Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Nameless Prayer (for a new year)

Hope for a true dawn

Of a world, brave and new
Where children do not
Shrink and scream,
Cowering behind school desks,
As madness stalks
Corridors of Learning, hallowed.
I dream.

Of the bright evenings
And nights smiling,
When She can walk,
Laugh and dream,
Of happy tomorrows,
Whether alone, or not.
I dream.

Of verdant freshness,
Fickle, coquettish seas.
Cool shade of scorching summer
And the radiance of the winter morns.
Rains singing songs, familiar and new;
Storms playing drama queen.
Shooting stars and wishes naive.
I dream.

Dream and hope and wish,
And pray.
Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Quick update

Chapter 5 of The Ordinary Offspring is up. Apologies for the gap between updates. Life's been very busy. What can I say? 2013 will,. hopefully (toes and fingers crossed), will be better. Ciao. :-)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

All I Need are 13 Things


  1. World’s largest library.
  2. Great skin and hair with zero effort.
  3. A self-multiplying bank balance, or Scrooge McDuck’s fortune.
  4. Nail enamels that dry instantly and don’t chip.
  5. Sexy shoes that never bite.
  6. A private jet that I never have to pay for (a yacht along with the jet would be nice, but I am trying to be not too greedy).
  7. A snug, little cottage (with all modern amenities, of course) in the mountains.
  8. A fast car that drives itself and only needs air to run.
  9. Never needing to work, failing which, 5-day weekend and two days of work would suffice.
  10. Meet all my favourite book and movie characters.
  11. Weekdays to begin at 12 noon and end by 3 pm.
  12. A magic wand that does not require training at Hogwarts.
  13. And happiness for my friends and family!
Happy Diwali, folks.

Photo Courtesy: www.commentsyard.com

Sunday, October 28, 2012

For a Pipe Dream


When I was in school, I had a pipe dream. Well, several of those. But here I am going to talk about just one.

I used to dream of being a published author by the time I was twenty-five. Of course, I would also have a non-writing, thriving career at the same time.

Well, here I am, some years past that age milestone. And as you can guess, I am not a published author. Words which used to come to me unbidden in dreams, in the middle of the night, got pushed under the bed, while I sat working late into night, churning out presentations, analysing data and answering mails. Mind you, I don’t regret doing all that. I just wish I had done those other things that I wanted to. Needed to.

So, I have decided to brush those cobwebs off the old diaries that I have filled over the years with all my musings, strokes of my imagination. Most of them might be amateurish. But they are mine. And I think that now they should see the light of the day.

I wrote a “book” when I was in college, called the Ordinary Offspring. I finished it in my final year but of course, I never tried seeing if it was worth publishing. I was too lazy. Too tired. Too everything, except driven. No longer. I have begun revising the manuscript – and believe me, it needs a lot of reworking.

I am going to start putting it up sequentially, as I go along. It would likely be still very, very amateurish. So, apologies in advance. You see, I am doing it for myself. Finally.

In case, you are inclined to give it a try, drop by at Weaver Imp presents 'The Ordinary Offspring'. You can let me know if you liked it and if, you did not. Honest opinions may not always please me but I definitely need them. I would be updating the chapters in this new blog, hopefully with some regularity. I felt that a dedicated blog would make all the instalments easy to find.

Do drop by. Until next time, ciao.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Homecoming


The pilot’s announcement broke her uneasy, literally pain-in-the-neck slumber. She checked her watch. Nearly time.

She looked out of the tiny hole that passed for window on a plane. And there spread below her were a million lights. Winking at her. Beckoning her home.

Home. She was returning home. With the goddess. Today, she returned home with the Mother of the world. With one difference. The Mother would go away in four days. But she – she would stay. The thought pleased her.

She pressed her nose to the glass pane. She felt like a child again, excitedly picking out her favourites from a million, glittering marbles. She always played this guessing game from high above. Trying to identify the roads, the landmarks. Was that sliver of dark water really the mighty river that sustained this old, old city?

Home. The word warmed her cockles. The city would be all decked up. A bride. Such a clich├ęd comparison, but apt. And this bride would be happy and beautiful for months to come. Perfect time for homecoming.

She tried not to think of her exile. At that time, when she went away, it had not seemed so. She had thought that she was going to a new home. Cleaner. Modern. Greener. How naive!

Now, she knew better. Your home should reflect you. You should not reflect the home. It should not mould you, adapt you, decorate you, to be more like itself. She had realized it late. But not too late, she hoped. No, not too late. She had to believe that.

She watched the lights rush towards her. And like always, she wanted to scoop them in her plams and scatter them. In the air. On the ground. To burst like firecrackers. Or fall gently like shimmering pearls. Those, she could imagine, as woven into the world’s most beautiful necklace.

The plane landed with a thud. She leant back against her seat and braced herself for the impact. Through the ringing in her ears, she smiled. Home. With the Mother. This time. next time, she would welcome the goddess. Promise. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)

A Song of Ice and Fire: the series (Source: wikipedia.com)

I finally read Game of Thrones and all the other four books that make up George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed (and quite exasperating for many) series , A Song of Ice and Fire.

I am not quite sure how to begin and take this review forward. So, fair warning – this is likely to be a rambling post.

There are five books in the series – so far. Yes, you have got me right. So far. There are more to come but as loads of the series’ followers all over the world will attest, you just have to settle in for a long, long wait which can extend upto five years. Since, the last book came out in 2011 (the first released in late nineties), chances are the next one (titled Winds of Winter) may see the light of the day only around 2015. Sigh. At least, I read the first five back-to-back unlike those who  have been following the series since the first book came out.

The series begins with Game of Thrones. This is the name which has been given to the HBO adaptation also, though now they are into the third season and into the second book, A Clash of Kings. And truly the name, Game of Thrones, can be well extended to the entire series, because it is above all the constant struggle for power in a medieval fantasy world which is nearly savage in its customs and lifestyles and where the paranormal is an uneasy reality.

At the heart of it all are the Starks. They are nobles, based in Winterfell, the northernmost boundary of the Westeros, a conglomeration of Seven Kingdoms. This is a world where winter can lasts for decades and so can summer. The latter is the time for harvest and preparation for the devastating winter, which can strike unpredictably and lay the entire kingdoms to waste. Eddard Stark is the lord of Winterfell, when the series opens. He is appointed King’s Hand (Westerosi equivalent of Prime Minister) by his old friend and the king, Robert Baratheon. He is the man, who Eddard helped lead a rebellion against mad king Aerys, the blood of Dragons. Eddard is not interested in the politics that  await him in King’s Landing, the capital, but is urged to go by his wife Catelyn, lest Robert take offence. And all hell then breaks loose. 

Meanwhile, on the Wall (almost a throwback to Gaiman's Stardust) – a last snow frontier that keeps the Others (a species that is some form of dead men walking, though most people disbelieve their existence) and the wildlings men who live beyond laws in the – wild, ofcourse. There are a group of men, who protect the wall, called the crows by common men because of their black ensemble. This the place where common criminals are sent and the younger sons and men in exile. They cannot marry, they cannot sleep with women and they cannot be lords with inheritance. 

And across the sea are the exotic lands to the east, where slavers abound, feudalism survives with a suave barbarity. And that is where, Daenerys, the daughter of slain mad king Aerys is coming into her own.

To tell you anymore would be giving away the plot and the innumerable twists and turns.

The books abound with characters that are so many shades of grey that you would not realize when the villains turn into heroes and vice versa. The motives and machinations of all the characters are always suspect and you cannot trust anyone, even as a reader. The only family which stands with certain integrity throughout are the Starks but even they have their flaws and for which they pay dearly. Then you have the Lannisters, the family of Robert’s scheming and ambitious queen, Cersei. You start out hating them all but as the books progress, you are no longer sure of your footing with regards to your feelings for some of them. Jaime Lannister, Cersei’s twin, would be a case in point. Tyrion, their dwarf brother, might be Martin’s greatest creation among all the giants.

It is a harsh and cruel world, where political intrigue is never far from surface and as more than one character will tell you, the game of thrones is not for the trusting, as Eddard Stark and his family discover. The characters are detailed and nuanced. And there are so many threads that you never know which one is going to get tangled where. The books are written from a limited third person perspective. So, while the first couple of books are written from the POV of the major characters but as books increase in number, Martin resorts to the time-honoured tradition of dawdling and stretching out his books, by introducing the perspectives of newer and minor characters. Sometimes, I felt like just screaming – get on with it, will you? He hams and haws and gets into the minutiae of meals, the dresses, the speech patterns, the geography, the journey and the histories that no one is interested in. And to top it all, he delights in shocking you and breaking your heart. Of course, you do not expect him to write a fairy tale with happily ever-afters but there is so little fairness that it starts getting to you after the first two books or so.

Martin as a writer, is impressive. His imagination is rich and his greatest strength is the characterization. Very few fantasy writers can create characters which seem real. And his do. I am sure, if we looked around, we would see their echoes in our own politicians, celebs, friends and colleagues. He is also adept at using motifs and symbols to build in the tension. The sigils that  represent the various noble houses say quite a bit about their descendants. The animal motifs are especially powerful. The direwolf (a bigger, stronger variant of the wild wolves) stands for the uprightness and the bravery of Starks while the Lannisters are symbolized by lions, who are proud but unexpectedly cunning and sly – not your standard tropes used for lions in literature.


I am now interested in watching the TV series, which I believe is very true to the books – a rarity as far as TV or movie adaptations go.

Final verdict: read it but if you have not begun, wait for Martin to finish.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

MasterClass Lessons



I first started watching Masterchef Australia in its second season. Then, it was intermittent viewing and the connect was just beginning. In the third season, I was hooked and the latest I followed religiously, but always the Australian version. I loved even Junior Masterchef Australia, where the contestant were all aged under 12 years and what they were cooking would have shamed many a chef!

My family members are quite bemused by my interest in a cooking competition like this. And I can understand where they are coming from. I don’t like cooking (I am a reasonably good cook but I don’t like it). And neither am I likely to eat most of the dishes they make on the show, being a vegetarian and lacking a sweet tooth, although they make everything look so good.

So, why? Here I list a few:

#1: Your dreams make you who you are: The contestants are all ordinary people. No celebs these – small or big. They have regular jobs, families. They come on the show, choosing to gamble away their regular jobs and willing to be cut off from their loved ones for the show duration, beyond the communication that the producers permit. I see them and realize, how courageous they are. To take this leap of faith. To have a dream and pursue it. Nearly all of the contestants in the Top 24, even post elimination, choose not to go back to those routine jobs of electricians, pipe layers, teachers, bankers etc. When you hear them say how they do not have a job to go back to but would still have no regrets, I want to learn their courage and salute them

Kate, winner of Season 3, with her family
 #2: It’s never too late: From people like Audra in Season 4, Rachel, Kate and Kumar in Season 3, I learnt that age is no bar. It is never too late to wake up and decide to change your life. There are all these people, well-settled in life, in their late 30s, 40s and 50s. They give up the comfort of familiar, which gets progressively difficult, as we age, to venture into the unknown. To test their beliefs in themselves.

Junior Masterchefs, 2012
#3: Age no bar: The Junior Masterchef contestants astounded me. There were these kids, some as young as 8 years old and they cooked like a dream. I believe, if ever they were to face-off with the older contestants, they might even come out as winners. And their parents let them pursue these dreams, which in India are still considered radical and off-beat.

#3: Background? What background?: This year’s winner, Andy was a 25 year old electrician. Last year, Kate was a housewife. All you need is belief.

Ben, the Tasmanian teacher - Season 4
Alice in Season 4
#4: Being nice is nice: There is no doubt – this is a competition and everyone wants to win – some more, some less. There are moments of doubt and there are moments of overconfidence. But you do not have to walk all over the others to win. Sure, you can be selfish. You have to be. So, given a chance you choose your partners strategically. You choose ingredients and dishes that would throw others off, when given dibs, as challenge winners. But, you do not have to be mean and bitchy. You do have some of those also in some seasons – Dani in Season 3 and Debra in Season 4 are not my favourites – yet most are nice people. Ben in Season 4 volunteers to quit to save young Emma who he considers his sister and then, he consults Andy on the dish he would prefer cooking in the Finals week. Alice chose not to use her immunity pin, because that would mean Beau taking her place in the eliminations, opting instead to use her skills to survive. The immunity challenges would grant immunity to one, but the two other contestants were needed to win and they cooked as if they were getting the pins, which might be used against them later.

#5: Learning goes on: I have seen people deliberately choose unfamiliar ingredients or dishes to challenge themselves and to learn. Taking the risk, which might send them home, but willing to learn. And they learn in every episode, in every challenge. It is amazing how far they come in terms of their skills in three-four months – these amateur cooks. The sophistry of the dishes churned out by Andy in the last two weeks, surprised everyone. Like he said after winning, that even a few weeks back no one would have picked him for a winner.

Awesome Threesome - Gary, Matt, Georrge
#6: Criticism is constructive: I cannot end my list without mentioning the fab judges. Gary, Matt and George (plus Matt Moran, whenever he joined them) were absolutely amazing. It would not be wrong to say that they were less of judges but more of mentors, teachers. They would come and give advice while contestants cooked. They freaked them out. They joked with them. They chided them. But you could feel their pride in the contestants coming off the screen in waves at the end of every challenge – be it cooking in an Italian cafe for lunch or cooking for some of the biggest names in the culinary world. And all without melodrama.

So, I am a little sad that the season is over. But I loved every moment of it. And then there’s Masterchef All Stars coming up J

As an aside, my next post is going to be about Game of Thrones (or A song of Ice and Fire, as George R. R. Martin) calls the book series. I am into the last book out and am holding my breath for the end.
Ciao.

MasterChef™ is produced by Shine Australia for Network Ten based on the format by Franc Roddam.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dubai Impressions


My first impressions of Dubai came from a TV serial called Dastaan that used to play on Zee TV in early 90s. It was a drama rooted in the conflict between two business tycoons played by Parmeet Sethi and Ashish Vidyarthi. The impressions were augmented by newspaper reports of how rich it was (as if gold biscuits littered the roads) and  how it was a safe haven for notorious gangsters like Dawood Ibrahim.

Having been there last week, I can now vouch how true or untrue those impressions were.

When I first stepped out of Dubai airport, I was amazed by the sheer openness of it all – as in the skies were vast and clear and so blue. And there was barely any green to be seen. If there was any, it was dusty and not the lush or verdant vegetation that my eyes are accustomed to.

I was also struck by the fact that beyond the airports, there were hardly any Arabs (at least in traditional dresses) to be seen. It is almost completely an expat country – a mini UN like almost no other. My uncle, who works with Emirates, told me that the company had people from nearly 80 countries working at Dubai!

So, I saw plenty of Asians – both from the sub-continent and the East – along with Europeans, Americans, North Africans. You name the nationality – they were there.

There were plenty of tourists who were staying at my hotel. At 9 in the morning, there used to be complimentary transfers to the beaches. I used to wait in the hotel lobby for my office car to pick me up and there were these hordes of foreigners, ready with their beachwear, hopping on these buses to bask  in the sun that blazed mercilessly at 45 degree Celsius!

On the way to meetings, I saw all the steel and chrome and metal that is the chic skyline of Dubai. Most of the buildings scoff at the idea of straight lines (I can almost imagine Howard Roark seeing them with cool disdain) – they are either twisted or pyramidical or round or tetragonical. They gleam and glitter in the sun, almost blinding you, as you approach them, if the perennial sandy dust does not obscure them. These swanky business towers, malls and even apartment buildings reminded me of a more arid Gurgaon. An amalgamation of so many things, but none its own. That may necessarily not be a bad thing – being a melting pot – but I got no sense of its own culture, beyond the big brands, the svelte cars, the smooth roads (those I envied – drive @ 140 kmph and not feel a hitch) and the perception of gold being cheaper.

I asked if there were any local markets or crafts. None. So, all you can shop for our famous brands, which are available now almost everywhere.

My uncle took me to see the Burz Khalifa lighted up at the night. I had seen it during the day and it didn’t impress me much. It seemed to me more like a nail, driven into the ground upside down with its pointed side reaching into the skies. But at night, very clever lighting makes it look like a stunning futuristic Christmas tree. And you have to say wow. 
Burz Khalifa at Night

I did not try and go up into the tower. Two reasons – I did not have the time and I wasn’t too sure I wanted to, since I do not like looking down from great man-made heights. And anyway, you can buy a (pretty expensive) ticket only to the 138th floor, I believe and not to the summit.

Another wow for me was the light and sound fountain show that takes place every evening next to the Khalifa and Dubai Mall in the evenings. It has to be seen to be believed. In fact, Dubai at night – all lit up like Diwali nights – is far more attractive than the day. The fountain show reminded me of fireworks swaying to music. Simply wow.

Dubai Mall also has a huge aquarium (where sharks swim with other fish – I wondered if the sharks were vegetarian) and a black sky shimmering with golden sky. It also has my favourite among all the stores that I saw there – Candylicious. As the name suggests, it is a candy store but unlike any other I have seen. It is colourful and bright. Happiness here comes in a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. Even the store ceiling is decorated by huge lollipops and candy canes. If I were a kid, I would never want to get out of there!


Corniche @ midnight
But my favourite moment was standing in the gently lapping waters of the corniche at midnight. So peaceful and magical, with the lights of buildings on the shore across lending a diamante quality to the salty sea water, harnessed here by man. A couple of families out on the sandy beach even at this late hour. Children squealing in delight. And the music of night.


All in all, I was glad that I was there and I would like to visit some more to see and do things that I couldn’t do this time. But, Dubai would be far low on my bucket list.

Until next time, ciao.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Welcome to my Rooftop


For the first time in my life, I have access to a rooftop. Having lived in rented premises for most of my life before moving to my own apartment, my visits to the rooftop were dictated by the will and whim of the house owner. That translated into rare visits to the top of the world. And I used to gulp down the new vistas, trying to etch them in my memory. Trying to check if the view had changed from my last visit. Swallowing big mouthfuls of fresh air, that tasted sweetly of freedom. Hoarding the big vast sky and its myriad hues in my heart.

Now, despite having no restrictions, my visits to the rooftop still hold a sense of wonder. The novelty is still fresh and perhaps always be. The hour or the few minutes, as the case may be, that I spend there are my private indulgence. My own.

The rooftop of my apartment building is huge. The building is the tallest in the area currently and since it’s very close to the airport (the planes sometimes cast their blinking red light into my window), taller buildings are unlikely. So, what I am treated to is a view that pans over smaller houses of different hues – bright pink to sky blue to a timorous green – leading to the distant skyline of the posh housing societies in the adjoining neighbourhoods. I can see the electric banners of a swanky mall, that is only 10 minutes drive away.

On quiet Sunday evenings, I like to go up with a book and sit on one of the stone benches that have been installed. I have found a favourite corner towards the back of the rooftop. Most other visitors do not venture towards the back. There are clotheslines criss-crossing this section. But in the evenings, they are bare of their burden and thus give no reason to maids to disturb my haven. Only a lone kite flown by a young boy from a nearby rooftop would flirt with the sky above me, swooping low enough on occasion to startle me out of my book induced reverie.

Sometimes, I play music on my phone when I sit there. Sometimes, I let the wind play its music. I even enjoy the ferocity of her banshee-like voice when she whips up a storm. I spread my arms and dare her to blow me if she can. I think she enjoys it too. And sometimes I sway to my own inner tune, the bound and stretched ropes of the clotheslines like strings of a novel harp.

Then there are times, when the clouds in so many shades of grey, white, blue and black hang low in the sky. Occasionally, the lightning would brighten their dark interiors and sometimes it would streak across the sky playfully. Their roar to me is like that of a proud lion in its prime. Both a little scary and awesome at the same time. The trees also bow their green heads in deference then.

The night sky is a revelation. So bright. So littered with diamonds that I could just reach out and pluck. I try to count the stars sometimes. At the others, I imagine walking up the silver beams to the moon. I feel the texture and the taste of the moonlight. Of freshest springs and of untouched snow.

I follow the aeroplanes that traverse the expanse, trying to imagine where they are going. I wonder if  somebody sketches the trajectory of the planes that I have travelled in , when they are so low in the sky. I keep my eyes on them till they vanish somewhere into the horizon.

The rooftop is tiled in a chequerboard pattern, with red and ochre stone tiles creating an elaborate chessboard. The pattern invites me to play. Takes me back to childhood. I invent games, daring myself to keep to only red tiles, else a curse would befall me. It makes me forget the mundane and the tedious. I view every nook and cranny, trying to think how I could use it if I were to play the childhood games of hide & seek or various ball games that we had devised. I imagine what it would be like to have all my childhood memories of fun and sports enacted here. And I feel free.

It is a magical place. My rooftop. Here’s a view worthy of sharing with you.
View from my rooftop

Until next time. Ciao.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

When the Knight is Dark


So, I saw The Dark Knight Rises yesterday. But this post is not a movie review. There are enough of those out there.

I am more intrigued by Batman than any other superhero. You see, that’s the conundrum. He is not a superhero. Not in the strictest sense of the term.

He does not have any superpowers. Neither does he have any mutant genes. He cannot soar into the sky without planes. He cannot climb buildings without the aid of Mission Impossiblesque gadgets. He cannot morph into other people at will.

But there’s no doubt that he is a hero. A tortured, battered hero, who fights himself more than anyone else. For the right to be happy. For the right to be himself. His inner struggles make him more human than other superheroes.

True, he has loads of money (and Alfred). He uses that money alternately to develop really cool (the coolest, some may say) toys and gadgets and in philanthropy. He wears a mask – both as the vigilante Batman and the feckless playboy, Bruce Wayne. He claims (like in the latest movie) that the mask is to protect those he cares about. Yet, that seems like a half-truth. He wears a mask to protect himself. From being hurt. He is a man who still has the vulnerabilities of a boy, who has seen too much, too early. Don’t they say that those with the most fragile hearts build the toughest walls. Quite like the crab, ain’t he?

Despite his fears, he rises time and again to save a city he calls his own – an ungrateful city that is perpetually under siege by the most demented forms of evil – from the cheerful scariness of Joker to Scarecrow to the Bane of the latest movie. But he is not without humour – not quite as self-deprecating as Spidey but wry nonetheless. It is more sarcastic when he is Bruce the playboy. Because as John Blake tells him in The Dark Knight Rises, the smile is practised smile of someone who has been unable to move on.

He is a hero that all of us need. Not to save us. Not to be our crutch. Not to watch over us. Though he does all that. He is a hero who makes you believe that anyone can be a superhero without superpowers.

To be honest, only with Christian Bale donning the suit, does Batman truly become the hero that he is supposed to be and not the caricatured comic hero. Even George Clooney could not make me take the movie seriously. Chris Nolan has done an incredible job in making Gotham and its often reviled and detested hero seem real. Of course, the trio of movies have their flaws – some more than the other.

Regardless, I shall end this post by saying that Bruce Wayne  would perhaps remain my favourite superhero and Nolan / Bale movies my favourite about him.

Christian Bale as Batman / Bruce Wane
Source:  http://www.worldofsuperheroes.com/film-tv/supermanbatmanand-spidey-brits-rule/ 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Vacation Recap


So, my vacation’s almost over. And a sad thing that is too.

What did I do this vacation, one might ask. Well, apart from the fun, fat wedding attendance in the first week, the second week has been dedicated to one of the things I love but don’t get to do as much as I would like. Sleeping.

In fact, it feels like that all the all-nighters that I did last year and all the anticipated ones will be made up in this one week.

However, before you get the impression that that is all that I have done, let me set you right. In between the bouts of sleeping, I have also been reading. Currently I am reading From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple, who is fast becoming one of my favourite authors – fiction or otherwise.

This book has Dalrymple tracing the journey of one John Moschos – a monk who travelled the silk route more than fifteen hundred years ago, in the then Byzantine empire. The journey starts from Mount Sinai, through Turkey and Syria and I am currently in a war-ravaged Lebanon in 1994 with Dalrymple.
Cover of From the Holy Mountain
Courtesy: Flipkart.com
What I find fascinating about Dalrymple’s style is that it is a beautiful and not-at-all simple blend of humour, knowledge, love and insight. So, while he is travelling though borders patrolled by militia, cities being shelled constantly, looking for places of archaeological interest, resurrecting glimpses of life from many centuries ago, he is also telling me, to what extent all the beautiful history is in the danger of being soon forgotten. The book is also supplemented with some heart-rending pictures – of the only survivor of an Oriental Christian faith, of the ruins of temples and shrines that once teemed with devotees and saints – both real and fake. The bazaars that would have been the envy of the richest businessmen today. All gone into the gaping maws of greed and intolerance. The essence of the book is summed up in the words of Pere Abbe Marcel abi-Khalil, a Christian priest that Dalrymple runs into unexpectedly in Chouf, Lebanon: “In this part of the world, for all our difficulties, religion has not just torn people apart. It has often brought them together. It is important to remember that.”

To temper the slightly heavy content of From the Holy Mountain, I am also reading some light-hearted romances in between and Bullfinch’s Age of Fable. The latter is a retelling of Greek myths, both popular and obscure. Reading through both Dalrymple’s book and Bullfinch’s compilation reminds me of how much I loved studying literature and how fascinating history can be.

I also managed to make time for a couple of movies – The Hunger Games (not as good as the book, too slow and tedious in parts) and The Amazing Spiderman. The second movie was good timepass. Andrew Garfield suffused the character of Peter Parker with a nervous, shy energy stirred with an innocent sense of wonder at his new power. And as Spiderman, he was wry, humorous, chivalrous and responsible. He admits to his failures and owns responsibility for them. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey was adequate and way better than Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. I just could not stand Dunst.

Am religiously following the new Masterchef season but it’s too early for me to get a sense of the contestants yet. I truly hope that Emma does not turn out to be whiner like Dani in the last season.

So, that brings me almost to the looming end of my vacation. Excuse me, while I observe two minutes' silence for its demise.

Until next time, ciao.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Ordinary Offspring - Prologue & Chapter 1

Here's the beginning of something I attempted to write in college. Am trying to revise and edit it and you, my dear readers, should you choose to be, are going to be my beta audience. Please feel free to share all your thoughts on "The Ordinary Offspring"



Prologue

The marriage of a reigning beauty queen is generally of some interest in the media. So, it was natural that when Angela Cromwell, Miss Universe, decided to get married immediately after fulfilling her year long contractual obligations, it created quite a stir. The stir turned into a media frenzy when the name of the groom was discovered - Daniel Woods.

A child prodigy, Daniel had performed his first surgery two months shy of his sixteenth birthday. His feats evinced even greater interest when some reporter discovered that his parents never went to college. He was the kind of son who made his parents not just proud but also famous. That he was good looking and photogenic made his courtship to Angela look more and more like a fairytale.

The marriage ceremony managed to remain private despite some very innovative paparazzi.

Angela continued modelling for several years, taking breaks to give birth to her three children. When it became clear that her film career was not likely to ever really take off, she gracefully withdrew from the world of glamour and settled in the small town of Paraliena with Daniel and their children.

The three Woods’ children were born at a gap of almost one year each.

Chris, the oldest, turned out to be the replica of his father and the more he grew, the more striking the resemblance became. He had the same shade of brown hair and a pair of deep brown eyes, same as his father’s. He too turned out to be a child prodigy and by the time he was sixteen, he was working alongside his brilliant father. He had a very good idea of how extraordinary his own achievements were. Impatient with those not equally gifted, Chris quickly earned a reputation of being arrogant and insensitive.

Bertha, the middle child, inherited her mother’s beauty and her father’s prodigious talent – the proverbial ‘beauty with brains’. Her gorgeous blue eyes sparkled with wit and humour, Bertha was an ardent believer in the philosophy of Carpe Diem. Life was an endless party to her. Not irresponsible but not responsible either, Bertha lived only for today and couldn’t care less for what was to come.

Cheryl, the youngest, always saw herself as standing a little apart from the lovely tableau that her parents and siblings presented. Sometimes, she wondered if this was her real family. Not because she was not loved. Not because she saw herself as the ill-treated Cinderella. Simply because she was so different from them. And they were as aware of it as she herself. She was pretty, not glamorously beautiful. She was intelligent but not a student extraordinaire. She was special in a way that everyone is – just not like her family. She was different from them because she was like everyone else. She was ordinary.

By the time Cheryl turned eighteen, Chris had been a practising surgeon for more than three years and the nineteen year old Bertha Woods was already a supermodel. Cheryl’s siblings always had the spotlight trained on them. She never tried to attract attention herself for the fear of being found lacking, but she became an object of interest by default. Her being a Woods was enough. And she hated being dissected in public, being an object of curiosity. Nobody ever said it outright yet it was always implied whenever her siblings were discussed in media. When would Cheryl Woods shows signs of genius or turn into a great beauty or may be both? After all she did have superior genes – the best, some claimed. How could she remain ordinary all her life?

Cheryl grew to despise the intense scrutiny that surrounded her family and the limelight that spilled over to her. She only waited to escape.



Chapter 1

Cheryl was happy – no, not happy – but relieved. The papers were still there. She could feel their outline through the thin material of her handbag. She smiled and walked into her parents’ kitchen. Her parents were having coffee at the kitchen table.

She stopped for a moment and watched her parents. Her mother was relaying the latest wardrobe malfunction that had happened in one of Bertha’s shows. “I keep telling Bertha that modelling should be classy. Clothes slipping off on the catwalk, when they should be on, is definitely not classy. Not even hot. I am just glad it has not happened with Bertha. Yet.”

Daniel listened with a smile. Interested but amused, Cheryl was sure. She walked up to them.

“Hey, Mom. Hi Dad.”

“Hi sweetheart”. Daniel pulled her down for a kiss.

“Where have you been the whole day?” Angela asked.

Cheryl slid into a chair next to her father. “At the university. They have accepted my application.” She smiled. And waited.

“Congratulations, darling. I am happy for you” Angela hugged her daughter.

“Me too”, Daniel said smilingly. “The lab at the university is one of the best in this part of the world.”

Here goes, Cheryl thought. “I am sure. I would not be seeing too much of it, though. Actually not at all.”

“Of course you would”, Daniel assured her, though he was faintly puzzled. “All students with science subjects do.”

“True. But I do not have any science subjects.” Cheryl closed her eyes for a moment before continuing. “I am taking up English Literature as my major with History and Philosophy as my minors.”

“Did we”, Angela responded, “not decide that you would pursue Science with the option of choosing a branch of your interest for specialization later? That is what…”

“That’s right, Mom. That’s what you decided. Not me. I do not want to study Science. I like reading. And I would like to write someday. Be published.” She turned to her father. Desperately hoping that he would understand. That the fleeting expression of disappointment she had seen only a moment ago in his now inscrutable eyes, was not real.

Daniel put a hand over Angela’s. “When do your classes start?” he asked.

“In September. Dad, Mom, I know that you…”

Daniel raised his hand to interrupt. “You do not have to explain yourself, Cher. We only want you to be happy. So, if this is what you choose, then this is what we want for you.” He got up, smiled, kissed her and walked towards the living room.

“There’s one more thing,” Cheryl said. Daniel stopped in his tracks and turned to look at her. “I will be moving to the university hostel.” She rushed on. “I know since it is only an hour’s drive away, you wanted me to stay here with you. But it would suit my schedule to stay there. And it’s time I moved out anyway.”

“Cher. It’s okay. Relax. You are welcome here if you change your mind. Anytime.” Angela opened her arms and hugged her daughter.

Cheryl saw her father slip out of the room. She burrowed her face in her mother’s arms.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Big and Fat Indian Weddings


Having oodles of fun, I have come to realize, is quite draining physically. I wonder why? Regardless, I had a family wedding last week and now that the euphoria has died down, I can barely keep myself from sleeping at the drop of a hat!

Indian weddings are generally believed to be big and fat. They range from the lush opulence seen at the uber-rich households to your neighbourhood marriage. While not all of them spends seemingly endless pots of moolah, ala Karan Joharesque style of movies, they undoubtedly are big and fat, religion, caste and financial status notwithstanding.

Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi at his big, fat wedding
So, what makes Indian wedding celebrations big and fat. Primarily the fact that they are a celebration – of togetherness, love, promises and commitment. They are meant to be shared with all the loved ones , from the immediate to extended families.

Of course, the bright and new clothes along with the delightful spread of food makes the occasion even more delicious. There are double entendres that you can get away with as they make the bride and even the groom blush. There is endless and silly posing for photos. And then there’s the dancing!

I, for one, love the no holds barred dancing at family weddings. Who cares whether the steps are in sync or not? Who cares that all the careful makeup is coming undone? It is purely about jiving to the beat and screaming yourselves hoarse in sheer abandonment. Last week, at the family wedding, we were so high on the music, that the guests had turned their chairs towards the dance-floor, and watched the madness there rather than the bride and groom!

But like I said at the start, having fun is tiring business. So, this post is going to end here.

Until next time, ciao.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Curious Case of Indian President


My Dad loves  watching news. His idea of in-home entertainment is flipping between all 1001 news channels – English, Hindi, Regional – all the time he is at home.

There are some obvious fall-outs of this. The most important one being that I just cannot stand most of the news channels and my idea of watching news is just to catch the headlines. The endless post-mortems, the speeches and horror of horrors – the political debate mediated by an anchor – are not my cup of tea.

For past couple of weeks, the hottest topic on news channels is who is going to be India’s next President. Now for a post which is supposed to be apolitical, there is a lot of politics going on and the news channels are cashing in on it. All day long, we get minute by minute updates of what Sonia Gandhi has said, what Mamta Banerjee’s riposte is, what is Mulayam’s opinion. It is the great Indian political tamasha.

Inevitably, we have debates among political experts, politicians (theirs is more of a monologue nobody else is quite interested in) and news anchors trying to coax out of them the juiciest bits that can be milked through replays for at least 24 hours.

The post of President, if my memory of Civics serves me right, is supposed to be held by someone not in active politics and while she has limited powers, the First Citizen of the country can force major rethinks. A case in point if the tenure of APJ Abdul Kalaam, regarded by many (including yours truly) perhaps the best President we have ever had.

Regardless, if nothing else, I have always seen the President’s post as emblematic of dignity and poise, albeit with limited uses. The Presidential election in India is very different from USA, where the President holds all the power. But this time around, the entire process has been stripped of all grace and everything that is not crass – something which is quite the trademark of Indian politics these days. The taint of politics has never been more pronounced.

And where is the common man in this? Where are we? As a layperson, I am not sure that Pranab Mukherjee, whose tenure as Finance Minister, has seen one of the worst growth rates for the country is the right person for the post, like Sonia Gandhi insists. Some in India Inc. have taken it as a good sign, hoping that at least it would get rid of him and his financial policies. Mamta Banerjee thought that she had delivered a coup de grace when she named the PM as her choice, for the same reasons as India Inc. for cheering Mukherjee. And now her first choice is Kalam – the same Kalaam who all these politicos had dismissed when the topic of his second term had come up five years ago.

So, I think it should be understandable if most of us have least interest in who our next President is going to be? Unless, we enjoy political dramedy.

Until next time, ciao.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Storms!



A storm hit my city today. The wind screamed and howled. The parched trees swayed like dervishes in ecstasy. The listless earth came to life with fragrances that no perfume can ever replicate.

Wise men say that storms are destructive. They uproot all that is good, built with hard work and love. They can make people homeless. Or worse, they can take away the means of livelihood.

True. All true. But sometimes – nay, at all times – they are a thing of beauty too. Not the gentle loveliness of a summer breeze. The beauty of storms is ferocious. Like fire. Like the fiercest and proudest beasts of the jungle. The lions and the tigers.

And sometimes, they bring intense joy. Like today. And I freaking love them. They make me feel fierce and wild and happy. For no reason. For just being. Sometimes, they make me dream of bigger things. Of grand moments and passions. Of adventures and epics.

They make me want to dance in sheer happiness. They make me want to blend my voice with the wind. They make me want to shed inhibitions and glory in all things impractical. To dance in the rain on the rooftop. To spread my arms and let the driving gale blow me away.

Is it any wonder then, that I love storms?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Idiocy of Intolerance


B R Ambedkar cartoon in NCERT's STD XI Political Science text book.

As an Indian, one of the things I am most proud of is how diverse and tolerant my country is. Sure, we have our zealots. And the fundamentalists. We have had some of the most bloody riots in the history of mankind. We have had people killing each other over places of worship, as if God cared about where we go to worship Him.

Yet. Yet, we also have a vast majority which is kind and humane. We feel. We love. We live. And we can vent. Our anger. Our frustration. Our angst. And in same measure as the good things.

That is why it saddens me when for the last couple of months, the news has often been about cartoons and the unfunny reactions that they have provoked. And who do they offend? A bunch of stuck-up, selfish, narrow-minded, vote-bank oriented politicians.

Leading the band is Ms. Mamta Banerjee. When she won the elections in Bengal last year with a whopping majority, after more than 30 years of communist rule, I thought that she is the change. Sure, she would stumble but let’s give her a chance. She has done some things right but it’s her paranoia that is her trademark these days. She sees a conspiracy everywhere. A woman get raped in Park Street and complains. It’s a conspiracy. A professor forwards a cartoon about her. Of course, it’s a conspiracy and he has to be arrested. Seriously, Ms. Banerjee? Please do not ask her any questions which might offend her. She is a daughter of the soil. So, she understands the poor man’s pain if the rail fares go up after a decade. Marginally, may I add. The railway minister was from her party and he dared make a budget without her approval. Sacrilege! Off with his head!  screamed the Red Queen. And ain’t that ironic that the woman who felled the red bastion has turned into Wonderland’s Red Queen.

Then we have a bunch of politicians who have been offended by a cartoon decades old. They protest that it mocks Dr. Ambedkar, Father of Indian constitution and other constitution makers. Really? Do you think he would have been as intolerant as these half-literate, tunnel-visioned leaders?  This cartoon was to be a part of NCERT text books but not anymore. Our Education Minister actually apologised for it. And what is the cartoon about? it is about how the process was proceeding at a snail’s pace. Quite like all the development work in our country, I dare say.

So, yeah. All this makes me wonder. Do we really have time for all this unfunny business? Time that could have been better spent. I think not.

Until next time, ciao.

Monday, April 16, 2012

From a Train


There is something about train journeys. Takes me back to childhood. The long, long summer commencing with the yearly trip to my nani’s  place in Agra. The city of Tajmahal to most of the world. And to me, the place where I spent a glorious month, playing, fighting, dreaming, escaping and being the children that we could not be the rest of the year.

Today as I bring to you these words from a train coach en route to Agra, I feel suddenly nostalgic. No, this is not a long vacation. No, these are not school holidays. And we are not a bunch of half a dozen kids counting the miles to the annual reunion.

These are precious four days stolen from under the wings of time. From killing schedules and unreasonable professions. To attend a wedding that my grandma would miss. And she would want me there.

So, here I am. On another train journey to the shrine of my childhood. It is a journey that our kids would not really know in this jet setting age. And though the feeling would not last, in this moment, I feel almost sorry for them.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hunger Games: the Book Review



This one’s on special request from Scarlett. Since I read the Hunger Games trilogy more than an year ago, I might miss out on some details. Bear with me on those.

I first heard of Hunger Games on some blog or on Goodreads. I can’t remember. There were people raving about it. Saying how it is one of the best things ever written but that had also been said about Twilight series. So, my scepticism was justified, I think.

Nonetheless, I was looking for a new author to try and I picked up Hunger Games  - the first book in the trilogy. The book opens with Katniss Everdeen trying to hunt game illegally with her best friend, the rather hunky Gale. It then proceeds to describe the covered with ash and coal dust District 12, with people toiling under an autocratic regime. A new class system has arrived in a post-apocalyptic  USA. District 12 is at the bottom of the food chain since it produces coal – that which cannot be eaten, worn or considered precious (no matter that in reality, it is perhaps one of the most precious commodities that we have).

So, the beginning is depressing but soon we come to the annual ‘lucky draw’ for Hunger Games. These games are like Roman fight-till-death arena meeting the voyeurism of modern day reality shows. These are held annually in Capitol, to remind the masses who the real bosses are, instituted after a revolt years ago, when the Capitol routed the districts, wiping District Thirteen from existence completely. Two Tributes from each of the remaining twelve districts – a boy and a girl between ages of 12 to 18 – are sent to Capitol to fight for their lives in a specially built arena that is changed every year and the entire contest is televised live. This is compulsory viewing and literally the last boy or girl standing wins.

Katniss’ innocent younger sister Primrose has the misfortune of having her name drawn and Katniss volunteers in her place. Going along with her is Peeta Mellark. As the spectacle before the game begins – there’s primping and styling like in a beauty pageant – and progresses to the blood and gore of desperate survival, you see both Katniss and Peeta growing in stature. They are not always likeable but they survive.

The games’ are described vividly – the tension, the desperation, the scheming, the hunger – all of it comes alive. I know that in recent times comparisons have been drawn between this trilogy and Twilight, primarily because of the obvious love triangles, but let me tell you Hunger Games is far edgier, ruthless, stark and gripping. And let’s not forget the characters. Katniss is no simpering, idiotic, perpetually damsel-in-distress that Bella is. Katniss is independent and human. She is not always right, focussed that she is on her own survival. She is not very astute either, unable to understand her own feelings or those of Peeta and Gale. But she is tough and needs no knight in shining armour though I like to think that she might like the idea of having one. For company.

Peeta and Gale are also real. Gale is more stereotyped as the good-looking, brave-heart guy who has fallen in love with his best friend. He also suffers from a slight martyr, I-am-the-hero syndrome, which can grate on nerves at times. Peeta, surprisingly, is the deepest of the three leading characters. He has heart but is not without cunning. At any point in time, it is his thoughts that I am most interested in. He is no knight. He is just a regular guy, who first chooses his destiny and then loses control over it.

The secondary characters like President Snow, the drunk and tormented mentor Haymitch, the startled kitten like Effie Trinket, Cinna, the stylist with a rebel’s soul, the heartbreaking youngest Tribute, Rue with whom Katniss forms first an alliance and then a true friendship – they are all drawn with detail and with bold strokes. None of them are subtle. Some of them more obvious than others and then suddenly, they could say something that completely takes you by surprise.

The first book, with its gripping climax, is the best. The end of the games really hooked me and I kept on arguing and counter-arguing as to how it would end.

If it has to be compared, compare it to Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. There are first very obvious difference. The stories are very distinct. Katniss’s world and her people are more humane somehow rather than Blomkvists and Erikas of Lisbeth’s Sweden. Plus, Katniss is not dysfunctional like Lisbeth. The similarity actually comes from how the first book in both trilogies are the best. They promise you so much more in the coming two books but then slowly unravel into a giant conspiracy theory. That is my biggest grouse with the series and I cannot explain more without putting in spoilers.

Collins’ books are, however, more coherent and each character has some role to play, unlike Larsson’s, who all become mere props to Lisbeth. And I have to hand it to Collins that she managed to keep me on tenterhooks about how the end would come. On the way, there are wars to be fought, machinations to be thwarted, heartbreak and insanity. No one emerges from the Games whole and they would never be whole again.

I was also impressed with Collins’ writing. The entire series is written in first person, present continuous tense. It is Katniss’ viewpoint. While I am not a big fan of first person narratives since it robs me of what other main characters are thinking, unless they speak out, I though Collins’ use of the technique was quite brilliant. You see the world not just the way Katniss sees it but also when she sees it.

My final recommendation: Read it. It is not always easy to read, the characters not always likeable but in the end, you have to admire them for sheer guts.