Friday, August 10, 2012

Of Unexpected Travels...

I am part of a very exclusive group of people here in Bangalore.

It comprises of Pappu, Guddu and me.

We're the only three people in Bangalore who have NOT travelled to the US. Now, with the IT hub it is, everyone seems to casually slip away to the US on a project/client meeting/random HR incentive-junket. But Pappu, Guddu and I have not been there.

(Of course with Pappu and Guddu being being 2 and 3 years old respectively, the exclusivity of the group becomes a-cuter)

So it came as a pleasant surprise that I found I had to travel for work to that-continent-that-has-been-in-the-protection-of-Phantom-for-centuries. Yes, I went to Africa for a few days! I mean, who goes to Africa for work. The long and short of it is that now I can put a check mark against Africa too :)

Specifically I travelled to Kenya and Morocco.
First up, travelling alone and for work is not the best way to explore a place. Especially when you're given travel advisories that staying out after dark can be injurious to health. I mean, the real fun starts after dark, right? (I mean in general, pervs)

So some impressions I had from the trip:

Kenya (Nairobi)
I reached Nairobi late in the evening but it felt exactly like India as I was driving towards the hotel. Driving past a Mahindra showroom may also have nudged that feeling along a bit :)

Overall I really got a good vibe from Nairobi. People were smiling and courteous. You could see a lot of camaraderie on the streets with groups of people moving around joking and laughing and back-slapping each other. The weather was very nice and I walked around quite a bit.

Don't you like walking in a new city? I really do. It really feels nice to take in the new air as you trundle along looking for curiosities. But sometimes its scary, especially if its a new country as well. I remember when I had gone to Toronto all those years ago, I was so scared of the term 'Jay Walking'. Now, I had no idea what constitutes jay walking, and what horrible horrible punishments were meted out if you were caught jay walking. I mean I'm used to crossing roads when and where I feel like, right?
So there I was, furtively looking around for the jay-walking cops while I gingerly slithered around the back roads of Toronto, looking for zebra crossings across narrow pathways (almost footpaths)!!
I hid this fact from everyone but now I realize that I'm not the only one. Most people go through this pain when travelling a new country. The bigger things are fine but the smaller ones - crossing roads, tipping, buying tickets for the metro, buying tickets in buses, hailing a taxi - that create the most confusion in the travellers mind

However, the event that I'll always associate with Kenya actually reinforces the corruption cliche that almost all African countries  are afflicted with.

I was in a meeting when our driver started calling my African counterpart frantically. He was so insistent that that person had to jump out of the meeting to attend the call. He came back looking a bit frazzled, but we continued the meeting. As we walked out I asked him about it and he told me a story that is true on a daily basis in the central business district of Nairobi.

The police had hauled away the driver to the police station and impounded our car for a supposed parking offence. Now the driver had taken an all day parking pass but he was hauled away nonetheless. It was just about getting a bribe to release the car. Pretty humdrum stuff, right?

Well, the interesting thing is that the bribe was paid by technology.  Money was transferred to the policeman's acquaintance's bank account using a mobile-phone based money transfer service called M-Pesa!

Now I'm tired of writing so I'll write about the Morocco leg of the trip later.

There is one thing on my mind that I want to put here though:

Of friends moving away -

This year has been particularly harsh as three close friends moved very decisively. What I mean is that till now whenever friends have moved its always been within the country. With that you always have a feeling that you'll run into them somewhere or the other. But these three friends - AK, PS and SN have moved beyond visa limits and thus that feeling of eventually meeting up is not there. Time zones etc. also come into the picture. For example PS and I have been planning to catch up over Skype for a long time now but have not been able to because we're on different time zones with very little common active time.

Well, anyway, these things will happen as people move through their careers in this globally connected world.

So, the point is, I am accepting applications for friendship in Bangalore right now. If you're super rich - excellent. Please apply in hordes...but make sure you're not looking to move out of the city in a rush.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gangs of Whaa(?)sseypur...

Sometimes, some things happen that shake the blogger in your heart to the very core. Shake him out of his self-imposed (not deliberate) exile and make him take up a pen, umm keyboard, again.

Anurag Kashyap you great, great guy. You made me come back to the blogosphere.

So as the sophisticated and intellectual reader base of this blog would've understood by now, this post is about the modern day classic, Gangs of Wasseypur.
Now, the problem with modern day classics is that they seem to be made with the intention of making a 'modern day classics'. 
And that's not how these classics should be made. They should be telling a story in a way that is stylistically true to the directors vision, in a way that lingers with you after you leave the theatre. Unfortunately, the only thing that lingers as you leave the theatre here is a sense of "Whaa?? What just happened here?" And of course when during a film you glance at your Dad, and both of you start laughing as you try to figure out just what the hell was happening in the film, you can be sure that things are not going well with the film.

On the positive side, it did help me in continuing what is fast becoming a family tradition. Whenever I choose a movie and take my parents and/or my grandmother to watch it, I invariably come out of the theatre thinking "What the hell were you thinking SB! Why did you choose this movie?"

To give you a background I have taken my parents and grandmother to watch Dus Kahaniyan which was mostly fine, except six of those Kahaniyan were on infidelity, extramarital affairs, drugs and violence. And then I took them to what I thought was my magnum opus Kaminey. Yes, I know I was asking for it, didn't the name strike me as a potential problem?

Yes it did.

And yes, I still took them.

And yes, I banged my head against a wall afterwards.

Coming back to this film, it is a kaleidoscope of excellent pieces. The performances are powerful and individual brilliance is positively reeking from the film. But does the story come together tightly, or even loosely? No, I'm sorry to say it doesn't.

Now, I loved Dev.D. Really, truly I loved the film. It was a known (and by then fairly commonplace) story told in a stylistic and truly different manner. Against many a riling people I defended the film, recommended it to one and all, and waited with baited breath about what this brilliant, quirky director would do next. But since then there seems to be a movement towards more style and less substance. Add to that the aura that has been created that if you do not like his work, you're probably not smart enough to understand his vision, and I think he's just taking his avant garde-ness too seriously.

Gangs also begins promisingly. Excellent opening sequence and the way the character of Shahid Khan was etched and then evolved had me asking for more. The first part also strongly established the raw brutality that could be expected in the film. But then it just devolved into a whole mixed pot of brilliant short films. New characters appeared by the dozen, did their little parts and then either disappeared or got relegated to the sidelines. So many characters, with similar mannerisms, that it was difficult even to connect them all.

There were also some plat gaps which I will not go into detail as it may be a spoiler. However, for me one question that I could not reconcile to was that when life was such a casual commodity in Wasseypur/Dhanbad, why didn't the powerful vidhayak just shoot Manoj Vajpayee's character when he was still weak? I couldn't understand it and AV and I were both convinced that there has to be a back-story that explains this. If there isn't, then I'm afraid the story loses its plausibility. For me the love/lust angle of the story was a bit unnecessary. It was good, and well done, but did not carry the story along, nor did it really throw up any insights on how the main character functioned.

As a clubbing together of excellent short films with powerful performances, Gangs of Wasseypur works. As a coherent story with well etched characters, I'm afraid it doesn't.
Now that I've come back to the blog after a long time, I should probably not have such a negative post to start off.

So on a positive note, we also saw a play Hayavadana last weekend. Its a play written in 1971 by Girish Karnad. Excellent performance all around and a captivating story. It was open to a lot of interpretation too and it is always nice to watch a play that you want to discuss and think about later. And the icing on the cake was that as it was the last performance of the play in Bangalore, the playwright, Mr. Girish Karnad, was also there at the venue. We didn't really talk to him, but as AV says, she had samosas with him during the interval. He, in one corner of the room, and she in the other!


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shalimar from Rushdie...

Have you read 'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie?

I did. A few years back. Didn't get it. And consequently relegated Salman Rushdie as a writer who I would always deride and not recommend to anyone. Not that my non-recommendation had any great effect on his fan following. He still managed to date (and marry?) Padmalaxmi, a lady with her name as the only problem in her life. Oh, and a fascination for older gentlemen.

But recently I picked up 'Shalimar the Clown' by Mr. Rushdie from the library.

Aside: I'm in two minds about using the library now. I mean, it does give me the option of exploring new authors and I've certainly come across a few gems just because I could just borrow the book instead of buying it. But the downside is that I don't have any of these great books in my own collection. I don't have an option of picking up the book and re-reading it whenever I feel like it.
I don't have the option of smiling at my books, smelling them and just being happy to hold the book. These thoughts came upon me when I was setting up my book collection in the new apartment I've moved into. My collection looks fairly juvenile and is not really representative of the kind of books I like reading.
I probably need a middle path in which I buy some books while at the same time keeping the library option for more experimentation.

Coming back to Shalimar the Clown, I loved it. It was beautifully written and there were so many interpretations to the various story lines. And the mastery with which language has been used in the book is really really captivating. It is a great book to read, if only for some passages that border on the poetic. Passages that make you close the book, lean back and think.

The book takes a very personal story and juxtaposes it on historic events (I seem to like such books the most. Big events through the eyes of common people. Events brought home to the people, mostly reluctantly, because of their subtle (and progressively less subtle) impact on regular life and its meaning)

In this book the beginning of organised terrorism and the consequent (some would say politically opportunistic)intrusion of the army in Kashmir forms the backdrop to an intensely personal tale of innocence, love, ambition, betrayal, despair, anger, hatred, revenge, uprooting and angst. A beautiful book in which the characters are well etched and can be equated to many players of the larger backdrop.

For me, the way the people changed the way they looked at and thought of 'Kashmiriyat' over the course of the story was fascinating.

A book meant to be in your collection, to be savoured on many occasions...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Rukawat ke Liye Khed Hai...


I look back and the last post I did on this blog was on 10th September, just under four months back. To think that there was a time when I wrote here twice a day and also refreshed the blog multiple times in a day in the hope of some comment (no, scratch that. I am, and was never, not a comment seeking blogger. I wrote for myself. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it)

That really does bring back the good old days when office and work was merely a distraction from the real things in life - my blog, facebook,planning trips, planning parties, recovering from parties, making fun of friends, getting fun made (sic)by friends. Ah, those were the days...

Anyway, let me start (the paragraphs above are just me ruminating), let me wish you a very Happy New Year 2012. The very fact that you're still reading this after a four month hiatus means, sniff, that you are true fans of the awesome prose that I spew here. You, sniff, deserve a happy new year. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Now there's been a lot happening in my life. Amongst other things, I am also going to break atleast a million female hearts next month. Yeah, yeah I know, you missed your chance ladies. Aw cmon, don't cry now, I'm sure there are other eligible guys too (hehe yeah, right!)

I did keep coming across things I wanted to write about, but somehow I couldn't put pen to paper (figuratively speaking).

For instance, one thing I did want to talk about was the joy of taking the bus instead of driving. You end up seeing so many things on your very own regular way that you never even notice while driving. So every weekend I go to the library ( on a bus and its amazing. Really. I saw the new buildings on the side. New pubs, stores and hotels have cropped up which I had never noticed! Apart from that you also end up seeing the very limited flora and fauna. I saw a beautiful, sleek, black swallow gliding next to the bus and was mesmerized by its grace.

Then another thing I wanted to talk about was books you read as a child and not enjoy at all. And then you pick them up and read them with, it seems, someone else's eyes. For me the book was 'Lord of the Rings' which I read again in college and became a die hard fan. But this doesn't always happen. I picked up 'Catcher in the Rye' recently hoping that it would run its magic on me and I become a fan. Nope. Nada. Still didn't get it. I guess I just never experienced the typical teenage angst that makes people identify with the book.

Anyway, I think this is a good start for 2012. Lets not try to write an opus in the very first post. Baby steps, I say, baby steps.

Happy New Year again!!