Sunday, December 11, 2011

A mystical eclipse

Yesterday, thanks to a last-minute invite from a friend, I experienced a magical evening that was Ruhaniyat. (Details available here.)
As the moon slowly disrobed its earthly shadow, I sat down to enchanting music, unable to decide what was casting a deeper spell - the music or the moon.

The evening began with a Kashmiri group, led by Abdul Rashid Hafiz, singing devotional songs that effortlessly blended Kashmiri and Sanskrit words. The one about Meera complaining to Krishna that she doesn't get enough of his time and attention was superb and filled with surprises such as the ticklish presence of the word soundarya in an otherwise wholesome Sufi melody. But I soon began expecting "unusual" words. After all, language is to music what religion is to spirituality - irrelevant!

The second group of performers was from Alandi in Maharashtra and led by Avdhoot Gandhi. I revisited my childhood in an attempt to catch the untranslated meaning of the three songs they sung. I more or less succeeded in this endeavour, finding myself moved by the suggestion that we need knowledge to distil the divine within ourselves, just like we need knowledge to extract butter from milk and sugar from sugarcane. Interestingly, Gandhi's lineage can be traced back to Sant Dhyaneshwar himself. Talk about pedigree endorsing performance!

The third group of performers infused the evening with a dose of high-octane energy. This group of Khans (led by Shakur Khan) hailed from Rajasthan. The standout performer, for me at least, was Daevo Khan playing the Khadtal. The instrument demands movements not unlike using a stapler in an angry mood. At first, I was reminded of shirtless kids in the Belapur-Kurla local trains who would click filmy melodies out of two pieces of ceramic tiles. I now know that the genesis of those tiles is the Khadtal which, in the hands of an artist like Daevo Khan, is mesmerizing. This man demonstrated the process by which Man and Craft merge together. Apparently all that's required is to develop a mad relationship with the art form and also the ability to stay in the moment. Khan's jugalbandi with the dholak player whetted my appetite for more. Perhaps we'll see this man on a larger stage soon, bonding with the best percussionists in the world.

I confess to zoning out when the next performer - Parvathy Baul - came on stage. I'm still trying to figure out why this happened. Perhaps the subtlety of this music form was lost on me after the energetic performance of Rajasthanis (who, I forgot to mention, also sang a Baba Bulleh Shah song). Perhaps I and my friends began talking shop at this point. I started paying attention again only when Ms Baul, who was performing in a trance-like state, was distracted by the discordant toot of a passing train.

After the Baul came the whirling dervishes from Turkey. And since the hostess explained the ritualistic dance before it began, one could make enough sense to feel wonderment.
As the universe and everything in it revolves, so do the dervishes. But always in the counter clockwise direction - that way, they're circling the heart and thus embracing love. I also learnt that the dervishes always point to the skies with the open palm of their right hands even as their left hands form arches pointing to the earth. In this way, they're collecting blessings from God and distributing them amongst the mortals.
It was a good debut for me in the world of dervishes. I'm still wondering whether the powder that was sprinkled on the stage floor before the performance had any ethereal meaning. Or was that just showmanship?

Finally, the qawwals from Jaipur, led by Shameen and Nayeem Ajmeri, took the stage. What followed were three spirited qawwalis that, time and again, touched upon secularism. During one interjection, Nayeem Ajmeri spoke about the non-duality of the human condition, about commonalities that cannot be dissolved by religion. His nonchalant reference to Ka'aba-Kashi and other such beautiful word-pairs touched my heart. The final memory of the evening was of Shameen Ajmeri reproducing the sounds of ghungroos using his mouth and tongue.

Before revving back home, I took a final peek at the moon. It was clear as a limpid pool. The soulful prayers performed at Jayamahal Palace had cured it of all earthly influences. Or so I'd like to believe.

Friday, November 18, 2011

In Treatment

A phlegmatic therapist. An agitated patient. A none-too-sunny room. Three to four cameras. And an unwavering exploration of the human mind via memories, impressions and emotions. Has television ever been so compelling?

After watching three seasons of In Treatment almost non-stop, I'm willing to swear that the Israelis know how to create drama using minimalism. And I feel grateful that the Americans adapted this Israeli television series, put an intense Irish actor at the centre of it and made the concept sing.

Throughout the week, Dr Paul Weston (portrayed by Daniel Byrne) plays the dutiful therapist, concerned with the welfare of each of his patients, struggling to understand their motivations, aching to help them find happiness. But if any of his patients try to find out who he is, he becomes obtuse. If that doesn't work, he deflects their questions. That's when the viewer realizes that not all is well in the inner world of Dr Weston. And when he visits his own therapist over the weekend, the viewer realizes that he is a veritable mess. He has neither resolved his past nor considered his future. He is completely lost, just like most of us. But that doesn't stop him from practising his profession with the utmost sincerity. And one feels for his situation. He must combat an unhappy childhood and address his pugnacious attitude towards his parents. Moreover, he must come to terms with a failed marriage, a disastrous love affair and partial alienation from his own children. Paul Weston is as lonely as a human being can be. But Dr Weston is an engaging professional. And as he helps his patients come to terms with themselves, as he helps them close their loops, one cannot but feel admiration for the man behind the mask.

It's a pity this series is being aborted by the studio. Why can't we see Paul Weston complete his journey of self-realization and evolution? Can't we leave him in a state of contentment?
Perhaps some loops are meant to be interpreted and closed by ourselves, in a proactive manner. The ultimate lesson of In Treatment is that, perhaps, we must find our own joyous resolutions.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Big Bang Theory

Since there is such a thing as antimatter, there must exist an anti-Sheldon Cooper somewhere in the universe. But what will the anti-Sheldon Cooper be like? What's the opposite of a man-child who is exasperating yet lovable, insulting yet dependent, dismissive yet obliging, brilliant yet naive? When you throw a bundle of contradictions at the universe, will it not throw another back at you?
Well, since I'm neither a theoretical physicist nor a philosopher, I don't have to ponder over this conundrum. I can simply sit back, absorb the revelry that is The Big Bang Theory and enjoy Sheldon Cooper without dissecting him. And that's exactly what I've been doing for four years. Enjoying Jim Parsons' portrayal of Dr Sheldon Cooper. And applauding his two Emmys (although I also feel that Steve Carell and Alec Baldwin equally deserved the honour).

Lest we forget, TBBT isn't just about SC, although it can often appear to be so. It's about four geeks with a contrarian blonde thrown into the mix. As the characters take life, we learn that geekdom isn't a land of homogeneity. Geeks come in their own distinct flavours. They can be clumsy, starry-eyed, soft-hearted and aspiring for "normalcy" (like Leonard Hofstadter, the primary protagonist played by Johnny Galecki). Or they can be habitually vulgar, clinging to their umbilical cords and intimidated (like Howard Wolowitz, as played by Simon Helberg). Or they could be terrified of women, culturally-confused and made obnoxious by alcohol (like Rajesh Koothrapalli, played by Kuldip Nayar). What's the commonality in these characters? They're all insecure and desperate for a form of love they can relate to.
Enter the blonde. A no-nonsense young woman from the Mountain Time Zone, seeking to travel the magical Hollywood journey from being a waitress to becoming an actress.
Thus we have the makings of a character-driven comedy with endless possibilities. Explaining TBBT, therefore, becomes an exercise akin to explaining how to swim. Eventually, you have to take the plunge and let the water teach you.

If you're a novice to this sitcom, just listen to the title song rendered by Barenaked Ladies. The lyrics of the song remind us that we're all humans, no matter where we come from. And we're in this cosmic adventure together. When we were Neanderthals, we built tools. We then built the pyramids and the Wall. There is no mention of Africa, Egypt and China. It's WE who moved forward. And WE are here because 14 billion years ago, there was a Big Bang.
'Nuff said.

How I met your mother

There's a Ted Mosby in all of us. Well, not so much if one's marriage takes the BharatMatrimony route instead of Even in this disconnect, the common desire to find true love unifies us. We may marry the propah caste girl/boy with wheatish complexion, but we must eventually fall in love with her/him in order to be happy.
That's the premise of How I met your mother. The narrator of the sitcom is an older Ted Mosby (voiceover rendered by Bob Saget) and he somehow finds it necessary to share gory details of his past with his adolescent children. And, no, he will not jump straight to the episode of how he met their mother. He must tell them about the thousand frogs he kissed along the way.
Focal interest in the theme is generated by the endearing optimism of Mosby (played by Josh Radnor). This guy just won't give up till he has croacked out the bitter bile off of all his frogs in Manhattan. Great support is lent by Marshall (good-natured, child-like, mid-Western, monogamous), Lily (Marshall's wife, therefore monogamous, fiesty, control freak) and Robin (Canadian, goofy, emotionally unavailable). But the breakout character is Barney Stintson, played by Neil Patrick Harris whom people of my generation will remember as the overachieving child-prodigy of a doctor in Doogie Howser MD. Barney is a messiah of superficiality and casual sex. There are no frogs in his life. Just princesses on whom he casts a spell for one night. Harris' performance is all the more commendable because he's gay in real life. Kissing all those dumb princesses on screen must take some doing, I suppose. I, for one, can't kiss a dude for all the tadpoles in the world.

As always, I feel that the guest female actors are better looking than the heroines. Barring that, it's a wonderfully inventive comedy that refuses to follow a linear notion of time during most episodes. Situations are revisited multiple times with new insights and/or variations. The drama in each moment is therefore squeezed dry, much like the way our vendors treat sugarcane.
The only reason How I met your mother should remind one of Friends is that both sitcoms depict a dysfunctional, co-dependent group of friends. Otherwise, the genders are treated equally and the characters are allowed to enact some scenes in the open air, allowing for a more free-flowing narrative structure.

And for God's sakes, I'd like to know how Mosby eventually meets his children's mother. We already know so many things about this mysterious lady that I feel the desire to recreate her in my own imagination. I just hope she isn't the Slutty Pumpkin.

Two and a Half Men

Have you heard about the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper? No, not the version in Aesop's Fables fed to children in order to scare them into a mould. I mean the version written by William Somerset Maugham. Using the same metaphorical characters and reversing their destinies, Maugham asks a simple question: do sincerity and hard work really deliver an agreeable winter? Paraphrasing, the question becomes: is the carefree grasshopper privy to a secret of the universe that has eluded the industrious ant?
It's a powerful question that challenges our pre-conceived notions about the nature of Life. Chuck Lorre - the Executive Producer of this and other sitcoms I've come to love - takes this reversed fable and delivers it with panache in Two and a Half Men.

At first glance, the format of the sitcom seems self-limiting. After all, it has only three primary characters. The first is Alan Harper - the hardworking chiropractor - representing the Ant. Secondly, there's Alan's dim-witted, gluttonous son Jake Harper who seems destined to remain half a man. And finally, we have the central character - Charlie Harper, Alan's elder brother - representing the Grasshopper.
And what a fabulous grasshopper he is. Charlie goes through life smelling of conditioner and bourbon. He barely does an ounce of work but owns a beach-house in Malibu, California. Gorgeous women fall on his lap like his birthright. And it never occurs to him that it's sinful to follow-up a 14-hour snooze with a liquor-soaked nap. Charlie is vain and shallow, and given the influence of his equally vain and shallow mother, too afraid to contemplate lasting happiness. To his credit, he redeems himself with his generosity and honesty.
Alan, on the other hand, has the irresistible urge to do the right thing. But when his wife kicks him out of his own home, he has no option but to seek refuge with Charlie. Alan both loves and resents his older brother, which provides plenty of comic fodder over the years. He blunders along as he watches Charlie saunter through a meadow of artificial tranquillity.
Neither brother is emotionally equipped to, when required, confront a woman, be it the alpha female housekeeper (Berta) or Charlie's stalker (Rose) or even Alan's vengeful first wife (Judith). Alan cowers into submission while Charlie escapes wherever he can. In this recurring theme, one discovers a hidden dimension of the sitcom: the evolving gender equation. The genders, it appears, have no meeting point. And Charlie must determine why this is so. He must navigate a labyrinth of neural landmines in order to find true love.

As always, drama in the real word accentuates the make-believe world. Despite the fact that Charlie Harper is played by the real-life brat Charlie Sheen, one finds the character alluring. Perhaps even more so.

I myself was disgusted by my first viewing of this sitcom. I couldn't understand why such a frivolous program was garnering top ratings in the Western world. And then I went through a phase of life wherein I began identifying with very many aspects of Charlie Harper's existence. For instance, an Indian writer-freelancer's routine can be remarkably similar to that of a Malibu grasshopper. As other parallels made themselves evident, I found within me a veritable dark-skinned facsimile of Charlie Harper. Along with that discovery came the desire to be released from the archetype.
Like Charlie, I wanted to escape an abyss of my own creation. And like him, I'm inching towards that goal.

A sitcom round-up

Apologies for the prolonged hiatus, especially to my mysterious readers from Russia, Latvia, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Nigeria and Belize. You hit my blog on a regular basis, but I have no idea who you are. I wish I did. Anyway, thanks for your interest and silent support.
Why have I been away? Well, I've been on a journey of self-discovery. If that isn't enough of a cliche, I must add that I took one small step this weekend and found my soul taking a giant leap towards sanity. I've looked long and hard at myself and have arrived at some rather unflattering conclusions. Remedial steps are being taken as of now and a better world seems within grasp. With that deliberately cryptic assertion, let me get to the point.

The makeover I'm attempting will require me to cut down on my indulgence in American sitcoms. I'll still sniff in the occasional episode of jest, especially when I need a lighter moment to survive the seemingly choppy sea of Life, but I think I'm done being a worshipper of this modern-age art form.

However, before I call it quits, I feel compelled to document my reflections on each sitcom that has moved me in the past 4.5 years. I will swerve away from this obsession with sitcoms just once, in order to explore a dramatic series called In Treatment.

So the next few posts may not be to the liking of all my readers. Sorry about that. All I can say is that I wouldn't have survived the previous phase of my Life without sitcoms and I want my blog to acknowledge that. And since I'll be reverting to my usual fare of politics, society etc, I hope my regular readers will find it in their hearts to forgive this detour.

Stay tuned please.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A single Cook spoils the broth

A kinder assessment might pass on some of the blame to coach Andy Flower. But Captain Cook (Alastair, not James) deserves to go first in front of the firing squad. After all, he's used to the opening salvo!
Some of Cook's decision that have baffled me are:
1) Dropping Bell. Seriously? There are some players who react to Indian bowling like Popeye to spinach. Bell is one of them. He's a veteran of subcontinental conditions and has the temperament to belong to any international side. And yet, Bell has been warming the bench while the English middle-order has floundered.
On the other hand, I easily relate to Cook's faith in Bairstow. In the final ODI in Cardiff a few weeks ago, young Jonny whipped us senseless during a difficult run chase. The future belongs to him. Extrapolating, Cook decided: so does the present. Fine. But can't Bell replace some other bloke? Consider what happened in Wankhede yesterday. Samit Patel, primarily a plump spinner reminiscent of the Bedi era, was given just 1.1 overs to bowl on a slow-turning track. Which means that Cook doesn't have too much faith in his bowling, but finds him good enough to bat at number 6, ahead of Bairstow (as in the 3rd ODI). Yeah, yeah, with a pinch of salt, one might call Patel a pinch-hitter. Does that make him a better batsman than Bell? (I roll my eyes.)

2) Dropping Swann. This was a howler. If I'm the captain and the match is being held in the anti-spin Paradise, I'd still choose Swann over any other spinner currently playing the game. Forget his superior skill and 50-kilo weight advantage. I'd choose him solely for his chutzpah. The entertainment value of his press interviews are second only to Virender Sehwag's. He speaks his mind on and off the field. You might occasionally decode his bowling, but you'll never break his spirit.

3) His field placements. Cook has personified the adage bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted. The first slip is put in place after the new batsman has tentatively edged one to third-man. The legside has two fielders inside the 30-yard circle when the bowler is attempting a middle-and-leg line. An inside-out field comes into play long after the batsmen have settled into a groove. This list of unimaginative field placements is endless.

4) His decision to bat first at Feroz Shah Kotla. Hey, Cookie, here's a tip: check the ground stats before the match. Also, be aware that you're in the northern hemisphere and even sultry autumnal Delhi will produce dew in the evenings. Anyway, you won't forget that massive defeat in a hurry.

I end with my latest FB update that, I feel, summarizes the voyage of Captain Cook:
He didn't allow the Bell to toll. He found the Swann impure. Perhaps he'll banish the Barmy Army next. This Cook sure knows how to spoil the English broth.
To borrow Boycott's words, his captaincy is uotter rooubish.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The importance of being intolerant

Ten years have passed since that sunny, temperate morning in Milwaukee. Seems like another lifetime. I revisited it last night by writing about my post-9/11 experiences in America. You'll find it here.

I find that I've gained a broader outlook on the event and its repurcussions.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The meaning of zameen

It's a question that haunts me. What does land mean to us? Can we not form a more sustainable relationship with it? Also, who should be the primary stakeholders of a piece of land? You'll find the article here.

As the economy redefines land, mofussil India has been transformed beyond recognition. Some might say it benefited. Others argue that it has lost its soul. I suppose the cost-benefit analysis will throw up mixed responses.
Meanwhile, the "meaning of zameen" must be determined urgently. Just can't move along like this, can we?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Will the real Manmohan Singh please stand up?

That's this week's article. You'll find it here. As usual, I struggled to squeeze all I wanted to say and ended up chopping a few angles. Like the paradox of being the clean leader of the dirtiest government in Indian history. Also, I'm nonplussed by the number of friend requests I'm getting on FB from people I don't know. These are people who've read my blog posts. And they don't even include a line of introduction/context in their friendship request. How is one supposed to respond? And wouldn't LinkedIn be a better forum for such requests? Anyway, the next hot topic - perhaps a fad - in Indian politics is Right to Recall. It's interesting if nothing else. As always, I look forward to your feedback and wish you well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Travails of an English summer

That's the title of my latest article. You'll find it here.

Unfortunately, they haven't retained the spacing/lettering formats a play requires. Hence doesn't read so well on an HTML page.

Take care.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Appetite for change


The Lokpal, the Annasaheb Hazare super-phenomenon and this small thing called the civilian movement. Those are the themes of my latest article.

Are the change-makers here to stay?

It was a challenge writing it mainly because there's so much to write about. I had to keep chopping for hours. My editors in Dawn are already kind enough to accept 1300-word articles even though the word limit is 800. I try not to test their patience :)
But I wish I could have mentioned how thrilled I am that whole new generations are hearing the name of Jayaprakash Narayan. I've been pissed off on a couple of occasions when usually well-informed friends asked, 'JP, who?' Hopefully, fewer people will ask that question now.

Anyway, time to meet an old friend. Ta-ta and have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why do we enjoy an ailing Britain?

This is the title of my latest article in Dawn, which you'll find here.

Having written it, I now wonder if this will prove to be my most misunderstood article yet. I hope not.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Really random thoughts

My latest post on the Dawn blog is about Dhoni's individual form.
Bring back the helicopter shot
As an aside, I feel compelled to mention that I'm grateful to Sachin for not scoring a token century at Trend Bridge. Such an event would have made our media go ga-ga over the "hundred 100s" milstone. Someone would have had to pinch the anchors and ask, 'What about the defeat?' To which they'd have responded, 'What defeat? Oh, er, of course. The defeat. What about it?'
As my friend Pat points out, the issue isn't the attention Sachin gets. It's the manner in which the feats of others are belittled in the process. Had Dravid and Laxman played in another era, maybe we'd have learnt to appreciate their genius. Which brings me to another emphatic statement Pat made: 'Nobody must open their mouth anymore about Dravid's retirement. He must be allowed to play as long as he wants.' Well said, Pat.

I'm halfway through Madhulika Liddle's The Englishman's cameo. It's yet another book that has not received the attention it deserves. We as a nation seem hell bent on celebrating badly written books. The good ones find quiet spots in musty libraries to bury themselves in.

Meanwhile, I'm glad that July has ended. This July rivalled the July of 2007 in its ability to inflict pain. For the better part of the month, I felt displaced from myself. The body too caved in, and I was forced to visit a doctor for the first time in perhaps 5 years. Viral flu, it turned out to be. The situation offered me a glimpse of the future. Me cooped up at home, all alone, waiting for my cook to arrive so that I could have some warm soup. As luck would have it, Senthil and Simona were visiting me during this time. So I wasn't all alone all the time. But since I was not working, I kept thinking about Risha. Resultantly, I kept fuming about how unfair the world really is. And, also, how unfair one person can be to another. What surprised me was that, during a discussion about my past, I found myself defending this person whose position is becoming increasingly indefensible by the day. Somebody better teach me how to fall out of love. Fast. Right now, I feel the need for some meaningful, well-directed anger. You know, I used to have the knack of getting angry in a jiffy. What has happened to me?
Another fallout of my flu is that my training regimen has come to an abrupt end. I hope to get back to my cardio and light-weights workouts soon. As of now, it's not happening.

July ended well, though. For the past 10 days, I've been writing well. An average of 3000 words a day. So my long-term assignment is progressing well, the articles in Dawn have resumed and I have enough gas left in the tank to consider additional copywriting assignments. As always, my ability to produce - which defines me - has put me in a better frame of mind. My parents are in town, too. Bachpan ka khana awaits me at every meal. And the only woman who is willing to love me unconditionally is around to chat and laugh. It's almost too good to be true.

The city is on the right hand side of my apartment complex. But a right turn is disallowed when we exit the gates because the break in the divider is around 10 m away. My solution is to ride on the wrong side for 10 m and then cross the legal break in the divider. I don't quite like the alternative of riding an extra 200 m to the left and 200 m back each time. And I have, what I feel, is a sound reason for this. By not riding the extra (400-20) = 380 m, I save quite a bit of fuel. So breaking the rule is the greener option. Of course, one must ensure that one is not blocking the oncoming traffic and one does not terrorize the pedestrians. And herein lies the clincher - as of today, the traffic is light enough for a 2-wheeler to negotiate the 10 m without causing anybody any harm or delay. Were the traffic situation to change, the wrong option no longer remains the green option - I might spend just as much fuel revving my engine and waiting for the traffic to clear.
What I'm trying to say is that I feel comfortable and far from guilty in turning the wrong way. Because I'm not the kind of guy to jump red lights etc. I break this particular law because I see merit in breaking it. But what do you think? Can environmental concerns override civic laws? And is it alright for individuals to make such judgment calls?

I always feel weird when I write about personal issues on my blog. In this case, I guess I wanted to have a conversation, aloud, with myself. I don't know why.

Take care everybody, and I hope your August is looking pretty good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A messy basement and a clean penthouse?

As expected, the representatives of the government and civil society have plenty of outstanding issues that threaten to derail the debate and perhaps stall the Lokpal Bill. I hope we reach some meaningful middle ground. And just as the civil society representatives strive to give teeth to the Lokpal, I hope the governm representatives ensure that a new constitutional monster is not created out of this office of hope.
In the article below, I don't deal with the pitfalls... I've restricted myself to just one point: how can we allow the minions of the government to be excluded from the ambit of the Lokpal?

A messy basement and a clean penthouse?

As usual, I look forward to hearing your views. Hope you're doing well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mumbai meri jaan

Few places are as enchanting as one's childhood home. No food can taste as delicious as a childhood treat.
The world of terror is taking my home for granted. It's treating itself to evil grins. All I'm doing right now is writing about it.

Mumbai meri jaan

I choose to be satirical because I thought it could highlight the issues involved better. What do you think?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Where's the Caribbean Calypso?


My latest post on Dawn is on the legacy and current state of WI cricket.

Where's the Caribbean Calypso?

I wanted to write a lot more. Stuff like how the WI cricketers cannot use nationalistic pride to motivate themselves. Playing for a loose confederacy probably won't have the same intensity as playing for one's national side. This is especially true because most of the Caribbean nations have strong individual identities.
When I asked a Trinidadian friend why a Caribbean dish was named the "Jamaican Jerk Chicken", she said, 'I don't know, dear. Probably because they have so many jerks over there, believe you me!'
That was banter. Sometimes, the identities can escalate banter into animosity. Now imagine: the WI players from "opposite" sides are expected to share a dressing room and work towards common goals. If they find an able leader like Clive Lloyd, they can create magic. If not, there can be unresolved issues.

Anyway, hoping to see exciting Caribbean cricket in the near future. I hope this decade belongs not to one dominant team but to many equally-matched ones.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tracking the cosmic rhythm

In 1992, as I was about to embark on a 24-hour train journey to seek admission in an engineering college in Chennai, a kind friend gave me his threadbare walkman and a cassette tape of Roja.
‘But I don’t listen to Tamil music,’ I told him haughtily.
‘Maybe it’s time you did,’ he replied, bidding me adieu.
Throughout that journey, I spent my meagre “train allowance” on batteries. I skipped a meal, endured the shocks that the semi-naked wires the headphone gave me and, to the annoyance of my fellow travellers, insisted on singing tunelessly along with the melody playing between my ears. Two things were happening. One: I was rediscovering Tamil film music. And two: I was discovering the genius of a young debutant composer named A. R. Rahman.
For the next four years, followers of Bollywood heard the hand-me-down versions of Rahman’s compositions while I smugly enjoyed the pristine Tamil versions of the same songs. All that changed in 1995 with the release of Rangeela.

And now, we finally have the maestro's story from his own mouth, thanks to a newly released book titled A. R. Rahman: The spirit of music by Nasreen Munni Kabir.
Here's my review of the book on Dawn:

Tracking the cosmic rhythm

If you're a Rahman fan too, hark back!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Najam Sethi and the Indian electronic media

I introspected, wrote with feeling, recalibrated my words, soaked them in linseed oil and finally decided to let them go. Here's my latest article in Dawn Online. It's about the Indian electronic media and a Pakistani phenomenon called Najam Sethi.

Belligerence with a mission

This piece was written before Saleem Shahzad was brutally tortured and murdered by the Dark Side that thrives inside Pakistan. It's awe-inspiring that Pakistani journalists keep writing bravely, despite such terrible consequences. I saluted Sethi in this article, but in reality, that salute goes out to every Pakistani journalist of his ilk.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Living in the present continuous

Alright, we've all heard about it. Life is bliss in the present continuous.
Time is a ruthless master. It haunts us with memories from the past and threatens us with the uncertainties of the future. But there's a way to subdue this tyrant. Forget the past, don't worry about the future. Just focus on this tiny moment passing you by. Milk it for all it's worth. Make it count. Easier said than done, eh?

Sportspersons are, I think, naturally acquainted with the concept of the present continuous. They call it "being in the zone." Imagine commandeering a F1 car around a curvaceous bend at 180 mph, or hooking a bodyline bouncer from the world's fastest bowler for a six, or blocking an accurate, curling free kick with a sublime dive. These are just a few examples of how sportspersons respond to stimuli with aplomb. How are they able to do in real time what others cannot fathom even in slow-motion? The only explanation is that these "superhumans" are able to dissect time into ever-slimmer slices and then utlise each slice optimally. You might say that, while on the field of play, they're extreme proponents of the present continuous. After all, when you chop the present finely enough, you get the present continuous.

I myself have used this idea extensively in the past four years. When your present sucks, the wise option is to live in the present continuous. I try and follow this dictum whenever negative emotions don't rule over my soul. Of course, the concept is less glamorous when a writer practises it. A writer living in the present continuous frowns upon the parts of speech till the sentence rewrites itself. He focuses on making his fictional character's situation more poignant and only then worries whether the backstory still makes sense. He manifests the most urgent thought on paper and then ponders over where it will fit in. For instance, I wrote this paragraph before beginning the article.

But the hands-down best argument in favour of living in the present continuous was provided by my friend Priyam. As a tireless crusader in an NGO that caters to those suffering from dementia, Priyam helps people who have neither a substantial recollection of the past nor a notion of the future. Dementia subjects seem to live in a time warp, and when treated with sufficient love, care and understanding, these fellow human beings become beacons of wisdom. They teach us the merits of the present continuous.
Now, here's the clincher:
An elderly woman was diagnosed with cancer. She was devastated. She underwent the treatment procedures, but was always sad and bitter. She fretted endlessly about her condition and lamented that her life was finished. A few months later, she was diagnosed with dementia. She kept forgetting herself till she forgot that she had cancer. And just like that, she ceased to worry about that dreadful disease. By the time she entered Priyam's orbit, she was at peace with himself, enjoying life as well as she could. The sentimentalists amongst us might say that she had conquered the disease!

Yea, man. Living in the present continuous rocks.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Line of zero control

The Indo-Pak political reality swallows positive cross-border opportunities on a daily basis. Here's one off them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gulzar and item numbers

Being a diehhard Gulzar saab fan, I knew that I'd eventually write about his work. Never thought it'd take this shape.

I owe my love for Bollywood lyrics to this one man. When I became a romancer, he was right by side, associating THAT woman with 'Sili hawa choon gayi.' I still nurse hopes of meeting him one day. I will keep hoping...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blogging on Dawn


I've accepted an offer from Dawn Online to write weekly blog posts for them. The first one was published this morning. Here's the link:

Of course, I'll still keep this blog active because not all topics I'm interested in will resonate with that audience.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Arjuna’s secret diaries

Tomorrow, we begin the battle of Kurukshetra.
This might well be my last opportunity to speak my mind. Here I sit in the stillness of this oppressive night and watch the quill as it quivers in my hand. Maybe I’m afraid. Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t slept in ages. Yes, I confess. I’m an insomniac, although history might misinterpret my ailment as an achievement. Because Krishna has termed me Gudakesha, One who has conquered the darkness of sleep. And I’ve noticed that His words have a way of eclipsing underlying facts. I loathe Him with my intellect. I love Him with all my heart.
This night is as much about what He has done to me, as it is about what Life and I have done to each other. Tonight, I will reflect on the milestones and the jolts.
The first one dates back to the era of my gurukul. Ah! Such a sublime age. I remember the first time I outlined an arrowhead with my forefinger. The very first time I twanged the string of a bow and used its tension to make the arrow sing. Yes. That very first time, my arrow found its twin marks: the bird’s eye and my guru’s heart.
‘If I’m the best teacher in the world, then you will be the best archer of all times,’ he said, embraced me, smiled. I believed him. I wanted to believe him. Being the third son in a family where everybody was considered an offshoot of divinity had instilled in me the beginnings of an inferiority complex. Yudhishtira is our leader by birth. Bhima has always been the powerhouse protector of the household. Nakula could generate sexual heat in women from the time he was an infant. And Sahadeva, being the youngest, is everybody’s beloved. But me, I was neither here nor there. Krishna, of course, assures me that I’m more special than any of them. That I shall be remembered thus. Do you see why I simultaneously love and loathe Him? He knows exactly what to say to manipulate my feelings.
Anyway, as I was saying, I was seeking an identity when I entered the gurukul. And I found it in my guru’s favouritism and the bow and arrow. It no longer bothered me that my cousin Duryodhana did not hate me as much as he hated Bhima. I was the star archer. The topic of gossip with the 98 insignificant Kauravas. In fact, I felt so secure that Ekalavya’s brief visit to the gurukul did not cause a ripple of fear in my heart. He was a smelly lad. Darker than the New Moon. My inferior in every way. Guruji took as much pleasure in insulting him as the rest of us.
The next time I saw him was when we Pandavas went for a stroll in the jungle surrounding the gurukul. Along with us was our pet dog. My pet dog. A mongrel I had taken pity on when it was a puppy. In order to instigate Duryodhana, Bhima had named my sweet dog Shakuni. What a burden a name can be! Shakuni, by responding to this name, became the enemy of the Kauravas. Bhima took it upon himself to protect it, but come the night, my dog sought me and slept by my feet. This blameless miserable creature was with us that day in the forest, chasing squirrels and barking at the monkeys teasing it from the treetops. And then, without warning, Shakuni began barking in an abnormally agitated manner and started running towards a target. Concerned from its welfare, I followed its wake. We approached a clearing where Ekalavya was practising archery. The moment Shakuni was in his line of vision, Ekalavya aimed arrows at its mouth. Seven of them. One after another. So rapidly did Ekalavya’s hands move that I could not see them dipping into the quiver or retracting the bow. It was all over in the flash of an eye. Shakuni fell like a log, his mouth carrying the undigested meal of seven gleaming arrows.
You might have heard another version of this episode wherein we accidentally stumbled upon an orphaned dog with seven arrows inside its mouth and therefore discovered Ekalavya. That version is less damaging to my ego. But consider this: how could I have felt that spike of fear and jealousy had I not witnessed his prowess firsthand? I could have easily assumed that he killed Shakuni with one arrow and then took his time shooting the remaining six into the dead dog’s mouth. In that scenario, I’d have goaded Bhima to pound on the lower-caste lad with his bare fists and returned with satisfaction to the gurukul. But this situation demanded a different action. It wouldn’t do to just crush his body or spirit. I had to rob him of his skill.
Thinking thus, I took a quick look of the clearing that Ekalavya had made his home. In the centre of it stood a clay statue of my beloved guru. I knew what I had to do. Asking my brothers to stand guard over Ekalavya, I ran to the gurukul and fetched my guru to the spot. Thankfully, he didn’t need an explanation to comprehend what had happened.
‘Did you do this to an innocent creature?’ my guru thundered.
Ekalavya prostrated before him, then replied:
‘I was meditating on your form when it disturbed me. I reacted instinctively.’
Guruji pressed home the advantage the lad had given him.
‘You practise in front of my statue. You meditate on my form. I refused to make you my disciple, but you’ve still made me your guru.’
‘That is so, guruji.’
Pointing to the rest of us, guruji said:
‘I teach these boys with destiny rare skills. My thoughts, my teachings, are so powerful that they travel long distances. Even the beasts and birds surrounding my gurukul hunt better than in other places. You’ve tapped into that power of mine despite my express disapproval.’
For a fleeting moment, Ekalavya turned aggressive:
‘The best teacher in the world deserves to teach the best disciple in the world. I’m merely fulfilling that destiny, guruji.’
At this point in time, guruji’s eyes grew soft, as if he saw the lad’s point. My own eyes betrayed consternation, desperation, utter misery. Guruji’s eyes met mine. He remembered the promise he had made. I had to remain the best archer in the world. So he turned to Ekalavya and said:
‘The great Bhishma approached me with guru dakshina even before he requested me to accept these boys as disciplines. You, on the other hand, have learnt from me without offering any. For all I know, you might have been watching my lessons from the shrubbery like a rat. What else can I expect from a boy of your breeding? What can I expect from you as guru dakshina?’
‘The universe, guruji! Expect the universe. Ask me to defeat a thousand kings in your name. Ask me to defend your honour against the gods.’
‘These feats have been within my reach since I was your age,’ guruji said, waving his left hand. ‘Your guru dakshina should be something you have and I might value.’
‘Give me your right thumb then.’
Ekalavya looked from guruji to me and then back at him, as if to say:
‘Is he worth this?’
Guruji, in turn, looked from him to me and then back at him, as if to say:
‘I cannot let you be worth more.’
Ekalavya picked up his bow and quiver, and just so that nobody could be in any doubt as to what he was offering, shot a bevy of arrows at guruji’s feat. Those arrows formed the word Pranam faster than I could write it on a parchment. I watched, stupefied, as he then unsheathed a knife and cut his right thumb. He flung it right next to the dead dog and gave all of us a smile of victory.
On the way back to the gurukul, I thought I saw tears streaming down guruji’s cheeks. I cannot be certain of this because he had ordered us to keep our eyes on the ground and I could manage to steal but one glance. But I’m certain of one thing: we never shared the same warm rapport again. He kept his promise. I am the best archer in the world. And I will be expected to use my skills against him starting tomorrow. Surely Ekalavya wouldn’t have repaid his debts thus?
One small footnote remains in this story.
For the next few days following the death of Shakuni, I kept returning to Ekalavya’s clearing. I saw him practising archery with his left hand. I saw that he was still good. Good enough to defeat most men. But not me. I rejoiced. Then one day, I returned to find the clearing empty. I believe he quit his ambitions and became a boatman.
Given a second chance, I’d gladly be the second best archer in the world. Perhaps that small fact would have prevented this battle that will be fought. I, for one, might have grown up as a less ambitious man. My tempers would have remained in check during many occasions. I might not have, during exile, roamed the lands to make marital-martial alliances with powerful kings. We Pandavas might not have amassed this political clout. Our destinies might have been ordinary and happy.
All things considered, I think I founded my life on a shameful emotion. I would pay for this sin for the rest of life. Let me proceed to the second defining incident without further ado.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I did not cry

This won't be a review of the greatest Indian ODI victory in recent times. If you didn't watch the match, you probably don't want to read this post either.
Here are the salient features, the way I saw it:

1) Great toss to lose. Had we batted first, our batting daredevils would have aimed for 300, groaned their way to 210 and lost with 12 overs to spare. As it happened, Ponting first made the right call by shouting Heads and then made the wrong call (in hindsight) by opting to bat. Mahi would have made the same mistake.

2) This Australian team has recovered from the hangover caused by the departure of Warne, Gilchrist, Hayden and McGrath. In the past couple of years, it has lost quite a few games trying to act invincible. But on this day, even the uber-talented Ponting played well within himself. The thinking has clearly changed. This team has decided to curb its ambitions. A sane approach; the eventual defeat cannot be attributed to the Ozzie batsmen.

3) For once, Harbhajan's eyeballs did not seem poised to pop out. A side-effect of Ashwin's presence, perhaps?

4) Is this the same Zaheer Khan who lost the plot before stepping into the Wanderers to open the bowling in the 2003 final? Can flecks of gold in one's hair make such a difference? Or are promising potbellies accompanied by wiser heads? My screams numbed the pigeons on my window sill when Zaheer castled the greater Hussey. Because when Hussey replaced Bollinger and, later, the quarterfinal line-up was determined, I had resigned myself to yet another humiliating Indian defeat.

5) Nowadays, I keep recalling the interview Yuvraj gave Harsha Bhogle around 4 years ago. His exact words, when Harsha reminded him of his decent bowling stats in domestic cricket: 'I hope my captain is watching this. I do feel I can contribute more with the ball.' The captain in those days was Rahul Dravid. Maybe Jammie wasn't tuned in that day, but Mahi certainly seems to have been!

6) Yuvi fielded as if he was still young enough to have Kaif standing beside him! Raina, Kohli and Ashwin were exceptional too. Zaheer held on to catches, Harbhajan actually made an effort (during the England encounter in Chinnaswamy, I was among the thousands who booed his numerous misfieldings). Even Munaf stopped a few balls. If we fielded like white people today, then a chunk of the credit must go to a white man named Gary Kirsten. Why? Here's why.

7) I don't know if Viru's injured knees were folding beneath him, but he showed up with a desire to play many overs. Insha allah, he will be fit for the match against Pakistan. He just needs to be fit enough to play through the Powerplays. After that, he can snooze in the dressing room. I won't miss his fielding terribly.

8) It's now understood that Sachin can, at best, lay the foundation for victory during crucial encounters. The middle-order better stay awake to finish the games.

9) There's something seriously wrong with Gauti. Why has his confidence slumped? Doesn't he remember that he was MoM in the T20 finals? He had to sit out, twice, due to injuries and a couple of youngsters showed up. But why should that frazzle him? The Gauti of 2008 could walk into this Indian line-up. The Gauti of 2011, however, seems to want an ego-boosting scoop over extra cover to get going. Doesn't always work that way, my man. Ajmal and Afridi are no Krejza.

10) Mahi's part in the proceedings: losing a tricky toss, marshalling his resources like non-Waterloo Napolean, trying to hide his despondency during the Batting Powerplay collapses and hitting the rare boundary. If he didn't keep wickets, I'd be tempted to call him the non-playing captain. As Manjrekar said before the World Cup began, 'Keep Dhoni and Zaheer wrapped in cotton wool.' For we have no replacements for them.

11) Raina over Yusuf? This is a no-brainer, as per me. Yusuf would have holed out in embarassing fashion against Tait. He's the star of featherbed pitches. He's a nightmare for lesser oppositions. Agreed, if we let him play for 10 years, he might secure 15 other impossible victories for us. But for crunch games, I'd keep him out.
Of course, Raina has a split personality. You might have seen his alter ego go for suicidal hoicks simply because the bowler's 5 o'clock shadow bothered him. But the true-Blue Raina reads a match situation like it's being fed to him by a teleprompter. That Raina seldom puts a foot wrong.

12) Every time I got engrossed in my work, we bled runs or lost a wicket or two. When Mahi got out, I decided to focus on the game for the sake of Indian cricket. I thus gave my beloved country the Yuvi-Raina partnership. You're welcome to send me gifts. I'm partial to single malts. :)

13) Another superstitious trend of the day: whenever I took a piss, the game turned. Needless to say, I smartened to this by the fourth time. So if the game changed against India, I drank two bottles of water and took another leak. No, really. I don't kid in matters of life and death. Make that two bottles of single malt, please. I feel like I've earned them.

14) After the television channels moved on to less important things, I spent hours on FB and Twitter, reading a million jubilations. I posted one of my own on FB:
Today, the ghost of the 1992 Brisbane match was exterminated in Motera. It is also learnt that the ghosts of 1999 (The Oval) and 2003 (The Wanderers) have decided to end their disgustingly haunting ways. After the match, Ponting was spotted shopping for a smirk-free face. Terrified by the noise originating from the subcontinent, an alien scout ship decided to exit the Milky Way.

As you can see, this victory didn't mean that much to me. Seriously. I did not cry. Let me repeat this for effect. I did not cry. I might have flicked inchoate tears off the ends of my eyes. I might have kissed a total stranger on the street and asked her (or was it him?) to marry me. But. I did not cry.

And I was man enough to spare a thought for Ponting. Over the years, we Indians have unreservedly called him a b**tUrd, motherf**ker, ass-brat and many more delicious names. Yes, he deserved every one of them. Because till the game ends, he exhibits less sportsman's spirit than even Greg Chappell. Well, almost. But he's always been gracious in defeat during the post-match conferences. And today, he showed us that he was a true champion. He reminded us that, in crunch situations, he'll be at least twice as good as the unparalleled Sachin Tendulkar. Now, that deserves respect. It's unfortunate that such legends will one day walk into the sunset. Australian cricket will never be the same again without him. And the rest of the world can sigh in relief.

As for the Indo-Pak semi-finals at Mohali, I've decided that I want my physician by my side. If I survive that match and if we win it, I might blog again.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

For the love of cricket and jostling

In my hand, I hold two tickets to a World Cup match. Barring a nasty surprise, I shall be inside Chinnaswamy Stadium this Sunday to cheer India as it takes on England in a league match. I don't know why I'm not weeping with joy. Logic and history tell me that I must.
Confused? Let me explain.

It was 1996. I was in my final year of engineering. I already had a job (one I was not too keen about, because it required me to be an engineer, not a writer). Under such circumstances, I accompanied 17 of my classmates to Churchgate. Our mission: to buy a ticket each for the India-Australia match to be held at the Wankhede Stadium. It was a significant match. Every die-hard Indian cricket fan still flinched at the memory of the India-Australia match in the previous edition. We lost that match in 1992 because of (as per a Mid-Day headline) "Rain, rules and Ravi (Shastri)!"
This was time for revenge. And we engineers-on-the-cusp were determined to witness it. With that intent, we hopped onto a local train after college hours and reached Churchgate around 4 pm. We exited the station, turned right, and to our surprise, found that the queue was already long enough to kiss the air around Churchgate. Not losing hope, we joined the tail of the queue and began the wait. With luck, the counters would open at 9 am tomorrow. We some more luck, we'd have our tickets by noon tomorrow. Our bladders were strong and our appetites were our servants. So we were quite confident of weathering the wait. We had much to learn.

Around midnight, even as we fought hunger, thirst and sleep, the cops arrived on the scene. They had decided that it was indecent of people to actually queue up a day before the counters opened. Wearing callous faces, operating their calloused hands, they began swinging their lathis around. Soon, the air reverberated with the sound of thick wood landing on skin and bone. Men shrieked and began running helter-skelter. The cops pursued those who moved too slowly for them. Within minutes, they had cleared every ticket-aspirant. I was one of those who decided to run towards Marine Drive instead of towards Churchgate. I guess the sea breeze appealed more than the stench of stale urine.
It took a while for a few of us friends to regroup in Marine Drive. Returning to Wankhede immediately was out of the question. So we decided to be adventurous - we actually found the gall to tell each other, 'There's Oberoi. Looks nice. Let's go there.'
The 24-hour Coffee Shop inside Oberoi was open. We settled into a couple of tables and opened our wallets. Once we set aside the price of the tickets, all of us, put together, had sufficient money to order just a pot of coffee. One measly pot of coffee. Till date, I wonder why the waiter didn't throw us out. In fact, he served us without rolling his eyes. We, of course, repaid his kindness with the most miniscule tip of his 5-star career. And we stayed in that Coffee Shop longer than decency permitted.
Once outside, I decided to spend some time alone, watching the waves of the Arabian splash against the rocks and wall of Marine Drive (the tetrapods were not installed those days). So there I sat, looking westward. I kept sitting there long after the sun rose on the other side of south Bombay and revealed the murkiness of the water. I think I returned to Wankhede only around 7 am or so. To my utter delight, I saw my classmate Kalpesh Mehta standing very close to the entrance. I joined him, ignored the people who threatened to tear my limbs apart for breaking into the line and resumed the wait. It should have been smooth sailing from this point. It wasn't.

As 9 am approached, people in the back of the line began pushing. Soon, the line, in an attempt to grow shorter, grew stouter. And yet, people in the back pushed relentlessly. Within minutes, the situation turned into a frenzy. I was standing right next to the wall, with my back against it. And suddenly, without warning, the push became so intense that all of us leaning against the wall were pressed hard against it. In an instant, my lungs were squeezed like the auspicious lemon against a brand-new tyre. The air whooshed out of me. I was a reasonably strong guy those days and I pushed back. But the harder I pushed, the harder the throng pushed back. In a few moments, I felt giddiness and an unbearable pain in my temples, not to mention the hardness of rock against my skull. I tried to stand on tiptoe, allowing my lungs more opportunity to suck in air. I think I had almost given up hope when a few angels descended on the scene. These were fellow citizens, fellow ticket seekers. They just happened to be spunkier and trusted their voices to carry further. It took a while, but they restored a reasonable level of order in the line. I lived to watch another match. We got back in the line, but not before Kalpesh and I sat on the sidewalk for a few minutes, catching our breath. I cannot forget the dazed expression on Kalpesh's sun-drenched face. I daresay I looked just as dazed to him.

The rest of the adventure was about enduring the inefficiencies and chaos... the usual Indian stuff. By noon, I was at the counter. I trembled as I handed over 200 rupees and trembled even more as I received my ticket. I hugged it to my bosom during the 90-minute train journey back to Nerul. That evening, after a prolonged afternoon siesta, I went to a friend's house to brag. I had no opportunity to do so because he was facing a crisis of sorts. He had to muster his college fee in the next two days. I knew what I had to do. It was a no-brainer, really.

So on Match Day, I returned to Wankhede, this time to the road on the other side of the railway tracks. I had no difficulty in selling my ticket for 2400 rupees. I returned to Nerul, handed my friend the money and went home to watch the match on TV. That day, we lost yet another World Cup match to Australia.

Having experienced this series of events, I've always nursed a strong desire to watch a WC match featuring India. And yesterday morning, believe it or not, the tickets for the India-England fixture fell on my lap. Just like that! Well, not really. It fell on my lap thanks to a sweet friend who shall remain unnamed as of now.
And what's more, I've been ordered to sell the other ticket to the highest bidder amongst my friends. If only it were so easy to find cricket enthusiasts in our country!

P.S: This post is dedicated to my backbencher friends from college - Bhupender Bohra, Nikhil Kajrolkar, Manoj Sangra, Ashish Makhijani, Anand Nair, Varghese George, Deepak Singh, Rahul Prasad, Satish Sakhardande, Kalpesh Mehta, Jignesh Miyani, Niranjan Risbood, Saurabh Deshmukh, Bhushan Bangale, Navin Patil, Dinesh Nasarpuri, Arijit Chakraborty, Ananthakrishnan Iyer and, of course, the occasional backbencher - Amol Dharmadhikari.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Our new office!

Yet again, I had to give up my owlish ways last evening and (try to) sleep early so that I could awake at 330 am. Amazingly, I managed to do that, took a bath and left to participate in a pooja.
The single digit chill of pre-dawn Bangalore cut through my bare hands as they held on to my bike's handle. The saving grace - traffic was as light as could be in Bangalore. I knew that on my return journey, I'd have to cleave through vehicles headed for the Aero Show. But for now, I could rip through to downtown. Even Chinnaswamy Stadium wore a deserted look; if I didn't know any better, I'd have sworn that India will not play Australia here in a warm-up match later in the day.
I was trembling from the cold by the time I reached my downtown destination: the new office of Scalers & Victors Innovations Pvt Ltd. We're moving from our Andree Road office to a much more spacious office on Langford Road, which is situated right opposite the hockey stadium. This was Ten Sports' office till the other day, and telltale signs remained. Like a large cut-out of Sachin Tendulkar which all of us posed with, once we finished the pooja.
We're shifting for the best reason possible - we outgrew the old office. And if things go according to plan, we'd be looking for an even bigger office a few months down the line. That office, too, must be in downtown Bangalore. Because, right now, we're too small a company to impose geographical constraints on our employees. We want to be situated in the heart of the city so as to attract talent from all its nooks and crannies. Location, a 5-day-week (a rarity amongst the city's start-ups), an opportunity to learn and a competitive pay structure are our key differentiators.
By the way, we opened a new office in the Emirates last month. My business partner Prashanth has slogged to get us to this point (with some amount of support from me and others). And all of us involved are smiling at the moment. Our faces are pointed towards the future.
How has your Sunday been so far?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A tale of one overwhelming city

If you cannot (or do not want to) understand the depth and breadth of loneliness, then please do not watch Dhobi Ghat. You'll return disappointed, with nothing to show for your adventure except uncoagulating shards of poignant moments.
For the rest of you, here's what you can expect:
A wordless anthem of the greatest Indian city ever built. A city so powerful that it presses intimately, furiously, rudely against your chest, but leaves you alienated in the final reckoning. Mumbaikars know the city to be thus. Non-Mumbaikars have been told the city is thus by our film-makers and writers. Dhobi Ghat presumes that you already have this knowledge and underlines it for posterity.
The film revolves around four primary characters who connect and then diverge ephemerally. The screenplay reflects the random, frenetic pace of the landscape and the viewer is left to draw meanings as per his wont. Of course, each primary character is allowed to bring something immediate to the table, something that the city cannot wholly influence: personality.

1) Let's begin with Arun, played by Amir Khan. Arun's a painter of some repute. He's divorced and therefore distanced from his son; his grief - or other undisclosed things - have made him so self-absorbed that he's quite reluctant to face a nameless public even to sell his art. His life has become an unending quest to find the imagery for the next canvas. Thankfully, his kaleidoscopic city will never let the paint go dry inside the tubes. Arun, it seems, is reasonably well-to-do. And his art is meant for the elite whom he cannot respect.
2) Yasmin Noor (played by Kriti Malhotra) is a middle-class housewife who, upon getting married, has shifted from the Gangetic belt to Mumbai. She speaks to Arun, indirectly, through "video letters" she "writes" to her beloved brother. The oasis of purity she builds around her is no match for the filth of the city. And when she succumbs to the latter, she manages to add a dimension to the complex grief that Arun is already experiencing. Yet again, Arun is left rudderless and anchorless.
3) Shai is anything but! Played by Monica Dogra, she's a true-blue Indian American in the film and real life. She hooks up with Arun during an art exhibition, has a f**k-fest with him and is miffed when Arun terms it a ONS. On a sabbatical in sin city, she romances from behind the camera and, unwittingly, with a dhobi who reads sublimal messages in her provocative body language. She represents the elite that Arun caters to and despises. She will always be as liberated as she allows herself to be. Unfortunately, she's too attracted to Arun's tumultuous inner world to feel free. At least for the moment.
4) Finally, there's Prateik Babbar's character: Munna the dhobi. Munna has spent the greater part of his life in Mumbai but has somehow remained unsullied. Easy options are within his reach, but he would rather kill sewer rats than sell dope to the elite. In the daytime, he washes their clothes, then irons and delivers them, thus giving the film's writer a ready bridge between Shai and Arun. He also naively falls in love with Shai and, staying true to the decency that's intrinsic to his poverty, never crosses the line. He knows that his lot is meant to fail. Cheerfully.

These well-bordered characters interact with each other in a disjointed screenplay that becomes Dhobi Ghat. The verdict on Kiran Rao as a director will not come in until she makes another film. Because in this one, she's at times sublime and at others, trying too hard. But by Jove, one hopes that she retains Tushar Kanti Ray as her cinematographer because the story has been partially propped up by the camera. Certain frame compositions take one's breathe away. Despite shooting a city that's posed once too often, the camera manages to find freshness.
Amir acts well with his body and face, but his mild discomfort with the English language hinders his performance in a few scenes.
Kriti Malhotra is absolutely convincing. I still can't believe that she isn't really a Muslim woman from UP!
But the find of the film, almost like in a lost bilateral cricket series, is Prateik Babbar. This young man is on the button in every scene. If he plays his cards right, he could actually give Abhay Deol a run for his money. Because his cinematic sensibility could well rival that of the established offbeat-mainstream hero of modern times.
As for Monica Dogra, I so wished that she'd forget the camera and immerse herself in the moment. Like Kiran Rao, she must be given another chance because she's so frigging cute.

Overall, Dhobi Ghat is an experiment in literary cinema. Benegal didn't succeed with Trikaal, so there's no reason to be harsh on Rao. Just watch it for what it does to you. If nothing else, this film will teach you a little something about yourself.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Random thoughts this New Year

Bangalore has been deliciously sunny for the past couple of months. I start sweating before I pedal 10 kms on my bicycle which, I'm glad to report, has been restored to its former glory. The fact that I can reach a deep countryside within 7 minutes of leaving my apartment makes biking a joy. And I've realized that Ian McEwan makes more sense when I'm perched on the side rails of a culvert, with birdsong in my ears and a competent writer pummeling the area between them.

The other evening, during a discussion with a friend, I heard myself say that, in many ways, the true saint is the exact opposite of the writer. She asked me to explain myself and I gave it my best shot. Perhaps I'll be clearer with the written word.
The Human, it has been famously said, is a meaning-making machine. Seen in this context, the saintly amongst us are those who have made their peace with the universe. They've chosen their path - be it God, a higher consciousness, a grander Logic, whatever - and using this path, squeezed their meanings out. They're satisfied.
The writer, on the other hand, deliberately wanders through his favourite paths, often knowing that he or she is trapped in a maze. He might have accepted that he cannot contribute a new thought to the world. Perhaps every worthwhile thought was in place even before the first hydrogen atom was born. But he must still try and find newer perspectives to his pet ideas. His characters and stories must find newer answers to his persistent questions. To ensure all this, he must think and feel without reservations. Feel, especially. He must put himself out there. In his life and through his books. Every emotion must be felt in its fullness; and when the emotion turns cold, he might consider probing it for an insight.
Juxtaposed against the saint's life, one might say that the writer chooses to be "ignorant." His craft emerges out of this ignorance.
Just a thought. Don't hang me for it :)

Noted civil rights activist and leader of AP's PUCL K. G. Kannabiran died in late December. I had interviewed him in 2008 and he came across as regal and assured. Since his death arrives in the lingering wake of K. Balagopal's, one fears that a whole generation of Andhra's civil rights stalwarts is fading away. Is the second rung ready to occupy the intellectual/ideological positions vacated by their seniors? One hopes so. Because the Dandakaranya region requires bold, unwavering voices more than ever before - Dr Binayak Sen's incarceration being a case in point.

Am reading Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani. I confess that I wouldn't have picked up this book were it not required for a new assignment. But Nilekani has managed to engage me so far. I don't quite agree with many of his perspectives on the history of modern India, but I'm keen to know what he has to say about the future.

Finally, I end with a fragment of a poem written recently by my friend Mohan Ramamoorthy. Mail me if you'd like to read the whole thing.

In the hammock
Inert is my body
Restless is my mind
Furiously juggling
Random pieces
Of conversations, gestures
To figure out something
(about you... that, I suspect, concerns us)

Happy 2011, everybody.