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.

About time

California legislature approves same-sex marriage bill.

The Larger Shame

Nicholas Kristof, in a typical NY Times op-ed, mentions some stats which seem worth sharing. Though I have heard all these numbers talked about in isolation, when I see them all together it seems more than a little disturbing.

"If it's shameful that we have bloated corpses on New Orleans streets, it's even more disgraceful that the infant mortality rate in America's capital is twice as high as in China's capital. That's right - the number of babies who died before their first birthdays amounted to 11.5 per thousand live births in 2002 in Washington, compared with 4.6 in Beijing."

"Indeed, according to the United Nations Development Program, an African-American baby in Washington has less chance of surviving its first year than a baby born in urban parts of the state of Kerala in India."

"Nationally, 29 percent of children had no health insurance at some point in the last 12 months, and many get neither checkups nor vaccinations. On immunizations, the U.S. ranks 84th for measles and 89th for polio."

Poem of the day

Well, yesterday actually. Ended up reading Shelley on the flight yesternight as the boy was busy working away on his laptop. I remember reading this poem long long ago somewhere in a English textbook back in God's own country(where else?). What a strange coincidence and how ironical that I came across this poem again yesterday. Here are some lines from Song to the Men of England :

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,
Shelter, food, love's gentle balm?
Or what is it ye buy so dear
With your pain and with your fear?

The seed ye sow another reaps;
The wealth ye find another keeps;
The robes ye weave another wears;
The arms ye forge another bears.

Austin highlights

The boy and I were in Austin this weekend meeting A. The boy hadn't been to Austin before, so A and I showed him all the touristy places. Here's some stuff we did that was new to me:

- Whole Foods - A major tourist attraction here in Austin, this store at Sixth and Lamar is apparently the largest WF store in the world. Would easily be thrice the size of my local WF store. And man, was it crowded! Filled with the usual mix of out-of-towners, bleeding heart liberals who think that everthing will be fine with the world as long as they shop at WF, health-conscious ultra-hip aunties who absolutely have to buy those $8.99/pound organic grapes and ofcourse, the people who are here because it's cool to be seen here(these are the people who actually buy those instant food packets at WF in case you were wondering). I am a big fan of WF myself and I am all for eating healthy and being fair to farmers and fishermen and whoever, but when I shell out $13.99 on half a pound of halibut to make some malabar fish curry that the boy absolutely adores, I do think its a good time to rethink my lifestyle choices. And dude, what the hell happened to competition?

- Labor Day - In the spirit of showing our solidarity with the workers of this great country, we went to the temple yesterday. The temple was to be our sole source of nourishment as we were sure that all our favorite restaurants would be closed for the day. Apparently not. Seems like workers in this great country celebrate labor day by actually turning up for work. Every store seemed to be open and doing excellent business. It was brought home to us poor wretched souls again(Excuse us, will ya? After all, we come from certain parts of the world where they celebrate May Day with loudspeakers all over the city singing praises of our comrades) that the state religion of this great country is neither socialism nor Christianity.

- Texas state history museum - So what if its just 500 years back? Its still history, right? I wasn't looking forward to the museum expecting it to be generally jingoistic with nothing of substance but I was pleasantly surprised. They have a decent number of exhibits and a wealth of information about Texas. I was finally able to find out who Sam Houston and Stephen Austin actually were! Maybe a longer post on Texas history some other time but I will say here that nothing seems to have changed over the centuries. The more things change, the more they are the same.

Well, just one history tidbit - Texas became a free republic in 1836(independence from Mexico) but in 1845, the new republic voted for annexation! To be part of the United States. The reason - an uncontrollable budget deficit. Which made us wonder whether the US will vote for annexation now. The People's Republic of the United States and China, maybe?

- The Constant Gardener - The movie is a visual treat. Beautifully shot, in the same style as the City of God. The cinematographer is pretty much assured of a nomination. My favorite NY Times reviewer has a great review of the movie here. Simplistic potrayal of third world issues, first world guilt, complicit governments, pharma companies and the rest, but it takes a clear stand and opens up avenues for discussion. And Mr. Fiennes looks as delicious as ever! Possibly the best mainstream movie that I have seen this year.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Falstaff raises an interesting question here - Is it legal to marry a library?

I am not entirely sure. Doesn't a library have hazaar number of books? So would that be polygamy then? Which ofcourse is illegal. So maybe one can marry one book at a time and then divorce it as soon as you are done with it and move on. But would you have to pay alimony then? And what if you are one of those people who actually want to have your old books around you so that you can re-read it whenever you want to?

Is this a public library that we are talking about where people pay to borrow books? In that case, doesn't a library become a prostitute then? Then a library should be in prison regardless, there is no question of one being able to marry it. On the other hand, if this is one's private library, one lends books to people all the time. Is spouse-swapping(one book at a time maybe) legal? Maybe. After all, we are talking of consenting adults here.

Most importantly, what does the Bible say about library-marriage? I don't rememeber anything specific but I would like to be sure. For all I know there will be major backlash against library-marriage and people might say that me(or anyone else) marrying my beloved library affects the sanctity of their marriage. I surely wouldn't want to destroy someone else's marriage.

All this is too confusing for moi. Might as well stick to the boy, you think?

Yeah yeah, Friday evenings are like that. Moi off to Austin, TX in a couple of hours. Do have a great weekend!

Not Acceptable

Relief efforts not acceptable, says Bush. Can someone tell this idiot that the relief efforts are his responsibility? And he cannot blame this one on non-existent WMDs in Iraq.

This is politically incorrect but what the hell? Why do I get the feeling that the relief efforts might have been atleast marginally better if the color of this tragedy was not black? And granted I don't watch TV but why is no one even talking about race here?

Can someone also tell the media to stop comparing this tragedy with those of the Third World? Last time I checked, when natural tragedies happened there, people did NOT roam around the streets with AK-47s killing other people.

Can someone tell Peggy Noonan to stop writing crap like this? - "One of the things that keeps us together, and that lets this great lumbering nation move forward each day, is the sense that we will be decent and brave in times of crisis, that the fabric holds, that under duress it is American heroism and altruism that take hold and not base instincts born of irresponsibility, immaturity and greed."

American heroism? American altruism? As opposed to what? Third World altruism?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Another Booker review, Blog Day et al

Yet another review from Falstaff; the man seems to believe in a book a day. Of Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black, he says, "It (Beyond Black) is a skilful, beautifully written novel with absolutely nothing to say." Hmm..don't think this is going to be next on my list. Here, go read the full review.

On an unrelated note, I wanted to blog about my five blog picks yesternight but didn't get around to it. Better later than never blah blah, so let me put them down today. No usual suspects, all except one on the list are relatively recent blogs that I came across in the past couple of months.

1. Curious Gawker - Onionesque, bashes Bush, has his heart in the right place especially since its on the left.

2. Falstaff - Poetry, more poetry, and a good dose of nonsense written extremely well. What more does one need?

3. Whats up with me and bloggers in Philly, you say? Here's someone closer to home then, a couple of miles down the road actually. Arguably the best of the Chicago bloggers, my favorite for sure - Chapati Mystery

4. Da Black Mamba - Eclectic, a dear friend and c'mon, even Falstaff doesn't quote Rilke on his blog.

5. Shameless self-promotion and some cross-selling as all my site stats keep telling me that there is very little overlap between the visitors of YL and the Bride blog. Also, while this is me, the Bride sometimes feels like a different person altogether. After all, she is the one getting married; I am so happy that I am not. So here's the Bride blog.