Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Love, Actually

Falstaff's review of Dan Jacobson's All for Love

No, its not a penny romance though it might sound like one, Falstaff says. Instead "It is one of those rare books that manage to be both a delightful adventure story and a sombre and insightful meditation on the nature of Romantic love."

Thr original Booker Mela post is here.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

When a man gets a facial...

Here's a guest entry by a friend from the People's Republic who, under the pretext of doing a PhD there, spends eight months of the year gallivanting around the world. Pachacutec is in India currently and he writes about his experiences at a men's 'beauty parlour' in the garden city.

On Friday, I got myself a Facial.

And it was awesome...!

How it happened ?

Well, friday morning I got off the Madurai-Bangalore train. After two days of climbing ladders and crawling in the dirt, etc in Theni, I was pretty tired, fast asleep, and I almost missed getting off the train at Bangalore City station. But one super old-school gentleman woke me up - "Kind sir, you want to get off at Bangalore, no ? Your station has come".

I figured I was more hungry than filthy (despite others thinking the opposite), so I decided to straight away join my family members for a group breakfast rather than hit the shower. After breakfast, my 4 yr old niece was pretty diapproving of my appearance and suggested I get a hair cut at least.

Good Idea.

I asked my cousin for a recommendation. He sent me off to the Gandhibazaar area. The streets were packed with hundreds of flower sellers - even more than usual and the usual is a lot. It was Varalakshmi Day.

So I finally find this dhinchak barber place after walking through a bunch of spaces between stacks and stacks of flowers. I love sitting at a barber's in India and getting a hair cut. Old music playing over a crackling radio, slow moving ceiling fan sending periodic air-wafts your way, shiny chk-chk sounds of scissors and just a general air of laziness - fantastic place to just sit back and daydream for the hour that the barber takes to cut your hair.

My haircut was over in 10 mins :-(

I had barely settled in and was just choosing a delicious little theme to daydream about when the last snip happened. Chap saw the sad look in my eyes and asked "What boss ? You want shorter haircut ?" To which I replied, "No saar, I actually wanted longer haircut".

This chap was totally confused now.

Bugged, he asked "How about facial ?"
Intrigued, I asked "How long ?"
More confused, "400 rupees", he replied.
I point to my watch, "No No, I mean how much time it will take ?"
"One hour"
"Fine, do it boss"

Then began the most complex procedure my face has been involved with. Wash, then dry, then wash, then dry, then cream, then massage, then more cream,then more massage, etc.. At some point it seemed like he was plucking things out of my skin with a needle. I don't know; my eyes had cucumbers on them. Then at another point, it seemed he was running some kind of suction device on select parts (or rather, the not so select parts) of my face. Some of it was really painful. My eyes were watering - a process that was further complicated by the cucumber slices sitting on my eyes.

Then finally he applied one layer of "special" cream on my face. I had to wait for some time while it dried and caked after which he would dust if off. The cucumbers were off my eyes now. I looked like an extra from that masquerade ball scene in Phantom of the Opera. Some parts of my face were smarting with all the needle/suction action. But on the whole most muscles in my face had been opened up by some rigorous massaging so I was pretty relaxed.

Now that my eyes were open, I took a good look around. Males about my age kept entering every now and then and were getting all kinds of treatments - some involving complicated machinery drawn over their heads. I tried to say hello to some fellow customers but they would all look away in embarrassment like they didn't want to be there but really secretly they did want to be there. None of them were looking at one another. Every one seemed to be in a hurry - lets just get beautiful and get out of here without anyone noticing me types.

Gradually all the space in the room got dynamically divided (by a process of trial and error) into vision zones where each vision zone belonged to someone and only he looked into it and you couldn't look into someone else�s vision zone, just yours only. This way no one would be embarrassed either by being noticed looking at someone or by being looked at.

At some point, a veteran customer (still around my age though) entered the place. The barbers knew what he wanted without him having to say anything. He seemed pretty self-assured and gave me a knowing smile and proceeded to set himself up for a facial and some conditioning. It was quite inspiring to watch him. The vison zone rule did not apply to him it seemed. He slid so confidently towards the machines and was so comfortable that all his movements were in total agreement with the barber's expectations. He didn't need an army of staff to prop up every awkward motion of his. And even if he did, it wouldn't have been possible because they were currently busy propping me up - keeping my head right, making sure my arms didn't slide off the tiny armrest, etc.

"Manicure Pedicure ?"

The question threw me off a little but I didn't want to stop witnessing these super interesting anthropological (or some other word) phenomena So I said Yes.

Chap then brought around a little machine that neatly said "Scholl" on the side. Filled it with warm water, threw some fancy liquid into it, started a motor, and soon enough there were bubbles! He asked me to stick my hands into the foot shaped depressions for 5 minutes to soften my skin. Then he wiped my hands dry, pulled out something that looked like wire-cutting-pliers and started cutting my nails. I was a little surprised by the gay abandon with which he kept cutting away. I was too shy to say that my nails seemed a little jagged after the cutting. But it seemed he read my thoughts and flashed a knife-looking tool before me. He proceeded to sharpen it like how hindi-movie-goondas sharpen daggers before being rudely interrupted by the heroine's man. And then he started filing my nails away. In real time,I could see imperfection being converted to perfection. It was pretty hypnotic. Plus, I could now boast of having the smoothest, curviest nail edges.

There was no place to do a pedicure there so he took my hand (my newly manicured hand) and led me to the customer waiting area and asked me sit on the bench. He took another stool and sat facing me and asked me stick my foot on his stool between his legs. I complied. My other foot was in the Scholl machine now on the floor fitting
into the foot shaped depression finally. You've seen pictures of some hot woman getting a pedicure sitting with her foot up while another hot woman is working on the foot; picture this same posture, except with me and this barber stud. And seriously, this barber was a total stud. He had a beard, slick curly hair, a big red teeka, an earring in one ear (only one ear), and a really really long nail on his left pinky. Totally Bad.

After rubbing the cream into my foot, he asked me to compare that foot with the other one.

"Which one is fairer ?" he quizzed me.
"You mean which one is yellower ?" I earnestly asked for clarification.
"Ya Ya", he said. After concentrating for a bit I realized the one he manhandled was fairer/yellower. He agreed and triumphantly showed me the bottle of bleach(!!!) cream that he used. He then proceeded to cut my nails in the now familiar haphazard way. While filing the nails into perfection, he was oblivious to the fact that he kept digging the nail-file into my adjacent toes but again, I was too shy to say anything. By the time he'd done both feet, I understood why Karishma Kapoor was separating from her husband courtesy of a friendly Stardust issue lying near me.

Once again, he took my newly manicured hand and led me back to the haircut station and then dusted off my face (the cream had totally dried by then). I felt like some archaeological specimen being dug up for the first time. As he was giving me some final touches with air blower, water spray, etc., he surveyed my head pretty closely and said "Boss, you're going bald. Maybe because of stress. What are you stressed about ?"

"I'm stressed because I'm going bald, guru" is what I told him.
Once again, he was totally confused. But he's the kind of guy who - when confronted by a confusing problem - retorts by offering to solve a problem in a confusing way.

"How about some conditioning ? It will make your hair silky. You can
comb it any way and cover your bald patches"

"Conditioning ? But I can do that at home, no ? Just put some conditioner during bath ?"

"But we will steam your hair too. Conditioner you can put in house no problem sir but who will steam ?"

Good point, I reflected. Yes, sure.

So then he stuck this giant silver bowl upside down over my head after applying some conditioner. I'm pretty sure I looked like Marvin from the Hitchhiker movie. The bowl generated a lot of steam and created a mini-sauna around my head. But it seemed that my "going bald because I was stressed about going bald" comment had him in a
thought-overdrive. He put his hand on my shoulder and started to speak. Through the bowl I could hear the metallic echo of his voice "Anna, if you're stressed about going bald, then you will go bald for sure but if you're not stressed about it, then even if you go bald, it won't matter. Correct, no ?"

This was total bomb-giri gyan. Very similar in spirit to what I've been thinking about in different contexts. So awestruck was I with this ordinary but extra-ordinary piece of wisdom that all I could manage was a meek "Correct only" accompanied by head shake but this was hidden under the bowl.

"Threading ?", he asked. Casually. I bet by now he'd recognized my "kid in a candy store" approach to all the treatments I was getting and was probably wondering what other beauty treatment could I be convinced of to try. And I too realized that I probably won't get into such a situation in a long long time if ever at all so now that I was in a beauty parlour I should make the most of it.

"Sure", I surrendered.

This threading is an awesome process. He loops the thread between his thumbs and fingers and holds on to the remaining with his teeth. He then periodically closes the gap between the threads near the surface of the skin by closing his thumbs and forefingers taking off small bits of facial hair in the process. The guy went on the rampage. I didn't realize I had hair growing out my ear lobes even! Threading hurts a little but it's good pleasurable pain - equivalent in concept to eating a karela good pleasurable bitterness.

So finally, when we were done with everything I paid him 60 (haircut + shave) + 400 (facial) + 250 (mani/pedi-cure) + 100 (conditioning) + 20 (threading) = Rs. 830. By now we'd spent close to 3-and-a-half hours together. It was intense and before leaving I felt like giving him a hug but by then he had already moved on to his next customer.

As I stepped out, I really did feel like a new man :-) The wind hit parts of my face that I didn't know existed, I could feel my skin "breathing" after the opening up of all the pores, and things were generally more aerodynamic. Plus, I felt lighter chap must've removed half a kg of dust from my face. And so I happily pranced my way home.

But sadly, upon reaching home, no one said even once that I looked fairer/cleaner/fresher/sharper/sexier/etc. I even hovered conspicuously around every family member for more than 5 minutes hoping they would say something. But alas, I got nothing. Only my grandma said my shirt was too dark which I'm hoping she said because my face might have looked much fresher/cleaner and therefore the shirt might have looked darker in comparison :-)

PS : the name of the barber shop was "Hi-Tec Men's Beauty Parlour"

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On buildings

“No stream ever rises higher than its source. Whatever man might build could never express or reflect more than he was. He could record neither more nor less than he had learned of life when the buildings were built.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright

Have you ever felt the urge to look at this building at 6’ o clock on a Saturday morning? I have and last weekend, I decided to indulge myself. I got out of bed, got dressed, and ran 2.5 miles to the Kinzie St Bridge to catch a view of this building right at that moment when the sun was coming up over Lake Michigan. There it was, the same grey color as the Chicago river that runs below it, bending along with the bend in the river, looking as glorious as ever.

Back home in India, we are used to living in the midst of some marvelous buildings. I have spent countless number of hours inside the temples of Kerala; my mother still tells stories of how all the priests in Padmanabhaswamy temple knew me as I could be seen wandering about the huge temple completely oblivious to the fact that I was lost and how some priest would find me and bring me back to my parents. I have also spent quite a few hours looking up at the story of Silapathikaram engraved on the gopuram of the Attukal Devi temple. But what was it that I found interesting about these temples I don’t think I know – I just felt a strange kinship with the tall, carved stone pillars and the black gopurams. My mother put it down to the existence of a pious bone in my system something that she was to vehemently repudiate later.

Whenever we used to visit my fathers’ friends outside the city, we would come across quite a few of the traditional tharavadu homes. Many a time, when I used to stand in the nalukettu looking around, I could picture the thamburatti with her friend and her trademark umbrella coming back from the temple – romanticized versions of all the Mallu movies that I used to watch. The houses in my parents’ village in old Chola country were also objects of wonder to me. I loved the really long houses where if you peek from the front of the house, you can see all the way back past the house, the well and into the cowshed; the sprawling verandas and the beautiful blue-green mosaic floor tiles - the same tiles that years later I was to see in a monastery in Lima and the tourist guide told us that it was the best of the Spanish tiles brought all the way from Seville.

But it was only later, once I left home that I realized that I liked buildings more than I thought I did! When I first landed in the New World, I stayed with friends in the suburbs of Chicago for a couple of days. Away from home in flat, drab Midwest, surrounded by cookie-cutter town homes and artificial landscaping, here in the strip-mall capital of the world, my intense longing for amma’s idlis was also mixed with a desire to see some brick and mortar structures which were a bit more interesting. Soon I got my eye-candy in the sloping alleghenies of Pennsylvania – the large Victorian homes and the immaculate synagogues of Shadyside, the Gothic cathedral of learning and the tower of the Hammerschlag Hall all kept me happy during the time I was in school – yes, all of these in the city of which Wright, when asked how to make it better, said ‘Abandon it’.

Later, in continental Europe, in the cities and towns of Germany, Austria and Tuscany, I could see from where the older buildings of the American east coast sprang from. It’s all about recreating the castles and cathedrals of the countries that they left behind in their new world. And I have to mention Rome here, the Rome of Romulus and Marcus Aurelius, though where do I even begin to describe Rome? The city just blew me away and that’s all I will say about its buildings. It was in Rome that I could finally understand our attitude back home – the same indifference could be seen in the locals’ eyes. What do you do when every piece of land you step on, every building you pass has hundreds of years of history and they are all special in one way or the other? You just pass them by without a second glance and go on about your business.

It was also in Rome, well actually Vatican, that I realized that even great buildings need to have a little humility for them to be endearing to me – the humility that I see in the pillars of the Pantheon, the humility that I see in quite a few older temples in India, the humility that I see everyday in the gracefulness of the Sears Tower (a building where you don’t expect to see it at all) – that humility was completely missing where you would expect to see it the most. The St. Peter’s Basilica is an experiment in opulence; it represents precisely what it used to be – an imperialist power that set forth to conquer and control the world. I was thoroughly disgusted at the larger-than-life statues and paintings of the various Popes and the floor markers which explain how all the other cathedrals in the world are smaller than this one. By the time I heard that the bronze for the beautiful Bernini altarpiece was acquired by melting down the bronze in the Pantheon, I knew it was time to get out. That particular church proved too claustrophobic for me.

Back here in the States, I moved to Chicago – nope, not to the strip-mall capital of the world, but to the city of Chicago. As any architecture enthusiast will no doubt tell you, this place is paradise. The city boasts of a diversity in architecture that is unmatched by any other city in the world. Where else will you find the modern, giant steel and glass structures of Meis van der Rohe, the precise geometrical designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, the bold triangular buildings, and a number of striking postmodern skyscrapers along with the older commercial buildings of Louis Sullivan and buildings that look like Gothic cathedrals all within a couple of blocks? Which other city has the audacity to build something like this and actually be proud of the fact? And which other city remembers the names of its structural engineers along with the names of its architects?

And as long as I live here, what better to do on a Saturday morning than to watch the sun rise over some of these structures which represent the heights that man is capable of? After all, aren't “buildings too the children of the earth and the sun”?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I said "take him out"!

Here is the original post and here's Robertson's clarification.

"I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out.' And 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP [Associated Press], but that happens all the time".

Apparently Robertson only wanted to kidnap Chavez not really kill him. Lets see now -what if Osama Bin Laden says that he wants to take out Bush. What could that mean? Maybe it means Bin Laden wanted to take Bush out for some Chinese food? We all know the President loves Chinese food.

And can someone explain to me what part of the following statement could be taken out of context?

"If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it".

But I do agree with Mr. Robertson on one thing. If the choice is between 'taking out' Chavez now and waging a war five years later killing thousands of people(not to mention spending billions of dollars), just take the man out. It isn't like the CIA doesn't have any kind of experience in these matters.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

So he can read? Since when?

I know you are not going to believe this but CNN reports that the President took three heavy books with him to Texas for his five-week vacation. No, its not what you think - he does have hard pillows in his ranch. And no, these are NOT coloring books. Give the guy a break will ya? Let him spend some quality time in Crawford and learn to up on his reading.

The books that made the Presidential reading list this year are:

- The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History
- Salt: A World History
- Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar

Yeah, I know. I pity the writers too. Which sane person will read books that made it to Bush's reading list? But maybe they can prove that he actually did not read the books. Come to think of it, it ain't difficult to prove that the man can hardly read.

The Kosovo musical controversy

Old news; so no idea why the Times picked it up this week. Winds of Change had covered it here in May. Anyway, the song was in my playlist, so I went back and listened to it today. And its as hilarious and timely as ever. If only it wasn't true!

Go listen. In case you can't, here are the lyrics.

(Parody of Kokomo by The Beach Boys)

Croatia, Albania somewhere near Romania
Its Euro and NATO, why the hell do we go
Pristina blew up a head for Macedonia
I’ll race ya
Somewhere far overseas
There’s a place called Kosovo
That’s where you don’t want to go
If you’re Albanian at all

Protecting Human Rights
Air strikes and firefights
And we'll be dropping our bombs
Wherever Serbian bad guys hide
Just up from Kosovo

Somalia, Grenada or rescue in Kuwait-a
We screwed ya Rwanda, wish we could have helped ya
Iraqi embargo that’s the way we hustle
Rules are why we’re helping out in Kosovo
We’ll kick some ass and then we'll see how it goes
And then we really don’t know
Good luck to Kosovo

you sorry son of a bitch

Every time we go
To little places like Kosovo
We never really know
What happens after we go
Tough luck for Kosovo

Croatia Albania somewhere near Romania
Its Euro and NATO
Why the hell do we go?
Pristina, blew up a head for Macedonia
Rules are why we’re helping out in Kosovo
We’ll kick their ass and then we’ll see how it goes
And then we really don’t know
That sucks for Kosovo
Somalia, Grenada or rescuing Kuwait-a
We screwed ya Rwanda
Wish we could of helped ya
Iraqi embargo
How it ends we don’t know…

What would Jesus do?

Assassinate Chavez. But ofcourse.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Is abecedarian a sesquipedalian word?

No, no, no, without running off to Merriam Webster.

Two words I always wanted to use but couldn't bring myself to(for obvious reasons). Finally I have done it. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Transporting stuff

There and Here, Now and Then.

Photo courtesy - Madhu, BBC

Friday, August 19, 2005

Booker Mela Update

Falstaff has his review of Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian here.

"Have you ever been to one of those concerts where the pianist plays every note perfectly but you still walk out of the concert hall without being truly moved by the music? That's what Marina Lewycka's debut novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, feels like. An accomplished, well-crafted book that makes for enjoyable reading, but totally fails to overwhelm you."

The man seems to like the book but it fails to move him. And he thinks its a definite No for the prize. Go read the full review.

The original Booker mela post is here. I will keep linking to reviews as and when they become available.

For in that sleep of work, what dreams may come!

No, I don't dream of work. Work is something that's flung out of my mind the moment I step out of the building I work in. Thats the way I want it and thats the way it has been. Until yesterday. For those of you who have not read this post, I am your regular corporate whore who lives in Excel sheets to earn my daily bread - well, daily idlis when my mom was around which incidentally was until yesterday.

So anyway, yesterday at work my colleague M and I were trying to tally some numbers in one of my Excel sheets; I wanted to get home sooner than usual so that I could drop my mom at the airport. The numbers in question were more than a couple of billion dollars - we were able to tie up everything except a measley $151,723. Try as we might, we had no clue as to where the $151,723 vanished. After 7 hours of trying invain, I had to give up and go home to say good-bye to my mom. I saw my mom off at O'Hare and came back to my empty apartment all set for the depression that would set in - who is going to make idlis for me the next morning being the most important cause for this would-be depression. No such thing happened though; instead all I could think of was $151,723. Where the hell did that number disappear?

Thus the stage was set for my first ever work-related dream. Or nightmare if you want to be accurate. It is air and water show time in Chicago. Which incidentally is this weekend. And there I was(with a couple of friends) at my snooty best making fun of all the thousands of junta trying to make it to the city and find a parking spot - "Why do these losers come here anyway? Can't they stay home next to their monstrous malls and their cornfields?" We were walking past the statue of Grant in Lincoln Park - (Aside: do you know why they have a statue of Ulysses Grant in Lincoln Park, but they don't have a statue of the man in Grant Park? Long story, material for another post) - and we could see the lake and the beaches teeming with masses all set to watch the show. People were setting up their picnic chairs and their beach umbrellas; the mobile food vendors were doing excellent business. A record number of lifeguards seemed to be on duty and in total kumbh mela style, kids were getting separated from parents. They were making kids-and-dogs lost-and-found annoucements over the loudspeakers every other minute. Up above, the aerial advertisers were having a field day with all kinds of company banners flying from behind planes and choppers. Comcast, SBC, some tire company, some car dealer, and hang on, do I see $151,723? In bright red on a white background? Yes! The ad reads - "Veena, where is $151,723?" OMG! How did they know? Suddenly my two friends are looking at me strangely and are moving away from me. The masses on North Ave beach all turn towards me and ask in unison "Veena, where is $151,723?". And I wake up.

So you thought that was weird? Wait, there's more to come. So I get to work and M and I get back to figuring out where the $152,723 went. We actually figure it out pretty soon; all it needed was a fresh two pairs of eyes looking into it, I guess. All triumphant now, I tell M my dream.

M: Thats nothing. Thats just a normal dream.

Me: What do you mean?

M: I have had worse dreams. Like really bad ones.

Me: Yeah? Like what?

M: When you get dreams like mine, you know its time to quit. Its that bad.

Me: Okay, tell me about this dream.

M: I actually get it quite often. Even yesternight.

Me: Enough! Tell me what the dream is about.

M: Well, I dream of getting caught inside an Excel cell. You know, like cell C35. And you are inside this tiny cell, and you see numbers going up and down, left and right like its in the matrix. I try to get out of this cell but there's no way. I can't escape.

Me: You are freaky.

M: No, a lot of people in the company get the same dream. Its all Excel.

Me: You think Microsoft has something to do with it?

M: I don't know. Possible.

So there. Whats your work dream?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Intelligent Falling theory

America's finest news source brings us the latest breakthrough in evangelical physics - the 'Intelligent Falling' theory.

"Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University."

"According to the ECFR paper published simultaneously this week in the International Journal Of Science and the adolescent magazine God's Word For Teens!, there are many phenomena that cannot be explained by secular gravity alone, including such mysteries as how angels fly, how Jesus ascended into Heaven, and how Satan fell when cast out of Paradise."

"Anti-falling physicists have been theorizing for decades about the 'electromagnetic force,' the 'weak nuclear force,' the 'strong nuclear force,' and so-called 'force of gravity,'" Burdett said. "And they tilt their findings toward trying to unite them into one force. But readers of the Bible have already known for millennia what this one, unified force is: His name is Jesus."

Trust the Onion! Gravity is just a theory dude. Didn't you read in school? Its called the theory of gravity. And I bet if we were to survey the country tomorrow, 45% will have faith in the Intelligent Falling theory.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Gibranian greetings

As some of you might know already, I am not exactly a fan of Khalil Gibran and usually have no patience for friends who go on and on about how cool the dude is. Some of you might also know that I have stopped voicing my opinions on Gibran following a mild altercation with a Gibran worshipper who also happens to be a friend. But this one is too good to miss. Falstaff, who seems to share a similar opinion of Gibran, has come up with the perfect utility for Gibran quotes(okay okay, poems if I have to call them that). The next time you want to send 'special' greetings to all and sundry, please think of Mr. Gibran. And say thank you to Falstaff.

Here are some pearls of wisdom that I am going to use in the near future:

- To my annoying nephew who keeps sending stories to magazines and doesn't hear anything back - "A shy failure is nobler than an immodest success."

- To my best friend in third grade who just sent me an invite for her wedding - "And think not you can guide the course of love. For love, if it finds you worthy, shall guide your course."

- To my college roomie who after long years of doing nothing(otherwise known as 'working towards a PhD') has finally graduated and is going to start working like us normal beings - "Work is love made visible."

- To my colleague who cannot stop talking about his recent breakup - "Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love."

- To all random Amway/Quixtar people who have given me their business cards in random grocery stores across the country - An entire chapter from The Prophet - I believe its titled 'Giving'.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Another unanswered prayer

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic wars;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action -
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake."

- Tagore

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Independence Special

Everyone rush to Outlook - Articles from Khilnani, Guha, Nandy, Roy, Hitchens, basically anyone and everyone who's guaranteed to give us articles that we(the jobless masses) can talk about for the next few days. For now, go read.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Notes on London

I just finished reading a beautiful New Yorker piece from Edmund Wilson's 'Europe without Baedeker' - this one was apparently the first in the series(written in 1945) and its titled 'Notes on London at the end of the War'. War or not, most of the things that Wilson talks about in this piece are out there today for any visitor to experience. The differences between American and British attitudes towards anything and everything is as obvious today (to any casual visitor to London) as it was to Wilson 60 years ago.

"I had forgotten what a pleasant city London is. No doubt it comes to seem more attractive as New York be-comes consistently less so. From the moment a New Yorker is confronted with almost any large city of Europe, it is impossible for him to pretend to himself that his own city is anything other than an unscrupulous real-estate speculation, whereas a capital like London is a place where people are supposed to live and enjoy some recreation and comfort rather than merely pay landlords rent. The green parks and the squares that interlace the whole West End seem enchanting after the windowed, expressionless walls, the narrow, crowded streets of New York."

Didn't I get that same feeling when I got down at Covent Garden, bought tickets at Leicester Sq and walked through the huge expanse of Kensington Gardens? Don't I remember walking through Hyde Park and stopping to spend some time at Speakers' Corner and thinking why was it that Central Park seems so drab?

"The London theatre, to a New Yorker, is amazing. It used to be very much less interesting than ours, but it is at present incomparably better. Our theatre has been demoralized by Hollywood; no one really takes it seriously any more."

Don't know about New Yorkers, but its definitely very much amazing for a Chicagoan. I spent one of the most memorable afternoons of my life standing for three straight hours right infront of the stage at the Shakespeare Globe Theater watching an excellent performance of 'Much Ado About Nothing'. If only...!

"The effect of the American movies, American journalism, and American radio on the British lower-middle class is, I fear, going to he rather awful. They will get much of the banality and cheapness with little of the excitement and snap. There is certainly a large market in England for the worst the United States has to offer. Our Hollywood stars are already their stars and our best-sellers will be their best-sellers."

No comments on this one!

"And yet now that the Prime Minister was appealing thus for the continuance of an obsolete custom on the ground merely that it would be a good thing for British prestige abroad—in a word, that it was better publicity—I felt that the power and the glory were perhaps ebbing out of these symbols, that the old virtue was no longer quite there."

So true! Who but the British would make such a big deal out of the something as mundane as the changing of the guards? Standing there in front of Buckingham palace under the scorching sun along with some 500 other people all trying to get a look at the London soldier marching away to glory, I could finally understand(and appreciate) the inborn American scorn for tradition. Ridicule is the only way to counter such a spectacle. Only the British could take themselves so seriously. Oh okay, yes, but we all have a colonial hangover, remember?

"The Americans like to act for themselves and do things with a freer hand. They do not always take their paperwork quite so seriously as the British do. To the latter, they doubtless seem hit-or-miss, and they probably make annoying mistakes of a kind that is rare with the British. It is the result of having more space to move in, more margin of resources to dispose of. With the British every penny counts and every link in the chain must be tight. They do not understand the effectiveness of a loose association of men working with a minimum of formality to put through some undertaking and then eat a good dinner—which is what the Americans in Europe sometimes seem to be."

Have I ever heard it explained better? No.

I tell you, you have to read the full thing!

My Mom, the closet Republican

I learnt yesterday that my Mom would have voted for George Bush if she were American. Thank Galaxy for small miracles.

Via Wonkette, here's an WP article about 'The Art of Telling Parties Apart'. Yes, its an art. And No, you don't ask them for a party affiliation. Neither do you ask them who they vote for. Its easier than that, says Tom Goeglin, deputy chief of staff to Karl Rove. You just ask them a simple question - what do your want your children to be when they grow up? - "Our party, in the way it is constituted, we think of medicine, we think of law, we think of business. We don't think, gee, I hope my son grows up to be a great playwright or painter or poet," he explained. (What about NASCAR drivers though? You mean you don't want your son to be a NASCAR driver?)

Conservative author Mark Helprin(who obviously did not become what his parents wanted him to become) chirps in - "The arts community is generally dominated by liberals because if you are concerned mainly with painting or sculpture, you don't have time to study how the world works. And if you have no understanding of economics, strategy, history and politics, then naturally you would be a liberal."
But ofcourse! (But Mark, what about religion? You think we liberals have an understanding of that?)

Anyways, once I read this piece, a sneaking suspicion started creeping into my mind. What did my mother want me to be? - "You want to study what? History - are you mad? Whats the utility value? Literature, you say? I knew I should never have bought you all those books. They completely messed you up. What am I going to do now? Why can't you be a doctor like that Hari uncle's son? Or maybe an engineer - thats good too. You will be a productive member of society. Anyway its not like you aren't good at Math & Science. If you don't become an engineer what will people say?"

There could only be one explanation for all this. Didn't Tom just tell me? But why do I still refuse to believe? On my way back home yesternight, I laid my plans and thought of the best way to confront my mother. I sneaked into the kitchen numerous times and tried to deduce whether she was a right wing lunatic from the way she was making appams, but couldn't reach a decision one way or the other. Finally, after gobbling up some six appams(with egg curry), I finally mustered some courage.

"Amma. Where do you stand on abortion?"


"You know how I was explaining to you the abortion debate that happens in this country. Pro-life, pro-choice, all that. What do you think?"


"Just asking"

"Is everything alright?"

"What do you mean?"

"Are you alright?"

"No ma, I am not pregnant if thats what you are asking"

"No, no. Not that". Definite relief in her voice.

"So, where do you stand?"

"Well, people just can't keep aborting, can they? I mean, they have to be more responsible that that. I think its all because of the culture here."


So there it was. Finally. Thanks Tom for letting me know. Trust me, its really that easy. Run along and ask your moms.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Four links

1. Via Prufrock Two, an op-ed in the WSJ by Salil Tripathi on how the 'London terrorists' mindset is an open book'.

"Fiction writers have that sixth sense of being able to discern subtle undercurrents and cast light on the larger truth that policy makers miss. Graham Greene did that with his 1955 novel "The Quiet American," published only a year after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, which ended the French supremacy in Indochina."

"In the same vein, several British Asian novelists have been writing about the turbulence within Britain's Muslim community. But while they have been honored, their warnings have gone unheeded." (He goes on to talk about Kureishi, Rushdie, Monica Ali and their works)


"If those novels were read carefully, then the composite picture that emerges today--of disaffected youth finding a new meaning through faith, joining religious groups and following foreign-born preachers, as well as of subterranean misogyny and ostracizing, and even killing those who leave the community by marrying outside the faith--should not have surprised anyone."


"Heinrich Heine had warned in his 1821 play, "Almansor": "They who start by burning books will end by burning men." Modern Britain is not Nazi-era Germany, but in 1989, in England's northern cities, Muslim activists burned copies of "The Satanic Verses"--a chilling reminder of the massive book burnings undertaken by the Nazis in May 1933. Sixteen years later, young men from those English towns carried bombs in their backpacks and exploded them, burning--and killing--themselves and 52 other people."

Go read the entire piece.

2. A day after the Booker longlist annoucenment, the man is in the news for calling for Islamic Reformation. Methinks the man courts trouble as usual.

"If ... the Koran were seen as a historical document, then it would be legitimate to reinterpret it to suit the new conditions of successive new ages. Laws made in the 7th century could finally give way to the needs of the 21st."

"The Islamic Reformation has to begin here, with an acceptance that all ideas, even sacred ones, must adapt to altered realities."

3. On NPR's morning edition this week, an excellent four part series on the issues in the Galapagos Islands. The last two days, I timed my travel such that I get to listen to it while I am on the bus. The series talks about natural and man-made threats to flora and fauna in the Galapagos, the struggles between the fishermen and the conservationists, and the emerging tourism industry. Apparently, the creation scientists(yeah, I know, oxymoron) offer many tours to the Islands so as to reaffirm the word of God :)

Do listen to the full thing if you can.

4. The Kansas state board redefines 'Science'. In Kansas, Science is now defined as anything that's said in the Bible.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

2005 Booker Mela

The Booker long list is out.Here's the link.

Can't remember another year where there were this many repeat contenders - 4 out of 17. Rushdie, McEwan, Coetzee and Ishiguro are back!

The winners will be announced on October, the 10th. Anyone up for a marathon reading session? 17 books in 60 days. If thats a bit too much(which I think it is esp for us who don't read for a living!), how about each of us pick one(or two) and then review it on our respective blogs before October 10th? For those of you who read but don't blog, I can host your review here on Yossarian Lives - just let me know.

Here's the entire list - just tell me which ones you want to sign-up for.

The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw - Prufrock Two - Review
The Sea by John Banville - Prufrock Two, Falstaff - Review
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes - Veena
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry - Susmit - Review, Falstaff - Review
Slow Man by JM Coetzee - Dilip
In the Fold by Rachel Cusk
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - Karthik - Review,Falstaff - Review
All For Love by Dan Jacobson - Falstaff - Review
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka - Falstaff - Review
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel - Falstaff - Review
Saturday by Ian McEwan - Dilip,Uma, Falstaff - Review
The People’s Act of Love by James Meek
Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie - Black Mamba
The Accidental by Ali Smith - Hurree
On Beauty by Zadie Smith - Uma,Karthik
This Is The Country by William Wall
This Thing of Darkness - Harry Thompson - Anup(another maybe!)

Update: Some of you have written in about availability and yes, I did forget about that! From what I could gather, almost all the books seem to available at UK bookstores(like Amazon UK) and most of them seem to be available here in the States. The exceptions are Shalimar, the Clown and Slow Man both of which will be released sometime in September so you will have atleast 10-15 days to read and review them. I am currently trying to find out about availability in India and will get back with another update. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Nashisms for the day

Some of my favorite Ogden Nash verses:

The Ant
The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what?
Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?

Everybody Tells Me Everything
I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens,
And that is why I do not like the news, because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.

The Purist
I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist,
Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
"You mean," he said, "a crocodile."

The Shrimp
A shrimp who sought his lady shrimp
Could catch no glimpse
Not even a glimp.
At times, translucence
Is rather a nuisance.

Reflection on a Wicked World
Is obscurity.

Reflections on Ice-Breaking
Is Dandy
But liquor
Is quicker.

Google says you can't google Google CEO

Because its private information. Sure thats why its on the Internet. And thats why the google search engine picks it up. Because its private.

Here's the link to the SF Chronicle piece.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Heard on the radio

Usually, when bus number 151 gets to the south end of Lincoln Park(where I live), I turn off my pocket radio and start making my way to the nearest exit. Yesterevening, for some inexplicable reason, I did not do so; instead I just sat in my seat listening to NPR. Which turned out to be very fortunate as I learnt an important lesson in geography. I tell you they teach us all wrong geography in India. The hostess on NPR was talking of Robert Moore. (No I didn't know who he was either) He apparently has written a book on the Kursk disaster(yes, I did know what that was)called 'A Time to Die'. The hostess was talking to Moore about the unfortunate submarine stuck in the north Pacific. Moore compares it to Kursk and says how the Russians seem to have leant their lesson and this time they are being more transparent and asking for international help. He went on to say that the Russians have realised the superiority of Western technology and 'that's why invitations have gone out to the United States, Britain and Japan'. Yes, you heard it right. Japan.

Kipling has been proved wrong - the twain shall meet and it shall meet in Japan which we will now call the Far West.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Quotes for the weekend

Albert Einstein to Linus Pauling:
"I made one great mistake in my life,...when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification - the danger that the Germans would make them.".

Dwight Eisenhower:
"During his(Secreatary of War) recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude..."

General Douglas MacArthur in conversaion with Norman Cousins (from here):
"When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."

Robert McNamara(who imo, has no right to talk about this) in the recent documentary 'The Fog of War':
"Why was it necessary to drop the nuclear bomb if LeMay was burning up Japan? And he went on from Tokyo to firebomb other cities. 58% of Yokohama. Yokohama is roughly the size of Cleveland. 58% of Cleveland destroyed. Tokyo is roughly the size of New York. 51% percent of New York destroyed. 99% of the equivalent of Chattanooga, which was Toyama. 40% of the equivalent of Los Angeles, which was Nagoya. This was all done before the dropping of the nuclear bomb, which by the way was dropped by LeMay's command. Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve."

J.Robert Oppenheimer, after the Trinity test suppposedly said that he was reminded of a quote from Gita:
"If the radiance of a thousand suns
were to burst into the sky,
that would be like
the splendor of the Mighty One—
I am become Death, the shatterer of Worlds"

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My obligatory TOI post

Confession: I am not familiar with the English language newspaper industry in Bombay, so please bear with my ignorance here.

Everyone knows what kind of a tabloid the TOI is and I will refrain from providing more evidence to prove the same. For the uninitiated, you can check out this and this for TOI's latest gaffes though I think all you need to do is to go over to the TOI site anyday. (Yes, I know I did not link it. Its deliberate).

But here's the question that's been bugging me for a long time - If TOI is as bad as it is(which it is), how come it is doing so well? Especially after it got its current makeover? As of last count, its apparently being read by 7.4 million people. Now, I'd like to believe that these 7.4 million people probably figured that buying TOI is cheaper than buying regular toilet paper or buying plain water but hey, the quality sucks even then. So whats going on?

Is it that people are just used to buying TOI and plain inertia keeps them from switching? Not really, I'd assume the switching costs are pretty low for a newspaper. So where's the competition and how are they doing? I believe HT made its foray into Mumbai recently. Anyone knows how they are doing? I also heard about this new DNA thing. What are they upto? And why is that it took anyone so long for anyone to get into this market in Mumbai? I'd assume for a newspaper conglomerate, the barriers to entry wouldn't really matter in this industry. Or would it?

I have heard from my Bombay friends that regional newspapers do well in Maharashtra. Is that true of Bombay as well? I know that in my native Kerala, almost everyone buys the Malayalam newspaper(we have some really strong ones - Manorama, Mathrubhoomi, Kerala Kaumudi and ofcourse Deshabhimani for the party members) and the English language paper is usually just an afterthought. So very few people really care about the English language newspaper. I'd assume that in Bombay, as cosmopolitan as it is, this wouldn't be the case. So back to square one - why is TOI doing so well?

I was talking to a friend about this sometime back and he brought up another interesting thought - he thinks that we, as a society, are moving towards other media for our daily news and so we don't really care about newspapers anymore. His point was that almost everyone watches the 9 PM NDTV news nowadays and if you want more news, they are on 24 hours anyways; so the function of a newspaper is in the process of being redefined. I can see this happening to an extent - in the US, for example, very few people get the newspaper for the daily news. If they do, they just turn to the Sport section! (Ofcourse this can also be attributed to indifference, but thats a topic for some other post.) But a good number of people here get the Sunday editions as it has information about local arts, happenings, cuisine, sports, gossip etc.

Last but not least, the answer we don't want to hear. Is it that TOI is doing so well because they give people what they want? Maybe all we want is celebrity gossip and made-up news. TOI could be reflection of our wants, thoughts and delusions. It could just be our mirror and we get what we deserve. And unless there are enough people who want an alternative newspaper, there won't be one. Are we sure that there exists this critical mass?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Some links about Flatman's world

A couple of months ago, I picked up 'The World is flat' at the neighborhood Borders and attempted to read it. The book soon earned the distinction of being the only book that I have returned to any store ever. I tried to round-up all the reviews about the book that I could find to see what people really thought about it. Thankfully, I was quite happy to discover that other than the usual suspects, everyone was more or less of the same opinion - For the most part, Tom doesn't know what he's talking about. Period.

Via Locana, I came across Siddharth Varadarajan's review of the book that appeared in The Hindu Book Review. It is one of the most informative reviews that I have read and provides us with some interesting links. Like this really funny Matt Taibbi one! (Aside: The only problem I have with Taibbi is that for all his talk about how Friedman gets it wrong, he doesn't get his facts right. Taibbi actually says somewhere in the middle of this piece that Columbus discovered that the earth was round. Which leads me to believe that Freidman, despite all his faults, got something right - the American educational system definitely needs to be revamped.)

My favorite review of Flatman's book actually appeared in The Guardian sometime ago. The reviewer Richard Adams compares our man's works to the kind of books that Alden Pyle, Greene's quiet American used to carry. Adams quotes Zadie Smith, who in her introduction to the quiet American, said of Pyle "his worldly innocence is a kind of fundamentalism". Only in this case, our modern-day Pyle is not really quiet. He is the PR man behind a thousand quiet Americans who are "impregnably armed by good intentions and ignorance". Quiet Americans in modern-day Vietnams.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Labouring in an Illiberal Culture

Via Chapati Mystery, an excellent analysis of the media coverage on Gurgaon 'clashes' by Mahmood Farooqui. I believe this appeared in Mid-Day sometime last week.

Farooqui says -

"If I were the editor of one of the leading newspapers of the country, my most natural reaction on Monday afternoon, as the workers of the Honda factory ‘clashed’ with the police, would have been to ring up someone higher up at Honda to find out what is going on. It would be natural because I might know them personally, would admire them for their entrepreneurial successes and because foreign investment and investor confidence is of the supremest importance.

But above all I would do so because the word Union today only implies obstructive opportunism where the leaders, like so many villains of Hindi cinema, always betray the poor, simple workers. Twenty years after unionism and working class militancy have been buried under the discotheques and bowling alleys of Girgaum, what legitimate concern could any worker have? As the Indian Express editorial pontificates on Thursday, let them work or let other workers do an honest day’s


"The workers, though beaten and bruised remain defiant. The media and the commentariat, on the other hand, wants a free and fair treatment for Capital but an illiberal one for labour. Let them then think of India and get on with production, the insurrection can await their children."

Read the full thing.