Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I've watched Amelie a good many times already (twice in the past 24 hours) and this has made me ponder over its many cinematic elements that connect so powerfully with me. The connection begins as soon as I see Audrey Tautou on the screen. Composed on the outside, seething with passion inside, that's Audrey playing Amelie. She doesn't speak about herself unless cornered for a response, but the camera captures her every nuanced emotion. It speaks of her dysfunctional childhood and her fierce determination to hold on to hope and goodness. It conveys her rich inner world - a world that can belong only to the shy. It captures her yearning for justice, romance and even the elusive "happily ever after". It follows her as she manipulates her immediate world - and the people who populate it - using subtle yet intricate means.
The two central characters - Amelie and the camera - pivot the narrative in refreshingly unexpected directions. The dialogues make love to life and Paris. The plot explores the seed of bravery underneath every shrub of cowardice and vice versa.
It all falls into an unmistakable pattern - we're all fallible, we're all divine. We have one life to live. Amelie chooses to live hers on her own terms. And one fine summery day, everything she wants comes within her grasp. She latches on.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Man loves Bike. Period.
Unless Man loves Car. But we shall not go there.
In this case, Man loves Bike. More so because Man has had Bike in his life longer than any romantic relationship. Under such circumstances, it's quite a challenge to keep the (man-machine) relationship on an even keel. I sometimes congratulate myself for not having given my bike a gender or a name. I refer to it simply as 652 - the concluding part of its license plate.
652 and I have had 12 adventurous years of togetherness. We were together when I was madly in love. And we're together now. All these years, we've put up with each other's idiosyncrasies. I tend to be amongst the faster moving traffic on the road (which, let's face it, depends quite a lot on 652). On its part, 652, though not moody as bikes go, has been downright obstinate. Its indicator lights have never operated as per the design, it still sputters between 44 and 45 kmph and it inevitably requires an annual de-carbonization.
Small price to pay for the kind of kinship this beautiful bike has accorded me. I've taken it deep into uncivilized territories, kept it baking under the sun for months on end, abandoned it during the years I was onsite, refused to keep it sparkling clean and not even bothered to service it more than once a year. Yet, it serves me faithfully. It's never left me stranded. It has stood patiently as I picked arguments with corrupt cops. And it's never skidded under my hold, although it has given timely and wobbly warnings on a couple of occasions.
Despite all that, I did something quite drastic to 652 last week. I changed its seat assembly. Yeah. 652 now has a brand new seat, not one with fragments of the sponge exposed. Frankly, I was getting tired of the squishy welcome my bum received whenever it rained. But now, when I sit on this bone-dry new seat, I feel a little sad. This isn't the seat that ferried that breathtaking woman in my life, and later, my cutie-pie daughter. This isn't the seat with memories.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I may not have given my bike a gender or a name, but I never doubted for a moment that it has a soul.
Monday, December 14, 2009
As a thumb rule, I avoided watching Fox News while in the US. Because, you know, I wanted to retain whatever sanity I had left. I made an exception to this rule whenever I had entered a prolonged state of vegetation on the couch. Like during Thanksgiving weekend, day three, with my blood slowly freezing due to inactivity. At such times, I felt the need to thaw my blood. Fox News was always around. Within minutes, this channel would bring my blood to a boil.
Geez! How neoconservative can one get?
We're indeed blessed that Fox News has continued to do its thing. It has not slackened even for a moment. Four days ago, this happened:
And I found out about it while watching the inimitable Arnab Goswami on Times Now. Mr. Goswami was fuming as usual: how could Glenn Beck say such things against India and Indians? Isn't there a limit? (or something to that effect).
I found Mr. Goswami particularly hilarious on this occasion. I mean, the irony cannot have been lost on even him. The first time I saw him, I felt that he was modeling himself on Bill O'Reilly of, surprise, surprise, Fox News! I felt the same jingoistic, chest-thumping vibe as on that Fox program titled, what was the name now, yeah, The O-Reilly Factor.
So it was really amusing to see Mr. Goswami defend India against Mr. Beck. I guess people who are too similar to us get our goat.
On a personal note, I'm happy to note that neocons - the American variety and the Indian - have ceased to have a detrimental effect on me. Aren't they an amusing bunch? I, for one, am ready to kick back and laugh.
Friday, December 11, 2009
I won't comment much on the politics of fasting because the most important man of the last century used it effectively (and usually for the right reasons), so we as a nation cannot become anti-fasting just because we managed to install democracy.
What I'd like to comment on is the manner in which the high-pitched, high-salaried, law-unto-themselves anchors of national news channels have confused the issue. To these Brands-within-Brands, the formation of Telangana poses a serious threat to national interests. Why so? Because our identities are getting narrower by the day. Because Telangana proclaims a strong regionalism within linguism. And aren't we already suffering the consequences of linguism?
True. We are suffering the consequences of linguism. We, as a nation, are like a divided Europe and our Constitution works a tad better than the EU. Of course, we don't even have the advantage of a single script. So we're more deeply divided by language. (I won't even get into caste and religion.)
To such a divided India, does Telangana offer good news or bad? Good, the way I see it. If this really is the beginning - and if this does lead to the formation of Vidharba, for instance - then it means that linguistic borders don't make sense to people any more. People are looking for something else - sociopolitical equality and economic prosperity. At least, that's what the people of Telangana are looking for. I'm reasonably certain of this because I spent a great deal of time in Telangana a couple of years ago.
I was then researching on the Naxalite movement in AP, for which I camped for different periods of time in all three regions of AP, namely coastal AP (Vizag), Rayalseema (Anantapur) and finally Telangana (Hyderabad and Warangal). In both coastal AP and Rayalseema, most people I met dismissed the idea of Telangana as subversive politics. Damned politicians harping for their own gains, they said.
In Hyderabad, almost everybody was happy with the status quo. In fact, many of my friends - who lived in Hyderabad but were from outside AP - did not even know that Hyderabad fell within the Telangana region.
But in Warangal - where I stayed for almost a month - I heard a different song. The professors of Kakatiya University I met were convinced that the region will prosper only if a separate state was formed. The labourers I interviewed were seething with anger because they felt that the state's developmental work focused on Rayalseema because the most powerful politicians belonged there. Auto rickshaw drivers thought it would be cool to have a separate state. A schoolteacher in the town of Pasra, when I asked him if he wanted Telangana, replied that he was keeping his fingers crossed. One Human Rights activist felt that it would be infinitely easier to administer a carved up AP.
I see immense wisdom in his words. India is an administrator's nightmare. We must find a more delegated model of governance, and if this requires carving up existing states, then so be it. Such an approach offers enormous advantages:
1) Regional parties that do astonishingly well in one election will find it more difficult to blackmail the Central Government. Take the case of Bihar and Laloo Prasad Yadav. The man has been cut down to size, not just by the emergence of Nitish Kumar but also due to the formation of Jharkhand. I can think of many more regional czars who can do with some trimming. Imagine UP being further dissected into Purvanchal, Mithilanchal and more such. Imagine a Saurashtra with a shot at secularism (don't know about this, though). But you get the drift. More players in the Central Government, a more fragmented coalition, but with more leverage for the truly national parties.
2) The ultimate administrative model for India would be decentralized to the extent possible. A model wherein 75% of day-to-day governance is run by the Panchayats. This suggestion usually sends shivers up our spine, huh? But consider this. A rural mango man (aam aadmi) who wants help from the law and order machinery can more easily approach a sarpanch than a District Collector. Been to the DC's office? It still runs on the Raj mentality. The earthquake-proof building, the guards at the gate and the red tape are sufficient to prevent the mango man from entering it. Of course, local governance comes with its own challenges. Village landlords can quickly, and more effectively, use the system for their personal gains. But despite all the challenges, local governance is the way forward. If you're still not convinced, then consider this: when there's a power failure in your area, you call a local number of the Electricity Board. Would you like it if the entire city had one number and someone in that one central office decided if and when your message will be conveyed?
Let's also concede that each region has its own peculiar issues. Blanket policies issued from across hundreds of kilometres are often useless, even counterproductive. Local Thinking will help.
3) End of linguism, as I mentioned before.
4) A more unique landscape. Every new state can use the opportunity to honour their own heroes, resurrect their own distinct arts and crafts etc.
5) A less socialistic distribution of revenue. What the region earns, it spends. There's more incentive to develop. A harsh example of this is the formation of the predominantly tribal state of Chattisgarh. Bhopalis can now say (although they won't) that they no longer fund the darker region. Good for MP.
Of course, the formation of Chattisgarh has not yielded positive results so far. Mining-oriented "development" is happening, but the benefits never reach the mango man. The state is also dealing with Naxalism in Dantewara and Bastar (in the worst manner possible). These are glaring failures, but they are failures of our democratic framework, not the concept that led to the formation of Chattisgarh. Perhaps one day the land will throw up a leader who will solve its own unique problems.
At the moment, the politicians of AP are measuring the formation of Telangana using a political seismograph. Once the dust settles, we will perhaps see it as the will of the people.
Having made their choice, the strong central leadership of the Congress implemented it with an iron hand. YSR's son Jaganmohan Reddy was none too pleased. His supporters created storms in a few afternoon teacups. He was, therefore, summoned to Delhi where he was retold that Rahul baba wanted him at the Centre. He must join the elite club of Congress scions and await his time. Perhaps - and I'm speculating here - he received some empathy from Scindia Jr and Pilot Jr. At any rate, Reddy Jr returned from Delhi much more sober and willing to linger over the stalemate.
Within weeks, Rosaiah seemed more visibly determined. He made a few surprise moves, including a visit to Bangalore and a photo-op with B.S. Yeddyurappa. Now. Did the Congress top guns plan this? If they did, then hats off to them. What a move!
For those who came in late, here is what was happening: on the surface, a newly crowned Congress CM of one Indian state was paying a courtesy call to the BJP CM of a neighbouring state. This in itself is unusual. On top of that, Rosaiah arrived with a pleasing ringtone for Yeddy:
Cut the Bellary Reddys down to size,
You are the king, claim your prize
You see, the mining barons of Bellary - the Bellary Reddys - were underwear friends with YSR. Significant if you know where to place Bellary on the Indian map. You guessed it! Right on the Karnataka-AP border. The Bellary Reddys had their business stakes distributed between the two states. So during the YSR era, the Reddys had a super-close CM to take care of their interests in AP. At the same time, they virtually controlled the BJP government in Karnataka. One might say that they had their bread buttered on both sides. That would be incorrect. They had their butter breaded on all sides.
One can imagine the mining excesses that happened in the recent past. 'Mine, mine, mine,' they said. Rather refreshing when you consider that most people say, 'Me, me, me!'
So. They mined with impunity and nobody minded. But then a chopper came crashing down and, as we've already discovered, a Mr. Rosaiah left his calling card at the Vidhana Soudha.
Not surprisingly, B. S. Yeddyurappa - such a clean guy when you consider the company he keeps - went on an overdrive to rein in the Bellary Redddys. He transferred errant officials, imposed a new levy on mining trucks and publicly hinted at inappropriate business practices in Bellary.
We all know the public drama that followed. For weeks, the state machinery in Karnataka lay paralyzed, awaiting an end to the Yeddy versus Reddys battle. We all know that the flood-affected populace faded from public and media memory. They did not get the relief and support they deserved, but Rosaiah - the darkest horse in our political landscape today - has delivered some relief and support to Yeddy. He asked for a CBI inquiry into the illegal mining activities of the Reddys. At the same time, the Supreme Court of India has passed a stronger indictment: Guilty. The SC also recommended a complete halt to mining activities by the Reddys and seconded Rosaiah's demand for a CBI inquiry.
This has led the Yeddy-likers to hope that the Bellary Reddys might fall after all. Of course, we have a long and glorious history of punishing the powerful for their sins. So we can expect justice to be delivered. Soon.
Actually, despite my deep cynicism, I hope that something resembling justice is delivered in this instance. Why? Take a trip through Bellary, (nearby) Hospet and then further north in Karnataka - through towns like Bidar. See what mining and miners are doing to an already impoverished land. How and why does India's mango man (aam aadmi) accept this? That's the eternal riddle.
There's another - almost Shakespearean - reason why the Bellary Reddys must fall. Because YSR - who was felled by the Gods of Nature and Technology - was standing on the cusp of political immortality. He was a giant. So his fall must precipitate the fall of others.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
1) The toss becomes less significant. Both sides get almost equal use of pitch conditions and daylight.
2) It creates new strategic possibilities in the game, a different approach to deploying resources. (Four sets of slog overs, anyone?)
3) It increases the commerciability of the game.
I'm all for this change in format. Except that I would suggest a twist to the new format. How about this?
Team A bats 25 overs.
Team B bats 50 overs at one go.
Team A bats its remaining quota of 25 overs.
Of course, this format has its drawbacks. In fact, some might say that Team B gets a huge advantage because it gets to bat without interruptions. Set batsmen can keep going. Moreover, in a day game, Team A will have to grapple with a fresh pitch to begin with, and also with twilight towards the end of the game. So Team B seems to get the best batting conditions in the day game.
But consider the day-night format. Morning dew ceases to be a factor - and if the pitch is a Sleeping Beauty, then Team A gets to whack the ball around in the first inning. And when they get down to bat during the final inning, the bowlers might have a tough time gripping the wet ball. So in this case, Team A gets some advantages in exchange for Team B's advantage of batting without interruptions.
I also love the idea that both teams get to set and chase targets in the same game. The possibilities really open up.
Now, if only someone in ICC will read this humble blog and not dismiss it in an instant...
Monday, August 17, 2009
Here's a crazy hope on my part: hope he's become even better than he was during the 2007 ODI series against England. More fleet-footed aggression, more hooking and less ducking, more of the light anchorage than heavy.
This could be good.
Monday, June 22, 2009
After gorging yourself at the Premier Bookshop, you’re ready for beer. You turn the corner and walk down Church Street. The evening crowd is beginning to thicken. As you’re about to follow the invite of the Carnatic music and climb up the stone steps into Coconut Grove, you’re stopped by a girl.
She’s pretty as the setting sun. Dressed immaculately in turquoise. Selling flowers. Speaks impeccable English. And, oh, she’s twelve or thereabouts.
It’s ten bucks to the rose, but you cannot refuse. Because you sense an urgency buried under her calm and pleasing demeanour, a quality that whispers like a distant waterfall. You ask her a couple of questions and learn a little about her life. She attends school in the morning and sells roses in the evening. She’s been doing it for many years now. No, she isn’t scared.
The last answer is given on the trot, for she spots another customer and hails him. A middle-aged man. Who puts an arm around her shoulder and caresses her. Makes her walk alongside. Bends to talk to her, till he’s a whisker away from kissing her. Meanwhile, his hands continue exploring. The girl neither turns away nor conveys alarm.
You watch, and beg your legs not to turn into jelly. The girl’s past-present-future flashes in front of your eyes. You turn away, walk up the stone steps. Beer. Need beer. A moment later, you find your jelly feet firming up, returning down the stairs, and walking towards the middle-aged man and the 12-year-old girl. You stop two feet away. You gaze at the man intently. He ignores you for 30 seconds, then asks, ‘Yes?’
‘It’s not right, what you’re doing,’ you say.
Your “insinuation” finally “dawns” on the man. He’s outraged.
‘Bastard and all that! How dare you? I’ve known her for years. Ask her,’ he shouts. Some people halt and watch.
‘Is that right? Do you know him?’ you ask the girl.
She nods-shakes her head. She doesn’t know which side to take. The man shouts some more, then seeing no response from you, ups the ante. He now wants to beat you to pulp if you aren’t careful. You ask him to back his claim. He sizes you up and decides against it. He walks away, but he’s still outraged. Such allegations against such a decent man.
The girl has also disappeared through the cracks in the confrontation. Her “Uncle” must have watched the scene from a short distance. Uncle has a busy job. He has to make sure the girl – and others like her – delivers profits every day. When required, he brokers peace with (or wages war against) troublesome stakeholders of the street: cops, rivals and busybodies like you. He ferries the young girls and boys from distant suburbs every evening, and ferries them back late in the night, once they’ve sold their entire clutch of flowers. And from all accounts, he doesn’t mind the occasional groper amidst the public. Such folks indirectly train the girl for what lies ahead, her true calling, which could begin – why! – next summer.
These details, you’ll learn later. For now, you’ve borrowed outrage from the middle-aged man. You want to do something. You think this must be featured in newspapers. That would change the situation, huh? So you call this Page 33333333333 newspaper, which is situated right around the corner. You’re patched through to the beat journalist. She listens to your story, but only till you’re into your third sentence.
‘Oh yes, the rose girl in turquoise. I know.’
‘Will you, er, do anything about it?’
Not possible. They’re fine. It’s a benign operation run by that nameless Uncle. No need to worry.
You call friends with a more proven ability to feel outrage. Fifteen minutes later, you have the number of three NGOs and the Child Helpline. The latter is not available (after hours). The NGO representatives are sympathetic, even, yes, outraged. But, in direct and oblique terms, you’re told that you (and they) have no locus-standii. They would, of course, fare better than you when reporting the incident to a cop. Only slightly better. And with preparation, proof and all that, they could actually get custody of the girl. But it won’t happen in a jiffy. Not tonight. Not without a prolonged fight.
You slap the back of your head. Hard. You live in a country where even the father does not have locus-standii vis-a-vis his daughter unless the mother’s happy with him. You must shed your illusions. Fast.
Beer. You need beer.
When I returned to India after a brief hiatus, IPL 2 was in full swing. Of course, I had followed the action over the net, and for a couple of days, on a Thai hotel TV. But now, watching the matches in my own living room, often without multi-tasking, I observed subtle changes in Dhoni. The first change was the way he handled the post-match presentation ceremonies: the Chennai Superkings captain, I thought, had become quite verbose.
When the presenter asked him if the pitch offered something to the bowlers early on, Dhoni gave him a complete match summary, including what his boys did right, what they did wrong and what they must now do. This wasn’t the Dhoni of old. A couple of years ago, this surprisingly articulate man – from Bang Nowhere, mind you – was such a joy to listen to. His answers would be crisp, to the point. Almost as if he was challenging the presenter to ask the right questions. And suddenly, his answers were directed not to the presenter but to his own subconscious.
The Uber Cool had become Deliberately Cool. Now, there was an edge in Dhoni’s nonchalance. As if he had suddenly realized that he had much to lose. And since this was happening when the Superkings were comfortably placed on the League Table, I reached the intrusive and unkind conclusion that something’s not quite right in his personal life. Such is the price an Indian cricketer pays for his fame – a casual “expert” like me is entitled (ahem!) to let his imagination run wild.
As the games progressed, though, I felt a tad justified. Dhoni was messing up behind the stumps, but not because he was in a flurry. Rather, he was losing a few micro-moments to the slow-motion playing in his brain. Even more telling was the fact that he was occasionally showing his displeasure when one of his boys erred on the field.
Well, it bothered me. No, I wasn’t cheering the Superkings. But the T20 World Cup was right around the corner – there was barely enough time for Dhoni to get his act together and knit a team out of our mavericks. Everything depended on that.
Needless to say, the first warm-up match against New Zealand was a good enough indicator of things to come. The All New Unimproved Dhoni had showed up to defend the cup. I wrote a Facebook entry: Not getting positive vibes this time, and left it at that.
Meanwhile, the rest of the fraternity was getting uppity about a different failure on Dhoni’s part: his batting. The fact that he wasn’t unleashing the huge hits that signalled his arrival on the world scene. Hello? Where has everybody been? Dhoni hasn’t played a swashbuckling innings since… well, here’s the thing and there’s no escaping it… Dhoni hasn’t played a swashbuckling innings since Dravid was unceremoniously chucked out of the Indian ODI side. Yeah. Once Dravid left, Dhoni choose to be the sheet anchor, the Dravid-like finisher.
What other option did he have? Gifted though the Indian batting lineup was – with the likes of Gambhir, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Rohit and Raina – it would have evident to the new captain that all of them were stroke-makers. None was natural in the ship-steadying business. So. Like a true leader, Dhoni decided to be the grown-up. Perhaps he had searched deep within and determined that he liked caution. Perhaps the role, once assumed, became his own. Either ways, Dhoni played this role superbly, winning us a series of ODI series. Over the past couple of years, he walked in at number 3, 4, 5, 6 or even 7, and did the job. Especially in the half-crumbling, half-sleeping sub-continental pitches. This was run-a-ball Dhoni. A half-century without a single boundary. Or 70 in 65 balls. Or 80 in 70 balls. The one aberration to this glorious run was an ODI we lost with Dhoni returning to the pavilion, not out, after a long innings. It had been a reasonable run-a-ball innings, but India had needed more. That evening, I cindered the memories of his early batting. I decided that his Nagpur blitzkrieg, his mind-numbing assault on the Aussies and Pakis, are unrepeatable acts. This T20 World Cup must have driven most fans to the same conclusion, I suppose.
But I still remain a fan of Dhoni. A huge one at that. Of course, I could have been a gargantuan fan had Dravid been around. (Remember, just before he was dropped, Dravid had scored 92 in 60 balls against a spirited English attack. So his days as a plodder were definitely behind him. He had become a true situational maestro in the 50-over game.) And with Dravid (or an apt replacement) wearing blue, we probably wouldn’t have seen the Dhoni Ferrari driving on the slow lane.
This transformation of the Jharkhand juggernaut, and his eventual inability to bat in higher gears, also tells us that batting – more so aggressive batting – is predominantly about pre-programmed hand-eye coordination. The body takes over, the retinas make the muscles move, the ball disappears. Not much to do with mental strength. That plays a role between deliveries, when the body is fidgeting.
In Dhoni’s case, the pre-program has changed. If he wants to bat in a higher gear again, he needs to go back to the nets and allow his body to relearn the Big Bang drills. He must bring that game to the T20 format. As for the 50-50 format, well, run-a-ball Dhoni’s as good as it gets.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
So everybody who gives awards is in agreement that Slumdog Millionaire is an extremely good film. Heck, it's apparently a rare all-round package. Admirers might even call it a classic - the Indian film that was made when not many white people knew what Indian films were like.
But I belong to that contingent of Indians who can't see what the fuss is all about. I offer the following reasons:
1) The screenplay was brilliant in patches, but for the most part, it was unimaginative and even downright shoddy.
2) The casting - why should a spotless "white gujju", someone who looks like he's always lived an air-conditioned life, be cast to play a man who's had the harshest life imaginable? Travails do not smoothen your skin. Repulsive sensual assaults do not lead to a refined face. Have a look at the hero's elder brother. Now, that's great casting. And hey, please offer a better explanation for the accent. I've seen tourist guides in Agra and they don't magically develop Yorkshire accents. Sorry. They don't.
3) How could every successive question lead the hero down memory lane in a chronological order? Couldn't life have thrown him the answer to question 12 before the answer to question 5? Or did somebody decide that flipping back and forth in the narrative - interspersed as it was with the cop beatings - would be too difficult for the public to understand?
4) I'm not against anybody documenting the "truth" about India. It is a nation of paradoxes. It can shock. I've accepted this. But I have a problem with Slumdog Millionaire being termed fresh or path-breaking. Indeed, many Indian filmmakers have depicted urban squalor with far more poignancy and much lesser drama. Salaam Bombay came out ages ago. And films such as Ankush, Satya, Boot Polish, Do Bigha Zameen etc deal with certain aspects of poverty in urban India.
Congratulations, Danny Boyle. Enjoy the moment. But do watch Rang de basanti and Taare zameen par when you can. These films and their filmmakers will have to wait a decade more, at least, to win an Oscar. For now, they remain, well, slumdogs.
So what would I use this space for? I don't know. I don't come from a land of planned cities. Things evolve. So will this blog.