Monday, March 29, 2010 8 reflections

India - The land of the pampered

The better half and I had been to IKEA today. For the uninitiated, IKEA is a gigantic, nay, Herculean, store that sells everything you will ever need for your home. From a bed, desk, table, chair, shelf, clock to coffee mugs, salt and pepper shakers, china for the kitchen, cabinets for the clothes – all of this is on their extremely diverse inventory. Curtains, carpets, vases, flower pots, cutlery, coat hangers – the list is endless. In fact, if you, right now, look around where you are sitting at your home and name any object you see there, chances are IKEA has it. Not just in at least five colors, but also in various designs. The trick really is to try and walk away from something while convincing oneself that it was a useless item. This, since everything there seems to be designed to entice your buying bone. I was half-joking with her that the reason there were so many stroller-stroking mothers around was because of this 'everything can be used' syndrome that infants tend to automatically ignite in parents. A worthless seeming basket that was too small to hold anything earlier suddenly becomes a top priority since you think its a great way to store the baby's socks or diapers! As I said, a bizarre emotion only kids seem to have the ability to create. Nevertheless, IKEA, in my humble experience, is still the best when it comes to prices. So regardless of what personal opinions might echo, the store still manages to attract loads of clientele each day.

But then there is a flip side to this too. A rather big one at that. Specially if you are someone like me whose only handyman skill includes driving nails into a wall with a hammer. Even that, rather cautiously. Every furniture item that IKEA sells is bought in pieces. What this means is – you buy a bed but in separate parts that constitute the entire bed. You then assemble the whole thing yourself. Aha! Didn't I tell you this was a big flip? I still have unpleasant memories of the time when I had to lug two giant shopping carts filled with extremely heavy wooden panels for my wardrobe, dining table and chairs back in 2008. Not only did I have to literally pull out each screw that the damned bookshelf needed, I even managed to mess up the sequence of components that I required, given the sudden jump in my stress levels that day. Having never carried anything over 20-25 kilos my whole life – again, owing to baggage restrictions while traveling in Europe – you can imagine why lugging a 10 feet high and 3 feet wide door pieces was such a high ask.

Now, in retrospect, I see why this entire exercise seemed like such an ordeal. Growing up back home the second most important thing to us as a family (the first one, quite obviously, being able to continue getting good marks in school) was a kaamwaali bai – a maid. It would send shivers of shock down our pampered spines if the clock went a few minutes past 9am and there was no sign of her. I can still recall my anxious mother, fists clenched, pacing the verandah of our flat, constantly checking if she could spot the lady entering the building with her usual nonchalant stride. The shriek of glee mom would belt out could only be matched by the arrival of drinking water three times a week when we lived in Madras. Oh yes – water – another major problem of ours. The lack or shortage of which could instantly negate the effectiveness of the aforementioned supreme being – the maid.

This is commonplace in our nation. The value of a maid sometimes being much more higher than gold. There are homes that have more than one maid too. And not even those affluent well to do mansion-wallah chaps who can afford such multiplicity of comforts. No. These are regular middle class folks who shell out anything between 500-1000 Rupees (depending on the area, of course) and bag themselves a good deal. In fact, my wife's home in Mumbai has a separate helper who comes in every day only to make chapaatis! I shook my head in disbelief when she was extremely surprised to hear that there was no such person as a 'milk man' in Denmark who religiously comes each morning to supply milk at the doorstep. Another reason, albeit, for her to pluck her collar and declare India the best nation in the world. 'What big first world nation this is, ah?' she scoffed one evening. 'We have fellows supplying everything from groceries to medicines back home! In fact now clinics too have services where they come to your door and collect blood samples for sugar tests! Can Denmark beat that?'

The obvious reasons for such regal lifestyle back home is the availability of cheap labor. Hand a fellow 10 rupees and he will sweat it out for you. In fact I remember having a shop's helper carry a small computer desk that I had bought for 500 rupees over his head for a good kilometer for 20 rupees. My father, accusing me of having lost worth of real money, told me that 2 rupees was all he deserved.

After my IKEA experience, a lot of this started making sense. I began wondering if this was one of the reasons why Indians aren't exactly the cleanest of the lot. Is it the knowledge that the maid would come the next day and clean up after them that makes them so lethargic about doing the dishes or sweeping the floor? Is it the certainty that handing out a note to the boy at the supermarket will ensure that the poor fellow will sweat a pound from his already skinny structure to carry your bags back to your car? Is this why Indians are reluctant to move to places where the mantra 'do it yourself' is quite prominent? Could this be why we never really learn how to screw in pieces for a table or know how to camouflage the width between the wood and the nail in our lives back home? I don't know. In fact, the autocratic thumb rule that there is always someone to help you if you have the money is so prominent in India, that they don't even include basic carpentry skills in school in any form. Sure, we have music, sports and even arts. But I never heard of a 'Build It Yourself 101' class that could help future immigrants from having to go through the kind of surprises that I had to endure. Maybe the administration ought to think of including it?

On second thoughts though, I don't know if that would do any good. Even if something were in place, how often would we actually get a chance to practice it in real life? Specially when we have everything from a nail to a wardrobe being 'home delivered' for a fee? Unlikely. Highly unlikely.

Sunday, March 28, 2010 2 reflections

The seventh steed of the sun

e, in Denmark, began daylight saving today – March 28, 2010. What this basically means is that our clocks will now be set to an hour ahead. Why is this done? Essentially to get more out of the sunlight what with spring almost here. Once the days start getting darker and sunlight begins to shrink, somewhere in October that is, then we will stop the saving and switch our clocks back an hour again. Yes – to those of us who do not live in places that require this, the entire exercise may seem quite futile. But nevertheless, here we are, supervising the timetable for the sun and his seven horses.

It is curious how this day coincided with my viewing of Shyam Benegal's 'Suraj ka saatwa ghoda' (The seventh steed of the sun) last night. Based on a Hindi novella by the same name by Dr. Dharamvir Bharti, the movie starts with Raghuvir Yadav introducing us to a few afternoons from his life where he knew a man called Manek Mulla (Rajit Kapur in his debut venture). Manek, we are told, was a master story-teller. A man who could blur out the distinct lines between reality and fiction purely by his talent at peppering his tales with metaphors aplenty. Working with the railways department, Manek had acquired the knack of keeping the three young men (of which Yadav is one too) occupied during lazy afternoons with his tales of love, deception, social imbalance and immorality within the lower middle classes of India.

So, with this premise, a question is thrown – 'Should love stories be built at being relevant to the socio-economic growth of a society?' A bizarre, albeit thought-provoking, reference is made to the literary importance of 'Devdas' where, Manek says, there is no room for any sort of social relevance or optimism towards love as a public emotion. A definition, he claims, is what makes love so wonderful. Its lack of being a private, mysterious and almost forbidden concoction. So, in an effort to tell a tale of love lost connected with the complex fabric of social strata, he starts speaking of Jamuna. He speaks of how he was in school back then and Jamuna, the attractive next door girl, was in love with Tanna, another neighborhood fellow. Jamuna's and Tanna's love story was dated given the venomous relationships the two families shared due to lack of consistency in the Indian economic balance. As a result of this, Tanna is married off to a more educated Lily and Jamuna ends up with an old man knocking on the door of his grave.

As you might have realized, there is nothing new or refreshing with this piece. What starts making this short story more interesting, is the way Manek describes his role in it and carefully begins to uncurl the tiny strands that were knotted during the narration of the aforementioned tale. For instance, the fact that Jamuna is unable to conceive from her old-man husband and so chooses to go on a bizarre religiously aligned but emotionally maligned detour with the tonga-wallah is brought to surface. Also, the fact that the girl Tanna ends up with – Lily – actually was Manek's love/friendship interest and how a mutual separation was finalized in both their interests is unearthed. Connected to this colorful mix as well, is the story of Tanna's lusty father (Amrish Puri in a truly memorable role as Mahesar Dalal) and his wile desires towards the lowly gypsy-woman Satti (Neena Gupta) who befriends Manek purely for his intellectual skills. Her eventual fate against an adamant Mahesar Dalal and the decisions young Manek makes form the twisting portions of the climactic sequences. All of these is documented from various angles aimed at the same scene. So, it isn't so much that Manek is narrating different short stories but essentially narrating just one story but from the perspectives of various characters in them. In some of them, the characters seem like the victims, while when seen from the view of another person's tale, the same character in the same scene will suddenly appear to have acquired some gray shades. Shades one would see in a predator. Truly – if a movie can accomplish this level of intellectual worth, then it has certainly defined itself as the best example of meaningful cinema.

What makes this movie greater in its worth is the fact that such a unique feat was written by Dr. Bharti in the 70s and narrated by Benegal in early 90s! Today we sit in awe at the intermingling of multiple stories in Hollywood and, of course, in their remade versions within Bollywood, and applaud them as being 'masterpieces'. But to compare this work to any of these would be nothing short of a huge disservice. In fact, I would call 'Suraj ka...' a work of meta fiction which successfully attempts to expose the fictional aspect of the illusive world woven by Manek Mulla.

I also read some reviews that compared Manek's character to that of the holy trinity in Hindu mythology – Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar – and as to how he slips into these roles, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety. In the first tale with Jamuna, Manek is Brahma, the creator of a relationship that he knew was meant to be doomed. In the second tale with Lily, he became Vishnu, the preserver of her sanctity and an upholder of a more mature and practical relationship. In the final tale with Satti, he turned into the destroyer – Maheshwar – who ended up putting an end to what could have possibly been the redeeming factor of his life. I suppose it is in spectacular interpretations like these, that 'Suraj ka...' stands out as a truly unique piece of work.

So, as I sit here looking out the window, watching the sun rise to his zenith, I cannot help think of that seventh steed in his collection. That one horse, the slowest and the weakest of them all, who decides the fate of the day. Could it be why daylight saving times even exist? Is it that seventh horse who is making all of us wind our clocks back and forth so that we can amply cater to his variant of a speed? I know, a pretty outrageous interpretation this. But undeniably misleading enough to ignite a thought. Something, I am sure, Manek, a lover of literary giants like Flaubert and Chekov, would probably agree with whilst keeping you guessing about his real stance in the affair.

Saturday, March 27, 2010 2 reflections

Bizarre sightings

When I moved to Denmark in 2007 from Venezuela, my first month here taught me two things. One, that I had somehow managed to upgrade myself from a place where I could afford a taxi to cover a 500 meter distance to a place where I probably would never own a car. And two, that if ever there was a question that required naming two cities that had absolutely nothing in common, it would be these two – Caracas and Copenhagen – with the only commonality being the first letter in their names.

Time moved on, and I soon got over the banalities that had tied me down in Sur de la America. Sure, I definitely missed the crisp tropical weather that came with the whispering winds into my apartment in breezy Las Mercedes directly from the Avila mountain tops that stood majestically in the distance, but life in the classified ‘privileged Europa’ had its perks too. It was nice to be able to be part of four proper seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter – and in that order. It was fantastic to finally have access to a properly stocked desi store that wasn’t run by some wannabe whose roots were in Jamaica but his grand folks had fled India in their teens so he still maintained some impractical adherence to that long lost affection. No. These were places run by hardcore, blue blooded Indians who came from cities called Bhatinda, Patiala and Jalander, spoke proper Hindi and understood the expression ‘Sir ji’. Yes – the proper India. It was like using home made sambar powder instead of the MTR ready-to-use nonsense that foreigners automatically pick up from the shelf. And yes – being able to walk into the Scala to watch a Bollywood movie seemed as easy as grinding up some spicy coconut chutney on a Sunday morning to be had with soft rice vermicelli lemon mix laced with roasted cashew. Yep – I had finally started to live.

It has been almost three years since my life has found this new definition. Travel is a cakewalk since the public transport here is probably one of the best I have seen in the world. Not only are there three various yet immensely effective (by both Venezuelan and Indian standards) modes of transportation but I have had days when I have been out in the city for 9-10 hours yet have returned home feeling as fresh as I had been when I had woken up. Sweat-free and certainly stress-free.

But despite the paradisiacal incentives I seem to have become part of, there are still certain things that do not make sense. There still exist those little pockets of weirdness that has me yearning for, well, more Indian-ness in them. The yearning I speak of, actually, is so morbid and disgusting that I almost abandoned the idea of blogging about it. But then, surrendering to the inexplicable urge to throw it out in the open, I went ahead and penned it anyway.

The theme I speak of, dear reader, is the sighting of beggars in Copenhagen. A few weeks ago I saw a Tamil movie called ‘Naan Kadavul’. It was an interesting flick that focused on the beggar mafia network that is so successfully run in India based purely on the misfortune of the poor and the handicapped. It was sort of nauseating to actually watch the plight of these people who are controlled by money hungry vultures who manage a systemized corporation that ensures allocating of proper begging spots, weekly collection statistics and consistent amplification of the expression ‘the uglier, the sicker, the poorer, the more disgusting – the better.’ A sadistic theory to run a lowly profession.

This made me think about the beggars, if one can call them that, I have seen thus far in Copenhagen. O! Yes! In case you are wondering, as much of an affluent state that Denmark tries to showcase itself as, there is definitely a strong vein of poverty (well, not by Indian standards anyway) and unemployment looking at you for generosity. Each day, as I struggle my way past the ocean of arms and legs at Norreport station, I always see these men and women sitting with their palms outstretched. Then there are the ones who hop on the metro trains and stroll through it requesting everyone there for a hand out. Interestingly there is a good amount of public that actually gives them money. I have, obviously, never given a dime to anyone. Not because I don’t feel like handing out a penny to a Caucasian beggar – which in many ways is overflowing with painful historic irony – but purely because I have never felt that these people look like a beggars! Not with those well stitched corduroy pants and cotton shirts! Sure, they look a little disheveled but heck, that’s me most of the week!

I know I know. Everyone has probably a ‘different perception’ of what exactly a beggar should look or behave like. But being an Indian, I know a little too well what beggars are all about. Begging, as I found out from the aforementioned movie, is a profession there. People are made up, prepared with pre-written dialogs and even given props to ensure that collection is productive. With such a ‘deep rooted’ philosophical approach to begging we have back home, how can I possibly consider a chap, who quite frankly looks like a drunk who is just too lazy to work, a beggar?

Such sightings, among others, are what make me wonder how the same concepts may appear totally opposite of one another when one moves from one city to another. In all my 7 wonderful years in the melting pot of a city called Caracas, not once was I ever approached by a bum or a beggar asking for money. Imagine that! A third world country with no beggars around! Phew! And then I come to this upscale, royalty-rich place like Copenhagen, and I am constantly running into outstretched palms and emotionless eyes. This is just bizarre. Especially for someone who is from India, given its lack of coherence with the kind of social structures involved in the picture.

Maybe India is not so bad after all, I thought. It might still be considered a ‘developing nation’ to most of the world but as far as these things are concerned, we are way more developed than the rest of them!

Sunday, March 21, 2010 0 reflections

Love,Sex aur Dhokha : A review on reality

Love,Sex aur Dhokha:
Blurring the difference between the camera and the director

India has never been as innocent as it consistently claims to be. If you are, however, one of those naïve citizens sitting behind a veil of ridiculous reasons who actually believes this, then I couldn’t feel sorrier for you. In fact, if you pay closer attention to reality, you might never look at our beloved nation the same way again. One simple Google search and you will find an alarming amount of voyeuristic material of folks in brazenly compromising positions peppered all over the Internet. And no – it isn’t just those light headed, dizzy for that fifteen seconds of fame teens or fellers in their early 20s who are churning out these clips either – no. A good amount of it comes from middle aged, aging, and even ancient crisis-ridden junta who are desperate for some sort of thrill in their otherwise mundane and excruciatingly cliché-laden lives that contains nothing more than mindless work.

With that preface done with – let us now focus on Dibakar Banerjee’s latest offering ‘Love, Sex aur Dhoka’ (LSD). I am sure enough spice has already been generated thanks to the extremely obvious hint in the title itself of a dozen saucily executed romp scenes just waiting to tease your aphrodisiacal senses. And yes – this will also take a good amount of our sex-starved nation’s goggle-eyed wannabes to go see the flick too. But that’s when the fine line between those who went into the cinema expecting a popularized version of a badly edited B-grade mallu movie type sleaze-fest and the ones who walked in expecting a new way of storytelling becomes quite apparent. A divide, I am hoping, will have more fans in the latter category.

After watching the 1 hour 40 something minute dish called LSD, one thing is certain. Dibakar is one of those refreshingly cocky bunch of film makers who are quite unperturbed by what the mass populace has to say as long as his distinct tone of message is sent across without fear of judgement or ridicule. It is in this essence of movie making, that Dibakar scores points in my book. Come what may, he seems to say, I will show you my vision the way I want you to see it. It is in this raw, unedited, low-light/night-shot array of frames that the much needed breaking of stereotypical shackles Indian cinema is bound with can be heard – loud and clear. If only, of course, you are willing to listen. If only, of course, you are willing to acknowledge.

LSD is completely shot via handheld digital cameras, security cameras installed in public places and hidden spy cams tucked away in not-so-obvious spots. The tale unwraps with three distinct stories of Love, Sex and Dhokha – as is obvious in the title. What is not so obvious is the way Dibakar stitches the characters in each of them so craftily that the moments where their connections become apparent are truly memorable. The minimalist usage of background music layered with the brave attempts at showcasing emotions in their true and blue nature emanating from nameless faces is truly a new attempt in Bollywood. Actually it is quite new to Indian cinema too.

My take on the execution part of LSD has more to do with technique and philosophy rather than the stories themselves. Sure, the plots have their moments but they aren’t anything we haven’t already heard of or seen. Some of the scenes are overdone and there are even characters that let you down by actually ‘acting’. So, in my humble opinion, walking into LSD to expect it to sweep you off the feet with the narrative could be a tad misleading. What I would hope you pay special attention to is how the fine line between fiction and reality gets blurred without you even realizing it. There came a point in the film when my wife turned to me and said ‘This is nonsense! It just seems like they have stitched together some clips from YouTube!’

Notwithstanding her disapproving conclusion on the film, I must say, that is exactly what Dibakar was trying to achieve. Fading out that line where you forget these people are actors and that they do realize there is a camera somewhere recording their actions.

My deduction with this attempt, then, is the following. LSD will have two clear opinions. One - folks who loved the piece and understood the intentions with which Dibakar shot the flick and narrated the tale the way he did. And two, a majority from what I can tell, who absolutely hated the movie and found it annoyingly ambitious and contrived in its bizarre Hollywood-style-pretentiousness like approach executed in a rather disturbing and amateurish fashion. Either way, LSD will evoke a reaction that will stay with you long after having left the cinema.

My recommendation then? Go watch it. Not just to love it immensely or hate it profusely, but to be part of a threshold that has never been tapped on before. To be witness to a milestone in Indian film making where the director is absent from the scenes. To be an audience to a movie where the camera is calling the shots. Just for this, LSD to me will be a unique movie watching experience. And yes – do also watch it before a dozen more remakes flood the market claiming to be better than the original.

Thursday, March 18, 2010 0 reflections

3 decades and then 2 more

32nd Birthday

Sunday, March 14, 2010 4 reflections

IPL 3 Schedule calendar/Wallpaper

Dear reader,

Being someone who follows the IPL pretty closely, I realized that there wasn't a comprehensive IPL 3 2010 Calendar/Wallpaper anywhere on the net. Hence, put something together for those who might be interested. The walls are in 3 different resolutions - 800x600, 1024x768 and 1280x800. If you need a custom format do leave a comment below and I can put it together.



Click on links below to download wallpapers