Saturday, April 30, 2011

Anjali - On Being Thankful

We had just gone up four floors in an elevator and were getting off when Anjali told us how nice it was that lifts take us to whichever house we want to go. I had never looked at lifts like that, always taking them and their convenience for granted and at best complaining about how long they took and such other regular cribs. So it was a nice perspective to see lifts as those conveniences or associates or even those equipment that are exclusively looking to get you from one place to another.
But that was not all.
Happy with life!

'I love lifts,' she said, looking with great love at the lift as it headed off someplace busily transporting another person to another house. It is at such moments that I realise how thankless I am and how much for granted I take so many things in my life. No wonder they say that gratitude is the key to everything. Thanks Anjali!  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Meeting a World Record Holder On Parvati Hill - In Pune

It has been almost twenty years since I stepped into Pune. Despite going around the city and skirting one of its most famous landmarks and tourist spots, the Parvati Hill, I never actually visited it. It can be seen from almost any place in Pune, this small hill with a temple at its top and everyone in Pune has fond memories of climbing the historic hill when they were young. Finally the other day I proposed  a visit to Milind, who has been one of my major source and guide to many of the places I visited in and around Pine, and he agreed instantly. His only condition - that we set out early at 530 in the morning so we avoid the summer crowds that throng the popular spot.

So at 0530 today we set off in the car, Anjali, Shobha and all, turned towards Nilayam theatre and went past it over a flyover. At the other end was a chowk where we parked the car and one can see the steps going up the Parvati hill. Even at 0600 hours there was a considerable crowd climbing up, coming down, running and jogging up and down the hill. the steps are quite broad and steep as you realise after a few minutes of walking. But there are not too many, 103 steps, and plenty of places to rest. It is quite clearly used by most people there, maybe almost 70% of the early morning population for exercise. One elderly, sprightly gentleman who was coming down the hill homed on Anjali with a loud Jai Shri Ram and after a pat on her head, a handshake and a candy for her, showed Milind a piece of paper. He was Dr. Panse, a Guinness Book of World records holder who had climbed the Parvati 25,000 times! 'Keep coming and get the little one, this is the best tonic for good health,' he said. He should know - he was certainly more healthy than most of the youngsters at th hill.
Milind and Shobha with the temple in the background

As in all places outdoors in Pune, there was an amazing number of elderly people walking up and down vigorously. As we went up to the top of the hill we found many young and old exercising, from surya namaskars to warming up exercises, meditating, praying to the rising sun god. We walked up to the new temple that is being built, a fine structure, that is almost done or maybe redone, walked past the Peshwa museum and the Kartika Swany temple where apparently women are allowed only on one day in the year. The Parvati temple was open and it had a lovely mandir with the silver idol of Goddess Parvati and a Shiva linga. We looked at the city below us, enjoyed the panaromic view, the sunrise, the bird calls and returned.
Parvati temple

Anjali was confused a bit after we climbed the hill. 'Where is the hill?,' she asked. 'I want to see the hill'. It took us some convincing that we were already at the top of the hill.
Climbing down the steps with Anjali

One of the most interesting things I noticed today, something I never ever experienced in all my life, was how all the elders came to Anjali almost as if they were seeking her. Most carried some candy, chocolate, sugar to give her. They sought her out, shook her hand, blessed her, joked with her and told her to come and climb the Parvati everyday. Some like Dr. Panse had a few words with her, some called out to her from their perches and blessed her from afar, some followed her as she went hither tither. She was in good form and waved at everyone of them. It appeared that it was probably their way of encouraging young ones to take up climbing the Parvati, a tradition that began God knows when, to carry some sweet and entice the young ones. But it was wonderful to see their warmth and energy for the young, and to one another as they joked and greeted each other. It was so infectious that even we had to smile!         

Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Movie Review

Watched Woody Allen's 2008 movie 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' - a movie about two friends - Vicky (Rebecca Hall)  and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson)  who go to Barcelona one summer. They are very alike except in the matters of love - Vicky likes all things planned and structured and Cristina likes the wild and adventurous. So Vicky has a steady, well-educated fiance who has a high paying job that involves clubs and golf etc while Cristina is waiting for that big adventurous romance.

In Barcelona (which is shown beautifully) the girls stay with Judy and Mark, Vicky's distant relatives. Trouble begins when the girls see Juan Antonio at an art exhibition, someone who makes Cristina gape openly in admiration at his good looks. Judy reveals that the delectable Italian hunk is an artist who is just recovering from his messy marriage with his wife, Maria Elena. In a subsequent meeting in a restaurant Juan Antonio comes over to the two girls and invites them to a weekend away from Barcelona, to Oviedo. Vicky is shocked as he proposes that they eat, drink, make merry and possibly sleep together. Cristina finds the idea interesting and agrees. Vicky hates Juan and his assumption that they will sleep with anyone but tags along to protect Cristina.

Juan is pretty direct and at the end of the day asks the girls if they would like to go to bed. Vicky excuses herself, Cristina goes. While the charmer is seducing her in his room, Cristina falls sick with food poisoning and is advised bed rest. The straight and self righteous Vicky is now stuck with Juan who shows her around and even takes her to meet his poet father. Vicky slows falls for his charm and the inevitable happens in the countryside. But Juan is clear - she has her fiance so she must go back to him while he will pursue Cristina. And after they return to Barcelona Juan and Cristina end up as lovers. Vicky's boyfriend flies over for a wedding, which Vicky is not sure of now that she has experienced Juan, but she ends up marrying anyway. Juan has not called her since that night. Cristina moves into Juan's home.

Enter the best part of the movie apart from the locations, Penelope Cruz as Marie Elena, as the haranguing, tempestuous ex-wife of Juan, someone he cannot stop talking about. Marie Elena has tried to commit suicide so Juan brings her to his home. It is funny to see how Marie Elena, an artist who has influenced Juan's style even, a genius in her own words, first tries to understand this new woman who shes thinks is not right for her ex-husband. But slowly all three get to like one another and Marie Elena helps Cristina discover herself through her photography. I liked that part where the capricious Penelope shifts from suspicion to pure mentorship of a talent she feels exists in Cristina. Marie sets up a darkroom, teaches techniques to Cristina and in between all this creative work the three become lovers. Cristina becomes the missing ingredient in the couple's love life and they, her creative fountain.

Eventually Cristina wants to go back to America because this is not what she wants. Vicky and her husband also return. But not before Vicky meets Juan again for another fling. The crazy Marie who had left Juan again after Cristina's exit, returns at that exact moment, starts shooting and in the melee injures Vicky slightly. Vicky quickly realises that this is not for her either. When Vicky later confides in Cristina about Juan and her, Cristina says she would have helped if she had known. Anyway everyone goes back to their lives, richer and wiser for the experiences in Barcelona.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a real treat to watch with its exquisite locales. The story moves in a style that is entirely Woody Allen's with a narrator telling us stuff about the characters and their dilemmas. The areas he picks are so well written and acted that they come out with all their flavours - of honesty, of real feelings, of transience and of acceptance of pain, pleasure, gain and eventual loss. Love is for the brave certainly and only one who has the courage to experience pain can court love. The relationship between Juan, Cristina and Marie Elena is beautiful just as it is crazy. Three people sharing one another and in a very honest manner helping one another grow and enjoying the warmth and beauty of a stable relationship! The actors made it all look so credible.

Penelope Cruz is outstanding. Similarly Vicky's dilemma is all too real and complex - we know with Vicky's in our world that it happens all the time- but we never seem to show it just right. Somehow Woody Allen gets into those grey spaces and brings it out wonderfully. Both Rebecca Hall and Sacrlett Johansson really fit the parts, just as Javier Bardem as Juan. I loved the casting, the music and the story. A very good romantic drama (there is not enough comedy as in other Woody Allen movies) and whatever made me laugh was the ridiculous honesty in the situations. A very well, tightly made, highly enjoyable movie. A must watch for all who like romances and drama and a treatment that is light hearted yet poignant.

I'd rate it **** stars, the extra half star for the way it goes into those grey areas - and gets out of them as well.         

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Prestige - Movie Review

Watched Christopher Nolan's 'Prestige' today. It's a tale of two magicians in the nineteenth century who start out as assistants to a well known magician before they go on to chalk their own destinies as magicians. The two never get along after a tragedy during their days as assistants when Angier's (Hugh Jackman) wife is killed when a trick goes wrong. Angier suspects that the other assistant magician Borden (Christian Bale) ties her hands in such a way that she cannot free herself in time and drowns in the tank.

Aided by their engineers Cutter (Michael Caine as Angier's engineer) and Fallon, they try to come up with original tricks. Also their animosity makes each one sabotage the others. Borden's trick with the gun costs him two fingers as Angier sabotages it and Borden sabotages Angier's birdcage trick. But when Borden comes up with his 'Transporter Man' trick where he disappears from one place and appears entirely in another in a flash, Angier wants to know how he does that. Cutter insists that there is a double. Angier feels that it is not so simple because the double also has two fingers missing. It has to be Borden.

So he sends his assistant Oilivia to Borden to get the trick. She falls in love with Borden and causes enough friction in his marriage for his wife to commit suicide. Desperate Angier and Cutter kidnap Borden's engineer Fallon to get to the secret. Borden leads them to Nicola Tesla (David Bowie) who is working on some technique to transport items and people. Angier spends a fortune and realises that Tesla really was not Borden's secret really. He had been fooled. Tesla leaves, his lab burnt down by Edison's men, but before going he sends a machine to Angier and advises him to destroy it.

Angier starts performing the 'Transporter Man' in a much more stylised and more dramatic manner and even Borden is stunned to see him disappear amidst crackling lightning and appear across the room in a flash. Borden goes to uncover the secret and tumbles on it almost, when he gets caught watching Angier drown. Borden is tried for the murder of Angier and goes to the gallows. But Angier appears the day before Borden is hanged - as if by magic. Cutter realises that Angier had fooled him to avenge himself on Borden and helps Borden.  And then to make things even more complex, Borden reappears after his execution and kills Angier, taking the suspense to a new high. And then they reveal how it is done, how they did their tricks, how they did the 'prestige' which is the third part of any magic act - when the object that disappears, reappears. It is the 'prestige' that gets the claps and both the magicians seem to have now mastered the art of reappearing again and again.  

As in all Nolan movies, it needs some really careful watching a few times and read some helpful reviews to figure the movie out. And as in all his movies it is an audacious plot, based on a novel by the same name. Great performances all round by Bale, Jackman and Caine. Certainly worth a watch. **** star from me!

Untouchable - Mulk Raj Anand

I had never read a book by Mulk Raj Anand before and was pretty excited when I saw this aged, dog eared copy lying along with many other books of the same vintage in a cupboard at home. Untouchable' is a slim 173 page novel published first in India in 1970 by Orient Paperbacks and I detected a price of Rs. 6 for which it was sold. This book was translated into twenty eight languages and was then the biggest selling work of Indian fiction by an Indian author. The title got me instantly and I was looking forward to how Mulk Raj Anand dealt with the subject in this novel.

'Untouchable' is a day in the life of Bakha, a sweeper who is generally relegated to cleaning latrines in the town of Bulandshahr. He is a young boy, perhaps sixteen or so, strong and good looking in his own way,  relegated to this work because of his birth in the caste of sweepers. His father Lakha held the position of being the jemadar of sweepers and he did the sweeping work of the barracks and Bakha was given the job of cleaning latrines. Even that job must be done with utter servility lest they lose their jobs. Bakha lives with his younger brother Rakha and sister Sohini, who is now growing up and is being eyed by the upper caste men. Their mother has passed away.

The day begins in the biting cold of North India, as the fashun obsessed Bakha goes and attends to his duties. He wonders why he must behave in this servile fashion, why he pollutes everyone by his touch, why he must announce his arrival so others can avoid him. He has seen how the angrez soldiers live and aspires for a life like that, of equality and to achieve that, he asks one of the babu's sons to teach him English for a price of an anna.

Anand describes tellingly how the boy has to bow his head, seek the attention of others if he wants to buy anything, leave his money on a special place so they can sprinkle water to purify it, and catch the merchandise that is thrown at him. The days turns worse when he buys jalebis in a rare celebration and in his excitement forgets to announce himself (sweeper coming, sweeper coming) and touches a high caste accidentally. The entire street stops and the touched man slaps him, causing the spirited Bakha to wonder at the unfairness of it all. At the well where the low castes cannot draw water, but wait for the high castes to do them a favour by drawing the water, his sister is harangued by the other low castes and becomes the subject of a high caste priest's attentions. The priest gives her water and tells her to come to his house for work where he promptly molests her and when she resists, shouts out to the world how she has polluted him. Bakha who is nearby rescues his sister, takes her home, burning with anger. Angry and frustrated, he still has to go out to beg for food as is the custom of all low castes and live on the leftovers of the high castes who throw the food at them. Bakha however he is treated well by the sepoy and hockey player who gifts him a new hockey stick for the hockey match the boys are to play that afternoon. Bakha thinks his luck is changing but unfortunately one of the higher caste boys gets injured in the match and Bakha once again becomes the subject of abuse.

Sickened by his plight and angered at his birth and the caste system, Bakha runs away wishing he were dead. He meets an English padre who tries to convert him, until his wife draws him away, angered at the presence of an untouchable. He is drawn to the speech by Mahatma Gandhi who comes to the city that day and is impressed as the Mahatma speaks of how untouchability is a crime and how he would like to be born again as an untouchable in his next birth, how untouchables should emancipate themselves, and how the wells and temples should be thrown open for everyone. Bakha is highly impressed because this is what he had been thinking too. And then the novel concludes as Bakha, while leaving the meeting of Gandhiji listens to an educated debate between two Indian scholars on the bane of untouchability. Bakha hurries home to tell his father that there is hope yet.

I am deeply impressed with the writing of the early Indian English fiction writers. Mulk Raj Anand tackles the tough subject head on, describing the deeds and the dirt without any hesitation, handles Bakha and his low caste friends well without any excessive drama or sympathy. Every single aspect of untouchability is brought out as it would happen in a day. Of course the deeper atrocities that were and are still being perpetrated in the name of caste are not dealt with - the murders, rapes, kidnappings, customs - that still prevail on a daily basis in rural India, maybe because that would take the focus off Bakha's story that is told with such simplicity. Bakha might not have withstood more atrocity, he would have killed someone with his spirit. Mulk Raj Anand brings a fine debate, the thoughts of the giant leaders in those days beautifully, to get across the message that casteism and untouchability are mere perversions of Hinduism brought in by insecure classes.

Apparently Mulk Raj Anand wrote this novel, a fictionalised account drawn from his 'confessions' to a girl he loved, a girl who told him to publish a novel if he desired her hand. He wrote it in three days. He also had a tough time convincing publishers in England and only after E.M.Forster liked the novel and agreed to write a foreword did a publisher come forward. Both Anand and Forster came under fire for the squalor in the book (actually the modern reader will wonder why they made such a hue and a cry, we are used to much much more these days) until it took off to become a huge hit.

There is much depth and layer in India that can be fictionalised and I am constantly surprised at the superficial subjects that our new writers choose. 'Untouchable' gives just a glimpse into what can be done if our writers decide to scratch below the surface and just show India as it is. Without apology or shame, without pandering to western audiences. Just as it is. In fact I saw a list by Orient Paperbacks at the end of the novel and it is a wonderful list of Indian writers and their books - R.K. Narayan, Amrita Pritam, Raja Rao, Manohar Malgaonkar and so many more. If you can get your hands on this book do read it. It is a fantastic piece of writing by one of our Masters.          

Lessons from Sathya Sai Baba

One thing that comes up in the aftermath of Sathya Sai Baba's death is that one needs no connections, no education, no money to make a huge difference to the world. All one needs is love. Assuming he is a mere mortal (which most people have gone to extraordinary lengths to prove), he has, without any of the above mentioned characteristics, got over 6 million devotees across the world that include heads of states, set up hospitals, schools, universities, trusts, water projects etc. sitting in a remote village in Andhra Pradesh that no one would have ever heard of. His trusts have assets worth anywhere between Rs. 40,000 to 1 lakh crores that many commercial profit making organisations cannot claim in their reserves, an army of volunteers who do an astounding amount of social work. For all those who have given up hope at some time or the other, this person was the refuge and once they met him, they always drew from him. From being seemingly so powerless, so unempowered, Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi grew to be one of the most powerful figures in Indian and even World history.

A power he wielded as the representative of what each one can do if they follow the path of love. A power that our knowledgeable and scientific society tried to disprove and dispossess many times. It is amazing how often we try to take away any sign of genuine power. As if we have understood the dynamics of things powerful! As a society, the majority is still deeply distrustful of Sathya Sai Baba. Arre why is everyone going there? All one needs to do is to see what he has done and shown and put it in perspective. As a society again we must learn to stop criticizing needlessly, and appreciate the good that has come about. Do one thing that the devotees do as a basic form of social service - set up a small pot of drinking water near your house and give it to the thirsty as they walk to start with. Listen to someone who has lost hope and only support them with love. There are still things that are beyond the limits of science and one may do well to acknowledge that, instead of letting the power of knowledge get to the head and making one oblivious to the obvious.

On the other hand, we as a society easily forgive those we elect with the express purpose of doing social work using public money. We elect governments after governments, incompetent and inefficient leaders, tolerate the corrupt and the criminal. We can stand their threats helplessly, we can whisper to one another over how much they have amassed, how brazen they are. Instead of building a single constructive thing in society, we support and actively participate in this governance as a society. Vested with real power, these leaders and officers can do with public money all that one man who had no education, no money, no power has done. And more. But they choose to bleed the system and we choose to look the other way.

It is a paradox but that is how it is. I am not a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba but I am truly amazed at what he has done and am deeply appreciative of the fact that I have lived in the times that he has lived. The path of love is tough. It brooks no compromises, only severe sacrifices. It is too hard for most of us. So when someone walks that path, however harmlessly, we try to pull them down. And similarly when we get beaten, robbed, raped and killed we rush back to elect the same leaders. As a society we do deserve what we are getting, that we all know. But when we see something like this that one man has done, it is worth a think. And possibly act. We are all humans too.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Winner Stands Alone - Paulo Coelho

The Winner Stands Alone - Paulo Coelho
Read Paulo Coelho's 'The Winner Stands Alone" (Harper Collins, 375 p, Rs. 325) recently. I have not read Paulo Coelho's books after I had read 'The Alchemist' many years ago. I was very impressed by 'The Alchemist' and gifted it to many people as well. Many times in bookstores I lingered over his books wondering if I should pick up one but never did. Until this book came along.

'The Winner Stands Alone' disappointed me pretty early on into the book. On the face of it this story is of a rich, ruthless, cold blooded businessman Igor Malev, a Russian, who travels to the Cannes Film Festival to win back his wife Ewa who left him for a young Arab fashion designer. Igor is the owner of the biggest telecom company in Russia, an ex-war veteran who knows all the ways of combat and killing. And intelligent that he is, this possessor of great love, decides that he must communicate to Ewa that he is willing to do anything to prove his great love for her - so naturally he decides that he must 'destroy whole worlds'. Coelho seemed to have based his book on this theme - what if someone loves someone else so much that they can destroy whole worlds for them?

Destroying whole worlds means killing people of course, and Igor, the superkiller, picks and kills several people in a 24 hour span using the most complicated methods that no one can understand. He uses some method of killing called sambo where he presses some nerve endings and the victim just falls off in his arms in the middle of the road, uses some rare poison dart to kill another, uses a knife to kill another...bored the hell out of me.

The purpose of his killing people is so he can send text messages  to his wife. Unfortunately she does not understand what he means by 'destroying whole worlds for you' - of course even we don't understand why he is doing that. The only way she identifies that she has her ex-husband in their midst in Cannes is by the words he uses to address her, some endearment from the days they spent in Siberia or some place!

What kind of intelligence is this to make someone you love come back? Will she instantly clap her hands and say Wow my superhero, you have killed for me, I will come back to you? Is that intelligent? Because Igor, until the very end seems to believe that she will come back to him. Igor seems like he needs more help than the other war veterans he despises for their weakness in succumbing to the images of war they had been through. How he made a success of anything  with such lopsided and stupid thinking is a mystery to me. And if I'd want to destroy worlds, I'd simply kill off her new husband/boyfriend quietly in a side alley using the sambo to good use and start sending her flowers and chocolates instead of gory text messages.

The second obsession of Coelho (the first is destroying whole worlds) in this book seems to be the Superclass who are the people who have made it in their life. They have money, parties, beauty, women, men, sex and in this clase are all those who go to the Cannes Film Festival as the biggies of fashion, movies and such industries. Many time Coelho's descriptions of the Superclass seem like essays on their debauchery, on how the whole rotten system works, how cruel and insensitive it is. From production houses who rip off writers, to fashion czars, models, wannabe actresses, ageing actors - he is deeply critical of the Superclass. After taking off on them extensively he returns to the story of killing and texting.

He finally mixes up his theory of the person who will destroy whole worlds for his beloved and the Superclass, adds some more wannabe directors, models, actresses, directors who want to make it big and we have a story that never takes off. Many characters flit in with their back stories who did not seem relevant to me. A police inspector and a lecturing pathologist try to tell us what happened as they repeatedly tell us what we already know. That the killer is forytish, intelligent, rich, knows deadly ways of killing and is possibly a serial killer. Anyway they come across as so dumb that you start feeling they might never ever catch him. Just when you start wondering if you should get out before wasting any more time on the book, Igor finally meets his ex-wife and explains why he did this (it would have been simpler if he met her at first and then started to kill), she confesses eternal love for him perhaps because he has a gun in his hand and the Arab shows off his knowledge of guns, not necessarily people when he decides rather foolishly  to take on Igor. In the end, let me save you from the ordeal by revealing it, Igor gets into his plane, forty, intelligent, good looking and rich, and flies off after destroying two more worlds. And plenty of your time.

Read it if you want to go to Cannes film festival and want an inside peek into what happens with the Superclass or the fan class. Or if you want to know about exotic ways of killing people and making of without being caught. But don't read it if you are hoping to win back the woman who left you - you just might kill her off when she comes back to you. All in all, it was too long, dragged many parts, had no real depth or motive for characters and a huge disappointment from Coelho who is otherwise one of my favourite writers. The clarity with which he normally approaches his themes was missingand there are too many things that he tried. Unfortuntaely none of them worked, I think it would have worked better if Igor has a better and more humane way of winning his love back. Even if it was set in Timbuctoo and not Cannes.     

Sathya Sai Baba - An Amazing Phenomenon

Being from Andhra I had always heard of Sathya Sai Baba from Puttaparthy right from my childhood. One of our close family friends Dr. Sunderam and his wife Dr. Satyabhama were both ardent devotees of Sai Baba and even as far back as in the early eighties I remember they used to frequent Puttaparthy and do some free Sunday clinics in Chennai. I saw many pictures, heard many stories of the God man and his miracles. As a young kid of twelve of thirteen I had no opinion - good or bad - but I certainly knew of him and his influence on my doctor uncle and aunty.

It was sometime in the eighties that there were many scandals associated with the Baba and the ashram. First there was a big expose in one leading newspaper how Baba's miracles were actually just some regular tricks. I saw the pictures and the report and nothing was conclusive about them. Then there were allegations against him by some foreign national who said that the Baba tried to molest him. The biggest scandal of course was that of a murder attempt in Puttaparthy itself in which a few of his devotees were killed. The story was that they tried to kill Baba. Everything went hush hush after that.

The Baba continued to draw devotees despite all this. I now knew more and more people who were devotees of the Baba. Many politicians, film stars, industrialists, cricketers (Gavaskar was one I remember, in those days) were his devotees. His social service projects started getting bigger and bigger until there came a time when he started to do more than what the governments could do for the people. He got the drought prone region of Puttaparthy irrigated in a project that cost something like Rs. 200 crores which the trust footed. I vaguely remember reading that the Tamil Nadu government also sought his help in doing a project like that. A government asking an individual to fund a public project?

Sometime in 2000 or so I went to Puttaparthi because my mother wanted to see the Baba - an old vow she had made. She was not too well by then but she was determined and I knew that Puttaparthi was quite manageable. So with the assistance of my friend Ganesh who was an ardent Baba devotee, me, Shobha and Mom went to Puttaparthi by train. The first thing that struck me was how prosperous that little town was, how many people came to see him. I was amazed at the order that was maintained by volunteers who came from all over India. His sayings, small and interesting quotes with a fine word play, all of them with immense common sense were painted all over. The hospital, the airport, the buildings, the grounds - the architecture itself was like some magical heavenly land. A whole brood of foreigners, VIPs came in and breathed life. Several industries thrived on his and his fame. And what struck me most was the quality of his devotees - the super educated, many of them highly respected doctors, powerful politicians, artists were all doing seva, taking time off from their busy schedules. Puttaparthi ran like clockwork with the aid of mere white clothed, unarmed devotees.

Prashanti Nilayam was an experience because it was so peaceful to just. sit in that hall. At his darshan time the crowds grew hysterical. He looked composed, a trademark gesture of his as if to ask 'So what is happening?', spoke to a few. Everything was deliberate, careful and precise. And then it stuck me that this one God man was holding the faith of millions like this, sitting in his faraway hometown of Puttaparthi. He was holding the faith of several millions across the world. "Baba looked at me", "Baba gave me vibhuthi", "Baba's vibhuthi will cause wonders". There were several tales of how he appeared in people's dreams and gave them precise messages. Several more tales written in books. Tales of how wonderfully incisive his speeches were. How technologically sound he was when he gave the architectural plans for the buildings or how he spoke with ease about complex medical conditions that amazed many doctors.

'I am God,' he declared famously early on. 'And you are also God. Only you don't know it yet.' Baba's quotes are wonderfully simple and only convey the message of universal love, harmony and peace. One look at what he did for people and you know this is not a normal phenomenon. One look at the millions who come to him for guidance and you know that he is certainly not a mere magician as people alleged. One experience of the peace in the ashram is enough to discern that this is not normal either. For us, bred on cynicism and scepticism, who cannot make even our own closest friends and family to come to us unconditionally (or even conditionally), to volunteer one good work for a cause that is not ours, to spend a rupee for public good, to back others, or even ourselves with our faith in the good of humanity - this is a question to ponder about. How and what power did this man have who stayed in that village all his life, build an empire of hope, of selflessness, of excellence and of love, sitting there? And all he did was to preach love all his life.        

Puttaparthi again in 2009. It was as peaceful as ever. However the Baba looked very frail, burdened possibly by this immense task of holding up the consciousness of the millions who continuously looked to him for support, answers and even miracles. And it seemed that they never felt let down as they asked the impossible of him. Isn't it amazing to be in a position like that and still fulfill, reassure each frantic call, request. I cannot imagine what would happen to all those who looked to him like a father, a guru, a God. But he has left behind enough for them to carry on for themselves, and even his life and teachings.  

If each one of his devotees practices what the Baba preached day in and day out, of living a life of love towards one and all, this world will transform into something else, a paradise we constantly ignore. As for the rest, the non-devotees, doing one thing he taught, and using it well in our lives itself could make one small difference in our life and then the world. One need not believe in Sathya Sai Baba to do good, one just needs to stop being so cynical about anything that is good! .

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Visit to Sarasbaug – A Taste Of Pune


Sarasbaug is a big landmark in Pune and one place that you pass by very often if you're a denizen of this town. Close to the Swargate bus station, this park has always intrigued me because it is located at a depth from the surrounding areas - the road cuts off sharply and the slopes descend into the park area beyond the fences. I found out the reason why – this park was once a lake that got dried up! Anyway the Sarasbaug park is always surrounded by push carts selling lots of food stuffs and toys etc and has a carnival like atmosphere that one cannot miss.

It is one of those nicely maintained parks, great to walk around, sit down or even play in the lawns. Pooja, my motivator on these "Discover Pune" visits, and I went one fine morning to visit the Peshwe Park which is right behind the Saarasbaug. Unfortunately the Peshwe Park, which seems to have far more interesting things inside, had timings which were 10 a.m. onwards. Since we were there early we decided to walk around the Sarasbaug  park.

Sarasbaug is a popular joint for walkers and joggers and a whole bunch of people were in there walking around the circular path all round the park. From this path one can go into the lawns where many people walk around, play cricket, and I was amazed at a couple of old men who were playing an expert game of Frisbee, running lithely to catch the well swung frisbee. A waterbody with lotuses, fish with benches and ledges to sit and rest. Then there are the steps that go up a fair distance to the Shree Siddhivinayak temple which apparently was constructed in 1750, but is so well maintained that it surprises you. It is very clean, marble floored, shade of trees all around. In one corner a few ladies were teaching school kids vedic chants and they were reciting it loudly. It is a great place to just sit and let the atmosphere soak inm the bell, chants and all.

Though Sarasbaug has nothing of breathtaking nature in terms of landscaping or colourful or rare trees and plants, one gets the feel of the Maharashtrian culture as one walks by. Several middle class Maharashtrian or shall I say Puneri families walk around. Old and young jogging, walking talking, smiling, playing. One also wonders at the health this town bestows on its old people. I have never seen old people look so healthy as they do in Pune. The two old men playing Frisbee actively chasing it down cannot be less then seventy years old and all the old ladies walking past briskly on their own as well. They also seem to smile more often, have something small to laugh at or discuss, have some plan of action to do and something to celebrate all the time – maybe that is the reason for their longevity!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Joshi's Miniature Railway Museum - A Delightful Experience

Tucked away in a small lane in the suburban middle class Kothrud area, in a quiet house that serves as a commercial establishment, is the Joshi's Miniature Railway Museum, the only one of its kind in India. As the name indicates it is a museum with several miniature railways running over a carefully built model of a city complete with highways, mountains, factories, a circus, railway stations, little people walking dogs (2000 little people), waiting for trains, clapping at the trapeze artists, a drive in theatre, a commercial district, and so much more. Several train models run through these tracks, even the cars start moving just as the circus does too.
Pooja and I at the dummy guard van at the entrance

The Joshi's museum is easily found once you are in Kothrud, next to Sangam Press. An entry fee of Rs. 80 and you are allowed in after a few minutes in which the railway system is activated. There are so many things that are like trains - a guard van dummy at the entrance, a restaurant that has a train and compartment models, small miniatures in a glass case, little nuggets of information. Once the signal is given you can go up and into the room where the entire model is laid out, fragile, detailed and delicate. Once the operator confirms your preferred language, the show begins!

It has a fine voice over talking to children, leading them into a fantasy land. A sprinkle of water from the heavens and we are in the magic land of trains. And as the voices tell us tales and explain the various parts of the layout start moving. Trains start zooming off, cars start and take off, goods trains, ICE trains speeding, trains running up and down mountainous caves it is wonderful to watch and the kids laugh and smile with joy. Why just the kids, even the adults. The lights go on and off to show the sky (stars and plants as seen on April 16, 1853 the day when the first train ran in India to Thane). And at the end of some twenty five odd minutes, the wonderful show comes to an end, with the heavenly water being sprinkled on you again.

Check out the website and the numbers astound you. This is the result of more than 40 years of making railway models. First begun in 1998, draws 30,000 visitors a year. 1000 wires going out of the control panel, adding up to a length of 5 km, 65 signals, fences, lampposts, fences all made by hand, a fully functional railway station yard with 6 platforms, announcement systems, main lines, goods loading facilities, cranes etc. The trains themselves are of different varieties - Steam engines, Diesel engines, High Speed ICE (Inter City Express), Underground trains, Trolley bus, Rope Railway, Furnicular Railway, Wuppertal Hanging Railway. It is wonderful.

If you're in these parts and have an hour to spare do go and visit. And you can always cool off and have a delectable snack at the snack bar afterwards!
For more information please visit http://www.minirailways.com/index.html.

The IPL Tamasha

And if we did not have enough confusion with the teams and players, we now have anchors confusing the hell out of everybody. So how does it feel? seems to be their favourite question. Be it Sunil Gavaskar, Dhoni, Neeta Ambani, Priety Zinta or the cheerleaders, the anchors have only one question - so how does it feel?

"Your team got 140 - how does it feel? X player went for some runs today - how does it feel? The match is evenly poised - how does it feel? It looks like you'll lose this match also - how does it feel?" I mean how inane can they get.

Then we have women anchors. Archana Vijaya of the falling pallu, or rather well-engineered pallu, who looks quite poised as an anchor - my only problem being that her cricketing knowledge, however hard she prepares, is still short. So everyone adjusts to rather amateurish questions, as she fails to adjust her pallu, and we are all fine.

Or those anchors who trap players as they walk off the ground unsuspectingly to get some wisdom off them. Or those who  hound the team owners with questions on the game - which most team owners find difficult to answer because they don't know the game well enough. But I find it amazing that the team owners - all important people - seem to have the kind of time that they have to follow their teams all over. Its not as if the teams are doing any better by their presence but they insist. Amazing.

If the team owners follow their teams I can still understand it because its after all their money, but when the celebrities run to the matches and act like they are totally supporting their teams when everyone knows they are out there for other reasons like impending releases etc then it makes one want to puke. And in the VIP section of the stadiums one finds the biggest bunch of non-cricketers, fat, puffed up - from cricket administrators to corporate honchos, and more surprisingly lots of busy politicians. Don't they have things to do? I mean how much time must be going waste as they travel up and down to the matches and watch them even as they don't understand them - but anything I guess to be in the right place at the right time.

The only ones who probably know and understand what is going on - the players who are playing this format now - the cricketers are of course earning their bread playing. The others, the experts who know the game but have not played this version are commentating, trying to figure out if what they are saying is really true because they have not experienced anything like it. The other cricketers who know the game more than most at the stadium are sitting at home and watching television because no one gives a damn about them anyway.  With Mandira Bedi now retiring to the expert areas, writing columns in the newspapers, we can safely now look forward to some books, columns and sports shows by Yudi, Sameer, Gaurav, Archana and the gang on their IPL experiences. And see them in expert roles in a few years!

So the glamour comes in from the movies, the power from the politicians and the money from the corporate honchos. And the whole world dances to their tunes - from cricketers to the fans - hoping for more contrived excitement. A tamasha if nothing else!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Colours of Summer

Ah, summers!
This tree below and its cascading bloom of yellow is one of the most eye catching in summer (the picture does no justice)! Viewed against the sky, it seems like a waterfall of gold coins.
A profusion of yellow cascading from the heavens! 



I have no clue what this tree is but it lays down a carpet of yellow gold on the road. It really looks stunning in its thick, lush layer.
Perfect on the tree, a thick carpet on the road!



The Gulmohur and its bright red always makes me stop and stare! It bursts on you with a gaiety that shocks you, an immodesty that makes you wonder!
A gulmohur, not yet in full bloom



This is not it - but watch a jacaranda in full bloom against a blue summer sky. It takes your breath away!
Jacaranda, a colour that I find exotic



What ever is this red flower?


And this that holds its own against such beauty!

A Visit to the Pu La Deshpande Japanese Garden - Pune

I was motivated enough by my enterprising niece Pooja who is very unlike most of her generation. She wants to go around and see the sights in Pune where she is studying and not inhabit the coffee shops as most seem to do. She is also most content to keep a healthy distance between her and her mobile phone which she ignores to the point of being rude (if her phone was the sensitive kind). She got a head start, this student of Architecture, and had seen a tribal museum the day before. Since I did not see any of these sights that she had on her list I decided to tag along and we managed to see on day one the Japanese garden named after the famous Marathi writer and scholar P. L. Deshpande.
Pooja, the chief architect of the visit to the Japanese Garden 

Located on the Sinhagad road the park also known as Okayama Friendship Park (it is based on the Korakuen Garden in the city of Okayama) , and or Japanese Garden,  is pretty small, spread over 10 acres they say, and very well maintained. You can possibly go around at a brisk pace in fifteen minutes if you choose to stride along as most morning walkers. It has well manicured lawns, little streams of water flowing by in such shallow pools filled with round pebbles, little bamboo bridges, bamboo seats, a tiny and elegant waterfall, a small lake with two ducks and red colored fish, a high point which gives a view of the park all around. It has tall trees all along the periphery and bushes and trees that were pruned into fine shapes. Save the slums creeping up the mountain side behind the park, it is a fine sight and a pleasing, elegant park. There were joggers, walkers and sight seers like us who were getting in everyone's way. But again the path was sensibly designed to be broad enough.
Anjali and the waterfall

Two things struck me as being really creative or rather 'sensitive' is probably the right word. Reminds me of an old saying by someone - "We create nothing. We merely plagiarise nature." The undulating landscape of the land was left as it is. The highs and lows, the rolls and the dunes were used to create and elevate the effect. In contrast the space next to the park was being flattened by excavators and other heavy machinery and one can see and feel the violence in that creation. This park merely added a few things, some water, some plants and let mother earth lie peacefully. One can feel that peace here as one walks around.
Another perspective

The second thing that strikes you is how only natural material has been used. Bamboo mostly. For the bridges, the walkways, the fencing for the lawns (bamboo sticks merely bent over so effectively into semi circular fencing that they seem more effective than any sign that threatens people with dire consequences for stepping on the lawns), everything is from nature. No plastic, no concrete.
True spirit of friendship - Three generations in peace and happiness 

You can watch the ducks, the fishes, sit and watch the water flow in the streams, the waterfalls. There is a lushness, a compactness, a discipline that permeates the garden and that seeps into your soul. A very alien feeling for most Indians. Do visit if you get an opportunity!       

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why We Postpone Things That Matter Most

If we make a list of things that matter most to us in terms of our own growth and happiness, most of us find that this list is also the list of things that we are postponing. I always wonder why we do this - postpone our good and happiness? Do we fear that once we look at it, it will disappear? That our quota gets done? Or that it might not be what we thought it was?

I ask the student - if you know its good for you why are you not doing it? He looks at me and smiles guiltily for asking the question for which he has no answer. And then he looks at me for the answer. I never had a convincing answer myself.

Yesterday I got a thought - or rather the thought caught me. It is rooted perhaps in the attitude we carry to life. Most of us go on with life assured of immortality - we know we will live and live long. Something will happen somehow at some time for me to do it, do what I want. But right now I am still figuring it out. It is the lack of urgency that stops everything. The lack of urgency comes from thinking we are here forever.

But if we look at life as if this moment is the last. That death is certain, lurking right next to you, and can strike any moment. Then there is a great amount of clarity instantly. All the things we want to do most, things for our good will come up now and we will do it. We make that phone call, write that letter, make that decision - and from one moment of madness to another - we fly, being there fully. Alive.

On the razor's edge! Ah, life would get so interesting. Just a small flipping of the thought.

So what would you do if you were to die any moment?

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Shamelessness Of It All - Lokpal Slander

It was on expected lines of course. Clear ll those who are bringing out these evidences or pointing fingers at the civilian representatives on the Lokpal panel, charging them of corrupt practices, does not want the Bill. And I am sure there must be hundreds behind these slanderers who are egging them on, fighting hard to stall this process. The system gangs up very soon when the thieves are threatened. Haven't we seen it so many times before? From protecting, even rewarding the corrupt, the murderers, the rapists, the people in power have stopper at nothing. This is nothing. They will even come to physically stopping the Bill if need be.

Far as I am concerned there is no need for any of these civilian gentlemen on the Lakpal panel to prove their credentials. If these gentlemen are qualified, let them do the job. there is no need for them to carry the flag of virtuousness. They are not there in the panel to carry the flag of their virtue - they are there to give it the right kind of teeth that will tomorrow bring all wrong doers to book.

Why have these fingers risen now? It is mischievous and everyone can see through it. If there are charges raised, accusations hurled - in this particular case it makes more sense to investigate the one who has accused. Because he or she has more to hide than these guys surely.

March on Lokpal panel, w are with you! And once again this is not about the virtuous and the non-virtuous. It is about applying the law to all equally so that the bigger crimes are punished and not rewarded. If the smaller offender goes to jail, so must the bigger criminal. Does not matter where he is from - this side of the panel or the other.    

Road Trip - Hyderabad to Pune

The road trip from Hyderabad to Pune took me 11 hours. The early start helped a bit. Hyderabad to Sholapur was pretty decent as it always has been and the 300 kms were done in 5 hours as always. But the 4 laning work on the Sholapur-Pune road took almost the same time - earlier would do that stretch of about 250 kms in about 4 hours. The roads in Maharashtra are exactly half the size the roads in Andhra or Karnataka, the two other states that we pass which always makes you wonder why. Anyway the 4 laning work will amend it all, with new bridges, roads etc.

The stretch after Sholapur is the most frustrating because the traffic on the highway is almost bumper to bumper. Its like driving in the city traffic - only with many outsize vehicles, trailer trucks, petrol tankers, LPG cylinders. There were times when we had to go as slow as 10 kmph as traffic crawled. No escape as the road allows no space for any tricks.
  
There were some interesting things I noted this time. Firstly the brilliant colours on the trees and in the fields. The new greens on certain trees that glinted with the mischief of youth, the luxurious carpet of yellow flowers that drifted down from a tree whose name I know not. Gulmohur of the brightest red and another shade of orange, a brilliant purple or violet bloom of the odd jacaranda tree peeping out shyly, magenta explosions in bougainvillea trees, ripe and disciplined sunflowers standing up to greet us as if it were a yellow army. Wonderful colours looking so much more colourful against the blue blue April sky.

Then there were the mad guys I saw walking by the road (in addition to those on the road). I counted at least five of them, clothes torn, walk unsteady, look crazed, emaciated. I wondered why so many of them were walking along the highway. And maybe that is a sign that they were not mad. They were more disciplined than the crazy guys who suddenly run on to the road oblivious of the speeding traffic, vehicles that take U turns with no warning - they kept to the side. And if they were mad why were they on the road and not in the fields? Maybe they just want to e alone with their thoughts.

Mad ones posing as normal guys were there aplenty. In cars and trucks honking madly in stagnant lines, on two wheelers speeding crazily and actually taking pangas with bigger vehicles - must be mad! But the craziest sight was the number of people who were busily spitting from their vehicles, mostly on their own vehicles, some perhaps on their own feet. But they were spitting almost every five minutes, cheeks blown out with paan juice that they were eager to spit. Every few moments the head appears metronomically at the window, spits and goes back in. Where he spat no one knows - mostly on his own car but he does. So from buses, cars and other transport that is a danger - a splash of red as a souvenir. If you're lucky it could just be water!

Another thing you notice is the freedom with which people throw garbage out of moving vehicles. From biscuit wrappers to plastic bottles,  to finished food and unfinished lunches, the road is the trash basket and there they merge with so much more.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

Read the highly acclaimed book by Pakistani writer 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' (Penguin, 209 P). It is an easy read, written in a conversational tone as the narrator, Changez, talks to a new acquaintance on a balmy evening in Lahore, of how he lived his life in the United States as a Princeton graduate and one who secured a coveted consulting job before 9/11 happened. Changez has everything going for him until the event and then he starts feeling, in small ways, the alienation, as he is torn between his love for his motherland and what is happening there. Very subtly told, it is probably the story of every thinking, educated young man from Pakistan who has to deal with his culture and the current politics where he has no say. Mohsin's setting and structure is very interesting as he simply, almost with no emotion narrates the story in a kind of a colonial English that one hears only in our parts, as he and his western friend eat, drink tea and move about in Lahore on a regular night in probably the time of a meal and possibly a walk after that - which is disturbing enough for the westerner.

The story of Changez is very similar to that of Mohsin Hamid himself who has studied in Princeton and he might have honestly put his finer feelings down when dealing with the dilemma of having to live in the land of opportunity but always under suspicion after 9/11. His relationship with Erica, a classmate, and one with enough baggage from her own past, adds to his growing confusion because though she likes him,  she loves her dead boyfriend. I loved the part where Changez offers to be Chris (Erica's dead boyfriend) in bed so she could feel comfortable. Changez is that then - intelligent, sensitive to a fault, well read, polite and attractive. But he is too well read, sensitive to not be affected by what is happening around him as he reads of Pakistan, the American war in Afghanistan, India's constant threat (it was funny to read it from the view of a Pakistani, to see India as the aggressor, the perpetrator as opposed to being the victim as all Indians believe - it did pull down the bravado one associates with Pakistanis a bit for me). In his search for his identity and probably his desire to do something for his nation, Changez grows a beard in the elite consulting office he works in. He has few sympathisers of course, and they let him keep it.

His life spirals downward. Erica goes to a mental institution, he cannot focus on a new, plum assignment, resigns and returns to Pakistan. To a life of uncertainty, fearful of war as he waits for India to attack with what he feels American collusion. And just as most Indians believe, he also expresses his dissatisfaction that America is probably playing India against Pakistan when it could easily tell India that it is Pakistan's ally. Somehow we in the subcontinent will never change, will never take responsibility for ourselves, Indian or Pakistani, and always expect the world, read America, to solve our problems. Changez does represent every educated young man in this part of the world - Indian and Pakistani.

It is a delightfully, easy, funny and honest read. The tone he adopted for this book is brilliant - saying it like it is without delving into dramatics, just enough for the reader to feel the alienation. I think I can understand what Mohsin Hamid must have felt as he lived the life of Changez himself - USA, post 9/11. It is a feeling of how unfair life an get - and though nothing as serious as being locked up without reason (as shown in movies) happens to Changez, the soft, subtle changes in attitude itself are enough to make one feel alienated. Which is my land - America or Pakistan? What am I doing here when my country is in such turmoil? This book must have taken so much out of his system. For sheer honesty and writing it so simply and interestingly, Mohsin Hamid scores. I loved one line his boss Jim tells Changez when he is leaving his team - 'In war soldiers do not necessarily fight for the flag. They fight for their friends, for their team mates.'

I read his 'Mothsmoke' as well. Mohsin Hamid is a good writer whose honest and sensitive writings can convey the confusion and dilemma faced by the average Asian more than any other writer I have read. And that in itself is a wonderful thing because to write about such a thing, one is lost for words mostly. It needs the boy with a fresh perspective to tell the Emperor he has no clothes but Mohsin does better - he straddles both worlds - that of the boy and the Minister who has to tell the Emperor that perhaps the boy is right. Well done Mohsin!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Udaan - Movie Review

Udaan was another movie that I wanted to watch in the theatres. Unfortunately all our theatres decided to play rotten movies and get rid of the good ones at the earliest as usual, so I had to wait for the DVDs. And it was a long wait for sure. And the more I waited the more I felt that I missed something nice. Surprisingly the DVDs did not come into the market early. And when they came, they were frightfully expensive. And even then they were not available. Udaan, was by now acknowledged as a well made movie that was worth seeing.

'Udaan' is the story of Rohan (Rajat Barmecha) a 17 year old boy whose family is more dysfunctional than most. His father Mr. B. Singh (Ronit Roy) is a strict disciplinarian, a product of some strict upbringing himself, and he borders on the verge of being sadistic almost. He owns a small factory of sorts in Jamshedpur, where he works hard during the day (possibly eating some iron scraps for his meals), comes home and has his couple of pegs by night. He is off to a jog every morning, prides his physical fitness, his masculinity, and has a loathing for men who has a sensitive side. He also has a penchant for marrying repeatedly.

The story opens with Rohan and his bunch of friends getting expelled from a posh boarding school in Simla for sneaking off from the hostel at night. The young poet and writer returns home to his father who has not met him for 8 years, only to find that he has a 6 year old step brother he never knew of. Rohan's mother had died when he was young, and he does not know of his father's remarriage. The young kid who plays his step brother Arjun (Aayan Boradia) is really cute and does a great job showing us how fragile young kids can be. Rohan realises soon enough that his father has no space for dreams like writing etc nor does he have any finer feelings. The boys have to call him 'sir' at home and there is a strict code to be followed. Rohan rebels against almost everything his father makes him do, fails his exams in his new college, runs off with his car, drinks, smokes and breaks every rule. When the angry father knows that he has failed he puts him to work in the factory.

Things change when the younger son gets into some trouble at school and is sent home on a day when Singh could have closed a good deal. The crazed father beats the boy badly enough to land him in hospital where he is taken care of by Rohan as the father has to go out of town for a couple of days. At the hospital Arjun and several other people listen to the stories that Rohan tells them and love his stories. But the moment the father returns, they have an altercation where the drunk Singh beats up Rohan for questioning him on why he beat up the young boy. That very night a penitent father tells the boys he is sorry, and in the same breath tells that that he has decided to remarry. Rohan can work at the factory, Arjun will go to a boarding school. Singh's younger brother (Ram Kapoor) tries to make him see reason but he is insulted and told to get out. When Rohan interferes Singh burns up his book of poems. Furious, Rohan bashes up his father's car, spends a night in the police station because he is caught by the police and when he is released comes home to see a party going on. His father's new wife to be and her young girl are there. Arjun is to go to boarding school the next day. Rohan goes in, gets his things and tells his father his is leaving in front of his guests. When an angry Singh tries to catch him, Rohan punches him and runs away, for the first time, beating his father in the symbolic sprint - he has outgrown his father. He decides to go away to his friends in Mumbai who have set up a restaurant. But he returns the next day and takes Arjun away with him, leaving a note to his father that he better not try to find them. The two boys walk away, free, hand in hand.

'Udaan' is made with a lot of care and sensitivity. It addresses the pain of everyone, including the father who is tortured by his own demons. The youngsters gave a fabulous performance. Ronit Roy as the abusive father and Ram Kapoor as the sensitive uncle are perfect. It goes at its own pace, creating moods of helplessness, anger, frustration and then slowly that of flight. Only a boy like Rohan, free spirited and rebellious would have chosen to flee, to be free, and in the end he shows more tolerance, clarity and gumption than the adults around him. Vikramaditya Motwane directs his debut venture with all his heart and feel, and does not get influenced by any other factors other than to tell his story as effectively and convincingly as possible. And here one must appreciate his producers Sanjay Singh, Anurag Kashyap and Ronnie Screwwala, for letting his make what he believes in.'Udaan' will linger in its viewer's minds for years to come because it deals with an emotion that all of us feel - that of flight from our own imprisonment.

Woody Allen on Woody Allen - Interesting Book

The first thing you register when you read this book (faber and faber, 405 p) , a series of interviews with Woody Allen by Stig Bjorkman, is that my god, Woody Allen is so different from the image we take away from the movies or books. Woody is dead serious about his comedy, his work and that shows through in this interviews - no frivolous talk, no needless jokes - everything is cut and dry and straight to the point. One of the acclaimed comedy movie makers and one who has set his own path, his trademark style be it in movie making or in his books, Woody Allen comes across as a thorough professional who takes his work of making films and making people laugh very seriously.

The director, actor, writer, playwright, musician and comedian, Woody Allen has produced and acted in so many hit movies such as 'Take the money and run', 'Annie Hall', 'Mighty Aphrodite', 'Curse of the Jade Scorpion','Manhattan'. 'Crimes and Misdemeanours', 'Husbands and Wives' and has over 35 years of filmmaking experience. What I did not know or realise about Woody Allen was that he had a huge body of work made possible by his approach to work. He writes, makes the movie and then once it is over, starts writing the next movie and makes that one. Sometimes while making one movie, he made another. His whole idea is to make movies the way he wanted to, or as closely as he could, and get on. No time for reviews, no time for parties or socialising. Allen says he is not the kind who spends time with his actors and actresses by meeting them over dinners and stuff. He meets them almost directly at the shoot.

From a normal and ordinary Jewish childhood in Manhattan, Allen, a self-confessed sports fan, and a very athletic man as well, took to writing comedy early on. He started doing well as a comedian and then made his entry in movies. He admits to watching a lot of movies with his cousin when he was young and very happy doing that. He has a healthy respect for the Fellini's and the Ingmar Bergman's of the world. He dwells a lot on his cameramen with whom he shares a close rapport - di Palma, Gordon Willis etc. Allen also pretty much uses the same team of people.

He comes across as someone who really has no time for all this. All he wants to do is make movies and do what he likes to do  which seems pretty much like watching sports, playing the clarinet every Monday in a club with his jazz band, writing for movies and acting and directing in them. He says he never reads reviews of his movies and has not done so for over thirty years now, does not sit back and party after the movie is done and instead gets on with his next movie, believes that content is the main thing and works and works and works on nothing else but the movies. Known for the number of Academy Awards his movies have earned for his actors and actresses, Allen himself has won several (does not go to Award functions also, and made one appearance in 2002 after the 9/11 bombing to urge film director's to make movies in New York) been nominated the maximum number of times by the Academy Awards for original screenplay writing. A man who has had a tumultuous personal life with his many marriages behind him, some which have been controversial, Allen again appears to be friendly with his ex-wives and works with them whenever there is a part that fits them.

It was interesting to know how he goes about his work, to see his passion towards his work of filmmaking, to make such a large body of work with such commitment. He seems to make what he wants for the pleasure of making it, in fact he says that the best part is when the idea comes to him, and then he writes and makes the movie and then on to the next. Fame and recognition and money according to him will come if one keeps working and working and working and that is what he does. I have seen a few of his movies and now it is time to revisit the whole bunch once again. It is an easy read though with Allen's responses being so clear, crisp and to the point and never ever digressing from the main issue. Certainly much to take away for directors as well because there is much technical work discussed and also ow he approaches making his movies, sets, locations, music, artists, costumes and the like. If anything, it gives a good idea into the facet of Allen he technician, a facet that he chooses to show to the extent he feels necessary.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Corrupt Government - And You

Each time we point fingers at the government, at the corrupt people in power, at the scams - we must give ourselves a kick in the back. For not asking. For not doing anything. For electing them. For waiting for someone else to do it. For not standing up when corruption goes on around. For actively participating in corruption.

From building registrations to tax evasion, to fake bills to petty bribes, taking shortcuts to hiding the truth - we are all guilty and whatever happens to the government happens to us. After all they represent us and if we call them corrupt, fat, uncaring, looting the poor etc etc its time we looked at what we are doing. From employing under aged maid servants to not paying our dues to society, morally and financially, we are as guilty as they are. Only when we kick ourselves enough will we have the guts to take a stand like Anna Hazare did - who started with nothing to bargain when he started his demands for the Lokpal Bill but his life. And only with such high stakes did the government scramble from it position to hand him the gazette, fearing crises reminiscent of the Middle East hear if anything happened to this man.

What have we staked for our country? Joining the marches or lighting candles or sending SMSes as faceless citizens is one thing - good, that we participated, but we need to go far beyond that. We need to walk the hard path, we need to slowly and steadily show with our acts and convictions what we want to happen. If we want change, we must be the one to bring it. We must be the change like Gandhi said. So instead of thumping your chest, go and kick yourself once for all the times you acted out of your integrity. That will give you the conviction to ask for what we want as a right.

Somewhere we have lost the right to ask. Which is why we wait for Anna Hazare to ask on our behalf. I see so many youngsters, so many people of all walks, the media, joining the movement. But I do hope they all realise that it is not about fighting THEM, it is about US. They must understand that THEY are US. We elected them because those ladies and gentlemen reflect us - our morals, our values, our desires, our sensitivity, our sense of responsibility. Start looking within and make the changes now - bit by bit. That is one sure way to speed up things in the right way for sure. That way we can also ask with the same conviction that Anna Hazare asked. Else we will be forever wanting someone to change THEM - which is an extension of US. Now we don't want anyone to change us do we? Us self righteous, unctuous, finger pointers?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Leadership Lessons From Sangakarra - What Not To Do

There are certain things that I felt Sangakarra missed out on in the World Cup final against India. Some of the greats have already said that there were a few things they would not have done if they were him. Here is my list of leadership lessons from the Lankan captain that day:

1) Making four changes from the winning squad: I thought that was a bit too much. Four changes? It's almost a new outfit playing the final and one who has just flown in as a replacement! Showed little faith in the team that got you to the final in style. Also showed you were rattled by the opposition's reputation.

2) Dropping Mendis: I always believed that you must go with the strength of what you have than what the opposition has. So the argument that Indians play spin better shows a lack of confidence in your own bowler - in fact your star bowler that far in the tournament, Mendis. Same for Dhoni who sat out Ashwin for Sreesanth. You have to trust your guy to work rather than what the others can do. Bad captaincy and bad reasoning by both captains.

3) Not attacking after the two early wickets: Sangakarra gave the game away by not attacking at all. The ease with which Gambir and Kohli settled down and took the bowling apart clinically was just not done. He just did the safe things and showed no innovation as a captain. No catchers, no cutting off the easy runs. It was almost as if he got awed by the prospect of winning the Cup and went into sleep mode. The changes he made and the field placements were below average.

4) Hoping to win rather than going in there and sealing it: Sangakarra made the cardinal mistake of hoping things would fall in place. And he hoped and hoped that Murali would do some magic (big hope as Murali was off colour almost all through), hoped that his new bowlers would do something, but he really did nothing more than hope. To me he appears to be one of those captains who hopes - one who does not make things happen and instead hopes that the opponents make the mistakes.


5) Giving up too soon: As early as maybe when Kohli was gone and MSD came and started settling in, Sangakarra's body language said that everything was over. I have not seen any captain give in so easily an so early on such a big match. There was nothing inspirational and he just went through the moves. I heard Ajay Jadeja say that by teh 17th over he knew we were home. That was how bad it was. Imagine an Aussie side defending 275 in the final! They would have fought tooth and nail until the last run.

6) Bowling Kulasekara ahead of his main bowlers in the death: When the run rate is falling and you have one strike bowler who has the capability of taking two or three wickets in an over like Malinga, your best chance is to push the other team till the last over. So you start bowling your best bowlers in and hope they push up the run rate or force a mistake from the batsmen so you can put the pressure on. That is the only chance. Then the last over can be bowled by anyone, and if there are two new batsmen and some 8-10 runs to get, you sill have chance. But you bowl Kulasekara, the weakest bowler all evening in the decisive 46th or 47th over instead of the better bowlers, the match is pretty much sealed in that over and the match is over without your best bowlers finishing their quota.

Personally. I thought Mahela was a better captain. I would like to see how Dilshan leads. He is an aggressive and thinking guy who adapts quickly. And all in all Lanka could have done better than they did that night. It was like they were in awe of the Indian batting line up all through! Anyway some lessons from that too.

Chariots Of Fire - Movie Review

Watched 'Chariots of Fire' for the second time - this time with utmost concentration the other day. I have been hearing Vangelis's music score for the movie for more than twenty odd years now, since the days I was a dreamy eyed Engineering student and it featured first in a tape I loved dearly those days, but it was only last year that I laid my hands on the DVD. The first time I watched the movie was a rather scratchy affair with a bad sound system so I could not get most of what was happening - but this time it was good and it enthralled me.

'Chariots of Fire' (1981) and is the real life story of two athletes who run for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics - Eric Liddell the Scottish missionary who runs because he thinks that is what God gave him his speed for, and Harold Abrahams, a Jew, who runs to fight prejudice and more than that, to pursue his search for excellence - to be the fastest man. The movie begins with Lord Lindsay, a colleague and friend of Harold's from Cambridge, recounting his association with Harold Abrahams at Harold's funeral service in 1978, and their years at Cambridge circa 1924.

Fresh in Cambridge, Harold is joined by a bunch of young athletes, Lindsay, the aristocrat, Stallard and Aubrey Montague, who all turn out to be the best of friends - from the time Harold and Lindsay run the Trinity Court Run together. Harold's desire to be the fastest athlete is known and the college and his friends expect great things from him. But when he meets the Flying Scot Eric Lidddell in a race and is beaten thoroughly, the arrogant and defiant Harold is almost heartbroken. He realises that he needs to work harder to realise his goal. To beat the Scotsman and others in that league.

That is when the movie got more interesting for me. Harold, desperate to better himself, seeks Sam Mussabini, a professional athletic coach and begs him to coach him. Mussabini says that athletes are like brides and they must wait for the coach (the groom) to propose and not the other way round. But eventually Sam decides to coach Harold and it is fascinating how he teaches him such wonderful techniques that make sense in our lives. 'Over striding is the worst thing,' he says and makes Harold practice running within his stride, within his God given limits and push within that. Always within, never by overreaching. Ah, wonderful philosophy. 'Head straight, never glance sideways,' is another gem which though a technicality, tells much of much we lose by concerning ourselves about the progress of the guy next to you. Things that don't concern you - and you can lose a race for precisely that. And so many more things that I loved in that coaching part. 'From now on,' says Sam to Harold when he takes the assignment. 'I want to to think of Eric, Paddock and Scholz (the three great sprinters of that ers) leering at you.' Eric Liddell trains by himself in Scotland, running for the glory of God and astounding many with his speed.

Both Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams are selected to represent Great Britain at the 1924 Paris Olympics along with the others. On the ship Eric, the devout missionary and a certain medal prospect, learns that the first heat of the 100 metres, is on a Sunday. He refuses to run the heat saying Sabbath is for the Lord and his decision throws the entire contingent into a frenzy. Despite everyone, including the royalty, convincing him otherwise, he refuses. Harold has to race alone against Paddock and Scholz, the American heroes who are favoured to destroy all else. Harold qualifies for the final of the 100 metres though Paddock takes the honours in the 200 meters heats. Lord Lindsay wins his event, 400 metres hurdles and brings home a bronze, the first medal. He also proposes that he would like Liddell to run his other race, the 400 metres, which is on Thursday 'just to he can watch Liddell run'. Aubrey loses his steeplechase event, but Harold Abrahams scorches the track and his demons as he beats Paddock and all else in the 100 m final. And in an event that is not his, Eric Liddell demolishes all opposition in his 400 m run, running in that strange fashion of his, for his God.

Truth is always stranger than fiction. Seeing this movie, or Invictus, I wonder how these wins were possible. What kind of men were they? Ben Cross and Ian Charleson, as Harold and Liddell are perfect. Liddell apparently went to China as promised, to preach, and died in the World War II, while Harold went on to achieve greater glory in sports and administration in England. It is a fantastic movie, a wonderful story that is told very well. Must watch if you get the chance!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Anti-Corruption Walk at KBR - My First Gandhi Topi

This morning me and Ramaraju joined a walk conducted by the Hyderabad Adventure Club at the KBR in support of the fast by Anna Hazare. We landed up right on time at six and found a small group gathered there. Ranjan Sood, an ex-Ranji Trophy player for the Services and a league player who represented IAF during my school days (he was the first Ranji player I played against back in 1982), was at the helm of affairs. When my friend Anirudh Basu told me that he was Ranjan Sood I figured it might be him and so it turned out.

Anyway it was a nice motley group of young and old, adventurous and non-adventurous and we all gathered quietly, held some banners and put on the Gandhi caps and walked away in silence. I guess we walked some halfway on the outside and walked back from the outside from the Cancer Hospital route, distributing some caps along the way. People were cheering, waving and some even joined. The group came back to the KBR main gate where some sloganeering was going on and a bit more crowd had joined. I was not sure what the agenda was after that and me and Ramaraju decided to discontinue the walk with the sloganeers and went off to continue our walk. On the way back we realised that the group had grown nigger and they were now heading towards the Jubilee Hills Checkpost with a sense of purpose. A few media people were there as well and several others could be seen joining the group.

The walk is on tomorrow as well at the KBR Main Gate at 6 a.m. from what I gathered. I propose to go again. It's nice to be part of the group (long as they walk along quietly). Slogan shouting bores me. For me this was a first though - walking in some kind of a march. Hmmm.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Go Anna Hazare Saab - The One Genuine Act Of Public Service This Century

I was suddenly drowned in news about Anna Hazare's fast against the government's slow and meaningless reactions to the Lok Pal Bill. I had no idea that such an Act existed and that there were deliberations about it. But what can one expect from our leaders who have made this entire country into such a sham, especially in areas like containing corruption, making public servants and public money accountable, making elections more transparent, making the administration more transparent just to serve their own interests. Yes, there have been changes and some signs of progress, but it has been far too slow, far too much in the interests of a few and the majority of the mass is still struggling.

Elections are funded primarily by slush money, mostly unaccounted. That every one knows. It would be interesting to see how much parties declare as having actually spent and get a sting account on how much has actually been spent in buying votes. In Tamil Nadu the other day one enterprising revenue official by name Sangita (may her tribe increase) recovered over 5 crore in cash lying on the top of a bus! Talk of politicians wealth in Andhra alone goes upward of thousands of crores and it is funny that they talk of thousands of crores in such trivial fashion. the race is between each of them to earn more than the other, to may the position pay. So they earn in dubious fashion, spend in the hope of getting a position from where they can misuse and manipulate the system to fill their coffers. To get reelected they need votes so they buy the votes, or give so many freebies to sections and make them dependent for life. These sections are addicted to freebies and it is the greatest injustice anyone can do to another. Governments go bankrupt as they fund these subsidies (Andhra has given many such) and tax the ones they have by the throat, the middle class which has everything accounted for. The poor is exempt and the rich is exempt.

Industrialists fund the leaders in the hope that they get some largesse in terms of policy or some favours like the 2G scam and many other corporate scams. There is no doubt that much of the money that comes to the politicians, apart from the stuff that they amassed illegally which is for private use, is from industries. It is then no surprise that once the party comes to power they bargain for good positions and make the money on public funds. Companies benefit, and many industrialists who have no patience to run around the Ministers have become Parliamentarians themselves. For public service?

The beaurocracy is unshakeable and also cannot be got at. Only in recent times we have heard of the amazingly corrupt IAS couple who had crores of rupees in cash at home. But they are only one couple. Go and see any IAS or IPS officers house and you get an idea. No one can build these kind of houses with the kind of salaries they have. And most of them are above the law. They are almost always politically affiliated or they know too many secrets. So everyone keeps everything within - the beaurocracy, the industrialist, the politician. And in recent cases, the judiciary to some extent. Somewhere in these sections of the public lies the maximum amount of unaccounted wealth and it is common knowledge.

However we cannot get at them. Most corrupt public servants are normally ignored unless they get too greedy or act out of line. When governments get vengeful they start action and even that may go nowhere because even if all the investigating agencies find them guilty, there are some other people above them in Ministries and other places which can be easily compromised, in fact most times party to the same crime, who have to give permission to proceed against them. Why? God knows. Actually we know. So they cannot be sentenced or punished. It is like a gang of thieves who have retained the right to loot and also retained the right as to who to punish - which is normally not their own. Punishments are only for the small fry - the clerk who has been bribed 50 rupees, and so on.

What the Lokpal Bill does is make everyone accountable - from what I gather. Which is being met with such resistance from the government that it is shameful. Why two days - do it NOW! Unless of course you have something to hide - which I am sure everyone has. And make no mistake every single political party has a share in the pie, every one has a stake and every one will become answerable. But since they have to make the law they will not, because they will have to go to jail. So they will resign some obscure committee, arrest some junior officer, beat up some youngsters, throw mud on Anna Hazare and his band and do all that is within their control to stop this Lokpal Bill from being brought out in the way it should. Unless of course there is a kick in the rear from the very Lok that is completely harassed by this system and why not - there is an uproar in every country and why not India.

Whatever happens then, this Lokpal Act must come and we must do all we can to support this movement because that will break the root of all evil. Everyone and everything will be up for scrutiny and for punishment where wrongs have been committed. The system will finally be bled of this bad blood and fresh blood will start flowing again.



But to get back to Anna Hazare saab and his great act, this is singularly the one act that shows the nation to be wearing nothing, to be naked. When we have such an issue on our hands, we are only drugging ourselves with all sorts of other distractions - like the Emperor who wore no clothes, we have been walking naked, thinking we are progressing very fast and that we are the next super power. Until an ageing potbellied Gandhian Anna Hazare shouted out the truth - 'Hey, you are not wearing any clothes!'