works better if you had not as you know for sure that the person concerned is agreeing to things that you are making up on the fly.

Let's say for a moment that the stranger in question passes this round with flying colors. Say he has the required Henry James and can talk about it intelligently, quotes from Auden multiple times and actually knows who Gwaihir is. This is when I know that the man in question is definitely friend material and that this relationship could be pursued.

The next step is to figure out politics. Shakespeare is all fine but he should also be able to talk Plato and Chomsky with equal ease. Otherwise what's the point? Once I get past that point, we get to humor. In my opinion, this is where most book snobs go wrong - they assume that humor ain't that important and end up regretting it later. If you have to take away one thing from my guide, take this : If the bookshelf does not have anything as basic as Wodehouse, Wilde or Nash, I suggest you start making for that door. Now.

Once this stage is crossed, next step is to figure out whether he is another of those colonial hangover types who just reads what's been generally prescribed or whether he actually has any variety. This is a good time to look around for the O. Vijayan translation. If you find it on the shelves, its recommended that you try to have a conversation about it as most people just consider these books coffetable material. I have come to understand that people who get to this phase are almost always smart enough to exhibit the Thirukural translation but very few of them actually read it. Case in point - any visitor to the boy's room would see the beautifully bound Tagore on his nightstand. But I know that he hardly ever reads it.

All pass, you say? Well, there's really only one thing left then. Literature is great and all but it really doesn't fill your stomach. Find out if the guy makes enough money and if he does, go get married to him as soon as possible before another snob finds out about him.

Note 1: My dear friend BM doesn't believe in buying books but she happens to be the most frequent visitor to her local public library. My other dear friend A in Austin loses books like nobody's business so if one were to visit his apartment, one would assume that he doesn't read, which needless to say, is wrong. These two people are examples of my friends who do not fit in the above framework but who said there aren't exceptions?

Note 2: I realize that I am going to get married to someone who has not read the Tagore on his nightstand. And that he is a poor grad student who makes no money. I KNOW these facts. Do NOT rub it in. Two wrong out of all that is NOT bad. But if you do know someone who scores better, please do not hesitate to let me know. There's still a little over a month to go before the wedding happens.

Monday, October 24, 2005

There's only one Holly.

"So, what do I think of this Grady girl? Yes, darling, I was just getting to that. My first thought was what in the hell was Truman up to? I know he wrote this eons - well, at least a decade - before he wrote up my tale, and so maybe you just have to shrug the whole thing off as a flimsy, youthful endeavor, but still."

"To be perfectly frank, there's something - how should I put it? - a smidge contrived about the whole enterprise. It's not that I'm competitive with the girl - far be it from me to be jealous of anybody named Grady - but I get the distinct impression that Truman just didn't care about her story the same way he cared about mine. And the title of her tale: "Summer Crossing"? Not that I give a hoot about such things, but it just pales next to 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.'"

Michiko Kakutani reviews Capote's Summer Crossing.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Of spaces

Go see New York, the city like no other. Go experience the quaintness of Boston. Go lose yourself in the clean and crooked streets of San Francisco. Go have fresh salmon in rainy Seattle. Go take an architecture tour of Chicago. And if you are so inclined, go spend a night in Vegas. Everything worth seeing has been seen. America has been done. Checkmark.

I tend to disagree. I love every one of the cities mentioned above other than Vegas which I absolutely abhor. But America is not the sum total of these cities and their suburbs put together. I am sure an argument could be made that if you really want to experience the soul of America, go South or go to the Midwest - way inside middle America is where you will find what you are looking for but who said anything about America's soul? As always, I am more interested in concrete things, the abstract never really worked for me. I am more interested in what I consider America's most precious wealth - her soil, her rocks, her water, her craters, her mountains, and her trees; I am more interested in the America that cannot be destroyed, only recreated.

And whatever people may tell you, counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike is nowhere close. Unless you have climbed down the crevices of the Grand Canyon, unless you have camped on a glacier at the Kenai Fjords, unless you have driven down Shenandoah Valley with John Denver on your radio, unless you have stopped by the woods of New Hampshire on a lovely fall evening, unless you have conquered the heights of the Yosemite half-dome, unless you have stood at a tree-trunk at Redwood forest and looked up, unless you have watched Mt Rainier and Crater Lake glistening in the sun, unless you have sat quietly in your campsite in Channel Islands waiting for the birds, unless you have hiked in the Smokies in spring, unless you have seen the wildflowers of June in the wild Rockies, unless you have been stuck in the tallest sand dune in Death Valley in the middle of a sandstorm, unless you have visited every one of the National Parks this beautiful country has to offer, you have not seen America at all.

Now go read this editorial and lament.

Friday reading

Here's a link to an interview with a man I immensely respect. He says nothing new in this particular interview but what he says can never be stressed enough.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Of dogs and me

Home is where the dogs smile at you.

In my corner of the world, there are more dogs than people. Well, okay, more dogs than kids. Not surprising, considering I live in the yuppiest section of the city where you will be hard pressed to find a real family. No, I don't live here because it's so hip, I live here despite it being so. I don't live here for the mindboggling diversity either - tell me where else in the world will I find a blue-eyed blonde boy from the cornfields of Kansas living right next door to a blue-eyed golden-haired farm boy from Kentucky living right next door to a blue-eyed strawberry blonde girl from Milwaukee, WI? For the longest time, I thought I was the token "we believe in diversity" person in the neighborhood but now I know there are two of us - MR lives just a couple of blocks down.

Getting back to the topic at hand, there are a lot of dogs in my neighborhood. I have a 'live and let live' policy as far as dogs go and I try to stay out of their way as much as possible. I embraced this policy after my encounter with a street dog back when I was 5 years ago. Technically, it wasn't my fault, I just wanted to see if he was asleep or not and so I gently tapped him with a red balloon I had gotten from one of those beach vendors the day before. Needless to say, he didn't take to it very kindly and what followed is best left unwritten. Let it suffice to say that I have never taken an interest in dogs ever since and to this day, I am very much unable to tell a labrador from an Alsatian (or are they the same?)

So you can imagine my astonishment when I realized that not only do I know the dogs of Lincoln Park, they know me too. Yesterevening I was just getting out of my apartment when I see this little, brown pup right in front of the building. For the life of me, I do not know what kind she is but I know her well enough to know that she likes candy. What kind of dog likes candy, you ask? How do I know? All I know is I have seen this one hogging candy bars. And I knew who owned her. I didn't know her master, but I sure knew what he looked like without looking up. Yes, thats what it has come to - I now recognize my neighbors because I associate them with their dogs.

It would have been okay if that was all there's to it. After all, when the dogs are more interesting than the masters, why would you remember the owner and not the dog? But that's not all happened. This little brown thing sits right in front of my door a and smiles at me. Yes, smiles at me. And its owner was completely startled. He told me that he had never seen this expression on his baby and wanted to know what I did to make it happen. Me, make his dog smile? Dude, all I did was try to go around the dog so that I was as far away from it as possible. I sure as hell don't know why it did that.

It would have been still okay if it was just this little brown pup. These little things are always craving for attention anyways and they probably smile at anything that moves. Five minutes later, I was running past one of the most popular dogs of the neighborhood - I just know he's popular, don't ask me how - he is pretty cool. He is your regular metrosexual - looks great, knows he looks great and is usally very well-behaved. He saw me running, followed, caught up, overtook, turned around and sat there on the lakeshore trail smiling at me. What was I to do? Is this a conspiracy or do these things really like me?

I figured there was only one way to find out. So I ran back to Oz Park where I knew I would find the saddest dog in Lincoln Park. His master takes him there every evening and he tries to catch the squirrels. He is very shy and never plays with the other dogs. He kind of looks like a sheep(is this a sheepdog?), its like he has an identity crisis or something. I find him at the Northeast corner of the park and I try to catch his attention. He sees me, gives up on the squirrel he was running after, and gives me the saddest smile that anyone's ever given me. That's it. No more lingering doubts or questions. These dudes do actually like me! I somehow, by just going out of their way every time I see them, seem to have earned their endearing smiles. Yippee! Woof woof!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Birthday Blues

A post to prove a point to the Black Mamba - BM dear, there are things that are worse than that aarti you were talking about yesterday.

Start all the clocks, connect the telephone
Get the dog to bite with a juicy bone
Play the pianos and with clear drum
Bring out the cake, let the friends come

Let aeroplanes circle buzzing overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message he is very much alive
Put red bows round the white necks of the public doves
Let the traffic policemen wear white leather gloves

He is my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I am right

The stars are still wanted; assemble another one
Get a new moon and a brighter sun,
Let more water into the ocean and plant more trees
For everything now will only come to good.

(With apologies, ofcourse, to W H Auden and all those who have read him)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Word of the day

Sparse (spärs)
Pronunciation: 'spärs
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin sparsus spread out, from past participle of spargere to scatter

: of few and scattered elements; especially : not thickly grown or settled

And yes, Pinter won the Nobel.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


While some of us have to whore away our weekends so that we could put food on the table, some others can indulge in staring up at the ceiling and coming up with profound statements like the following:

"When a talk show host from Chicago, and not just another talk show but one which smacks of completely useless sentimentality, changes the face of publishing in the country, doesn't that say something very pitiable about the country itself?"

"I don't think anyone is looking for your pity."

"That's not the point. Do you know what I have against Marquez?"

"You have something against Marquez now? I would never have guessed."

"Well, sort of. Nothing personal actually. I keep thinking that there must be something wrong with his books because they make Oprah's book club. You know what I mean?"

"You bloody snob. Shut up."


"I'd rather be Smiley".

"Your name does kind of translate to 'Sweet Smile'. Come to think of it, you could pass off as Native American with a name like that."

"That's not what I meant. I meant George Smiley."


"Well, better be Smiley than be Bond right? After all, Bond is only a movie star".

"And Smiley is a real spy?"

"He could be one if he wanted to."

"Yeah right."


"Its sad that I will never receive a call from Sweden."

"You and Emil are not talking now?"

"Not from Emil dumbo. You know, the call."

"No, I don't know what you are talking about."

"The ACM is based out of somewhere here. So they will never call me from Sweden."


IIPM who?

As I seem to be absolute last person in the blogosphere to hear about this IIPM controversy, there's no need to explain it all again here. Check this and this for all the information you will ever need on this.

As much as its heartening to see the blogosphere taking this on, its disappointing to see nothing about this controversy in the mainstream media. Hope all resident journalists of the blogosphere get this out to the masses soon.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Arthur and George

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

Any year, Arthur & George would be an interesting read – the creator of the world’s most famous detective doing some legwork on his own to save the country lawyer with the wrong last name sounds so attractive that it makes one wonder why someone hadn’t attempted this until now. In this particular year however, in the months after the London bombings, as England seems to be engaged in a self-introspection on whether she could have done anything to stop her own children from carrying out such monstrous acts, Arthur & George becomes particularly interesting. And this could be why it becomes important to remind oneself that this book is not an attempt at answering (or questioning) the issues of racism in Britain; instead it is a beautiful story about two very different men who meet under extraordinary circumstances for a brief period of time and then go on about their lives as usual. So if I feel vaguely unsatisfied because I think Barnes should have raised more questions about the bigger issues of the day, I really have only myself to blame.

The story starts with alternating narratives of young Arthur and George - Arthur, brought up in poor aristocracy, grows up listening to stories in his Mam’s kitchen; he is an imaginative child who effortlessly impresses his schoolmates with his narratives; he is a promising cricketer and a scholar. After a failed career as an ophthalmologist, he takes up full-time writing and soon becomes famous as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. George, on the other hand, grows up in rural England, son of an Anglican vicar, poor, friendless, stolid and completely devoid of imagination. He is taunted throughout his teenage years as he is visibly ‘brown’ but he remains steadfastly English. He becomes a solicitor in Birmingham whose only claim to fame is a railway manual on the rights of the traveling public.

In 1903, a series of horse maimings occur in the community of Great Wyrley and everyone wants a quick arrest. The police arrest George on what looks to be made-up evidence; he is tried and sentenced to prison. When he gets out of prison, he is bent upon clearing his name so that he can practice again. He writes to Sir Arthur asking for his help. Sir Arthur, who is going through a tough phase in his own life, caught between his dead wife whom he nursed for thirteen years and his lover of many years who he somehow could not bring himself to marry now that he’s free, finds George’s case a way out of his misery and he sets out to clear George’s name. He succeeds partly if it could be called that, what’s important is that Sir Arthur realizes that he is not after all his creation and that in real life, one would have to be content sometimes without finding the villain of the piece.

Arthur & George is a fast read and hugely entertaining. At times, one could almost imagine Barnes as Watson poring over his notes to see how he should present the case to his readers. His ability to make the reader believe what he writes as the gospel truth, as if he witnessed every scene in the flesh is inspiring to say the least. Given the characters of the story, it seems very easy to make Sir Arthur superior in both character and ability to George but Barnes misses this trap altogether. Sir Arthur’s rational skepticism draws him into “spiritism” while George’s simple Christian beliefs have a strong secular and rational streak. It is George, not Sir Arthur who makes some of the most interesting observations in the book. Like this instance where George ponders over Sir Arthur's involvement in his case - “And it was all, George decided, the fault of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur had been too influenced by his own creation. Holmes performed his brilliant acts of deduction and then handed villains over to the authorities with their umambiguous guilt written all over them. But Holmes had never once been obliged to stand in the witness box and have his suppositions and intuitions and immaculate theories ground to very fine dust over a period of several hours by the likes of Mr. Disturnal” and this where he wonders why his affair never received the kind of attention that the Dreyfus affair did in France - "But more than this, he suspected that his obscurity was something to do with England itself. France, as he understood it, was a country of extremes, of violent opinion, violent principles and long memories. England was a quieter place, just as principled, but less keen on making a fuss about its principles; a place where the common law was trusted more than government statute; where people got on with their own business and did not seek to innterfere with that of others; where great public eruptions took place from time to time; eruptions of feeling which might even tip over into violence and injustice, but which soon faded into the memory, and were rarely built into the history of the country."

In conclusion, I'd say that Arthur & George is a highly engaging book which achieves perfectly what it sets out to achieve. And again, if I think it should have set out to achieve more, it is hardly Barnes's fault. So will it win the Booker? If you believe the bookies, it will. And not having read the other books on the short list, I really cannot say.

Jabberwock's review here.

And if you are wondering where Barnes got his inspiration from, Prufrock Two explains away.

PS - The reason why I sound a little skeptical of this book despite me actually liking it is this - In my mind, the Booker prize is given to one of the best books of the year, if not the best. And as much as I like Arthur & George, I cannot really see it being anywhere close to another book that I read recently (which I believe was released last year and anyway for obvious reasons, it wouldn't qualify for this particular prize). I realize that the comparison is completely unfair (to Barnes especially) but hey, who said I was trying to be objective here? Get on with it, you say? Okay, run along and read The Plot Against America and then come and tell me if you have read anything better in recent times.

World government leaders

As per a BBC poll, the people most people would like to lead a fantasy world government are:

1. Nelson Mandela
2. Bill Clinton
3. Dalai Lama
4. Noam Chomsky
5. Alan Greenspan

Tells one so much about the jobless people who actually voted, doesn't it?

Never Let Me Go

Nadi Josyam and Ishiguro? Who would have thought?

Here's Karthik's review of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

The original Booker Mela post here.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Barbarians at the gate

The boy calls from New York yesterday. He's in Manhattan as the Spanish consulate is holding him hostage refusing to give him his visa for his upcoming Barcelona junket. Yes, I am insanely jealous about Barcelona and No, I do not want to talk about it. Anyway, so he calls yesterevening.

"Hey, where is BM? I can't seem to get through to her"

"How do I know? She must be at work"

"I've been trying to call her for some time now. There's something urgent I have to tell her"

"She did mention something about having no minutes on her phone. Call her later. Whats up anyway?"


"So they are in Britain and they hear music. And he says it sounds like Cacophonix. And then they have pictures of the Beatles singing. This is so funny. I can't believe I forgot this one"

"What are you talking about?"

"And then the British apparently take a break at five every evening to have hot water with a dash of milk. Oh man, I can't stop laughing"

"You can't be seeing what you are seeing"

"But I am. And then they are in Belgium. You have the Thom(p)son characters there who say Gelgium. This is hilarious"

"But you are in New York. And New York is in America"

"I know. Thats why I am trying to call BM. Oh, these Romans, I say!"

More laughter.

"Which store are you in?"

"I am in Barnes & Noble. Can you believe that? I have looked for these guys in every comic book store in the country, and Powells and Strand and every used bookstore to see who would find them first and where do I finally find them? In Barnes & Noble. And guess what? Its the same collectors edition that we saw in Munich - the one BM picked up and took it to the counter before she realised that it was in German. And then she was going to learn German to buy them anyway. I can't wait to tell her about this"

"Hmm..Do you think they will have at the B&N here?"

"I think so. Go look."

Finally, there's some hope for this country. Generations of Americans have had a deprived childhood - a childhood which did not include the Famous Five, Tintin or Asterix. Now, for the first time, American children can experience civilization. The barbarians have arrived.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Airplane woes

Things that always get to me when I am traveling on business:

1. Drive like crazy to get to LAX to catch the 4 PM back home but the 4 PM is almost always delayed as A)the pilot did not get enough sleep or B)he is delayed at Vegas.

2. The 2 PM flight out of LAX is a Boeing 777 which is usually more than half-empty. The 4 PM and 6 PM "carry-on critical" flights(there are so many people on board that there's not enough space to store eveyone's carry-on bags) are small Airbus 319s. And then I wonder why they have to go to bankruptcy court once every 5 years or so.

3. One would think the logical way to board a plane would be to start from the last rows and move forward. But how does United board? Premiers, Premier Execs and 1K passengers first and total pandemonium reigns as these people are seated all over the place. Why the hell would I want to board first anyway? Why would I choose to sit in a claustrophobic cabin and watch other people board for the next half-hour?

4. At the last possible minute, right before they close the aircraft door, a gentleman rushes in with the sole purpose of taking the empty middle seat next to me.

5. The gentleman in question is not Gael Garcia Bernal. Neither does he look like Gael Garcia Bernal.

6. My food choices are either McDonalds at the terminal or buy-on-board snack packs. I end up choosing the latter but almost always end up regretting it. United offers four different kinds of snack-packs on board - Jumpstart, Minimeal, Quickpick and Funpack. Yesterday's Minimeal had salami, parmesan cheesespread, Milano cookies and potato chips. Go figure.

7. There are only two kinds of movies in this world - ones that are made for airline entertainment and the ones that are not. Yesterday' movie - The Longest Yard.

8. And finally, the battery life of my IBM Thinkpad T40 is miraculously cut short by half while I am on a plane!

Yesterday's silver lining - Philip Roth's The Plot Against America is out in paperback and I picked it up at LAX. Ended up reading couple of chapters - very interesting.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Low Temple

I haven't read much of Kolatkar but I love whatever I have read. Anand and Uma both have some Kolatkar poetry here and here. Methinks now's a good time to post one my favorite Kolatkar poems, so here's A Low Temple.

A low temple keeps its gods in the dark.
You lend a matchbox to the priest.
One by one the gods come to light.
Amused bronze. Smiling stone. Unsurprised.
For a moment the length of a matchstick
gesture after gesture revives and dies.
Stance after lost stance is found
and lost again.
Who was that, you ask.
The eight arm goddess, the priest replies.
A sceptic match coughs.
You can count.
But she has eighteen, you protest.
All the same she is still an eight arm goddess to the priest.
You come out in the sun and light a charminar.
Children play on the back of the twenty foot tortoise.

Monday, September 26, 2005

He stole my post!

He really did! I was thinking of opening lines yesternight and this morning, its on his site. It ain't fair! Let's forgive him though, for when you are in love with both Holden and Yossarian, you are prone to do things like this.
Aside (on stolen books): I think if anyone were to make a study of books that are stolen from people's bookshelves, these two will top the list. I have lost three copies of A Catcher in the Rye and two of Catch 22. I have learnt my lesson and so now I hide both these books under my bed.

Anyway, Falstaff's post reminds me of so many of my favorite opening lines, so let me put down a couple here. Excluding the ones Falstaff's already got on his post ofcourse.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on it being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only" - A Tale of Two Cities

How more timeless can one get?

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point" - One Hundred Years of Solitude

At the risk of starting a meme, anyone up for posting their favorite opening lines? Only caveat being you can't pick one that's already been posted!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Taking back the dinosaurs

And the Grand Canyon. Here. And here's the scary part - this is not from The Onion.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Friday, September 23, 2005

Right coffee, left coffee

Quick question: To which of the following two groups do you associate organic food, fair trade goods, farmers' markets, non-Starbucks coffee etc. with?

If Tom Kilroy has his way, you will soon be thinking twice before answering this question. He is the founder of Contra Cafe, a New Hampshire based coffee company which markets coffee produced by small-scale coffee farmers in Nicaragua. Contra Cafe pays the farmers $1.50 a pound which is more than fair-trade prices. In addition, 50% of the company's profits go back to the farmers. So what, you say? Why is it any different from the coffee you buy from your nearest Whole Foods? This is what is different - Kilroy claims that these coffee farmers were on the side on the contras during Reagan's infamous Iran contra scandal. Contra coffee is marketed to American conservatives as coffee grown by Nicaraguan "freedom fighters". 2% of the company's profits go to a conservative, charitable foundation called Freedom Alliance.

Contra cafe seems to be getting some decent airtime because of the association with the contras - Kilroy was interviewed on both NPR and BBC the last couple of days. Kilroy mentioned that they are doing a good amount of publicity in conservative sites which could be why I haven't seen them crop up anywhere else. While I think this is an interesting marketing strategy for differentiation, it seems like they are driving away a huge proportion of the coffee-drinking population. So I am quite skeptical as to whether they would be successful. Any thoughts?

Btw, Falstaff has a new coffeemaker. Here. And do check out some neat coffee poetry in the comments section.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


If you were to flip through the pages of my autograph book from my undergrad years(yeah, I had one because of general peer pressure), you would find countless copious descriptions of how we used to go to KG theater to watch the latest Tam flick and ended up having to scale the hostel walls or bribe the watchman on the way back. (Yes, in the olden days people used to write completely useless stuff on autograph books instead of on blogs.) Needless to say, it isn't like I used to like these movies but hey, once you are done with the lit season and been upto Ooty a couple of times, there's not much you can do in Coimbatore. Plus ofcourse I absolutely had to break every hostel rule just because it was a rule. The point being I have watched a lot of Tamil movies in my time. And its pretty fair to say that other than a handful of them, I loathed them all. The only flicks I hated more were the Bollywood ones but I didn't have to watch them through four years of undergrad. Man, I so have to thank the Dravidian movement for that, I guess. And no, please don't get me started on the regular Hollywood fare!

Anyways, so you can imagine my trepidation whenever my parents or friends tell me to watch this Tam movie or that one. Especially when they take advantange of the fact that I enjoy Mallu movies - "Hey, you should so see this movie. You will like it. Its a remake of such-and-such Mallu movie.". Thanks, but no thanks. For one, I hear Mallu movies are worse than Tam movies nowadays and two, any remake of a decent Mallu movie usually ends up as an insult to the original movie. Case in point - the latest Rajini flick Chandramukhi. If you want a lesson in how to murder a beautiful movie (Manichitrathazhu in this case) by remaking it, look no further. Those of you who will tell me how they are very different movies and comparing them is akin to comparing Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, just let me know the next time you are in Chicago, I need to talk to the "family" here. Did I ever mention I live on the same block where the St. Valentine's day massacre took place?

Getting back to movies, I saw a Tamil movie this week that I really liked. Its called Autograph and my parents have been raving about the movie for over a year now. I happened to come across the movie at a friend's place recently, so I picked it up and watched it yesternight. What I found most interesting about this movie is that it has no pretensions; it celebrates simplicity by being just that. There are no star actors/actresses, I believe the lead actor also happens to be the director of the movie and more importantly, no one looks like an actor/actress.

The premise of the movie is quite simple - the narrator is going to get married soon and he travels to the places of his childhood and youth to invite people to the wedding. The story then is flashback most of the way. First, he visits the village where he spent his childhood and this ofcourse brings back hazaar memories of schooldays and first love. I liked this part of the movie the best mostly because I felt like I got a vicarious insight into my parents' past. My parents are from two rural villages deep inside old Chola country, a world that's quite alien to this city-bred kid. My parents also had a movie-stlye love story going on right from their adolescent years and my Dad, under the influence of a little alocohol, usually has some neat stories to tell about his eventful younger days. So throughout the initial half of this movie, I could visualize my Dad taking circuitous routes on his bicycle so that he could meet my mom; I could see him getting beaten up by thatha all the time, his first swimming lesson, his fear of witchcraft, the death of his friend as all these are stories that I have heard growing up in a far away city. For the first time in a Tam movie I saw rural life potrayed realistically and I was quite impressed.

I really couldn't relate much to the rest of the movie but I do know quite a few people who easily would. I thought the puppy love in Alappuzha was quite stupid and hilarious at the same time but I am sure that's exactly my Dad would say if I make him watch a general flick like well, Before Sunrise. I can so see him telling me "its quite funny but really, do you think people really talk such nonsense walking around Vienna?" Will he really believe me if I tell him that's exactly what his daughter did walking around Vienna? That and an Equal Music and an interesting Brahms bar. Why can't they have a Brahms bar in Chicago? Not like they won't have enough patrons! Yeah, yeah I know. I like digressions if you haven't figured that out by now.

A word on Alappuzha here while I am digressing. It is not as people put it, the Venice of the East. For the simple reason that its much better than Venice. Its much cleaner, less crowded and much more beautiful with all the coconut trees and paddy fields around. I was so disgusted at Venice that the only city as of now that scores higher on that particular metric is Las Vegas - how more artificial can cities get?

Back to the movie. The movie has some beatiful shots of Alappuzha in the monsoon season. Definitely worth watching. Our boy falls in love in Alappuzha again but it doesn't work out. He leads the Devdas life for sometime and then gives it up when he realises that he's all grown-up now and that he needs to earn money. He meets this third woman now who's kind of his mentor cum best friend figure. And he does get married finally leaving behind all the women of his past like real-life men do. He doesn't go all theatrical and marry the widow. Neither does he discover that he had all along loved his best friend after seeing her sari ka pallu fly along with the breeze. The beauty of this movie is not that it makes any groundbreaking moral points or not even that its well-made(its actually not) but that it is breathtakingly simple and as realistic as you could get in a mainstream movie.

Apparently, this movie worked. It was a huge hit in Tamland and even picked up a National Award for popularity. People are going to remake this in Telugu, Kannada and Hindi, I believe. Now I don't know about Telugu and Kannada, but Hindi? You mean Bollywood is going to remake it? How exactly, I wonder? The minute you add in any of the regular Bollywood actors, the movie's lost half its charm. And when was the last time you had regular village folk in a Bollywood movie? Actually when was the last time you set atleast part of your story in a rural setting? A realistic movie in Bollywood? Since when? I don't know whether Bollywood underestimates its audience or if this is what the audience expect but conventional wisdom says that there are certain kinds of movies which will not work in Bollywood. Usually these are what you would classify as the 'good' variety. And this particular movie squarely falls into that category. So I am quite amused at the thought of this remake. Well, maybe it will end up in a film school someday as part of their "how not to remake a movie" class. One can only hope.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It must be the season...

Not to be outdone by the Times, here's some feminist bashing by the WSJ - well, the opinion pages of the WSJ.

Conclusion: Feminism's foundations are weak.
Rationale: A lot of women in Wesleyan are having too much sex.

Wonder what's next?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The End of a generation

Simon Wiesenthal, the man credited with the capture of Eichmann dies at 96.

Here we go again..

Another of those NY Times lifestyle pieces which talks about how 'women in elite colleges set career path to motherhood'. How many times will they print the same thing over and over again?

Anyways, get ready for the fun to begin in all your usual progressive messageboards and op-eds. Will link to them when they become available!

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Accidental

Falstaff calls it "the most enjoyable book he's read this year". And yeah, he does seem to read quite a few of them. Go read his review of Ali Smith's The Accidental.

Friday, September 16, 2005

My pretty halcyon weekend

No ocean for me, the deceptive lake is more than enough. It will possibly be the last sunny weekend of the year I can spend in the beach by this lake though :(

Here's Nash talking about my upcoming weekend in his Pretty Halcyon Days:

How pleasant to sit on the beach,
On the beach, on the sand, in the sun,
With ocean galore within reach,
And nothing at all to be done!
No letters to answer,
No bills to be burned,
No work to be shirked,
No cash to be earned,
It is pleasant to sit on the beach
With nothing at all to be done!
How pleasant to look at the ocean,
Democratic and damp; indiscriminate;
It fills me with noble emotion
To think I am able to swim in it.
To lave in the wave,
Majestic and chilly,
Tomorrow I crave;
But today it is silly.
It is pleasant to look at the ocean;
Tomorrow, perhaps, I shall swim in it.
How pleasant to gaze at the sailors
As their sailboats they manfully sail
With the vigor of vikings and whalers
In the days of the vikings and whale.
They sport on the brink
Of the shad and the shark;
If it's windy, they sink;
If it isn't, they park.
It is pleasant to gaze at the sailors,
To gaze without having to sail.
How pleasant the salt anesthetic
Of the air and the sand and the sun;
Leave the earth to the strong and athletic,
And the sea to adventure upon.
But the sun and the sand
No contractor can copy;
We lie in the land
Of the lotus and poppy;
We vegetate, calm and aesthetic,
On the beach, on the sand, in the sun.

News links

Massachusetts legislature rejected a gay marriage amendment yesterday by a overwhelming majority. First step towards legalizing gay marriage? Both sides claim victory though - the opponents are going to introduce a more stringent bill!

Mr. Newdow is back. This time with parents who have full custody of their children and a federal judge yesterday ruled that reciting the pledge in schools is unconstitutional. Most probably, the decision will be appealed and it will be interesting to see what the new Supreme Court will say this time. The oppostion to remove the words which were put in by a paranoid Senator during the McCarthy and the Cold War era only goes on to prove how hypocritical the majority of this society really is. Here's the history of the pledge if you are interested.

Has A.O. Scott gone senile and crazy? Check this review.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Religion, Morality and some Freakonomics

Last week at this book club at work (yeah, yeah, I know. I do not read books on corporate whoring usually but this was an exception. They gave us free food and I got to pick the book), we were discussing Freakonomics. After all the Excel whores in the room were done with why we needed more charts and graphs and numbers in the book in question, we moved on to more interesting things. We came up with a list of questions that we would like to see answered and talked about how we would test our hypotheses. For example, one of our questions was whether there is a correlation between the kind of music one listens to and one's criminal tendencies. Is it possible to predict criminal behaviour of a group of individuals given their music preferences? We talked at length about how we would design studies that would control for all other factors - needless to say, quite a few of these "ideas" would be illegal and so not really practical.

Anyway, one of the questions we came up with but which we did not talk about(for obvious reasons) was whether religion has an effect on morality. I was reminded of this when I saw this post by Primary Red; the claim is that one of the reasons why there is so much lawlessness in India now could be because of "loss of faith". Well, first of all, I am not sure whether A) there is more lawlessness than before and B) we as a society have 'less faith' now than before but hey, those questions not the subject of this post.

This is what interests me - if I would like to test correlation between religion and morality how would I do that? First of all, how do I define being moral? Any definition of morality tends to be relative, so what is my measure of morality? If I were to narrow down a group, say convicted murderers, how would I control for other factors(like environment, "evilness" et al)? Are there are natural experiments(remember the Roe v Wade on crime rate stats was right out there!) at all that I can look at? Any ideas? Open for comments.

PS - I am really not interested in what you think is the answer, most people who read this blog will probably say No anyways. I am much more interested in ideas on proving/disproving the hypothesis.

Onam on my mind

School tableau. The mystery of the vanishing flowers. Long walks. Best friends. Lighted fountains at waterworks. Thiruvathirakali. First term exams. Brand new clothes. Food festival at Kanakakunnu. Visitors from far away. Snake boat races. New Monhanlal movies. First love. Sale at Maveli stores. Athapoo at every intersection. Secretariat lights. Thatha's stories. Vanchipaattu. Broken promises. Street theater. Load shedding. Lights on trees. Foreign movies at Nishagandhi. Maveli masquerades. Ottan Thullal at the nearby temple. Swings in every backyard. Onasadya.

Happy Onam.

Now to find where the local Mallu association Onam feast will be held!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Time to move to Sweden

Abolition of marriage. Six-hour work days. What more does one want? Here.

Little Men in a Great War

"And in that bright October sun
I knew our childhood days were done
I watched my friends go off to war
What do they keep on fighting for?"

- Leningrad, Billy Joel.

I woke up this morning with this long-forgotten song of my childhood ringing inside my head. I think its only fair to blame it on two haunting reviews of Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way that I read yesternight before I went off to sleep.

"A Long Long Way is the story of how the spirit can walk through the shadow of the valley of death and still emerge uncorrupted on the other side", says Falstaff in his review. As of now, its his favorite to win the Booker.

And following is Susmit's review of the same book.

"It's a long way to Tipperary,
It's a long way to go,
It's a long way to Tipperary,
To the sweetest girl I know!
Goodbye Piccadilly! Farewell Leicester Square!
It's a long, long way to Tipperary,
But my heart's right there"

-- Popular First World War song

Just this last month, one woman in Texas jolted this nation's consciousness with some simple questions. What noble purpose did her son die for? What is the meaning of the sacrifice of so many young people? It is an old question, perhaps of every war, and Sebastian Barry raises it again, poignantly, in "A Long Long Way".

It is 1914, when the generation later to be called the Lost Generation is coming of age. One of those millions is Willie Dunne, son of a policeman in Dublin. His is an idyllic existence, even if he will never grow to the regulation height to be a policeman like his father. He squabbles with his three sisters, and tries to escape often enough to meet his sweetheart. The swirling political climate of Dublin is none of his concern.

Soon enough, the Great War strikes. Irish Home Rule, which of course would inspire revolutionaries far away in India, is promised, and Ireland agrees to fight. Caught up in the fervor, like millions of "Russian, French, Serbian, English, Scottish, Welsh, Zulu, Gurkhas, Cossacks, Australians, and all the rest", Willie joins up too. His father may finally look on his small son with pride.

The novel then documents Willie's passage from adolescence to adulthood in the brutal environs of war. He will be gassed, again and again. He will spend a night with a prostitute. He will have his best friend die in his arms. He will watch his beloved captains die. He will walk on corpses. He will personally bayonet many, many Germans. He will spend weeks in trenches, staring at an uneasy countryside, and then watch thousands die to take a few yards of land. War is dreary, and horrific, and numbing, reminiscent of Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front.

Barry is unsparing in his depiction of this horror. He still manages to poetically depict the essential innocence of those who fight this brutal war, from privates like Willie and his mates, to the drill sergeant who insists on the exercises in the rule book when he knows they are no good, "like an agnostic priest".

By any definition, these boys are heroes, and Barry does not hesitate to pull at the heartstrings. But who will recognise their heroism? Back on leave, Willie will be spat on by kids. "Go back home, Tommy soldier!" Public opinion is definitely turning against England. Willie must come to his own understanding, having unknowingly been part of the troops that beat back the Easter Rising. He and his mates will question whether they are fighting for "Crown, King and Country", and whether those are the same things, even if the mate dying next to them is from London.

On the other side, the English generals are very definitely suspicious of the Irish troops' loyalties. They are reviled as mutineers and runaways, regardless of the tens of thousands of Irish lives lost. Ultimately, the Irish boys are neither here nor there, fitting in nowhere but in the trenches, with each other.

"A Long Long Way" is a simple story, with no surprising twists and turns. It says nothing breathtakingly new when it rages against the mindlessness of young people dying for no purpose. It is even conscious it is saying nothing new, but perhaps its point cannot be repeated often enough. It is written beautifully, and is a strong contender for the Booker. Not having read any other book on the list, I cannot compare it to the others.

Perhaps I can do no worse than leave you with my favorite passages, since Barry's strength seems to be in his often poetic writing style.

"The storm rattled the last leaves out of the regal oaks in the old pleasure gardens behind the hospital, and it drove the wet harvest along the gutters and into the gapin drains and down into the unknown avenues of the great sewers. The blood of births was sluiced down there too, and all the many liquids of humanity, but the salt sea at Ringsend took everything equally."

"'What did the Irish ever do?' Willie laughed. 'Lost a lot of lads at Mons, that's what. And Ypres, and the Marne. Loads and loads of young lads. That's what we Irish did, lately.'"

"Ave Maria, gratia plenis, full of grace, and many of the men caught that it was just the Hail Mary all dressed over in another lingo, the prayer of their childhoods and their country, the prayer of their inmost minds, that could not be sundered, that could not be violated, that could not be rendered meaningless even by slaughter, the core inviolable, the flame unquenchable."

Sunday, September 11, 2005

More Booker Mela reviews

Prufrock Two thinks Tash Aw's The Harmony Silk Factory is not quite in harmony.

And Falstaff says as much as he liked it, he wasn't moved by John Banville's The Sea.

The original Booker Mela post and all published reviews here.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Fall of Rome

Halfway through Gibbon and I found my lost Auden. In celebration, here's Auden's Fall of Rome.

The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar's double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Here's Falstaff's excellent excellent review of Ian McEwan's Saturday. A must-read review. It really makes me want to get out right this moment and somehow grab a copy of the book and start reading.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Rebuilding a city

How do you rebuild a vanished city? David Brooks - not exactly one of my favorite columnists - has a neat, atypical op-ed here. But no, I am not talking about the reconstruction he talks about. Visions of a prosperous new New Orleans "transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice", where the children of these hurricane victims will "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" all sounds very nice but I am little too old and a little too cynical to actually "dream" of that. Instead let me stick to reality as I know it.

The city I live in runs an excellent ad campaign that you couldn't have missed if you passed by O'Hare anytime recently. My favorite ad is the one where the backdrop is of different buildings in downtown and words scrolling in the foreground. The words go - "Other cities measure their worth in charts and graphs. We prefer something more concrete. Like concrete." Yep, concrete. Lets talk some concrete reconstruction.

Long long ago, on Chicago's west side, west of the South branch of the Chicago river, there was a barn. The barn belonged to an Irish woman by the name of O'Leary. She also owned a cow who resided in this barn. One evening the cow was feeling pretty bored and decided to have some fun. It saw this lantern nearby, so it kicked the lantern. Or so goes one of Chicago's major urban legends. What we do know for sure is that, by the time the Great Chicago fire of 1871 subsided, it left about 300 dead, 100,000 homeless and the entire city destroyed.

Disaster turned into opporuntity for architects all over the country and beyond. Architects and builders arrived from all over to rebuild. The architects to come out of this period - Jenney, Burnham, Sullivan, Roche and ofcourse Wright - laid the foundation for what would be later called the Chicago school of architecture. This time, the builders used safer building materials and safer construction techniques as the memory of the fire was still fresh in their minds. The steel frame which allowed for buildings to be taller, elevators, lighting, climate control all had their origins during this period in this city. The city of skyscrapers is like 800 miles to the East, but this is where the first skyscraper was built. Today, the city boasts of a diversity in the types of buildings that no other city can match. Burnham dreamt of building a 'Paris on the Prairie' but if he were to see the city today, I am sure he won't complain.

And this morning, as I walked through Michigan avenue admiring buildings as always, I could not help thinking that there is a lesson in here for New Orleans. If indeed the city is to be rebuilt, look no further than Chicago. You sent us your best musicians and made us a jazz city, maybe we could teach you a thing or two about rebuilding.

Gropernator's gonna veto it

Here. Though I don't think he cares one way or the other. Probably thinks he can get back some percentage points on his popularity ratings.

So now the legislature does not represent the people? I love democracy and all that but thinking back at quite a few progressive decisions (like 1964 Civil Rights Act and Brown vs. Board of Ed.), don't think they had much popular support.

2005 Booker shortlist

The Booker shortlist has been announced. Details here.

The books which made it are:

Banville, John - The Sea
Barnes, Julian - Arthur & George
Barry, Sebastian - A Long Long Way
Ishiguro, Kazuo - Never Let Me Go
Smith, Ali - The Accidental
Smith, Zadie - On Beauty

I just finished reading Arthur and George and not surprised that it made the shortlist. I was expecting the Dan Jacobson to make it after reading Falstaff's review on that one but it didn't.

Go read the Booker Mela reviews here. More reviews to come soon!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

God Outdoes Terrorists

For all of you who still think that the Onion is a fake news source, here's proof that you are wrong.

Same DNA, different novel..

says Falstaff on Kazua Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. Go read his excellent review.

The original Booker Mela post is here. Looks like Falstaff will do all 17 books before the rest of us manage to read a couple! Oh well, the more the merrier. Lets get as many different perspectives as we can.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Immortality for the vanished

Dennis Overbye writes about history's vanished cities in the NY Times:

"Nothing lasts forever.
Just ask Ozymandias, or Nate Fisher.
Only the wind inhabits the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde in Colorado, birds and vines the pyramids of the Maya. Sand and silence have swallowed the clamors of frankincense traders and camels in the old desert center of Ubar. Troy was buried for centuries before it was uncovered. Parts of the Great Library of Alexandria, center of learning in the ancient world, might be sleeping with the fishes, off Egypt's coast in the Mediterranean."

Mesa Verde, Troy, Nan Madol, Helike, and now New Orleans. May I dare add Poompuhar to this list? The port capital of the first Chola empire, the city of Kovalan and Kannagi, where the Romans came to buy pearls and where the Greek traders, enamoured by the place decided to stay on indefinitely. The city that I was introduced to through bedtime stories and really old movies, the city of which my Dad could never speak of without an involuntary sense of swelling pride, the city which according to my thatha was claimed by the sea thousands of years ago. We all have our own Atlantis, mine happens to be Poompuhar.