It’s Man Booker Time!

18 May

Every two years, the £60,000 Man Booker International Prize recognizes one writer for his or her outstanding achievements in fiction. The Man Booker International Prize differs significantly from the annual Man Booker Prize—its judges, in seeking out literary excellence, consider a writer’s entire body of work rather than just a single novel. The judges are aided by the Man Booker International Prize e-council, which makes suggestions for judges for the Prize and puts forward writers that the judges should consider reading. The e-council is made up of former judges and winners of the Man Booker and Man Booker International Prizes. It includes notable authors such as Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kiran Desai, Yann Martel and Sir V.S. Naipaul. The winner is chosen solely at the discretion of the judging panel—publishers’ submissions are not accepted. The winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize will be revealed on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Here is a quick look at the 2015 nominees:

Cesar AiraCÉSAR AIRA (Argentina)

Born in February 1949, in Coronel Pringles, Argentina, César Aira is one of the most talked-about novelists in Latin America. He has lived in Buenos Aires since 1967 and has taught at the University of Buenos Aires and at the University of Rosario. A writer and a translator, Aira has published more than 80 books in Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile and Spain. When asked to describe his work in an interview for The Guardian, Aira said, “Once I defined my books as “Dadaist fairy tales”. I don’t know if it is completely correct, but it gives an idea. What is certain is that they are purely literary.” His latest novel, Dinner, which will be out in October 2015, is about a horrifying, nightmarish incident that occurs after a dinner party in the town of Coronel Pringles. You can read Aira’s short story, “Picasso”, published in the August 2014 issue of The New Yorker, here.

Hoda Barakat

credit: Raaya Agency


Born in Beirut in 1952, Hoda Barakat was brought up in Bsharre, Lebanon. She graduated from Beirut University in 1975 with a degree in French literature. In 1975 and 1976, she lived in Paris, where she worked on a PhD, but decided to return home when the Lebanese Civil War broke out. In 1985, her first book, a collection of short stories entitled Za’irat (Women Visitors), was published. In 1988, she helped to establish Shahrazad, a women’s magazine. She moved back to Paris in 1989 and has lived there ever since. There she published a series of major works including Hajar al-Dahik (The Stone of Laughter) and Ahl el-Hawa (People of Love). Her third novel, Harit al-miyah (The Tiller of Waters), won the 2001 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature. Her work has been translated into a number of languages.

Maryse Condé

©Mercure de France

MARYSE CONDÉ (Guadeloupe)

Maryse Condé was born at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, in 1937. She left the Antilles at the age of sixteen to study in Paris, first at the Lycée Fénelon and then at the Sorbonne, where she took her doctorate in Comparative Literature in 1975. Her research was on Black stereotypes in Caribbean literature. Condé’s prolific literary output has been paralleled by a distinguished academic career, which has included posts at UCLA, Berkeley, the Sorbonne, Harvard and Columbia University. n her latest novel to be translated into English, Victoire: My Mother’s Mother, published in 2010, Condé looked to her own background for a story—that of her maternal grandmother, who was a mixed-race orphan who became a cook for a white family called the Walbergs. Described as “one of the brightest lights in Caribbean literature”, Maryse Condé’s novels have been translated into English, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese.

Mia Couto

credit: wikipedia

MIA COUTO (Mozambique)

Born António Emílio Leite Couto, in 1955 in Mozambique to Portuguese immigrant parents, Mia Couto is one of the most prominent writers in the Portuguese language. In 1971, he moved to the capital, Maputo, and began to study medicine at the University of Lourenço Marques. He is a prolific writer, publishing almost a book a year. Stylistically, his writing is influenced by magical realism—when he writes, he mixes colloquial vocabulary and regional Mozambique structures into his language. He has written more than twenty books that have been translated into at least as many languages. In 2014, Couto was announced as the Neustadt Prize Laureate at the culminating banquet of the 2013 Neustadt Festival for International Literature and Culture. His latest book, Confession of the Lioness: A Novel, released in July 2015, is about the haunted world of Kulumani, an isolated village in Mozambique, which is shaken when ghostlike lionesses begin hunting the village women.

Amitav Ghosh



Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956 and grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He was educated at the Doon School. After a brief stint in journalism, he went on to study anthropology in New Delhi, Oxford and Alexandria. His first novel, The Circle of Reason, about a suspected Indian terrorist, was published in 1986. His novel, Sea of Poppies, published in 2008 was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and was awarded the Crossword Book Prize and the India Plaza Golden Quill Award. His new novel, Flood of Fire, out in August 2015, is the third novel in Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy: a group of historical novels about the mid-nineteenth century Opium Wars, told from the point of view of both Indian and European characters.

Fanny Howe

credit: Lynn Christoffers

FANNY HOWE (United States of America)

Born to a family of artists and scholars in Boston in 1940, Fanny Howe became involved in the civil rights movement. She raised her three children in New England and travelled between there and California for many years, teaching both poetry and fiction. Her writing explores themes such as race and class, poverty and theology, women and oppression. She is the author of more than 20 books of poetry and prose, including most recently Come and See, The Lyrics and The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation. Her novels include Nod, Saving History and Indivisible, published in 2006 in a five-volume set under the title Radical Love. When asked in an interview to describe her work, Howe said, “My novels are about a generation of Americans who lived between 1940 and 2000, who resisted the postwar political and cultural forces by choosing a wandering life of impoverishment and wonder. Inevitably, race and economics are a big part of their stories.”

Ibrahim Al Koni

credit: wikipedia


Ibrahim al-Koni was born in 1948 in the desert of the Tuareg, in Libya. He didn’t learn how to read or write Arabic until the age of 12. He studied comparative literature at the Gorky Institute in Moscow, later becoming a journalist. From Russia, he moved to Poland, and later to Switzerland. He has lived in Switzerland since 1993, and has written over 60 novels, short stories, poems and aphorisms, all inspired by the desert. Al-Koni’s roots among the Tamasheq-speaking Tuareg people are a key part of his literary landscape. He has four works in English translation: Bleeding of the Stone, Anubis, The Seven Veils of Seth and Gold Dust.

Laszlo Krasznahorkai



László Krasznahorkai was born in Gyula, Hungary, 1954. Until recently, he was probably best known through the works of the filmmaker Béla Tarr, with whom he has collaborated on several films over three decades, including the adaptation of his novel Satantango, which was published in 1985. Krasznahorkai has written five novels and several collections of essays and short stories. In 1993, he received the German Bestenliste Prize for the best literary work of the year for The Melancholy of Resistance and has since been honoured with numerous literary prizes, amongst them the highest award of the Hungarian state, the Kossuth Prize.. “One of the reasons my sentences are very long is that I became always closer and closer to speech. If you are telling me something meaningful, suggestive, you don’t use the dot, you don’t need it. The full stop, the comma, these are conventions. Long and short are conventions,” Krasznahorkai said in an interview for in 2012. Krasznahorkai has won the Best Translated Book Award in the US two years in a row, in 2013 for Satantango and in 2014 for Seiobo There Below, a collection of 17 stories in which artists find transcendence while the other protagonists experience utter bewilderment.

Alain Mabanckou

Publiée le 2013-03-27 par carre

ALAIN MABANCKOU (Republic of Congo)

Alain Mabanckou was born in the Republic of Congo in 1966; he learned French when he was six, before that he spoke five or six African languages: Bembé, Lingala, Laari, Munukutuba, Vili, Kamba. He left his native Congo-Brazzaville in 1989 for France and did not return for 23 years. He is a celebrated novelist, lecturer and poet, and the recipient of major awards including the Grand Prix Littéraire de l’Afrique noire and a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur. He is currently professor of French and francophone studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. His novels that have been translated into English are African Psycho, Broken Glass, Memoirs of a Porcupine, Black Bazaar, Letter to Jimmy and most recently, The Lights of Pointe-Noire, which records the two weeks of his last visit to his home town, as he catches up with his family and assesses the changes—in the place and in himself.

credit: VAN NIEKERK (South Africa)

Marlene Van Neikerk, an award-winning poet, novelist and short story writer, was born in 1954 in Caledon, South Africa. She is Professor of Afrikaans and Dutch literature and Creative Writing at Stellenbosch University and held the Unesco Africa Chair in Utrecht in 2007 – 2008. Neikerk is best known for her books Triomf, translated by Leon de Kock, and Agaat, translated by Michiel Heyns, who won the Sol Plaatje Prize for Translation in 2007. Agaat, translated as The Way of the Women in English, won the Sunday Times Literary Prize 2007 and the Hertzog Prize 2007. The film adaptation of Triomf, directed by Michael Raeburn, won the Best South African Film Award at the Durban International Film Festival, 2008.

Amy Winehouse: A Diva with Demons

24 Aug

Amy Winehouse in High School

Amy Winehouse in high school

The world’s reaction to Amy Winehouse’s death seems like everyone did and didn’t know she was going to die.  When she was finally found in her Camden house on 23rd July, the media was shocked and validated at the same time. People who are now using her death as a platform for their outrage against the irresponsible practices of record firms, the glorification of drug and alcohol abuse by celebrities, the regressiveness of drug laws, etc- are the very same who mutely witnessed Amy Winehouse’s most pathetic avatars of battered, bloodied, glassy-eyed self destruction.

 Few who saw the living figure of Winehouse on one of her binges ever described her as fragile, heartbroken, a creative inspiration, a delicate flower – or other such gentle epithets that are now being showered on her memory like flowers on her grave. In short, most people have granted Amy Winehouse in death the empathy that she might have got in life. I credit this to the fact that, sadly, there might be some dignity in death, but there is absolutely none in wandering the streets of London barefoot, sobbing, in jeans and a red bra.

Distressed Amy Winehouse

A Distressed Amy Winehouse Outside her London Home

Addicts are truly pitiable creatures. Whether they are Grammy-winning superstars or homeless junkies, they are commonly the object of public humiliation. While the world waxes poetic about Amy Winehouse’s tragic life and death, there are so many who are doing exactly what she did, who are not being pitied or venerated, who are, in fact, being scorned, derided and descriminated against. Most people are unaware of the fact that, setting aside genetic predisposition and other extraneous factors such as environment and availability, addiction is a disease just like any other disease. Just as a healthy person who looks at someone diagnosed with cancer and tells himself, “that could never happen to me,” is secure in his own superior physical makeup and perceived immortality; the same way a person who looks at an addict and says “that could never happen to me,” is filled with a sense of security and even hubris over his own balanced mental state, superior life choices and lack of chemical dependancy.

It is this very false sense, coupled with the sometimes sheer repulsiveness of the addict’s outward aspect, that creates an Otherness which permits non-addicts to treat an addict with hostility and disparagement. In turn, this discrimination plays a significant role in further enlarging the addicts’ already overblown capacity for self-hatred and inability to take in support and love. So once again, they turn to alcohol and opiods like heroin which replicate the chemistry of a relational connection, and/or stimulants like cocaine and metamphetamines, that produce a sense of worthiness. In this way, we help perpertuate the cycle of “woe is me” to “wow is me” to “woe is me” again, in which they are already deeply embedded.

In August, Amy Winehouse’s family released a statement saying that toxicology reports showed that there were no illegal drugs in her system at the time of death.  The reports do indicate that there was alcohol present in her system, but it is unclear whether that contributed to her death. So until the results of an inquest, which is due in October, are published, it is anybody’s guess about what got her in the end. This uncertainty truly underscores the point which Maia Szalavitz makes in her blogpost “The Pain Of Addiction”, which was published a day after Winehouse’s death:

“One thing, however, is certain. Blaming drugs or  Winehouse’s “enablers” for her death misses the point: what she needed was compassion, most of all from herself.”

I agree. What should be taken away from all this is not that Amy Winehouse was an addict whose addiction killed her, but that she was a person who had been apportioned far more than her fair share of unhappiness and heartache, even if it was mostly self-inflicted.  As for all the fame, money and accolades, just like in Humpty Dumpty,they just summed up to all the king’s horses and all the king’s men-  not enough to put her shattered psyche back together again.

There are millions like Amy Winehouse, struggling to feel comfortable in their own skin; yearning for, and at the same time rejecting love and social acceptance. One doesn’t need to have an indepth knowledge of addiction, or a degree in psychology to empathise with these people. In my view, compassion and empathy are inextricably linked with a knowledge of our own fallibility and fragility. Maybe we can never completely envision ourselves in Amy Winehouse’s place, but surely we can realise that her situation, and the situation of others like her are not such a far cry from us as we would like to believe.

(Update: On 26th October 2011, coroner Suzanne Greenway gave a verdict of “death by misadventure”, stating that Amy Winehouse’s death was caused by fatal levels of alcohol in her system.)

A Formidable Fest

3 Feb


As look up when you enter the Diggi Palace

Look Up for A Riot of Colours

For a voracious reader, the Jaipur Literature Festival ’11, held at the Diggi Palace in the heart of the city, was something in the way of an elegant five course meal. Newer writers like Tishani Doshi, Sonia Faleiro, Ira Trivedi, Anjum Hasan and H.M. Naqvi, served as an amuse-bouche, along with interesting hors d’oeuvres such as M.J. Akbar, Gurcharan Das, Patrick French, Basharat Peer, Tarun Tejpal, etc. The entrée consisted of fecund discussions on topics as varied as ‘Mao: The Unknown Story’, ‘Aisi Hindi Kaisi Hindi’, ‘Kashmir Kashmir’, ‘A Painter’s Life’, ‘Sex and the City’, ‘Why Books Matter’, and so on and so forth, while the plat du jour offered that rare and exotic bird- the Nobel Prize winner, in this case Orhan Pamuk and J.M. Coetzee; as well as other literary and lyrical giants like Arthur Miller, Vikram Seth, Kiran Desai, Junot Diaz, Liaquat Ahmed, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi. For desert were all the hipster lovelies, in their painted-on jeans, knee-high boots and off-shoulder H&M tops, massive SLR camera’s dangling from their elegant if somewhat scrawny necks, sipping cocktails at the Fab India café or twittering furiously on their smartphones.

But enough shop talk, this post is not going to be some tedious technical litany on all that was said and done at the Jaipur Literature Festival- by the journalists, the writers, the movers and shakers, the path finders, the heavy hitters, the catalysts, and other sundry persons of palpable presence. Rather it is a camera obscura sketch of what was seen, heard, smelt and felt, by the author of this blog.  There was so much conversation, so many sessions, so much discourse- that all of its 30,000 attendees can walk away with their own personal Jaipur Literature Festival, as reminisced and chronicled by them. And so I’d like to concentrate on the few instances that made it memorable in a way that can never be rehashed in the history of me. (A bit egocentric but there you have it.)


Blue Double Doors

Blue Double Doors

The Ajmer Shatabdi leaves New Delhi railway station at the ungodly hour of 6:05 am. You somehow find your seat in a daze of jerky somnolence and pray to god that you get off at Jaipur and not Ajmer, the train’s final destination.  The scene outside your cloudy double glass window gently undulates from the garbage strewn outskirts of Delhi, to the fresh green and yellow sarson fields of Haryana, topped with the slightest curlique of morning mist, to the more arid, bristly-haired and brushy landscapes of Rajasthan, until voila, Jaipur (if you’re still awake and lucid at this point of time I mean). And so, though tired and sleep deprived, by the early afternoon your spirit revived, as you made your way to that magical place, the Jaipur Literature Festival.


J.M. Coetzee Introduced by Patrick French

J.M. Coetzee Introduced by Patrick French

Beyond the Diggi Palace’s blue double doors,  J.M Coetzee was reading out a story named “The Old Woman And The Cats”- a heartbreaking narrative that elegantly devolves upon the perceived injustice of contraception.  Introducing his story, Coetzee said,

“I debated with myself whether this particular story would be suitable for an Indian audience, since it relies rather heavily on Roman Catholic theology, in particular on the question of whether contraception- the deliberate prevention of conception, is against the will of God. But then I thought to myself, ‘At least Hinduism takes seriously the question of where souls come from, and go to, which is more than can be said for the secular west.’”

At 70 years old, Coetzee looks like a lean, lanky hero from a spaghetti western. You know the kind- an hombre who speaks softly and carries a big gun, or, as in Coetzee’s case, a big pen. Stoic and South African, Coetzee restricted his exposure to an over-eager Indian sound byte mafia for a memorable if somewhat brief 45-minute reading of his short story which brought one to tears; not only for its content but also for its composition.


Vikram Seth reading out one of his poems

Vikram Seth reading out one of his poems

If you’re someone who has tons of questions about poetry, prose, allegory or irony, or just how to get started writing, then an open mike seminar with Vikram Seth is a chance in a million. He is somewhat of an artist when it comes to pleasing crowds. Seth smiled pleasantly and bantered lightly about his books, his writing and his adventures in glass blowing and about suggestions he had received for a prospective sequel to a Suitable Boy, which included A Suitable Girl, An Unsuitable Boy and of course, An Unsuitable Girl. He spoke about the book’s pivotal character, Lata, who would be in her 80’s by any sequel, her current zeitgeist, her probable takes on the perennial conundrum of the Arranged Indian Marriage, and about his poetry, reading out a few favorites. With his articulate manner and easy charm,Vikram Seth was like Professor Henry Higgins, only a lot less bearish. In fact I almost expected him to break out into the following lines from My Fair Lady:

“Well after all, Pickering, I’m an ordinary man,
Who desires nothing more than an ordinary chance,
to live exactly as he likes, and do precisely what he wants…
An average man am I, of no eccentric whim,
Who likes to live his life, free of strife,
doing whatever he thinks is best, for him,
Well… just an ordinary man…

The highlight of my trip to the Jaipur Literary Festival was when Vikram Seth read out “The Frog and The Nightingale”- a poem from his collection of ten fables in verse, titled “Beastly Tales From Here and There”- which every fourteen-year-old who studied under the CBSE board had to memorize, recite and possibly, (at least in my case) love.

For this formidable feast, among others we need to thank William Dalrymple – travel writer, historian and chronic Indophile, whose books include ‘City of Djinns’, ‘The Age of Kali’ and ‘White Mughals’. Dalrymple and writer/publisher Namita Gokhale have been at the helm of the festival, serving as its directors since 2006. The Jaipur Literature Festival is the largest literary festival in the Asia-Pacific region and is produced by Sanjoy K. Roy, Sheuli Sethi and Teamwork Productions. The festival is held every year in for five days in January, and is definitely worth a trip to Rajasthan. Then again, Rajasthan is worth a trip to Rajasthan. Session videos of this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival have been put up on its official website’s programme page.




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Here’s Why All Dogs Go To Heaven

1 Dec

Do any of you remember that Disney movie “All Dogs Go to Heaven”? Short synopsis: Charlie B. Barkin, a trampy german shepherd, gets into some bad gambling debts which land him into  trouble with an evil dog villain called Carface Carruthers and he ends up double crossed, and dead.  He finds himself in heaven by default, since All Dogs Go To Heaven. He cons his way back to earth because he wants to make good on his debt, teaming up with his old buddy Itchy, a paranoid,  hyper-active dachshund who helps to avenge the wrong done to Charlie by the despicable pitbull Carruthers.

Along the line, he rescues a girl called Anne-Marie from the clutches of Carface, who had been using her ability to talk to animals to predict the outcome of races. Charlie is then tempted with the idea of using Ann-Marie for the same nefarious purpose, but then he catches feelings and decides to give the poor little human girl a chance at liberty.

The premise of the whole movie is the statement made by the heavenly Whippet who guards the Pearly Gates , who says that all dogs go to heaven because “Dogs are naturally kind”. But the movie is quite the opposite, with all the dogs being slimy, skeevy portrayals of a stereotypical human criminal underclass. The only “naturally kind” person in the movie is Anne Marie, a human, who is finally the one to reform Charlie enough for him to be sent back to heaven. Even for Disney, the racial and colonial undertones are well, overtones. This movie was made in 1989 but you can see the same message being played out in the Narnia series, where it takes a bunch of “human” children to whip a kingdom of animals into an era of order, peace and prosperity. All you need to do is substitute the word animals with the word savages or natives, and hey presto, the racist truth.  Because what are savages but sub-human? And what does  the word sub-human basically denote? Something that is less than human, that is animal.

Children’s cartoons are now allowed to convey the vocabulary that mainstream media has been injuncted from by various human  rights groups. A subversive message of intellectual superiority disguised as brightly coloured and  digitally enhanced visuals. To buttress this argument, let’s try to answer the question why most cartoon characters are based around animals, or mythical creatures, or anything that is basically not human?  Because even though these characters  are human stereotypes, it would land these companies into a world of hurt if they showed them for what they really, truly are. Imagine if the crows from Dumbo, or King Louie from the Jungle Book had been portrayed as human rather than animal? Or lets figure out Shrek, hmmm….an angry Ogre with a Scottish accent?  Who wants equal rights? No, no, that’s not imperialist at all!  And of course we don’t blame Aladdin for the fact that EVERYONE confuses a man in some sort of turban for a terrorist these days. Doesn’t matter that the Sultan of Agrabah looked less like a militant  islamist and more like a sweet happy Sikh who just wanted his daughter to hold her own once he wasn’t around to look after her.

Anyway, All Dogs Go to Heaven got it right and it also got it wrong. It said that all dogs are naturally kind, but then it didn’t show any dogs that were naturally kind, and that’s why the movie bombed, I think.  It couldn’t cash in the check that the title wrote out in such a bold font. It took something that is intrinsically true of canine nature, and then had to subvert it to human nature.

So here’s why I think All Dogs Go To Heaven. Yes, it is because they are naturally kind.  Dogs are kinder than children. A child may make torture another child because he/she is bored and doesn’t know any better, but a dog is incapable of doing so.  The emotion of Schadenfreude: delight in another’s misfortune, is completely alien to the canine species as a whole, and if that’s not a ticket to the Pearly Gates, or Moksha, or Nirvana, I don’t know what is.

Even though I’ve waxing eloquent on the virtues of dogs for two pages or more, I need to add this one last thing. I’ve had a dog every single day of my waking life. The day I was born, our dog Ringo, a very slobbery Boxer decided to make his way up to heaven. Then there was our needy Irish Setter, Red (yeah he was red so we named him Red, god what an annoying animal) and then Gina who adopted a goat, and Buster, a bull terrier who used to get such bad lockjaw that you had to throw a pail of water before he’d let go of any poor stray animal, and Milo, a Labrador who liked to eat eggshells and plastic bags, and Nelson, another Boxer, who likes to chase butterfly shadows, and Stooey, our Dachshund who falls in love with every new maid who comes to work in our house, (by the way, Stooey was the only one at my Dad’s funeral, who’d bark at his picture and wag his tail) and Lisa my Basset Hound who will kiss you only if she’s in a good mood, to Chamko, my pariah, who makes strange shrieking sounds every time the husband parks his car, to Biggie my German Shepherd, who is, well an ass, who I had to torture everyday when he was two months old with an IV two times a day for three weeks because he had parvovirus, and who had a frickin’ seizure on the vet’s table, and who still jumps onto my bed three times a day to say hi. Phew.

How could dogs not go to heaven? If a place does so exist.  Or if you believe in spiritual evolution, then I hope that my last incarnation is that of a dog, preferably a Rottweiler, so at least before I die, I can literally bite someone in the ass!

Inception: Reliving the Dream

16 Sep

Inception Poster

The husband and I went to see Inception just before it got bumped off its long and successful two week run at Chandigarh movie theatres.  We went for an 11 o’clock show and were amazed to find that the hall was chock-a-block full of discerning gabrus and mutiars who had chosen Christopher Nolan’s Chuang Tzu butterfly moment over their standard fare of Hello Darling, Lafangey Parindey and Ik Kudi Punjab Di.

Chuang Tzu Dreaming of a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of Chuang Tzu
Chuang Tzu Dreaming of a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of Chuang Tzu

We settled in for some spectacular visuals and a big tub of caramelized popcorn which the husband held on to like it was our baby, or rather, his baby. We were not altogether disappointed , that is a fact. Rotten Tomatoes describes Inception as “Smart, innovative, and thrilling- that rare summer blockbuster that succeeds viscerally as well as intellectually.” But I think it’s better described as M.C. Escher on crack.

M.C. Escher's Relativity
M.C. Escher’s Relativity

I say this firstly because Inception explores the idea of a man (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb) who makes a living by stealing information from peoples’ minds through their dreams. And secondly, because this particular exercise of dream theft apparently entails the creation of complex dream architecture, i.e., the only way to infiltrate a person’s deep subconscious is to create a dream within a dream with a dream, ad nauseam..really.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s rag-tag bunch of dream bandits  (Joseph Gordon-Levitt,Ellen Page, Dileep Rao, Tom Hardy) get ready to perpetrate the act of “Inception”- or planting an idea so deep into a person’s subconscious that the dreamer would never cotton on to the fact that the idea wasn’t his or her own to begin with. For this, they have to create different dreams within dreams, or Escher-like “levels”- in order to successfully infiltrate demi-antagonist Cillian Murphy’s mind- and plant the idea of Murphy disintegrating his father’s vast business empire. For this they are funded by Ken Watanabe, Murphy’s corporate rival. Into all of this is thrown Marion Cotillard’s character, Mal, who as Cobb’s dead wife persists in haunting his dreams, and sabotaging his plans throughout the film.

When you try to weave such an intricate web, as with Inception, there are bound to be a few loose threads just waiting to be unraveled. And so as a peremptory measure, Christopher Nolan has cunningly peppered his current cinematic magnum opus with so many shock and awe CG stunt visuals, that the audience is momentarily too dumbfounded to find those loose threads, let alone unravel them.

But as a serial lucid dreamer, I must say, that I sat there looking at Christopher Nolan’s colossal dream world folding into itself, at  a world freezing at mid-explosion, at mirrors becoming bridges and archways, at dreams goons turning violently on  anything that disturbs the REM mind, at Joseph Gordon Levitt using a clever M.C. Escher stairway ploy to kill a dream goon, and I thought, “Hmm, I’ think I’ve dreamt better…”

Which brings me to the real reason of writing this post-My dreams. Also your dreams, his dreams, her dreams, their dreams, our dreams. Like I said earlier, I’m a lucid dreamer. That means that my dreams are as real to me as a sense of entitlement is to say, to a small town princeling, or Paris Hilton, or Cadillac the dog.

Here’s a good example of lucid dreaming:  It is said that Giuseppe Tartini, an Italian composer and violinist, dreamed that the Devil appeared to him and asked to be his servant. In his dream, the Devil played a beautiful sonata that enraptured Tartini. When the composer awoke he immediately jotted down the sonata, desperately trying to recapture what he had heard in the dream. Despite the sonata being successful with his audiences, Tartini lamented that the piece was still far from what he had heard in his dream. According to some sources, Tartini said that what he had written was- “So inferior to what I had heard, that if I could have subsisted on other means, I would have broken my violin and abandoned music forever.”

I believe that our dreams far surpass anything that we can imagine in waking life. And compared to real dreams, Christopher Nolan’s stunning visuals are just contrived quixotic landscapes -with deflated objects derived from weird lurid constructivism,  and then pumped full of CG goodness, like a Twinkie is pumped full of some moist, glossy filling- leaving everyone just a little bit nauseous.

What I want to say is that in my opinion, Inception might be a breakthrough as far as the imagination goes, but not as far as dreams go. Our dreams far outstrip our imagination, and that is why we wake up with a sense of astonishment and wonder every time we remember our dreams. Our dreams are better than movies, and most definitely better than movies about dreams. So next time you have a lucid dream, don’t sell it short, see how awesome your  own dreamscape is (or isn’t),compared to what’s already out there.

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What A Poetic Way

3 Sep Last Walk Together

Each night that you came home,

I called you Papa/Daddy; Papa/Donkey,

You used to call me your piglet, little monkey.

You used to lift me up so high, my happy faced Pa,

And then we’d go watch Mowgli, Bagheera and Kaa.

You’d snuggle me and cuddle me,

And play koti-kusti, give me koti-kissy,

And tell me I was your pretty little missy.

And I’d watch Tom and Jerry, and then propose,

“Daddy, possibly can I snip off your Ear? Or your Nose?”

You always got me whatever I wanted,

When I was five, you got me a white kitten,

Badepapa was horrified, even though I was smitten,

“Your Papa really spoils you”, Badimummy would say,

You’d shrug and whisper, “While the sun shines make hay!”

Hay was made, and the sun shone bright,

But one day it was over, and I just had to grow up,

You grumbled to yourself, some insolent, snotty lil pup,

Will have his paws all over my piglet, and I’ll have to make jest,

You told yourself quietly, by my daughter, I’ll just have to do my best.

You did do your best Daddy, your bestest best,

You married me off, to a sweet funny man, with good hair,

To boot, and who jokes and who smiles like he doesn’t have a care,

A happy guy with a face that lights up, with silly small crinkles in his smile,

Who makes everyone around him laugh, loving me so much all the while.

I thought my life was perfect, I had my two very best guys,

Beside me, while walking up the hairpin turns of Dhoopgarh hill, till,

Till I snapped around and saw you, chest heaving, eyes turning, breathe still.

I said “Breathe Papa, just breathe!” and held you in my arms, while he went for help.

But you were still, still, gone beyond hope, beyond kittens, beyond sunshine, and beyond help.

What a poetic way to die, for a man who had not time for poetry,

The hour, the time, the people, the light, the wind, the tree and the place,

None would’ve have known that you’re not there, except for the look on your face,

A quiet man if you will, never made a show of things, a good father, a good husband, a good son,

No one will remember what he has done.

The Day I Met Biggie Smalls

29 Jul

Biggie Smalls

What now?

Be forewarned, only the strong of stomach should try reading this post. If you wish to proceed, I will not be responsible if your gag reflex mimics that of french existentialists in their first trimester. (Didn’t get it? Then run away you philistine!) Or stick around actually, I need the readership.
Our story begins on a sun baked April afternoon in Chandigarh. The kind of day when you still can’t believe that this was the same city, that just two months ago it was so cold, you would’ve given your left kidney for central heating and a hot toddy. It was the kind of afternoon where the sun is like a big bully in tight stripey pants standing outside your classroom, just waiting for the lunch bell to ring so that he can drag you by the pigtails across the corridor, while his friends just laugh and jeer.
Ok, quick segue to explain that whole analogy. There were only two CBSE schools in my home town when I was young and impressionable –  Bhagwandas Purohit Vidya Mandir or BVM, which was kind of like a pundit factory/right wing charm school, and Centre Point School, which was run by minor Congress aristocracy. CP was also a charm school of sorts, but the only charm lessons we had there was learning how to charm the Bong mafia that was our faculty and how to assimilate within the Madu brigade, which made up 85% of the student body. (Yes, I like to profile). To add egregious insult to grievous injury, we had to wear stripey blue pants with suspenders for the boys, and stripey blue pinafores for girls, with, wait for it, BOW TIES!! Yes children, bow ties with our house colours. Now its OK if you belong to Red House, or Green House, or even Blue House, but I was in YELLOW house! It was like wearing a little piece of puke around my neck everyday. No wonder bullies liked to pull me across the corridor by my pigtails and make me flash half of 8th B, C and D. Anyway, this is clearly material for another post. (I must tell you how I was slapped by my choir teacher for shutting my ears during practice.)

So back to that April afternoon. I was wandering around Sector 6 in Panchkula looking for the ONE tailor who can stitch a sari blouse and doesn’t just specialize in patiala salwar suits, or like my dear uber-Parsi aunt Marina calls them- Punjabis. (Ooh Dahling, what a lovely Punjabi she had on, with embroidery and everything!) As I looked around for Aradhna Boutique, SCO-1123536, or whatever inscrutable number it was, I heard a soft but distinct whining from one of the ground floor shops. I cupped my hands to the side of my head and pressed my nose against the dirty glass door. Inside I saw three puppies scrambling one on top of the other in what should only have been used as a hamster cage, for one hamster. There was one that looked like a little white rat, which turned out to be a Pomeranian pup, so actually, my first impression was pretty accurate. Another, that looked like a black water balloon, turned out to be an overfed 30-day-old Labrador who could barely open his eyes. And the last one, who was the cause of all the commotion and puppy angst, was a furry little German Sheperd. While the other two sickly pups resigned to their fate, which would probably be at the mercy of some sticky handed fat Punjabi child who would pick them up by their tails and bash their heads against the side of the wall before the day was through, that little furry whelp was pawing and whining away at the indignity of it all.

Biggie Smalls and Chamko

Biggie with the Chamkutrie

Of course my first instinct was to adopt the whole lot, and try and give them to good homes. But the mental picture of the husband throwing me out of the house along with my three puppies (No, I jest, the husband is a kindly soul, at most he would have shrugged his shoulders in dismay and bemusement), plus the particular monetary constraints imposed by the fact that I am not a lottery winner, had me facing a Sophie’s choice of sorts. Which puppy to save? Or that none of them needed saving. They’d all go to good families. Another angry whine had me convinced otherwise. So I walked up to the despicable pet shop owner and had him show me the three puppies. He took each one to a makeshift sink, first picking up the pom and then the lab by their midriffs and shoving their little snouts into what looked like vomit but turned out to be cerelac. Then finally he had the German Sheperd squirming in his hands, dying to get to the bowl of cerelac, like it was the highlight of his otherwise miserable day.
I didn’t want any of those puppies, they were not very pretty and not too appealing, but I couldn’t walk away without doing anything, because then I’d be a total asshole in my view of life. And then the GSD pup did that one thing, that one thing that some people just can’t resist, he looked me straight in the eye. Big brown sad eyes, looking at me like how could you leave me here….
And that was it, I picked up his furry little ass, paid the evil man 6000 bucks from my savings, put him in my car and drove home. Of course he pooped in my car, and then proceeded to lodge his body between the steering wheel and myself. It was kind of a nice feeling, careening around those gol chakkars, feeling his warm little body on my stomach, hoping that he wouldn’t wake up till he got to his new home.

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Jugni Rehndi Sector Char or How NOT to Party in Chandigarh

12 Mar

The Husband and I finally figured out that we’re a far cry from ever being invited to the cool parties in Sectors 9 & 10, where you will find the oh so de rigueur Mercedes (pronounced Marsadee!) or Audi or Beamer parked ass to elbow in every drive way. So we decided to make our own partaaay tracks in the Chandigarh party circuit by becoming frequent patrons of the hottest hot spot, wait for it, S-Lounge.

Haha. And I say haha first of all because S-lounge is actually an offshoot of Swagath South Indian Restaurants of Defence Colony fame. The second reason I say haha is because when you actually get to SL you find it populated with the likes of Bliss Chadha and Bunny Bhullar. Bunny’s real name is of course Gurnimram or Nimpreet or your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine-Deep/Preet/Jeet. Bliss unfortunately, is just Bliss. As are Lovely, Great and Baby.

The third reason I say haha is because both Bunny (who is a chick in this case) and Bliss (who is not a chick in this case) are effing drop dead gorgeous! You look at these people and you feel like you’re lacking a vital chromosome.  The men and women that I have noticed in Chandigarh are by far the most prime specimens of the Indian race that I have ever seen.

The Husband’s explanation for this is that Chandigarh is the locus for all the best looking North Indian strains in Punjab to congregate and proliferate. So, in short, you have the cream of the crop, Mughal Invasion Residual Genetic Legacy Heir-Apparents, generally hanging around doing their thing.

Being a piddly little Parsi from Vidarbha, where most people look like dried up licorice sticks, I thought that the Husband in all his Punjabidom, his Peshawari Potency,  his Rawalpindi Raw Sex Appeal, his Mirpur Khas Machismo,was the cat’s pajamas. Not anymore. The Husband is but a drop in the vast ocean that is 3rd Generation Post Independence Punjabis.

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Travel Guide: An Interview with an Idol

26 Feb

Tirupati Temple

The Temple Complex

On the Road.

“Beta, charger lidu ke?” Did you take your mobile  charger?

“Haan, papa,” Yes papa.

“Wallet lido?” Took your wallet?


“Bheju lidu?” Remember to bring your brain along?

“No papa, with you around, I’m afraid my brain will explode, so I left it back at the hotel,” I said huffily. This was vintage Dad, teasing banter peppered with a hundred inane questions.

Ever since I can remember, if my father decides to go on a trip, it will start with him obsessive-compulsively checking and rechecking that he has every single thing he may, or may not need, at arm’s length, preferably in a zip-lock pouch, sealed. It drives me cuckoo. Ergo the brains comment.

This particular exchange happened when we were on our way to Tirupati, a town about 150 kilometres from Chennai. Tirupati is at the foot of Tirumala hills, the seventh peak of which was our final destination. The peak is home to a very famous temple, dedicated to Lord Sri Venkateswara Swami.

He has about a million different names, in the northern part of the country he’s known as Lord Balaji while in the south he’s most commonly referred to as Lord Venkateswara. We planned to walk up the 4000 steps, covering a distance of 14 kilometres, which would get us to the temple complex.

This trip was a total fly by the seat of your pants kind of operation which left no room for my father’s neurotic strategizing. As we drove past sweeping green fields of ground-nut and paddy, he sat nervously in the front seat, squirming like a little child, talking on his cell phone to arrange accommodation and tomorrow’s darshan.

An appointment with Lord Balaji was serious business, not to be left to mere chance, and we had arranged to meet with a certain Mr. P., a contact who would arrange for us to enter the sanctum sanctorum to get a glimpse of the idol.

Travel Guide: Tirupati: The 4000 steps to the Temple Complex

One step at a time

We started our hike at about six a.m. It was still pretty dark but there were already a lot of people around. Men, women, children, young and old alike, all ready to scale these arduous steps in the cool blue morning. They were mostly barefoot, and I felt like a total geek, in my puma sneakers and my backpack full of Gatorade and potato chips (Dad’s idea).

We started walking up what seemed like a gentle slope, with a step every foot or so, “Easy,” I thought, “I could do this in my sleep.”

Hah! The gentle slope suddenly snow-balled into what seemed like a wall of stairs, almost at ninety degrees to the ground. After a while I started to feel dizzy, and my heart was slamming against my rib-cage. Puff, puff, pass out.

“Don’t look up,” my dad said. “Just look at the steps in front of you. If you look up, just the sight of how much is left will tire you out. Kind of like life, one step at a time, with the ultimate goal at the back of your mind, not in direct sight.” My Dad can be pretty smart.

I was very impressed that most of the women were climbing in saris, something I’d never dream of doing. Chubby, heaving ammas were lumbering alongside there slimmer daughters or daughters-in-law, whom they’d occasionally grab for support.

A pair of newly-weds passed us. While the husband carefully placed a camphor drop on each step, the bride would light it with a taper. The little flames looked very pretty, and if I squinted just a little, it looked like a tiny lava flow coming down the steps.

Each step was daubed with streaks of vermillion and saffron. I wondered about that till I saw a woman with a bowl, anointing each step as she walked up. Later, I saw a lot of women doing that, while their men just watched. It seemed like the women were holy menials, while the men did the important stuff, like asking God for favours and such.

The morning grew brighter, and we stopped next to a small shrine at the edge of the slope to take in the view. I could see the other peaks, which were covered in dense, rough forest, not a single patch of brown. The idol in the shrine intrigued me; it had the body of a woman, and the face of an animal bearing its teeth. I stared at it for a while, then shrugged, paid my respects and moved on.

A tall man walked by, with his two small sons on each shoulder. “A human tree bearing the fruit of his loins,” I thought. I think the climb had me a little light headed. Then the newly-weds again. They were both thin, with big, brown, solemn eyes.

The wife wore a synthetic, lurid pink sari and fake gold jewelry, and the husband was all in white, carrying a plastic bag with some food in it. They both had a thin gold string tied around their foreheads; they looked very young and very poor.

Travel Guide: Tirupati: At the summit


At about a quarter to nine, we were almost at the top. The last leg of the climb was on a footpath hugging the road that leads up to the temple complex. As we trampled on in the bright, cloudless day, cars and buses roared past us on their way up, rich people drove up in their fancy cars and imported SUV’s. Probably to pray to God to make them richer.

We reached the temple complex at about nine a.m. We called up Mr. P and arranged to meet him at one of the parking lots.

Mr. P stepped out of a white Indica. He was fairly tall, a bit unctuous, and had a gigantic thiurmann, which is a vermillion line within a white U, on his forehead. The Thirumann signifies that the wearer is a follower of Vishnu, of whom Sri Venkateswara is said to be an incarnation.

“Sir, I hope you don’t mind sir, but I have got five passes for VIP darshanam. I was hoping I could bring my wife and daughter along.” This “sir-sandwich” business always puts me off. It made me feel like the guy was a bit of an operator, and I soon found out that I wasn’t wrong.

Mr. P was a real pro at arranging darshanams. “Follow me and stay close!” he said to us. Then he kind of hunched forward, as if preparing to take off, tucked his leather pouch under his arm, and suddenly shot off in the direction of the queue complex, which one has to go through to get to the sanctum sanctorum.

I raced behind him, frantic that I might lose him in the crowd, yelling at my dad to keep up and keep close. The queue complex consists of a long, winding corridor, snaking its way to the inner temple. Human bodies are hedged in by iron grills on both sides, almost standing on top of each other, like the second-class compartment of a Bombay local. People stand for more than 24 hours in that hellish furrow, to look at the deity for less than a second.

Of course, us VIP darshan types don’t have to do all that. I felt quite sheepish and a bit guilty as Mr. P led us through obsequious side-entrances, bypassing the main queue completely. We rapidly covered ground outside the iron grills, while the pilgrims inside watched our progress placidly, without animosity towards the VIPness of it all.

The gates to the inner temple are thick wooden doors covered with gold and silver leaf. Images of gods, goddesses, animals, flowers, trees etc. were everywhere – beaten into the metal, carved into stone pillars, placed as statues, you name it.

The chanting was a faint murmur in the beginning, a soft rumble of faraway thunder; I didn’t even really notice it. A pot-bellied pujari approached us, he wore a simple white mundu with a red and green border. He was bare-chested and wore a Janayu, a cotton string across his chest, the sign of a high caste Hindu. His thirumann beat Mr. P’s hollow, in terms of size.

Mr. P folded his hands in a namaste, and spoke to him in Tamil. We were right outside the sanctum sanctorum now, and it was obvious that Mr. P was trying to convince the pujari to let us in. Finally, Mr. P. slipped him a hundred rupee note, the pujari nodded wisely and let us through the wooden doors with gold filigree. It was pretty slick, like slipping the manager a little something to be let into a posh nightclub.

My Dad the second time he visited Tirupati - in "Full Darshan Regalia" as he called it.

We were in the belly of the temple, the seat of Lord Balaji. There was gold everywhere, on the walls, on the ceiling, on the doors, just everywhere. The chanting turned from a murmur to a roar. “Govinda, Govinda, GOOOOVINDAAAA!” they cried, eyes almost rolling into their sockets in religious fervour.

They folded their hands and raised them up high, so that Lord Balaji should be able to see that they approached him with earnest obeisance. A father raised his newborn child high over his head, so that the deity may notice and bless him or her. Many of them had shaved heads, as a lot of devotees donate their hair to the temple, symbolically sacrificing their ego and offering it to God.

Something about these peoples’ blind, unswerving faith moved my father. An agnostic since he was a teenager, my father has never put much stock in God. This trip was more for my sake than anything else.

But as we stood there, I could see my father’s faith grow, like the Grinch’s heart on Christmas day, except instead of a bunch of carolling Whos, it was a bunch of bald headed pilgrims that had done the trick. The expression on his face softened and his eyes began to smile. I felt a great surge of affection as he looked on, quite upset as temple guards roughly pushed devotees out the exit doors, after barely a second’s worth of worship.

(NOTE: My Dad and I went on this trip in 2008, way before I started this blog. I lost my Dad in the summer of 2009 due to a massive heart attack.  This post is dedicated to him. He was my best friend and I miss him everyday)

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Book Review: Animal’s People by Indra Sinha

24 Feb

Jaanwar walks on four legs. He is rude, bawdy, irreverent and has a heart the size of an ocean. He lives in the fictional city of Khaufpur, where his spine was melted when a poisonous gas leak from a factory ravaged the city slums, on a night which is always referred to as “That Night”.

Jaanwar or Animal, is the nodal character of Indra Sinha’s book Animal’s People. His world consists of the Khaufpur slums and the people who live there. Ma Franci – the fossilized French nun who has devoted her life to the people of Khaufpur, the kind and elegant Nisha, the Christ-like Zafar, Elli, the “Amrikan doctress”, whose tight jeans keep Jaanwar’s loins in a state of turmoil, and finally, little Aliya, a fellow orphan of that night, whose cheeky spirit Animal cherishes. Over them all is cast the malevolent shadow of the “Kampani” – the absconding foreign owners of the factory, and the fear that the night which disfigured their lives will come again.

Animal, a street urchin and small time trickster, is wrenched out of his self-serving existence by Nisha, who gets him involved in Zafar’s crusade to seize justice for the gas victims. As he struggles to deal with this larger picture, Jaanwar is beset by the troubles of love, lust, fidelity, trust and truthfulness. He bilks all of Nisha’s attempts to repatriate him to “human” society and prefers to remain an “animal, fierce and free”. At the same time, he falls hopelessly in love with Nisha, and ends up trying to poison Zafar, with whom Nisha is besotted.

Animal insists on living in the bowels of the deserted factory, the proverbial “heart of darkness”. He prides himself as being the only person able to negotiate the poisonous jungle that by now has overwhelmed the factory’s skeleton. He describes the “pink and white powders” still lying about and the dry grasses waiting to catch fire, so that the poisonous gases may gush out once again. From the highest smokestack is a view of the Kampani’s killing grounds – the multitude of slums and hutments around its periphery.

Along with being incredibly poignant, Animal’s narrative is also at times grotesquely funny.  Most of the humour originates from his hilarious pejoratives for the people and circumstances around him, and the truly Indian mispronunciation of certain English words (Namispond, Jamispond – say it quickly). He also makes cynical fun of the bureaucratic clap-trap and political double-speak which Zafar and his fellow philanthropists have to combat  to bring the “Kampani” to book.

The book occasionally slips into magical realism, though it feels very real in the composite sense. The story swallows the reader from its very first sentence – “I used to be human once.” And at the end of it, you emerge with the feeling that the characters in the book are people that you have encountered in real life. Even Animal’s occasional drifts into imaginative gibberish only serve to buttress the corporeality of the story.

Even though Animal’s People is a work of fiction, it takes little effort to draw a line of inference from its narrative to the real life tragedy which occurred in Bhopal. The fact that it is fiction is doubly advantageous as it gives the author the freedom to write without the fear of lawsuits, and it has garnered attention to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy from corners  hitherto unaware of its occurrence.

Animal’s People in its entirety is an indictment of corporate terrorism and a stark reminder that the “Kampani’s” victims, real or fictitious, still seek retribution for what they have undergone. Animal’s People was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize and was the winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Best Book From Europe & South Asia.

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Travel Guide: The Hills are Alive With the Sound of Bhangra

23 Feb

Twilight in Kasauli

On weekends, the good folks of Chandigarh might pack up a picnic lunch and go careening up the hills to spend a day or two in quasi-high-altitude bliss.  We decided to follow suit, and after getting out of  Panchkula our rattletrap  Indica shuddered its way up through Pinjore, Kalka, took a left turn at Dharampur and voila, Kasauli.

See you soon you big baboon

Kasauli is about 60 km from Chandigarh and you can  probably travel up there in about an hour and a half if you don’t mind taking on those hair-raisingly blind hairpin turns at suicidal speeds. Never mind all those cautionary spectacles of the Mercedes  pichkaoed into a Santro, or the Maruti that looks like it’s being force-fed a boulder, or all the trucks that go OK TATA BYE BYE over the hillside.

Kasauli isn’t too far off but otherwise I’ve noticed that when you travel up to these places you kind of fall into a pleasant pentameter of hill, town, hill, town, hill, hill, town, town. Traffic usually bottlenecks when you get to a town and you have to crawl along its narrow streets lined with  dusty denizens selling patent leather handbags, ‘best’ furniture, furry caterpillar mufflers, home made fruit wine and pictures of gods, among other useful items.

Our driver Boviji got a little too carried away and drove us straight to Monkey Point, alternate spellings- Manky Point and Manki Point. Much Punjabi blusterings from the husband and Sardar grumblings from Boviji followed,  after which we had to backtrack about 5 k.m. through Garkhal to get to our resort. However, I wasn’t disappointed because there were many mankies at the resort also. Nice little mankies, who would scurry up the Chir-Pines at the slightest approach, not like the big Langur pricks we have in Maharashtra who just sit there and leer at you.

Outside the Firang Club Cafe

Kasauli is pretty much like any other hill town,  with magnificent vistas,  majestic Himalayan oaks, blah blah, yada, yada, yada. Frankly, I was much  more interested in making googly-eyes at the husband than playing the intrepid journalist,  so think of this post as more of a camera obscura sketch rather than an actual tourist guide report or a source of  tourist information. No breathtaking panoramas  in this post, sorry.

The Church

The highlight of our trip was probably the yummy leg of Raan we had for dinner, and this quaint, very Edgar Allan Poe-ish church near the bus stand. It had interesting gothic arches, a solid granite structure, a very laconic caretaker and Jai Yesu type music playing inside. The pews and the rafters also seemed to be of a very respectable solid oak and the few stained glass windows were unshattered and kept quite clean. Plus, the spotless alter cloth and dozens of candles were witness to the fact that people actually prayed there. I don’t know why but I found that surprising.

Another thing I loved were all these furry dogs running around like such mawalis, growling and bullying small children and these  miniature cows with a Napoleon Complex who look very placid but I’ve heard can be quite vicious.

Church Caretaker

Something or someone has definitely given the Up North Experience a face lift from what it was in the nineties. I remember going to Manali when I was thirteen and being disappointed at all the deforestation, the choked roads and the junglis roaming around in their gypsies – whose idea of summer fun was raping women. My family and I were with another couple,  who were a bit younger.  One evening, the reasonably sexy young wife decided to go for a walk  alone down one of Manali’s main streets, where she was accosted by a group of ominous men in an Omni, and was told to get in. But then she screamed and some stoned hippies came to her rescue. True story. I guess I have globalization to thank, because now those same junglis probably go to London and Switzerlaaand, making the north a relatively safer place for us day tripping yuppies.

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Staying Alive: An Ode To John Travolta’s 1970’s “Tooeii”

19 Feb

Movie Review: John Travolta in Staying Alive

This month the TV’s been showing a lot of John Travolta dancing movies like Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Staying Alive. I was channel surfing last night when a flash of red leotards arrested my attention.  I was startled to find that the God’s magnum opus butt I was staring at belonged to none other than John Travolta doing some really bad modern dance sequences. Staying Alive starts where Saturday Night Fever left off with Tony Manero struttin’ his stuff on Broadway hoping to catch his big break.

Finola Hughes in Staying Alive

Tony is now a professional dance instructor in Manhattan who has a chance to get a part in the hottest new Broadway musical out there- “Satan’s Alley”. He is torn between his best friend-with-benefits who looks a hell of a lot like Jennifer Paige (remember that song “it’s just a little crush…”) and this buck-toothed British chick whose name I just found out is Finola Hughes. But to her credit, she really is truly graceful in the dance sequences, so is friend- with-benefits.

I thought that Sylvester Stallone was a strange choice for director, I mean he doesn’t exactly come across as someone with a lot of balletic expertise. Yes, balletic, it’s a word, look it up. Anyway, the movie has a lot of the same charm as it’s disco driven predecessor, with lots of headbands, shiny red lipstick, feathery bangs and parti-colored leotards and legwarmers.  It’s lovely to watch Tony in tight jeans and a short leather jacket loping along rain drenched New York streets, with the movie’s tacky but award-winning soundtrack, which consists mostly of songs by the Bee Gees and some by Frank Stallone, Sly’s brother. Staying Alive picks up six years after where Saturday Night left off, with Tony Monero (John Travolta) a down on his luck dance instructor trying to to make it big on Broadway.

Finola Hughes and John Travolta

Tony, being the lovable sleazebag that he is, treats his too forgiving kind-of-girlfriend Jackie (If this movie were made now, she would be his “It’s Complicated” on Facebook), like crap. Jackie is in the chorus of a big Broadway show, where Tony runs into our buck-toothed British beauty who is wearing the world’s supply of shiny red lipstick.  True to his slutty self, Tony sleeps with Laura, tells her he thinks she’s awesome, to which Laura blithely replies that she’s quite done, thank you. At which point,Tony, after giving Laura lots of gaalis,  goes back to his ever faithful Jackie, who frankly could teach the Indian naari a thing or two about being a door mat.

Satan's Alley, Check Out that Extra!

The most deliciously  bad, absolutely tackiest part of the film is the horrendously funny play “Satan’s Alley”, in which all three pivotal characters  dance. Bright lights, lots of fake smoke and the ugliest pseudo S&M costumes worn by all the extras. No complaints about Tony’s outfit though, you really have to appreciate all the training he did with Sly Stallone for that body.

The movie was a commercial success, raking in about 65 million in the box office, and the soundtrack was nominated for one Golden Globe and a whole bunch of Grammys. Critics felt however that Staying Alive lacked the earthiness and organic characters of Saturday Night Fever.

I loved Staying Alive for its terrible clothes, its wooden but strangely  still interesting characters and the lovely New York scenes. And of course, John Travolta’s 1970’s bum in tight jeans strutting all over the place.

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Art for Art’s Sake- Sara Abraham’s love affair with Contemporary Indian Art

18 Feb

Phulki and the Akundo Flowers by A. Ramachandran

Contemporary Indian art is big, no, it’s huge. While art paintings of top-selling contemporary artists like Atul Dodiya and Subodh Gupta go for up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, older generation artists like M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, and A. Ramachandran, rake millions in the international markets. According to the Economic Times, Christie’s, contemporary fine art auctioneers with their headquarters in London, realized 10.1 million dollars in South Asian Modern & Contemporary Art alone in an auction held in September 2007.

Given all these heady figures and glamorous economics, it is a bit disorienting to sit next to a rather unlikely looking original prospector of the gold rush that is Contemporary Indian Art – a 79-year-old grandmother, who sits in her stylish but comfortable drawing-room in Chennai, sipping her mug of tea, her close shorn white hair silhouetted against the golden light of a tall brass lamp.

The first thing that you see when you enter Sara Abraham’s home is a painting of a lotus pond by A Ramachandran, which takes up almost an entire wall. You feel almost accosted by its deep rich colours, and it demands that you look at it for more than the polite minute. Yes, when you enter Sara Abraham’s house, you get kidnapped by Indian Art.

Other contemporary artists that her walls feature are M.F. Husain, F.N.Souza, Ganesh Haloi, Gogi Saroj Pal, Ramanujam, Bikash Bhattacharji, Tyeb Mehta, Vivan Sundaram, Ganesh Pyne, Jogen Chawdhury, and Janaky Ram. In a brightly lit corner sits her pet – a portrait of Sara by M.F. Husain, a present for her sixtieth birthday. “Sara at Serene Sixty”, proclaims the wooden overleaf, in a childish, comical scroll, presumably the artist’s.

Sara Abraham found Contemporary Indian art, but in a way Indian Art found her as well. When she was a new bride in the 1960’s, with nothing to do, Sara started looking at art the way other women of her time looked at saris and jewelry. Three years at the Government School of Arts in Madras and another year in Bombay gave her the eye she needed to fire up and sustain a passion that would last the better part of a lifetime. “Being a student of fine art, I saw real quality in Indian Art, and pushed it till others saw it too.” she said.

She tried her hand at painting herself but soon gave that up. “I felt I was a mediocre artist, so I decided to promote others instead of promoting myself.” Now Sara can sit back and see the culmination of her life’s work, in the form of an exhibition held by Gallery Sumukha in Chennai, to commemorate the occasion of her eightieth birthday. The exhibition will showcase every piece of art that she has collected over the years. There will be almost 200 pieces on display.

On the night of the opening, Sara is wearing her trademark cotton sari- black with a geometric pattern in dull gold on the pallu and border. The exhibition is on two floors and guests slough their way from one painting to another, as if on a pilgrimage of beauty. A woman in a pink sari snaps open a gossamer fan and started fluttering it, even though the air-conditioning is on full blast. On the landing between the two floors was a family portrait by Vikram Bhattacharya – a much younger Sarah Abraham seated with her husband Zachary, surrounded by her three teenage children. The second floor has an entire wall full of paintings by M.F. Husain, including a charcoal sketch of Zachary. The place is teeming with friends, family, artists, the press and every shape and size of Chennai cognoscenti. Sara stands there, unfazed by any of it, basking in all of it. She greets people as they walked in, and poses for tons of photographs with her children and grandchildren.

“I will always remember Sara for her great generosity,” said the contemporary artist Lakshma Goud. “In the early 80’s, when no one knew me, Sara offered me a piece of land in Banjara Hills. I told her I couldn’t afford it. She told me to pay her back in water colours,” he grinned. “I was amazed that someone would put so much faith in an artist.”

Later on, people gathered downstairs in the courtyard for the unveiling of a book to commemorate Sara’s life and her achievements. As they stood under the mango tree sipping their cocktails in the tepid evening, Sara’s brother-in-law, Bobby Sistah, gave a celebratory speech. “If anyone deserves a celebration of her life, it’s Sara,” he started, smiling.

However, as the saying goes, even the longest journey begins with a single step. “My first piece of Indian Art was an Akittan Narayan. It was painted on a board of Madras Kirk. Unfortunately, the board wasn’t prepared and the paint dropped off over the years. I was very sad, but I didn’t let that discourage me.” she said. “I bought art whenever I could all my life.”

Sara Abraham bought Contemporary Indian Art at a time when nobody else wanted it. At that time, people were more interested in buying foreign prints to decorate their homes than the works of Indian artists. “My sister pointed out that instead of buying prints; why not buy original Indian contemporary artists for the same price. I believed in Indian Art when no one else did. But I did my best and kept pushing peoples’ awareness. To the extent that I even gifted paintings to my friends and relatives to increase appreciation for Indian art. And finally, people began to be aware of the quality of Indian Art.”

Talking about the time before the Christie’s and Sotheby’s of the world swooped down on Indian Art, she said “Back then, foreigners who bought our art were only interested in exoticism, they weren’t interested in India. The popular themes amongst foreign buyers were things like temples, or poverty.”

In the mid to late 70’s Sara’s close association with the artist M.F. Hussain, who was already a known name then, inspired her to start “Kalayatra”. As the name suggests, “Kalayatra” was a roaming contemporary art gallery whose purpose was to showcase contemporary Indian Art and make it popular. “Kalayatra, because it wasn’t a static gallery, created a lot of awareness. We traveled all over the country, exhibited in all the metros and in some smaller towns like Hyderabad, Nagpur and Kochi as well.”

The gallery did about one or two shows a year and was a huge success. Other art dealers that were doing similar work at that point of time were Keku Gandhi of Chemould, Dadabhai of Pundole, and Alkazi of Art Heritage.

Talking about how she met M.F. Hussain, Sara said “It was in the 70’s, me and my sister Suzy were outside Jehangir Art Gallery in Bombay, when Suzy suddenly yelled “There’s Hussain!”. She opened the car door and ran after him. He took us to his house, where Suzy bought a painting and a sketch. I bought my first Hussain later, from Chemould Art Gallery in Bombay. It cost Rs. 2000, I couldn’t afford it so I went to Jhaveri Bazaar and sold my diamond earring for a thousand rupees, and paid the rest in four installments.” M.F. Husain and Sara Abraham have known each other for over sixty years now. “His wife once joked that I was the only woman she felt secure about leaving him alone with.” She laughed.

Although she has now retired from a professional role in the art world, Sara is always happy to assist people in buying good art. When asked the all important question – What is good art – “Good art is something you can look at every day of your life and not get fed up of it. There is not one piece in my house that I wouldn’t be happy looking at, at least ten times a day.” She replied, smiling contentedly.

(Note: I had written this piece two years ago for an ACJ assignment, but I really like it so I thought I’d publish it here)

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Alea Jacta Est

17 Feb

There is one signal in Chandigarh which runs for 120 seconds and plays “i’m blue abidiabada” in the background while some nice punjabi lady lilts out traffic rules. In office, if you take off your sweater someone is bound to say “tumne to summer declare kar diya hai”, not a bad idea for meteorologists who anyway don’t have a clue, just keep putting sweaters on and pulling them off, open up an umbrella, wear a banyan, and just stand there.

One the train from Delhi I was hit on by a real life rocket singh, who was nice enough to clear away my tray when he thought i was sleeping and help me with my suitcase which was filled with old pictures of the wadia family. One of the best things about living in Chandigarh is the Kalka Shatabdi to and from Delhi. If you dont actually meet anyone, you always get to overhear interesting stories. Like twin sisters who got married on the same day at the same time, or rocket singh, or a gentleman who used to design cars.

Another fun thing about Chandigarh is driving to places nearby like Amritsar to see the golden temple, and attend PTC Miss Punjabi, judged by Harbhajan Mann and Divya Dutta and treated to the musical samplings of Gippy Grewal  brawling out tracks from his hit album, The Gabru 2.  Yet another fun thing about Chandigarh is going to alliance francais and being taught by feisty little Sardarnis like Mrs. Grewal who can converse equally well in Punjabi or French (and actually uses Punjabi to explain French sometimes), looks like a sparrow but is actually more like a miniature pinscher.

I have to say that i never liked North India very much, being born and brought up in Nagpur, but you can’t hate the Punjab. The Punjab is awesome. Imagine all the anachronisms of the world being stuffed into one tiny little shoebox, and powdered with a lot of manners and money.  Kind of reminds me of my Parsi relatives living in decrepit mansions called The Mount or Daisyville or Sillville. But that’s material for another blog.

Yes I do like the Punjab, the tandoori chicken portions are enough to feed a Maharashtrian family of five, the Sardarjis are very courteous and flirtatious. Not to mention sooooo tall and good looking. One little Marathi Manoos would be lost in the forest of Surds. I mean I used to think that i lucked out marrying a man that’s 6’2 but that apparently is par for the course here in Punjab. The women also, I used to think Delhi had good looking women but you have to see the ones here. True they all look like they came out of a Yash Chopra Mohabattein factory, but still very pretty.

I’ve started to kind of like Delhi too, I think it’s become more interesting and safer for women. Plus a lot of the safety issues are just hoo-haa created by paranoid daddies who dont want their gudiya rani to pop her cherry before marriage. Three words- Hymen Replacement Surgery. Let gudiya get a life and you get one also.

But there is a lot to be said about the Punjab and I will be saying it, if I dont wither out and give up first.

Well I’m Here

17 Feb

I don’t know how soon i shall be bored of this, but i hope not too soon.  For now i’ve joined the unwashed hordes of graphomaniacs out there desperate to feel important. Since this is my first post, let me explain the name. Ahuna Vairya is the name of an Avestan language Zoarashtrian prayer. All you Parsis out there  probably learnt this prayer by age 5. It starts with yatha ahu vairyo… Yeah, even i didn’t know that’s what it’s called till i started searching for a blog name.

I’m not super religious but i needed to bank on my parsiana to sound exotic so people will read my blog. plus i can use avesta names without sounding like a pretentious prick, something that i’m consciously going to avoid throughout my blogging career.

On the other hand, this prayer is super effective for panic attacks and to shoo away bogymen who like to stand in corners of dark rooms. You need to say it five times though, five is the magic number for some reason, and then top it up with some Artem Vohu (Ashem Vohu), three times. Its cool because the language is so old, it sounds made up. I remember the first time my husband heard me muttering this prayer under my breath, and he thought i was having a seizure.

Blogging is kind of like talking to yourself, only crazier. But that’s ok, because as it happens, I do talk to myself, so I don’t mind adding another feather in my crazy cap.  I’m just another sad, mad individual who wants to believe desperately that the world gives a shit about what I have to say. Little do I know that no one goes on the internet to read, for god’s sakes. So here I am, basically talking to myself, basking in my own wordiness. I wish there was something like a cyberspace echo, because I bet I’d hear it right about now…Helloooooo,  is there anyone there??


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