Friday, December 21, 2007

Of desire and regret

The first time I read this particular poem by Russian poet Vera Pavlova in the New York subway, it stayed in my mind because it reminded me of a little poster that used to be in my grandmother's house in Madras when I was growing up, stuck behind a glass cabinet, that went along the lines of:

The more you study, the more you learn
The more you learn, the more you forget
The more you forget, the less you learn
So why study?

Growing up, I used to think it was quite brilliant and very amusing, and my grandfather used to point to it and laugh whenever I said I had so much to study. I just found out (like right now, thanks to this glorious invention called the internet), that the person who wrote that was someone called Don Akchin. (Thanks, Don!)

And so, the first time I saw the lines below in the subway, I thought they were interesting because of the connect. But of course there is much more to it, in the philosophical sense - it is rather beautiful, I think. The New Yorker even published a set of four poems, of which this is one, by Pavlova earlier this year.

If there is something to desire,
there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret,
there will be something to recall.
If there is something to recall,
there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret,
there was nothing to desire.

- Vera Pavlova (b. 1963), translated from the Russian by Steven Seymour

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Birthday Gift

She sat thinking intently…
Where could she hide it?
Under the bed?
Or maybe in the kitchen cupboard –
He’d never wander there - did he ever?!!

It was special after all,
His birthday.

As he walked in the door rosy-cheeked from the cold,
She smiled at him happily, like a new bride.
‘Happy Birthday, darling’, she said – sang, almost.
She waited for him to wash his face (tap on - splash splash splash – tap off)
And as he turned around to face her,
She hugged him lovingly,
Her unwavering hand wrapped tightly around his moulded back.

Then she stood back and watched
As he looked at the darkening river flowing down his stomach.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Women are BAR none!!!

Good news for people in Delhi (specifically men!) - the Supreme Court has upheld the employment of women as bartenders in the Capital. Now that I come to think of it, I have never seen any female bartenders in India so far. Nice change in the offing.

Anything you can do, we can do better........

Or so say Claire Danes and Patrick Wilson in this Gap ad which is very hummable!!!:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The age conundrum

When you begin thinking of people born after 1984 as 'those kids' and people born between 1970-1980 as closer to your age, that's when you know you're on the wrong side of 25. Ugh!!!!

Must think more along the lines of 'Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.'

Now if only it was easy as the snap of a finger to just believe that!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hauntingly lyrical music....

....that stays in your head long after the last note is sung. Brilliantly utilising Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, son of legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, O Re Piya strikes just the right note - the qawwali feel underscores the unbelievably romantic lyrics. It's been a while since I've heard a song that uses the Indian orchestra - specifically the drums, so well.

Sit silently for a while, and listen. Let me know what you think.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

When you want something badly enough....

.......the entire universe conspires to make it happen. After a really crazy late night, I woke up suddenly at what I was soon to realize was 11.30 AM. My hazy addled brain remembered only one thing: that I was due to meet some friends in the city for the 12.20 PM show of Madhuri Dixit’s comeback film after six years – Aaja Nachle. Now, to get the rest of this story, you need to understand a few things: one, that I love dance, dancing and all it stands for. I love the spontaneity of moving to a song you love when you hear it out of the blue one day, the dedicated practice it takes to get a sequence right when you finally perform it on stage, the careful thought that goes into choreographing a dance for others. All of which I've done in the past. Two, the fact that I have grown up watching Madhuri in a scintillating array of roles, in most of which she was remarkably entertaining (and gorgeous): Radha in Ram Lakhan, Paro in Parinda, Anju in Kishen Kanhaiya, Madhu in Dil, Saraswati in Beta, Ganga in Khal Nayak, Nisha in Hum Aapke Hain Koun and finally Chandramukhi in Devdas, to name just a few. Add to this the fact that I sat and watched Karan Johar interviewing her (in five separate videos on YouTube) on Koffee With Karan the day before the film’s release, and you may JUST get why I really had to see Aaja Nachle.

So at 11.30 I woke up and said to myself ‘There is no way you’re going to make it on time, just forget about it and go later.’ Except I didn’t really believe it, I think, because with some slight nudging from the husband, who said that it was possible if I got ready in less than 10 minutes, I started thinking it was possible after all. 10 minutes is all it took for me to shower and change, and then I was out the door like a bullet. At the station, I heard the automated voice on the train say ‘Please stand aside, doors closing’ – at the head of a long set of stairs. I hurtled down and threw myself into the train just as the doors closed. The miracle here is that the train was still there by the time I negotiated those stairs, and the additional fact that on weekends that particular train only arrives at intervals of 15 minutes. So basically, if I hadn’t caught that train, I would really not have made it. Anyway, not end of story yet. I had to change trains. Yes. So 20 minutes later, I re-enacted hurtling myself down a separate set of stairs, through 2 turnstiles and into – yes into – yet another waiting train, whose doors duly closed as I threw myself in yet again. 5 minutes later, I was in the theatre. Now I knew I was safe, because it was just 12.19 or so….so after getting the ticket, I took the time to buy myself a large bottle of water and two hot dogs to get over my pretty large hangover. As I walked in and sat down next to my friends, the film started.

And that’s the story of how I got to watch Aaja Nachle.

Any review that I may write about the film is likely to be biased, so I will say this: I was completely entertained, I loved the songs and I loved the dance. Madhuri was as attractive as she was and considering she’s had two kids, as sexy as she was years ago. I also loved Kunal Kapoor (whom I’ve seen once in real life and he is so well-chiselled it’s amazing), Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Divya Dutta, Akshaye Khanna, Irrfan Khan and Konkona Sen Sharma. The film is well-edited, very funny in parts, and not overly dramatic – which it could have easily been. If anyone wants my opinion, I’d say go watch.


Friday, November 30, 2007

The Candles

The candles burnt slowly, painstakingly slowly, as if they were trying to slow time down, trying to tell her something.

The illumination in the darkness seemed eerie, almost. She never really feared the dark, but she didn’t like it either.

The wax bubbled down. She touched it lightly, burnt herself mildly, felt strangely comforted.

She looked up and said, ‘The séance is over.’

Animosity

They say that animosity breeds animosity.

He didn’t think so, obviously.

Stalking her every step.

Even though she’d made it clear

That she hated him.

8 years later, the stalking was less

The animosity more.

Finally he got tired of it – he grew

Up.

As he looked at her window one last time

She blew a kiss

Down.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

London or New York: or London AND New York?

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to London (I was visiting for the first time after I graduated there 5 years ago), and apart from the obvious nostalgia attack, was struck by the differences - and similarities - between London and New York. Here are a few of my thoughts:

- London is way more expensive than New York. Consider public transport. A one-way ride on the tube within Zone 1 only is GBP 4.00 (roughly US$8). One way. Compare that with New York's one-way fare of $2.00 (less than GBP 1.00) for travel as far as you like on the subway. I mean you can get on at the first stop and off an hour and a half later on the last stop of any subway train, and your fare is just $2.00. Whereas in London, your fare goes up exponentially as you travel further away from Zone 1, if your point of origin is Zone 1. If you live outside Zone 1 and travel from, say, Zone 3 to Zone 1, your fare will be more than travel from Zone 3 to Zone 4, for example. Plus, London charges you when you get out of a tube station as well, whereas in New York you just walk out - payment is only when you enter. I was trying to figure out the logic of this and the husband said it may be because people jump the barrier on their way in, so the authorities want to make sure they pay on their way out. That makes no sense to me because someone who jumps on the way in can do the same on the way out and be none the wiser for it, if you know what I mean. Of course, there are bobbies (British policemen) at every station and chances are no one will really be able to get away with something like that!!!

- London pubs close at 12 midnight and New York bars are open till the wee hours, which gives you way more options to go out in New York than London. Pretty much. Apparently London bars are allowed to stay open but they don't serve drinks after 12 and after my experience in one of those where we were shooed out and the doors shut soon after 12, I wondered why they were allowed to stay open if they didn't want to anyway. Of course, one has the option to go to other, more expensive (of course) bars, like the one in the Hilton. Which we did. But we were shooed out of there at 2 AM as well. That bar was dead at 1 AM and closed at 2...but apparently it is better on weekends when there is a crowd that stays till 4 AM....or so we were told. Of course I'm not even going to go into the price of drinks in London compared to New York. My advice to heavy-duty drinkers is to either get rich if you aren't already, if you want to go out in London, and if you're not, just buy some bottles and get friends to come home. Your eyes won't pop out of their sockets when you wake up the next morning and look at last night's bill, at the very least!!!!!

- London pisses down rain almost every day of the year. Of course anyone who's lived in London for even 2 days should know this by now. When I say 'piss', I mean piss. It's not heavy, and neither is it a typical drizzle which stops soon enough. It just - well - pisses down continuously. Like some lurking stalker who refuses to stop - ermmm - stalking. No anger, tantrums, nothing. Just complacent pissing down from the skies. It's not even heavy enough to warrant carrying an umbrella, in my opinion, which is all the more irritating!!

- People have less manners in London than New York. It was not uncommon to see people pushing and shoving to get in the tube, EVEN BEFORE PASSENGERS WERE ALLOWED TO DISEMBARK at the station.

- One advantage that the London tube stations have compared to New York's subway stations is that with the exception of the L train in New York, no other station shows the wait time for your next train. In London, as soon as you get there you can look up and see when your next train is and what stop it is going till. This allows you to plan your journey and makes you less inclined to keep peeping out into the tunnel to see when that shining light will come rolling along, as the husband does at New York subway stations every - oh - 30 seconds or so!!!!

- New York's subway system is 24 hours. London's tube stops at 1 AM, and then you have no choice but to be at the mercy of cab drivers who, obviously again, are not completely inexpensive. Enough said. All the more reason why my advice to get friends home should make even more sense now!!!

- One of my friends from London who has visited New York, called London's Piccadilly Circus a poor man's version of New York's Times Square. I am inclined to agree, but in clear conscience the first time I saw Piccadilly Circus I was as flabbergasted as I was when I saw Times Square for the first time. I realise now that the scales of the 2 cities are completely different, so saying that Piccadilly Circus is smaller than Times Square is obvious but not necessarily a criticism.

- London is more old-world than New York, silly as it sounds. London has less skyscrapers, more old buildings and therefore....perhaps more charm? I'm still deciding though.

- The British accent is way more appealing than the American. Period.

At the end of the day, London and New York are two of the most multicultural metropolises in the world. There were points where if I looked around, I could have been in either city, because Brits, Americans, Chinese, Indians - they are all pretty much in both cities. And any city is what you make of it with your friends and family, after all.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Movie dialogues that make me smile

Jerry Maguire: ........I live in a cynical world. Cynical world. I work in a business full of tough competitors .......I love you. You complete me. And I just....

Dorothy: Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at hello. You. had. me. at. hello.

Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire and Renee Zellweger as Dorothy Boyd, in Jerry Maguire (1996).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

There are days and then there are days

When it comes to deciding which of these is better.....

.....the gorgeously grey days with their miniscule-test-tube-size transparent drops of splattering rain and the wonderfully nostalgic aura they bring

.....or the dazzling days with azure skies, merrily-skidding cotton-ball clouds, green spikes of crisp grass and the God's-in-his-heaven-all's-right-with-the-world feeling THEY bring

......I am at a loss.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Freedom

What use is physical freedom if the mind is fettered?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mahindra IAAC Film Festival 2007

So, I'm working on this film festival at the moment. Anyone in New York, or anyone who knows anyone in New York - check out the fantastic line-up of films!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dark was the night

She stood upright, shocked at the sight of her hands. She couldn’t reconcile herself to the crimson shade that painted it that sinister hue. She never thought she’d see blood on her hands (pun intended). And she always thought blood was red, not this wicked shade of crimson. Wicked. Because that’s what it was. That’s what SHE was. She was wicked.

After all, what had that man done? She wasn’t even sure whether she’d have any supporters in a court of law. The man had simply taken her along a different route because there was too much traffic on the main road and her flight to Glasgow was in less than ninety minutes. Sure, it was a dark road and sure, there weren’t too many other people – or cars – on the road, though it was only seven in the evening. But he didn’t LOOK evil – and she usually had a feeling about people just by looking at their faces. No, really, she did. And most of the time, she was right. She was used to trusting her instincts, and her instincts didn’t wave a red flag when this mild-mannered old taxi driver came along. But then again, she hadn’t intended to let him take a side road either. It was just that she was desperate to make the flight on time, and he seemed a decent enough bloke….

She’d hailed the taxi to the airport after a long day at work. Work had been worse than usual that day – four meetings and two reports to hand in on a day when she could have used the extra time. Why, just yesterday she hardly had anything to do and left an hour ahead of her usual five o’clock clockout. Trust life to have its way of telling us that it is the master – and not the other way around. Anyway, her boss insisted that she complete all those tasks, so complete them she did, all the while her mind thinking of that flight she just had to make. She hated making these decisions – work or love. Love or work. Why couldn’t she just BE? Why didn’t she just let herself be, was more like it, she reminded herself. She’d chosen this life. She wanted to have her cake and eat it too. She wanted both work and love.

There was a crazy traffic jam on the way to the airport. Her mind was exhausted with the day’s work as it is, so when the driver said he could take her to the airport on time if he took another route, she just nodded tiredly. The road there was so crowded that she never expected this ‘alternate’ route to be so devoid of inhabitants of any sort. She closed her eyes as he took the next available turn off the main road, her mind already in Glasgow.

It was fine for the first ten minutes. They certainly were speeding along now, compared to the inching that they were doing just a few minutes earlier on the main road. She opened her eyes and realised that the road, surprisingly, was dark. It was the middle of the city, not far from the main highway, and it was dark. She didn’t understand it. She didn’t know, of course, that it was a new route the authorities had only recently commissioned to ease the traffic on the main road, and they were just about putting the finishing touches on it. It hadn’t been announced in the newspapers yet, but the road was open. Or at any rate, the driver knew it could be used. The one thing that remained to be done was to make sure the road-lamps were working.

As the car putt-putt-putted to a stop all of a sudden, her heart started beating loudly. She knew something was wrong. The driver gave a sigh and turned to her apologetically. Something was wrong with the car, he said. She responded irritatedly, already worried for herself – she knew ‘something was wrong’. Could it be fixed in five minutes? Because that’s all the spare time she had if she was going to make the flight. He said he’d have to see what the matter was. He switched the ignition off and on a couple of times, but nothing happened. By now, she was freaking out inwardly. She was alone, and the road was dark, and this had to happen. She almost laughed at herself. How could she have been such a fool? Was her life more important or getting to Glasgow? She swore that she would never ever let this happen again – as it is, she wasn’t the sort that let her guard down. Just this one time. But, as she told herself again, once is all it takes. Didn’t her mother tell her that all the time? Her parents. What would they do if anything happened to her?

The driver got out now and went to the boot. This was like some dumb horror flick she’d seen recently. What if there was someone in the boot? How would she have known? Aaaaaaaghhhh. She couldn’t believe what was happening to her. She had her phone in her hands. She started calling her best friend, knowing that was probably a smart thing to do at the moment. She also quickly looked around for something that could be used as a weapon. Nothing seemed to present itself, except her bag, and she wasn’t carrying anything that could be used for self-protection anyway. She’d read enough stories to know that the next step would help her situation, if she could do it on time. She reached over to the front and pressed the auto-lock button for the doors and windows.

The driver heard the click of course. He came round, and peered into her window. God, NOW he looked evil. She should have been more alert. He started shouting, but she couldn’t hear and didn’t want to hear what he was saying. She was beyond listening. Then he started getting angry, and tried punching the windows to get through. She heard a slight crack. He wasn’t tiny, even if she thought he’d had a mild-mannered face. Mild indeed. He succeeded on his second attempt. His fist went right through the window, tinged with that crimson shade she knew so well by now. She dropped the phone, her friend’s screams audible from the floor.

Before he could reach in and grab her or open the door, she picked up a broken shard of glass and brandished it in front of her. Then, in the blink of an eye, she thrust it into his face as he looked inside and began to speak. As he leaned back out, she picked up and threw another pointed sliver at him like a dagger, with the force that she’d gained from her year of kickboxing. Kickboxing wouldn’t help her now, as she was firmly ensconced in the car, but the practice could. And she made full use of whatever strength she had.

He fell, and then lay motionless. She got out of the car, looked at him, and then her hands.

Wicked…..

Suddenly, she saw a bright light coming towards her. She recognized it as coming from a pair of headlights. As the car approached, she waved it down. It stopped, naturally, because it was such a narrow road that the taxi and the body that eerily lay by it took up the entire width of it. A young man got out, a concerned look on his face. When he saw the body, with the glass weapon protruding like Excalibur from its stone, he looked at her, then bent down, took the taxi driver’s wrist in his hand, then put his ear to the taxi driver’s chest and listened for a heartbeat.

Pulling out a handkerchief from his pocket, he slowly removed the glass pieces, and then quickly stemmed the gush of blood with his handkerchief. The man still lay motionless. She couldn’t see and she didn’t know yet, but ever so slightly, he was breathing. Her ‘saviour’, as she mentally began referring to him, then asked her to help him lift the man into his car’s back seat. She wordlessly did this and then got in beside him in front.

In two minutes they reached the main road again, and they pulled in to a hospital. Her mysterious angel got the man into the emergency ward, where she was informed that he was still alive. Her thrust, powerful as it was, had not been right into his heart, and the glass dagger, as she now called it, was not as big as she thought it was. Her fear had just magnified it in her head. Her saviour walked towards her. She explained the whole thing to him, and he quite seriously said that she could have killed him, but her lack of experience (‘lack of experience’. She smiled to herself. For the first time in her life, she was glad she did not have the ‘experience’ needed of something. She remembered the numerous jobs that she’s been rejected for because of this same ‘lack of experience’) – her lack of experience had uncannily saved her from becoming a murderer. And luckily for her, he was a doctor himself – if it was just anyone who’d come to help her, they might have thought the driver was dead as well.

She sat down gingerly, letting it all seep into her head. She could have been a murderer. A murderer. She could have been put into jail for life. She looked up at her saviour gratefully, her eyes misting over.

Then she went to a nearby phone and calmly dialed Glasgow. She’d had enough of this long-distance relationship.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind....

Fog abounds this Fall morning. Surprisingly, it's not cold. I just went to get some milk and bread from the grocery store nearby and a groggy sun was trying to lift its head above the blanket. The water along the front twinkled even as the weak rays filtered through and tried to hit them with some inkling of force. Mornings, I always like to listen to mellow stuff. Makes me feel lazy but also very in-my-right-place.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Rise of the Music Surfer

What makes the latest Radiohead album In Rainbows stand out from the crowd - though I haven't even listened to it - is their record label and the price. Namely Zilch and Zero. Seriously. The album is available exclusively through their website, and what they are saying is this: pay what you want. Not very common for music albums, though I have heard of restaurants in India and elsewhere doing this sort of altruistic thing. Music label executives and producers are no doubt concerned, and didn't really expect Radiohead to pull this kind of a trump card out. What it says for the future of music can be read in this Time article.

As I've implied numerous times before, the only way to go from now is digital. Technology, yet again, shows its power.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gone nuts

...has blogrolling. Backwards spelt sentence.

No seriously, when such dormant bloggers as Sharad and Skepsi show a blinking 'Struck anew' next to their name, I know something's not quite right with the universe. For that matter, EVERYone on my blogroll suddenly shows hectic activity, so I know its some trick conjured up by the Masters of the Blogrolling Universe. That, or I've suddenly stepped into the Twilight Zone.

Tcheh!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

India @ 60

India is going all out to woo foreign tourists to India and improve the country's image abroad. Possibly the biggest range of events to bolster the 'India Shining' image, Incredible India@60, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry in collaboration with a host of other bodies, is currently in progress in New York. I was part of the inaugural ceremony on Sunday, and it was certainly a bang as far as the Americans were concerned. New Yorkers gathered around in curiosity as the nadaswaram and mridangam played loud and clear. A red carpet welcomed guests, with women in Indian garb on either side, as they moved into Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center to witness truly spectacular performances of traditional Indian dance forms - Odissi, Kathakali, Kathak, Mohiniattam, Bharatanatyam and Manipuri. The final performance included a fantastic jugalbandi of sorts, with all dance forms represented on stage at the same time. Madhavi Mudgal's Odissi dancers and the Kathak performers from Kathak Kendra in Delhi were genuinely remarkable. The Kathak dancers, especially, held the audience in sway as the bells on their feet chimed in perfect melody even as their minute and complicated foot movements were faultless, and their skirts twirled gracefully. The era of Umrao Jaan truly came back to life.

It is rather tragic that I had to witness something that is so quintessentially Indian after coming to New York. I've seen some of these dance forms in India of course, but not all together like this, and it was certainly worth watching.

Unfortunately, I can't praise the organisers. Tickets exceeded the auditorium's capacity, some people who received invitations were not allowed inside, and tickets meant for certain people were handed out to others. The Indian VIPs were there in full force though, from the Indian Ambassador in New York Ronen Sen, to Pranab Mukherjee, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Vayalar Ravi, Nandan Nilekani (whose foreign invitees, by the way, were not allowed inside as they didn't have their tickets on them), Rajat Gupta of McKinsey fame, Sunil Mittal, Sam Pitroda and film stars Shabana Azmi and Anil Kapoor. The press in India covered the event extensively but since they took all the trouble to organise this huge event, the CII would have done well to get a few international press representatives to cover it as well.

Still, as more than one American came up to me as an Indian, and said that day, 'Congratulations on your 60th birthday!', here's hoping that in the next 60 years India will truly become the country we all want it to be.

Tah-da!!!

Annndddd.... welcome to the Brand New Wanderings and Wonderings!!! A HUGE big Thank You to Graphic Designer Nerd for the new look, and for putting up with my zillion emails asking for minute changes to this and that. By the way Grafx, if 'nerd' means being this talented then I'd like to be a nerd too :-D

India: Outsourcing outsourcing?

The NYT has an article on developments in India's outsourcing capabilities. Interesting reading. US students are apparently rejecting Google for Infosys!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Perfection

If life were perfect, would it be worth living?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Happy Birthday Penny Lane!

It's very difficult when comments are switched off and you want to say something to a blogger. Anyway, in the search for a novel way to wish Penny Lane a happy birthday, I came upon this, and couldn't help but smile. Maybe Penny will smile too - Happy Birthday!

Do You Realize?

In 2002, the Flaming Lips came out with a song called 'Do You Realize'. Singer-songwriter Gretchen Lieberum has come out with her own version of it, featuring a plastic crown and a group of diverse Los Angelans, and shot with a used camera on a budget of $3000. Take a look.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Artist

‘Unnuda ponnu romba sowbhagyavathi ma’, the astrologer predicted, looking at her little daughter’s hand. Varalakshmi was thrilled. Aha. Oho. She’d given birth to a girl who would be the recipient of good luck. Who knew, maybe some of it would rub off on her, the mother, as well. Maybe she’d get an excellent job when she became an adult, earn lots of money and give her poor old mother some jewellery and pattu sarees every now and then. After all, she was the one who brought her into the world, illiya. Of course her daughter would be grateful, in addition to being lucky and intelligent and pretty and smart.

Then he added, in Tamil, ‘She is going to be an artist.’ Varalakshmi’s forehead filled with furrows as she wondered what art her daughter was going to be proficient at. She’d get the best bharatanatyam, classical singing and painting teachers for her immediately. The younger you teach them, the better, is what most people said. OK, so it wasn’t going to be a job that her daughter would excel at. Who wanted a job anyway? That Padmavathi Amma’s daughter went to her fancy office every day and look what happened? She married a Punjabi. They all had those big turbans on their heads all the time., and someone told her the men all had long hair! And some of them ate non-veg also. Ayyo! Good thing her daughter was going to be an artist. She would be a world-renowned bharatanatyam exponent maybe. Tour the world and be written about in the papers. And in her press conferences she would acknowledge the hard work her mother had put into making her the star she was. She would win awards and cash prizes. And she would get lots of pattu sarees and jewellery as gifts from her admirers which she would pass on to her mother because she wouldn’t need so many. Varalakshmi smiled proudly.

Yes, that’s what she would do. She had to find the best dance, music and painting teachers for her daughter immediately. There was no time to be lost.

Fifteen years later, Varalakshmi picked up the newspaper that the paper boy had thrown on their doorstep, as he had been doing for years now. She adjusted the glasses on her nose and read slowly.

'Con Artist makes away with jewellery worth Rs. 50 lakhs:
A female con artist succeeded in robbing a jewellery shop today in broad daylight. The woman had been alienated from her parents for the last two years and was living in a hostel in Mandaveli. Her mother, Varalakshmi, is a housewife….'

Varalakshmi fainted.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Umbrella Love

The door banged shut, forced to by a powerful gale that acted with invisible hands. She could almost picturise him – him as in Mr.Gale – a tall, brooding type with a cape and large-rimmed hat. She wasn’t quite sure why the gale should be a man, but with that kind of brute force let’s say she didn’t feel all that off the mark that blusterous morning.

Koshy’s was almost empty. There was just one couple sitting at the far end, it being the beginning of the week and a terrible morning at that. She was not as wet as she expected – her trustworthy raincoat had yet again lived up to its name. She extricated herself from the dripping coat and slunk into the closest table, because she wanted to be near the windows. Bad though the weather may have been, she still liked the romance of the rain. Call her a soppy fool – she didn’t care.

As she put her backpack down on the floor next to her, she suddenly noticed a funny little enamel face grinning at her. It was the handle of a colourful umbrella, shaped in a most unique way. Two things attracted her to it at once – first, the myriad of colours on it. She liked most umbrellas that were any shade of anything but black. She hated the boring old black umbrellas. They made her want to scream – everyone and their brother had one, and it was boring, boring, boring. Just not her. She didn’t even own an umbrella, preferring the convenience of a raincoat, but if she did then it would most certainly not be black. That much she knew. So the colorful umbrella endeared itself to her on sight. Then of course there was that handle – that weird little grin. Colourful umbrellas were not that uncommon, but one with a face? Now that she hadn’t seen too many of.

She placed an order for a cup of hot chocolate, and began to examine the umbrella. Whose could it be? And had he or she just left after breakfast or was it a remnant of a boisterous get-together at the restaurant the previous night? And where, oh where had they got the umbrella from? She decided she’d go and buy one exactly like that if she ever found out.

The rain continued to pour across the window-pane, tiny little rivulets blurring the scene outside. She counted them slowly, but soon tired of the exercise. There were too many of them. She turned her attention back to the umbrella and decided to ask the waiter about it. He’d know. Her hot chocolate made its appearance a few minutes later, and she immediately asked the waiter whether he knew whom it belonged to. The waiter looked at it, smiled, and said that it belonged to a regular customer, who’d probably forgotten it when he left after his coffee less than an hour ago. He said he’d make sure it would be returned to its owner, and asked for it so he could keep it safely till the owner came by again.

She was just about to hand it over when she looked at the funny face once more and asked whether she could look at it a bit longer since she thought it was so attractive. The waiter smiled again. He knew her also well, after all. He agreed, and left her to finish her hot chocolate in peace.

Just then, the door banged again. She looked up, and noticed a rather intelligent-looking young fellow in a Che Guevara T-shirt and soaking jeans enter the restaurant. Her mind raced. Could it be him? She saw him walk to the waiter. Should she do what she was thinking? She didn’t know. Her drink stood there untouched.

She decided to go for it. She rummaged in her purse quickly, withdrew some money, put it on the table, grabbed her things and ran out.

In her hand, a funny little face gleamed.

Good news for New York Times loyalists

The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its site, (the Times Select articles), effective today.

Apparently they underestimated the number of visitors to their site that were being driven through Yahoo!, Google and other search engines. These users are less likely to pay to view articles than regular NYT loyalists, and the paper didn't want to lose out on the opportunity to generate more online revenue and page views.

Another one bites the dust. Long live online advertising - ha ha.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Innocence lost

Kadala, salty and sandy,
In paper cones like the upturned hats of clowns
Thrust into waiting hands,
Little waiting hands
Crunched and swallowed in minutes.

The young married couple sitting nonchalantly,
Enjoying their moments of togetherness in solitude.
Chubby-cheeked cousins playing -
Making sand-castles?
The older few walking and talking seriously -
About communism?

Neenu stood unerringly tall, like – oh, like the stately Big Ben (she liked Big Ben),
Her little poetic mind admiring the setting sun
As it sunk slowly beneath the rippling water in the horizon.
Describing the beauty of the scene to herself in hushed whispers -
She couldn’t wait to transcribe the image
To her prized diary (for her eyes only).

Then her married cousins shouted:
What are you doing standing there alone?
This is Kerala. People are looking at you.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The caste saga in India

When I was a student in India, I distinctly remember a certain practice in my school that grated on my young nerves whenever it presented itself before me. It was the requirement in my school's admission form (and a few other forms) of disclosing the caste of the student. I knew jack squat about caste then, at all of 12 years - my previous years of education having been outside the country. Through the next few years of my education there, it came up a couple of times more in different application forms and each time I would blink in a concentrated manner for a few minutes as I looked at the blank that followed that seemingly innocuous word : 'caste'.

I even remember a particular incident where one of my rather intelligent classmates proudly said that she belonged to the Backward Caste (or BC), and that therefore it would be easier for her to gain admission into medical school (She did get a seat). My point though, is that she was smart, so she should have probably got in anyway. Another friend, belonging to the so-called 'forward caste', whose parents had connections in the government, got her a fake certificate stating that she belonged to a backward caste to make her admission into college easier.

The issue didn't really affect me as I wasn't one of those who intended to study medicine or engineering, which was where the issue of caste really held sway over whether you got into college or not. But there was a point where many people were faking certificates and the like to stand a better chance of admissions into college, and I just didn't understand it. No, seriously. Call me an idiot or whatever but I found it ridiculous that people were resorting to things like that. I shouldn't have, I suppose, because I know now that it is certainly not uncommon in India. Plus, when I went to get admission into an arts and science college myself, I found that a certain number of seats HAD to go to students from a particular caste, and so on and so forth, and the issue of reservation for students from particular castes was very much prevalent there as well. If I was looking for immunity, I was disappointed because I certainly didn't find it there.

Of course, controversies will always surround the issue of reservation, and I think it is difficult to come to a 'one-fits-all' solution. To anyone who knows India's history, it wasn't a bad move to introduce reservations in India. Some truly deserving students belonging to SC's and ST's do benefit from reservation, without a doubt. My friend who got into medical school, for example, is doing an M.D at Harvard now. If she did not belong to a BC, it is possible that she may not have got into medical school in India in the first place, and a good doctor would have been lost then and there. But the reverse is also true,which necessarily means that sometimes, some deserving non-SC/ST students lose out on seats as well.

Anyhow, what started me off on this topic was this article I read today that says that the Supreme Court has decreed that schools cannot compel students to disclose caste. Interestingly, a PIL filed by someone from Tamilnadu who sought a complete ban on caste-disclosure forms in schools, was dismissed by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it would create problems for those who wanted to avail of free scholarships and other benefits.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

'Gifted' - A Review

Gifted
Nikita Lalwani
Random House
288 pages
September 2007

A quick reading of the synopsis of ‘Gifted’ doesn’t make the reader think there is anything terribly exciting or unique to expect from it. Probably one of the best examples of the adage ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ in recent times, ‘Gifted’ follows Rumi Vasi as she is carefully molded by her father to become one of the youngest students ever to attend Oxford University. This is Lalwani’s first novel, much of it, as she claims, written at Bath Spa University in the UK where she pursued an MA in Creative Writing. And what an impressive first attempt it is.

Set in Cardiff, Wales, where Lalwani was raised, Rumi is the first-born of Mahesh and Shreene Vasi, typical Indian immigrants who make the UK their home in search of that elusive goal of a better future. Mahesh is a lecturer at the University of Swansea, a post that he earned after he gained his PhD at Cardiff. We learn that he ended up in Cardiff despite his admittance into Cambridge and University College London, because, very simply, ‘they had offered the cash. They had wanted him here, a foreigner with no more than five pounds in his pocket and a slip of a wife, bare-toed and shivering.’

Rumi is made to follow a highly disciplined and regimented schedule from the age of five, after a visit from her teacher who proclaims that the precocious young girl is a ‘gifted mathematician’. This is reinforced after her first visit to India with her mother, when an astrologer who looks at her hand says that it is the hand of a genius. Mahesh never lets her slip under his supervision, and her closest friends become the numbers that she starts continuously linking together in her mind in permutations and combinations.

As Rumi enters her teenage years, her life becomes full of the contradictions that a child of her upbringing is wont to endure. Shreene, always unhappy that her husband decided to settle abroad when she wanted to return to India, is not the ‘coconut’ that her husband is (‘brown on the outside, white on the inside’). Rumi’s knowledge of India comes from her mother’s anecdotes about her life in India as a young girl and her love for Hindi films, which Mahesh allows the family to watch only once in a while, to ensure that Rumi’s English is not affected. Shreene is the typical Indian conservative mother – when Rumi asks whether, as she was taught in science, she was born through sexual intercourse, Shreene flies into a rage and then calms down enough to say that she was born through prayer, because ‘only white people have sex’.

Amidst all the turmoil that the young Rumi is going through, Mahesh’s grand plan finally yields fruit. Rumi, not yet fifteen, is admitted to Oxford. There, thrown into an adult world, Rumi finally rebels.

Lalwani’s writing is truly descriptive - the reader feels Rumi’s angst and confusion at every point, and the connection only grows as the book finally reaches its climax. The finale is built-up like a difficult jigsaw puzzle , the small pieces all falling into place one by one before the complete masterpiece is revealed.

A few years ago, I assisted a documentary film-maker in India on one of her short freelance projects. Imagine my surprise when I found out that three years later, that same person had written a book which was deemed worthy of being in the 2007 Man Booker longlist.

The book is ‘Gifted’, and the author, Nikita Lalwani.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pangea Day

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from those worlds. Since then, its scope has become broader.

The TED prize is designed to leverage the TED community's exceptional array of talent and resources. It is awarded annually to three individuals who each receive $100,000 and, more importantly, the granting of one wish to change the world.

The video below heralds the launch of Pangea Day, called for by 2006 TED Prize winner Jehane Noujaim. Pangea Day will basically tap the power of film to strengthen tolerance and compassion around the world. On May 10, 2008 - Pangea Day - sites in New York City, Rio, London, Dharamsala, Cairo, Jerusalem and Kigali will be video-conferenced live to produce a 4-hour program of powerful films, supplemented by exceptional speakers and great musicians.

If anyone reading this is a film-maker, you should think about submitting a project for Pangea Day. Even otherwise, the site is worth a look.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The song of the seasons

The seasons were changing. She could feel the nip in the air, ever so slight, that heralded the beginning of Fall. It was Fall when she first set foot in this country, all those years ago. Most people she spoke to liked Fall. They said they liked the colors - the slow change of the falling leaves as they turned from parrot green to sunflower yellow to russet red and then fell, chocolate brown. Lifeless. But what she liked was the crunching of the leaves beneath her feet when she walked among the trees. She liked the way they dropped down suddenly, making her let out a surprised breath. She liked the paper-like noise and the softness of the ground beneath the spread of brown. There was no Fall back in India. No real color-changing of the leaves, at least not in the metropolises she was used to. Delhi of course had a pseudo-Fall - the weather used to have that by-now-familiar nip in September and October, but that was it.

Soon, winter would come. It would be cold and gloomy for days on end. But winter here also meant Christmas was approaching. She loved Christmas, and the fairyland lights strung up everywhere, making her world seem like a dream. She even liked the snow, though it meant that heater of hers would need turning on after all those months of silence. Snow wasn't always pretty though - she liked the drip-drip-drop flakes but she disliked the dirty slush - again in the cities mainly. She sighed. The cities - those agglomerations of people, multitudes and multitudes of them. She hated them and loved their throbbing pulses at the same time.

She moved on to spring....

Just then, the doorbell rang, its familiar sing-song tone announcing his arrival. He was home. She shook herself out of her reverie, gave one last longing look at the ant-people scurrying about 40 floors below her and slid the window shut.

Most Earth Shattering Collaboration 2007 - for the guys again!

Watch this video to learn who won Most Earth Shattering Collaboration at the 2007 MTV Music Awards last week. For a clue, I featured the winning video on my blog in March this year!

Polygamy in the US

Extremely interesting - I just read about this polygamous sect in the US which straddles Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. Members of the sect believe that to reach eternal salvation, men are supposed to have at least three wives. The polygamous settlement is largely controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and allies of its jailed prophet, Warren S. Jeffs, who is about to stand trial on charges of sexual exploitation. Nearly all of the 6,000 residents follow the dictates of Mr. Jeffs, who they believe speaks for God; women wear ankle-length dresses, and children are taught to run away from outsiders.

This is the USA, by the way. Not Iran. Or some country from the Middle Ages that no longer exists.

This country, as always, is fascinating. First a Festival for Virgins, and now a Polygamous Sect which casts boys of 15 out because they like to watch movies like (OhmiGod) 'Die Hard'. By the way, if anyone has doubts, the US has not legalized polygamy. I don't know how this sect continues to exist, though.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Watching the King of Tennis

Being at the 2007 U.S.Open was a great experience. It was a psychotically hot day but I could feel the buzz, especially when Roger Federer walked onto Center Court. He plays so effortlessly, it almost makes you think he isn't even trying. The husband calls him an alien, because he doesn't exhibit 'human qualities'. I beg to differ. The man excels at his sport. That doesn't come without years of hard work, discipline and dedication.

And to think he is my age.

He won $2 million at the U.S.Open - plus a Lexus. Peanuts for him, possibly. I'm wondering now when he will start slowing down. Not anytime soon, by the looks of it!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Brain surgery

Thoughts fell over one another
Jostling to be first in line
She was confused.
Within the narrow physical confines of her mind
There was only so much that could fit -
Or was there?

Like butterflies unfettered
In a meadow bursting with joy
Boundaryless,
She knew her thoughts couldn’t be tamed –
Didn’t want to be.

‘You can’t do this’
Or ‘You mustn’t do that’
Why not? Why?
Her life was hers, as much as the thoughts were.
She pushed the misty window open

And let a decisive breath open her up.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

India steps up - economics for kids

I wrote about my visit to the Federal Bank of New York a few months ago. They publish comic books to teach children about money and banking, and I went through a few displayed copies when I visited. The comics are given free for classroom use, are fun and easy for kids to read. I think that they are a great way to teach children about money and have wondered why India can't have books like that too.

Looks like they read my mind. The RBI has just come out with its first comic book, called 'Raju and the Money Tree', to do exactly that. It's also free, and is even available online. But India's problems are different from that of the US, and the comics can help in other ways, as Regional Director of the RBI, Delhi, H.R.Khan says:

About 61 per cent rural and 40 per cent urban population is still out of the formal banking system. With the growing worry about ‘financial exclusion,’ a dire need was felt to increase financial literacy of laymen and make them aware of banking.

And yes, they are being published in 13 regional languages also - including Hindi, Oriya, Assamese, Bengali, Urdu and Tamil. More books are in the pipeline — on basic banking, rural poor, urban poor, electronic based no-frills accounts, currency and the RBI as a monetary authority.

I am immensely proud. Whatever anyone else may say, better late than never.

From riches to rags

.....and not the other way around. I haven't seen too many news stories like this, though it probably isn't such a rare occurrence. Geetanjali Nagpal, a former model who used to walk the ramp with the likes of Sushmita Sen, is on the streets. A graduate of Lady Sriram College in Delhi, she took to drugs after the peak of her career in the 90's, and things spiralled downwards from there. Scary. I feel sorry for her. You can see a CNN-IBN video here.

Being on The Rachael Ray Show

So this was a proper indoor studio shoot. Recorded, not live, like my outing to Good Morning America's studio last week. Apparently they had 110,000 audience applications for the first 3 weeks of shooting the new season, so a big Thank You to my friend N who got tickets and passed them on to me.

First, Rachael Ray rocks. The warm-up guy, comedian R.C Smith (they actually have a guy whose job it is to entertain the audience in between shots), did say that if we hadn't been on any other show before then we wouldn't want to after being on Rachael Ray, and he wasn't lying. It was super fun. I got there huffing and puffing like a crazy maniac (I always have stories, don't I), pushed as I was to run for close to twenty minutes non-stop amid the busy New York streets, to make sure I got to the studio on time. And I just made it, because they started admitting people soon after I joined the queue. Mandatory security check complete, we went up to the waiting room where we were provided free food and coffee. Then we were herded inside the studio, which was colorful and swanky. It was divided into three parts - the kitchen, a garden area and a sort of lounge area. The best part was definitely the rotating lazy susan on which the audience chairs were fixed, so we were turned around to face whichever part of the studio the shot was being taken in, without having to move a muscle.

They were shooting segments of two separate episodes yesterday. Both had celebrity guests, and we were kept in the dark as to who they were. The first was Valerie Bertinelli (the lady who comes in the Jenny Craig ads), and of course she was on the cooking segment. Rachael and her look a lot alike - seriously, they could be cousins, as she said, and they spoke about her weight loss with Jenny Craig and her son Wolfgang's impending tour with Van Halen (she is married to guitarist Eddie from the band). They did unexpected things like burning a pair of Valerie's old size 14 jeans in a barbeque grill so that she wouldn't go back to her old weight ever again (if that works, I should try burning my old clothes too - ha ha ha!!!), and Rachael made a yummy-looking turkey bacon burger with onion rings in the Barbie-type kitchen. (When I say Barbie-type, I mean an orange stove and an electric blue fridge, for starters!).

The second celebrity guest (and this was definitely the most memorable part of my trip to the studio) was....was.....WAS....DANIEL RADCLIFFE!!!! No kidding. Harry Potter in all his sixteen-year-old glory. He was rather cute, very British and I couldn't believe I was seeing him!!! Rachael is a lovely conversationalist, and got him to speak about his take on a lot of interesting things:

on the fame, post-Harry Potter:
Rachael: How is it being so famous?
Daniel: It's just great, really.
Rachael: Thank God he's not like other stars who pretend to hate the fact that they're famous!

...his experience working on the upcoming 'December Boys', shot in Australia:
Daniel: I'd been to Australia a few times and just love the country, so shooting there was fun. Except it was in this rural part of Australia, an island called Kangaroo Island, and after living in London all my life it was such a change. I think Australia is my favourite country apart from England, sorry!! (this to the audience, referring to America of course!)

...his experience acting in a nude scene for his London stage debut in 'Equus':
Rachael: What was it like shooting that? Did you enjoy the whole thing or was it weird to have so many people watch you?
Daniel: I couldn't have done it if I was in America because you aren't allowed to shoot nude scenes if you are under sixteen, but of course London doesn't care about all that! It was weird, being watched by so many people.

Rachael: What is the weirdest thing a fan has ever done?
Daniel: Well when I was doing the nude scene, there was this one person who picked up my boxers from the corner of the stage where I'd taken them off, and just legged it!
__________________

Yeah. It was quite cool. Rachael Ray herself is cute as a button and seems to be quite a nice person. No attitude or anything. I guess if you have a talk show, you have to be personable! We got free boxes of sweet potato cookies, which weird as they sound, actually tasted quite nice. And then of course there were the games where R.C.Smith picked on random members of the audience and asked them questions and gave them goodie-bags. He was good, a really funny guy.

I'm glad THAT's been crossed off my to-do list. Being part of audience on American TV show - indoor and outdoor - done. :-)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Weekend song: Sunday Morning

Beautiful sunny day, lazy feel, relaxing at home. All I want is nothing.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Forbes list: The World's 100 Most Powerful Women

I was going through the list and noted a few interesting things:

1. Indra Nooyi, Chairperson and Chief Executive of PepsiCo (No.5) and Vidya Chhabria, Chairperson, Jumbo Group (No.97) are listed as being from the U.S and U.A.E respectively. Chhabria is credited as being 'originally from India' in an article linked to the list.

2. Sonia Gandhi, the only representative from India, is listed as 'President'. Not President of the Congress Party, but President full stop.

3. Diane Sawyer, co-anchor of 'Good Morning America', whom I saw a couple of days ago, comes in at No.62.

4. Compared to India's one candidate, China has five, and the U.S fifty.

Intrigued, I found out the basis for the ranking system:

Our ranking system starts with a list of women who have crossed certain thresholds. Most of them run companies, governments or nonprofits, or are very close to the top. A handful have established power bases in other ways (an entertainment entrepreneur, a judge and an author have been on the list). The power ranking score is based on a composite of visibility (measured by press citations) and economic impact.

The latter, in turn, reflects three things: résumé (career achievements and titles, so a prime minister counts as more powerful than a senator); the size of the economic sphere over which a leader holds sway; and a multiplier that aims to make different financial yardsticks comparable. For example, a chief executive is assigned the company's sales in the economic impact calculation, while a foundation executive is assigned the foundation's assets. The assets get a higher multiplier than sales.

Emphasis in bold mine. So does this mean that countries where the press is not as active as in others will render the achievements of women in that country less worthy? As for the second sentence I emphasized in bold, that explains why there are fifty women from the U.S in the list, I suppose.

A son remembers his mother, I remember an icon

Ten years ago, there was a tremendous outpouring of grief across the world when a vivacious, attractive woman died in a car accident. She was known as the 'The People's Princess', and often used her magnetism to spread the word about the menace of landmines. She was also one of the first high-profile people to be photographed touching a person with AIDS, way back in 1987. As Bill Clinton said "It helped change world's opinion, and gave hope to people with AIDS."

She got married to the heir to the British throne the same year I was born, and as we were in the very country that happened, quite a few of the souvenirs my parents brought back when they returned to India were things that had her face on them. I can't remember where I saw the extensive TV coverage of her wedding years later, but I still remember the long trail of her white veil as she walked down the steps of the church. 25 feet it was, apparently. And she was all of 20. She didn't have a very happy life, but she made sure her two sons never saw much of that. She did what I believe all mothers do. In her son's words,

"She kissed us last thing at night. Her beaming smile greeted us from school. She laughed hysterically and uncontrollably when sharing something silly she might have said or done that day. She encouraged us when we were nervous or unsure."

In 1997, I was still in school. It was a holiday - the weekend, I believe - and I saw the coverage on TV early in the morning, as news flowed in about her accident. Hours later, when her death was confirmed and the bouquets started mounting up outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, I still wasn't sure why I was sad.

As I type this now, ten years later to the day, I think I know why. Despite the intense media scrutiny of almost every movement she made, every haircut she had, every outfit she wore, she was also very normal. Just like you and me. She wanted to be. She was pretty and personable. The people loved her for who she was. They felt they were a bit like her. I felt like I was a bit like her.

May her soul rest in peace.

The future is NOW!

How many of you have seen the Michael J.Fox multi-part movie, 'Back to the Future'? Well , looks like we, residents of the Earth circa 2007, are already in it. The future, I mean. A Californian company has actually made the very thing I thought would make our world like the one in 'The Jetsons'. Which, incidentally, is a cartoon show I used to thoroughly enjoy as a kid. I probably would if I saw it again now!

But back to what I was talking about : Flying cars are here already.

I'll see you at Space Stop 9876 tomorrow. Provided, of course, you have the $90,000 needed to buy yours. Let me go the bank to check about that loan.... :-D

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Good Morning America!

Which nut wakes up at 5 a.m to do something that is not work-related?

Me.

Nice to meet you.

For one of those few times in my life, luck decided to favour me and I was selected to be part of 'Good Morning America', ABC's daily morning news show, yesterday morning. So if I had to get up at 5 a.m, then so be it! After reaching Times Square at 6 a.m and getting pissed off with the sidey characters who made random comments at me (6 a.m!! Eve-teasers need to get a life. The sun hadn't even risen yet), I was allotted to the group that was going to be in the audience for the 'Dancing for the Stars' segment on the show. Being part of the television audience for an American TV show is supposed to be one of those things that one must do if they get a chance (or so I'd been told - see, I'm a sucker for all these things!). The show tapes 7-9 a.m, but our segment went on around 8 a.m, prior to which there were a couple of trial runs in a little cement island in the middle of busy Times Square, which is where the segment was to be shot.

For those of you who are not familiar with 'Dancing with the Stars', it is one of those reality shows that pits famous people against each other in a dancing competition. I think it's one of the most-watched reality shows in the US, second of course to the all-pervasive 'American Idol'. Yesterday's show had some hot salsa dancers to showcase the programme, and the co-hosts of the show, Tom Bergeron and Samantha Harris (who had some of the younger members of the audience screaming and fervently asking for autographs and photos) revealed the participants for next season.


So, what was it like being there? First, the show taped outside, so there was none of the 'ooohhh I'm in a TV studio with real sets' kind of feeling. Second, all that was seen of me by the one person I know who watched the show, was me waving and screaming enthusiastically, standing on the top row of bleachers right behind Diane Sawyer (the anchor of the show) and the sexy-looking co-hosts. I'd only ever seen posters of Sawyer with her fellow anchors while riding on the subway - never really watched her on TV before, but she was all made-up and gave the air of 'I know I'm important', if you know what I mean. But with the sexy-looking Bergeron and Harris there, not to forget the salsa dancers (pictured above) who's going to look at the audience?!!! Anyway, anyone who knows me will probably vouch for the fact that if ever 'enthusiastic' people are needed, I can be counted on to pep up the atmosphere. Earned me the not-so-attractive nickname of 'enthu-pat' in college (short for 'enthu-pattani', translatable as 'enthusiastic pea' - whoever came up with it is DUMB!!!!!).

But (and there always is a but, pardon the pun), just being in Times Square at that hour was sort of surreal. The lights and billboards never stop flashing in all their glory, and I'm a fan of the bright lights - not just the billboards but the studio lights as well. It's all so exciting, and heck, I'm not a filmstar!!! :-D

The hot salsa dancers and the hot judges were worth it, in any case. The Johnny Cash-inspired soundtrack for the show which they played in between had the salsa dancers (and me) snapping their fingers, and was fun too.

So, yeah, an experience to smile about as I reminisce when I'm older, that's for sure!

Monday, August 27, 2007

'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' - A Review

My review of Mohsin Hamid's 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' which appeared here last week:

The politics of the Middle East and South Asia and the relationship of the United States with many of the countries in the region have been fodder for many journalistic articles and fictional books in the past. Post-9/11, the happenings in the region have taken on an even larger significance and consequently spurred a huge onslaught of writing by contemporary authors. Released earlier this year, it was only natural then that I was keen on reading Mohsin Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, a book that many people I know kept talking about. The word on the street was that it was quite riveting.

I’m going to burst the bubble right here and say up front that I was slightly disappointed. I have not read Hamid’s first work, ‘Moth Smoke’ which was a Betty Trask Award winner, a PEN/Hemingway award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, but I will say that ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ certainly is a book that started out with a lot of promise, but faltered somewhere along the way. In today’s political climate, it had the potential to resonate much more strongly than it eventually did.

Hamid has chosen for his style of writing the first-person narrative, which is very courageous. There are not many books that immediately come to mind that are written in the first person – Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ is one that came to me after some thought – and while it is a powerful tool in immediately engaging the reader, the writer also risks losing his attention equally fast if he is not crystal clear with his thoughts, because there is no opportunity to clarify what he means. It’s like being in a class where the professor does not allow you to ask questions, even if you don’t quite get bits of the lesson. In this story, the one-way conversation is between Changez (pronounced ‘Chun-gays’, the Urdu word for Genghis), a young Princeton-educated Pakistani who chooses to return to his home country following the turmoil that he is thrown into after the World Trade Center bombings in New York, and a nameless, voiceless American visitor, as they sit in a restaurant in Lahore one evening.

Changez, the product of a once-rich Lahori family that enjoyed elite status in the city, sails across the seas to study at Princeton University in the US. He is the beneficiary of a scholarship – but he tries to hide this from his fellow schoolmates as he feels it betrays the fact that he once used to belong to their class – a social class that can afford to pay their fees at the elite university they attend. He is at the end of his four-year undergraduate degree in 2001 when he begins his story, and goes on a trip with a group of friends to Greece before he starts his first job with Underwood Samson in New York, an extremely competitive valuation firm that he is fortunate to be selected to join. During the trip, he falls in love with Erica, a fellow Princetonian and a budding writer with problems of her own. As New York comes together in the aftermath of 9/11, Changez is forced to face the doubts that lurk in his mind over the happenings in his home country and the increasing possibility of a war with India, as well as the inaction of the US with respect to Pakistan. He finally throws up all he wanted – his well-paying job, the security and status it offered, and returns to Pakistan, even as he is not wholly convinced that what he is doing is right.

The book is not so much a novel as a novella – there is an interesting reference to Erica’s writing in the story which is an accurate reflection of this book itself, of how the novella is a ‘platypus of a beast’ – and ultimately this was perhaps its undoing. With a little more exploration of the theme – the book clocks in at just 184 pages – Changez’ character could have been developed better, and that would have made for a smoother flow of the story. All along, all we see is the confusion in Changez’ mind. He truly is constantly reluctant, as the book’s title asserts. But his evolution into a so-called fundamentalist is less evident. Given the political atmosphere in the US, it is understandable why he felt the eyes of suspicion, being a brown-skinned South Asian. But why did he suddenly feel pushed to make his ethnicity so evident – going so far as to grow a beard, and invite attention? There wasn’t much explained about Changez’ views on Afghanistan and American intervention there, but he was clearly against India and lack of American intervention there – so where exactly was his anger against the US coming from?

On the positive side, Changez’ romance with Erica was sensitively written and that bit of the story, not what one would typically expect. Hamid’s knowledge of the corporate world also comes in handy when he writes about Changez’ experience at Underwood Samson (Hamid worked at McKinsey & Company in New York for a while, after obtaining degrees from Princeton and then Harvard). All in all, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a book that is worth a read, but that will in all likelihood leave you with unanswered questions in your mind when you finish.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lager Beer

To my Ol' Faithfuls who visit here:
I dedicate this poem to the husband dear
Whose drink of choice
- Thankfully not a vice -
Is (for those who still want to ask)
Lager beer, brewed in a cask.

I should be a poet, no?!!! OK, fine, NO!!!

__________________________


Lager Beer

- Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

I lafs und sings, und shumps aroundt.
Und somedimes acd so gueer.
You ask me vot der matter ish?
I'm filled mit lager peer.

I hugs mine child, und giss mine vife.
Oh, my dey was so dear;
Bot dot ish ven, you know, mire friend,
I'm filled mit lager peer.

Eleetion gomes, I makes mire speech,
Mine het it vas so glear:
De beoples laf, und say ha, ha,
He's filled mit lager peer.

De oder night I got me mad,
De beoples run mit fear.
De bleeceman gome und took me down
All filled mit lager peer.

Next day I gomes pefore de judge,
Says he, "Eh heh, you're here!"
I gives you yust five-fifty-five
For trinking lager peer.

I took mine bocket book qvick oud,
So poor I don't abbear;
Mine money all vas gone, mine friend
Vas gone in lager peer.

Und den dey dakes me off to shail,
To work mine sendence glear,
Und dere I shwears no more to be
Filled oup mit lager peer.

Und from dot day I drinks no more,
Yah, dat is very gueer,
But den I found de tevil lifed
In dot same lager peer.

What Happened To Us?

Dan Perjovschi, Bucharest-based contemporary artist, concludes his first site-specific installation in the United States at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this weekend. I've been to see it a couple of times. On one level, as the husband will insist on saying, it is just a series of random cartoonish scribblings, the kind you or me used to do on the last page of our notebooks in school. Well, maybe not me, but my more artistic friends probably did! Anyway, it is a satiric reflection of American society, and even more generally modern society today, and some of his cartoons are amusingly profound. You can see a printable version of the installation here, (seriously, go through it and tell me what you think!) and watch Perjovschi as he installed it in MoMA and explained his work here:

Pornographers are not bad

I bet THAT blog title made you sit up and take notice - !! Anyway, as opposed to what SOME of you might have thought, this isn't a dirty post. Sorry. You, you and you, please take your business elsewhere :-D

I chanced upon the name of The New Pornographers , a Vancouver, British Columbia-based indie band somewhere this morning on the web, and curiosity led me to their site. The name for the band is assumed to reflect a quotation by televangelist Pentecostal preacher of the 80's, Jimmy Swaggart, who once called music the new pornography (Seriously, what random facts one learns every day!).

This music video of theirs features an unexpected twist, and the music itself is quite decent. Ah. I feel happy when I unearth new artists like this.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Attack of the Rat!!!!


I still don't know the significance of this massive rat on Sixth Avenue in New York (it's been looming above pedestrians in the same spot for a month now). I don't know if it has anything to do with the fact that there are apparently three rats for every human in NYC! EEEYYEEEWWW!!!

Photograph credit: Me!

The Devil Came on Horseback

‘The Devil Came on Horseback’ is not an easy film to watch. Documentaries in general run the risk of being pedantic, in my opinion, but that is not the reason why this particular film will be difficult to digest. For me, maybe it was the images of the rotting corpses, the dried blood, the burning villages and the images of the truly evil-looking militia, or janjaweed, who killed civilians in cold blood. Or maybe it was the jarring knowledge at the back of my mind that what I was viewing was not fiction or special effects, but actual images of death and devastation caused by people - not hundreds of years ago, but today. The same world in which I live myself, unharmed and untouched by the savagery on screen. Roughly translated from Arabic, janjaweedmeans ‘man with a gun on horseback’, but in the film we are told that it means ‘devil on horseback’, and hence the title.

I will be honest and say that prior to watching the film, my knowledge of the happenings in the Darfur region of Sudan was rudimentary at most. I’d seen bits and pieces of articles in newspapers or events that publicized savedarfur.org, but that was about it. This film, with footage shot by former US Marine Captain Brian Steidle, served as a huge wake-up call. Activate interviewed Steidle post the release of ‘The Devil Came on Horseback’ and they have given a concise background of the events that mooted the making of the film, for those of you who are unfamiliar:

‘In 2004, Steidle spent six months as an unarmed military observer with the African Union to monitor the ceasefire of Sudan's decades-long civil war. But as the war between north and south cooled, the Arab-run government launched an ethnic-cleansing program, backing attacks on African blacks in Darfur by nomadic Arab militiamen known as the janjaweed. The regional politics are a complex mix of racial rivalries and resource grabs, but more perplexing, Steidle says, is the world's inaction.’

In 2005, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, a family friend of Steidle’s, helped publish his first-hand images of the genocide in Darfur. What followed were rallies and public events where Steidle spoke about what he’d seen in Sudan. The film shows all this, and follows Brian and his sister as they traveled to Chad later and spoke to some of the 250,000 people who had been displaced as a result of the genocide. Brian also went to Rwanda to see how the country was renewing itself after the equally devastating genocide there in 1994.

I can only imagine the emotional turmoil that Brian Steidle must have gone through as he witnessed the happenings in Darfur, and the courage and patience it must have taken to finally take his story to the public. (The Sudanese government tried to cross the border and capture Brian and his sister when they went to Chad, and when they were back in the US, he got notice through sources that they would try and kill him if he tried to return to Sudan.) As he said in the film, Rwanda was in 1994, over ten years before Darfur happened. The world should have learnt something then. But one can only postulate about what it did, because today we have Darfur to deal with.

As of today, Sudan has agreed to accept a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in the region, and we should be grateful for that. But is it, as Steidle says in his interview, too little, too late?

UPDATE: I found this article on Al-Jazeera's site just now - a Darfur militia leader has warned that if the UN has a 'colonial agenda', they will face stiff resistance.

Alcohol in a land of prohibition

No, I'm not talking about Saudi Arabia. I'm talking about India's frenemy and neighbour, Pakistan. Read here about a 150-year-old brewery in Pakistan that is preparing to bring the Muslim world's first 20-year-old single malt whisky to the market. Murree Brewery, however, can only sell to non-Muslims, who comprise 3 percent of Pakistan's population.

Some notable facts that I discovered : The Murree Brewery is situated in the same locality as the residence of Pervez Musharraf, it is owned by a Pakistani Parsi, and apparently the biggest market for Britain's largest gin is not the United States, but Saudi Arabia, which is of course another country that is 'officially dry'.