Dec 28, 2010

Random Flash Fiction

I was exploring flash fiction and came across this. The year is nearing its end and i've read many books, watched some memorable films and the one thing that has stayed in mind is the miraculous, transforming power of love. of course, a very special book about the story of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz cemented the idea in my mind; it set the stage, you may say. But events unfolding around me and other stuff i read or watched, seemed to affirm this idea that the measure of any love is gauged by its powers of transformation. The transformation is never in question, but what we should question is the nature of the change. I remember telling this to L many years ago, p'haps before i could fully comprehend it myself. I loved this little tale for it speaks of such a transformation. Do let me know if it doesn't leave you with a smile on your face.

Inside Out

They had known each other a few years.
She was nice. He knew she liked him.
But she was just average-looking. He couldn’t settle for that.
One weekend, she asked him to the movies. She was intelligent, funny, easy to
be with.
After four months of dating, she became a stunning beauty.

Erica Schalow
Atlanta, GA

Dec 24, 2010

Pink Floyd & Lost Souls in Fish Bowls

A has this obsession with high-end electronic items which I don’t much care for. We have this huge dissonance on definitions of beauty and power. I like my objects small and he likes them monstrous. So, if we were to be at a BestBuy or Sony Mony store, I’d gravitate towards the Bose satellite speakers while he’d moon over the Yamo tower(ing) speakers. Usually he prevails and occasionally when I do, I have to put up with incessant cribbing about how if a man cant even buy the music equipment of his choice, then where has 60 yrs of independence gotten us. Such tripe, I tell you.

Did I say I don’t much care for his monstrous and convoluted home theatre apparatus? Till about 6 hrs ago I didn’t. Now I do and the reason is David Gilmour. Watched Gilmour’s 2001 Meldtown concert on DVD and I can easily say it was one of the best evenings I’ve had this year. Packed the maid and D off to bed, poured a nice stiff Blue Label, and soaked myself in so many of the songs I’ve been hearing for the past decade but felt like I was hearing them for the first time ever.

Anyway, to come back to why all the tracks on the Meltdown Concert DVD sound so spectacular: I think one of the reasons is because they are softer, slower, unplugged versions of the famous PF songs. I always like unplugged versions more than the originals. However, the real beauty of this album is the slow, throaty, haunting sound of Caroline Dale’s cello (I didn’t know her name but was so mesmerised that I googled her at 2 am!!). Nothing much beyond Roger Waters’ or Gilmour’s vocals and the latter’s stupendous guitaring had made an impression before, but as I listened to the moody accompanying notes of Dale’s cello, I was awestruck that she could give the old guy more than ample competition. This collaboration is made more evident & memorable in numbers like ‘wish you were here’, ‘high hopes’, ‘shine on you crazy diamond’, ‘comfortably numb’ and ‘coming back to life’.

Last evening reassured me. 

I first heard ‘Wish you were here’ nearly 9 years ago when A played it for me on his guitar in a shabby 1-BHK we shared in those days. He’d play this song along with Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and I think that was the beginning of a lifelong love. Last night as Gilmour started to strum the first notes of ‘Wish you were here’, I did something I usually never do. Called him at work & asked him to come home fast. He returned at 10.30 pm, lil over an hour later, and we sat watching the concert on dvd till the early hours of the morning. For once, we dismissed thoughts of waking up early next morning, workplace deliverables, EMI calculations and just soaked ourselves in the music with ours arms around each other. And the doubts at rest.

Life is often a bummer, but occasionally the good things happen. A good job offer, a winning streak at the stock market, a chance meeting with someone who completes you, and you wonder:

Where were you when I was burned and broken
While the days slipped by from my window watching
And where were you when I was hurt and I was helpless
Because the things you say and the things you do surround me
While you were hanging yourself on someone else's words
Dying to believe in what you heard
I was staring straight into the shining sun


I took a heavenly ride through our silence
I knew the moment had arrived
For killing the past and coming back to life

Dec 17, 2010

Notes on the Wrestler

When you live hard and you play hard and burn the candle at both ends... in this life, you can lose everything you love, everything that loves you. A lot of people told me that I'd never wrestle again, they said "he's washed up", "he's finished" , "he's a loser", "he's all through". You know what? The only ones gonna tell me when I'm through doing my thing, is you people here. You people here... you people here. You're my family.”

We were talking about films and a friend asked me why I liked Mickey Rourke in ‘The Wrestler’ so much. The question set me thinking. I feel he is my own.

Randy the Ram, as he’s called in the film, is a washed out, has-been WWF champion, who has the social skills of an African ape and the fragile sensitivity of a touch-me-not plant. He is a loser and continuously losing. Does he mind? Sure, we all do. What probably bothers him more is a child’s puzzlement that he has been singled out for such loss again and again. He knows he bears some responsibility for them and he never shirks the blame. Yet, the child-like befuddlement is never far behind. He is child-like not because he doesn’t accept the tags and rules that seem so natural to others. It is because he doesn’t understand them. They are beyond his comprehension. You can’t teach calculus to an 8-yr old and then be angry when it doesn’t do well. Randy is that child in a universe governed by the laws of calculus. He knows there is something wrong with him, he knows he has done some things wrong, he strives to make amends, but as with life – it is too late.

Another child-like characteristic in him is his inability to accept change. He is the neanderthal who didn’t walk fast enough when the world was rushing by and is clueless how to get back on track. All he knows, all he wants is to be a part of the world that left him behind but he doesn’t know how to. He reaches out to people but he has failed his part of the bargain and no one really wants him. All he really wants is for someone to own him and miss him when he’s gone. I think that’s the crux of what he seeks. Watch him in the scenes with his daughter or with Marisa Tomei and you can see the aching loneliness he carries inside his battered body.

Does Randy change or transform during the course of the film? No. But something interesting happens. He exorcises his need for an ideal ‘other’ – be it in the form of his daughter or his lover. He comes to understand that it is indeed too late for him and there is no affection or encouragement for him beyond the impersonal cheering of the ring-side audience. Rather than learn calculus, he turns his back upon the world and jumps into the boxing ring with great heroism as ‘Sweet child of mine’ breaks out into the background . It is the heroism of a one-legged dog, it is the heroism of a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and wheat, but it is heroism nevertheless.

If you're interested, you'll find the one-legged dog and the scarecrow here. Turn on the volume, feel his voice course through your nerves. That's the only way to do justice to such beauty.

Dec 2, 2010

Pens For Hire & the Radia Tapes controversy

I spent some time reading the transcripts of some of the Radia tapes. Lot of mudslinging, lot of biggies offering their two cents and lot of experts bemoaning the state of Indian journalism. Now I wonder, didn’t people know before this story broke out that most of Indian journalism is peopled by liberal arts graduates, who in the absence of any talent and viable career opportunities, join a newspaper after graduation and climb the ranks slowly. Having started my career with the one of the prestigious newspapers in Kolkata and then having moved to Mumbai, I was appalled when I started work at the Express in 2001. To say that the editorial quality sucked, would be an understatement. What was more disgusting was the lack of political awareness and any thought-building endeavour which every individual (not just journos) should possess. Reporters covering the hospital or education or BMC beat would saunter in around 4 pm in the evening, file a routine story which lacked any element of journalistic enterprise and demand bylines. Those were early days and I recall the almost daily arguments I’d have with two senior correspondents who used to cover the Dabhol power scam and the Ketan Parekh story. I gradually discovered a world beyond the mediocre environs I was ensconced in. I discovered Joann Hari & Stephen Fry from the Independent, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman , Stanley Fish from the NYT, Henry Porter from the Observer and several others. I also loved Bhanu Pratap Mehta, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Tavleen Singh, Swapan Dasgupta and MJ Akbar from mainstream Indian media. Oh, Vir Sanghvi too.

And now, Mr Sanghvi has let down fans like me so badly. I don’t have anything original to say beyond what the worthies are talking about, save this – something precious has been irreversibly muddied wrt these columnists whose articles I so looked forward to every week. I followed their views, usually nodding my head vigorously and occasionally even disputing them in the comments section. The disputes never mattered for this was an exercise in learning, in forming opinions and views where an expert perspective was available at hand to guide me. To be told later, ‘Babe, whatever you read was merely a transcript of the views that were fed to him/her from a partisan industry insider solely interested in pushing his/her agenda’ is worse than adulterated liquour in my book. Sounds melodramatic, but true. So pardon me if I sound mad or outraged as Arundhuti Ray usually sounds.

What is also interesting are the clarifications offered by Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt in the face of the controversy. While Barkha claims she didn’t feel the story was important enough (a Sr. NDTV journalist now needs tutoring on what comprises an imp story!), Sanghvi says he has to speak to various sources to gather opinion in his capacity as a columnist. Of course, poor child didn’t know that gathering opinion and then arriving at independent, unbiased conclusions is what a columnist ought to do – not parrot lines fed to him by industry lobbyists.

What is hilarious is the way people are baying for Barkha Dutt’s blood, turning their personal dislike for her into a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to get back at her for all those time she mouthed homilies for the cause of the Naxals or the minority community displaced in Gujarat. I am no fan of Barkha Dutt but I think it’s important that we take note of one small detail here: she is a cog in the wheel of a much bigger cart. Why aren’t we questioning the PMO, or the finance minister who promises probe after probe after much damage has been done or the CBI who has held on to the tapes since 2008. If Radia was under the Income Tax department’s scanner, why weren’t these disclosures investigated before?

And no, I don’t want to end on the desultory note that ‘nothing will come of this’. I still believe in Ratan Tata & I didn’t find anything particularly objectionable in his conversation. He is a paying client and it is only right that he appoint as his PR consultant one of the most well-connected people in the industry. I see no conflict here – a capitalist hiring the services of someone he believes can deliver what he wants at a fair price. The conflict of interest is for journos like Sanghvi and Dutt whose pens are for hire; and the conflict of interest is for those politicians and bureaucrats like Ranjan Bhattacharya who gleefully claims, ‘Ab toh Congress apni dukaan hai.’