Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Guns of Gurgaon

I read about the Columbine massacre sometime during the summer of 1999, a while after it went off the front page. A feature article in The Hindu Magazine described the whole thing in chilling detail. The actions of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, as they procured arms, planned logistics and then shot 35 people at their school, killing 12 fellow students and a teacher before shooting themselves.

The thing didn't make much news in India. Possessed of the Pardes/Aa Ab Laut Chalein mentality, Indians could convince themselves that this was yet another symptom of Sanskriti-deficiency, hot on the heels of divorce, pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy, drug usage and homosexuality. "That will never happen here!!!" was the consensus. Not with "Bharatiya" culture and values.

The 2000's began to prove us wrong. For starters, India Today began to publish salacious accounts of schoolchild-sex in Delhi and Bombay (with Literotica-level titles like "Alma Amorous" and "Young Innocence Lost") which sent shivers down parents' spines (and resentment up mine. Why wasn't I enrolled at these Institutions of Iniquity?). High schools were increasingly known for the good life their students led, as opposed to how many made it to IIT or St. Stephens. And in the fullness of time, came the first nail in the coffin of the Sanskritic youth - the DPS sex scandal (or Dhamaka, as some pervert alliterators called it)

There was amazing response - "Moral messages", lengthened skirts, banned cell phones, concerned MPs (why were they not in on this?) and so on. None of which had any effect on two children from class VIII at Euro International (that name itself is a portent), who drove the second nail in with their gunning of a classmate because he was a bully.

The usual people have made the usual noises about "moral vaccums" and "violent media" and what not. About a hundred fingers are currently pointing westwards, decrying the "corrupting influences" of StarTV, FTV, Sony Playstation, Grand Theft Auto and MAD magazine. The victim's family has made some wierd noises, talking about getting justice at whatver cost. The killer's father has been arrested for being negligent with his gun and the two killers have been sent to Juvenile detention. Meanwhile, cameraman have been rushing to find the victims, their families, friends, friends of friends and people who might have 2 cents to put in.

Amidst this brouhaha, a few points seem to have escaped everyone.

Let's start with motive. The motive given out is that the victim was a bully. The result has been a debate of "Was victim such a bad bully?" vs "He had it coming", with the usual assortment of "Concerned Parents", "Child Experts", "School counsellors" and "Rajdeep Sardesai", each making appropriate noises.

All miss a crucial point - motive requires a clear-thinking mind that has a grip on reality as it is. The kids were teenage males. People for whom violent thoughts and words were a staple thanks to feeling testosterone for the first time. Who were feeling angst and insecurity, and who were developing a grip on reality outside their heads. These guys were in a fight with the victim, whoever started it and to whatever extent.

It is characteristic of people at this point to go into "Bastard I'll kill you" modes. During my class VI-X years, I went through several "Bastard I'll kill you" rages with respect to several people - including my brother. What kept me from changing my last name to Manson was:
  1. Sufficient knowledge of reprisals and real life consequence to minimize acting on those rages - when you know what's coming later, beating somebody's brains out isn't as good as it looks when Sanjay Dutt, Steven Seagal or yourself-as-Carl-Johnson do it
  2. Somebody with whom I could discuss feelings and emotions so as to get em off my chest, removing the buildup that needs you to act out those savage fantasies of throat slashing, shooting or bashing
  3. Activities that helped me zone out, forgetting those moments of rage
  4. I was also a wee bit overweight, which made running an easy option (a) for anyone who could see those rages forming
With the exception of 4., all the above require at least 1 decent parent. Even a mediocre one would at least take sufficient care of 1. Someone/s decent would take care of 2, and a good one of all 3. This kid's parents definitely lacked in 1. itself, which (in all probability) precludes their handling of 2. and 3. The precise motive that NDTV, Aaj Tak and IBN are hounding shrinks and schoolmates for is absolutely nonexistent. Kids do stupid things for no reason. That's why they need parents - to minimize the damage and reduce the stupidity over time. Which brings me to point two.

Egregious parenting. No denying it here. Let us see what Mummy and Puppaa here didn't do:
  1. They didn't impart a sense of real life and its consequences to their little laadla
  2. They didn't communicate enough with their teenage son to know there was a kid he wasn't getting along with, let alone a bully he wanted to kill
  3. They didn't, at least Puppa didn't, keep a gun in a place where an eighth grader couldn't get hold of it
  4. They didn't (This is incredible but true) go to see their son when news of the shooting came out. Not at school. Not at the station. Not even at the courthouse where the kids were remanded to juvenile detention before the preliminary hearing. They didn't see their flesh and blood when he needed them the most (till today)
And not content with passive inaction, Mommy and Puppa did something quite fantastic. They absconded altogether, running off to their "natiew pliss". Not until last Friday did Puppa, who was wanted for owning the damn gun, turn up. And upon turning himself in, his first act was to deny ownership of the gun, followed with a call for his son's punishment. No regret, no suprise, no expression of any connection to the boy whatsoever. Truly a coup de gras in the annals of parenting.

Finally, the media. I have not mentioned the names of the shooters or the victim here intentionally - they're kids, and kids at least deserve some privacy. But you need not fear. Those seeking names will find them with a simple Google news search. The school has been open with names, faces, families - they even put I-cards on camera. And every newspaper and news channel has been merrily splashing the names in big, bold letters on their front pages and slides (with Euro International now becoming "a prominent Gurgaon school"). Meaning that the shooters - who unlike American shooters were content to take out one individual and not a class - will never have the anonymity needed to rebuild their lives when they have paid their debts to society and perhaps had a shrink set their heads right. And while murder is unforgivable, these two were kids. Not late teenagers, and not druggies or gang members. There's a reason minors are held not responsible legally for their actions. The media is morally and legally (according to this article) responsible for the destruction of two futures.

Childhood and puberty are possibly the most complicated periods parents and their offspring go through. These kids' pasts can't have been good - not if they led to this point. Their present is a nightmare no one would want to go through as child or adult. And their future, thanks to a headline-hungry media and people keen for 15 minutes of fame, is clouded at best.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Birthday Bumps

Friend lexicomaniac, whom I am fond of pestering for movie reviews, upped the ante today with a birthday post request. It took a lot of thinking over, but here're some thoughts for the day:

Birthdays Past and Present:
Birthdays were always something to look forward to from the ages of 6 - 16. During the pre-10 years, they were the days you could come to school in "civil dress" (which in some cases, extended to fancy dress), the days you stepped up to the podium and got people to sing to you and - this was way back, when I was in class I at La Martiniere's Calcutta and had a really hot teacher - got a kiss from the teacher of your class (fortunately it ceased with that point, as hotness-wise, teachers have only gone downhill since). During the post 10 years, as you matured (realized how goofy civil dress was, and how idiotic it felt to be on stage for no reason) you still enjoyed the feeling of growth, the increasing respect people gave you and standing shoulder to shoulder with former giants (dads, uncles, PT masters etc.) Sixteen, however, is kind of a peak. It's the point where your cup runneth over, your springtime is at its bloom and well, you grow about as tall as you're going to. As the teens gave way to the 20s, I wished fervently for time to first turn back, then stop and with increasingly feeble hope, slow down. Needless to say, time chose (d) - none of the above.

Coming to the present age of 24, I'm apprehensive about birthdays. They're not a sign of growing any longer, but a sign of aging. I hope, as of now, people will pull off miracles with stem cell research and telomere engineering to reverse aging. Like Bryan Adams, I want to stay 18 till I die.

People in my life:
Another area of apprehension. Wierdly, I was a bit clamped with the opposite sex in high school. Not ''tee hee hee'' shy, which girls sometimes find endearing, but clammy, stone-faced and somewhat creepy. I haven't gained much skill in socializing since. I mean, UG at Guwahati with it's ~20 girls (or rather 20 ~girls) amidst 1000 frustrated males didn't help much.

In this day and age of orkut, when I see people ''committed" left and right, I feel scared about finding my own significant other and fast. Having never dated is forgivable (I guess) through high school, but in this day and age, datelessness beyond the age of 30 indicates "arranged" marriages or closet-exiting on the horizon, both of which call for a bullet through the brain.

Dreams, life and where it's headed:
I'm pretty sure as of now that I'm not going to be a billionaire businessman, a Hollywood actor, a song-writer or a television comedian (Yes, all of those were dreams at one point). I'm left with
dreams of being a writer of some sort, with which I'm making progress and a scientist, for which the PhD is helping. Where will they in turn take me - who knows?

I'm not too apprehensive about time with these two dreams. Writing and scientisting (let's call it that) both take travel and experience, which only come with time. So long as I keep at it, life's cool.

At the end, the birthday is a dry run version of the New Year. It's a time to take stock of what's behind and resolve to make the best of what's ahead. It doesn't hurt, in my case, that it comes 20 days before 31 Dec.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Semester of Swing - II

Ok, to the specifics. What did I learn from a semester of Swing classes:
  1. Don't be overtly self conscious when dancing. If you really screw up, you can always join another dance club (I picked this up from a Tango class btw!!)
  2. Be conscious of your partner. Couples dancing requires two people to pull off. It's a bad idea to dance with your eyes to the floor, the ceiling or some oblique point at u = infinity.
  3. Any idiot can go to lessons. The real learning process comes from asking people to dance with you.
  4. When your partner is relaxed, be focussed. When your partner is focussed, you've screwed up somewhere.
  5. When your partner tells you where you're going wrong at a dance:
    1. Understand the mistake and correct
    2. Don't dance with her/him till you have
  6. Scoring a turn between two eight count swing-outs is improv. Carrying out a turn to a six-count is just plain wrong.
  7. There's always going to be someone hotter than your partner on the floor. It does not do well to stare at him/her when dancing with your partner
  8. You may be dancing with a girl for the first time, but don't stare at her accordingly. It's creepy.
    1. Corollary: Be conscious of your partner and not any of your partner's specific appendages. Time enough to (ahem!) worry about them when you're alone
  9. If you'd like to dance with that cute girl you saw at the last class, but are worried you'll screw up:
      1. The fact that she's in the class means she isn't exactly of Elvis/Prabhudeva lineage
      2. Nevertheless, there'll be any number of guys wanting to dance with her, so stop worrying and get in quick!!
  10. If you walk up to one girl in a group only for someone else to swoop in at the last minute, it's not bad luck, it's bad timing. If you stare at the rest of the group awkwardly, it's just.... bad.
  11. Don't worry about the ramifications of asking a total stranger to dance with you. You are NOT going to get any.
  12. And lastly - fast, passionate dancing cuts immediately to R+-rated scenes only for Pierce Brosnan, Antonio Banderas or suchlike. Don't try it at your level, or you're likely to pull a major stinker.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Semester of Swing

Back during the golden age of classes VIII-X, dancing was either something a Tam-Bram girl did under the tutelage of Smt. So and So to the tune of ''Thaa thaiii thatha thaiii", or some sort of ghastly aerobic excercise to be carried out as part of ''[School] Day", "Annual Day", "Sports Day" and any such number of days, carefully choreographed by Vanita and Padmaja Mams. Proper free style dancing was something a lot of us bookish types had no idea about. We were told we'd eventually have to do it during the Class X farewell party. And with a girl. Our combined hormones and awkwardness led to a range of responses, the standard being "Teeheeheee" with a foot shuffle. [Mine was a constipated "Haehh!!'']

My immediate seniors (the class of 1998) were possibly the coolest people ever. They pulled off a co-ed dance to the tune of Cecilia, on Teacher's Day no less, with the girls dressed like hotties out of a Salma Hayek movie and the guys... ah, who notices guys at such times? There were raised eyebrows amongst the faculty, and other raised things amongst juniors when it was over. But we wretches, admire them as we might, were unable to emulate when we were in X. And when the farewell party did come, we didn't run up to that girl of our dreams and pull off something befitting "All I Have to Give", "As Long as You Love Me" or similar tracks of the time. No sir. What did we do? First we shuffled awkwardly. Then we looked around to see who'd be foolhardy enough to get on the dance floor first. Then when the girls shrugged, collectively giving us [all of us] up as a lost cause, huddled together on the floor. Boys here, girls there. Proper interaction of the sexes. Padmaja, Vanita and Srilata Mams could not be happier.

The dancing scenario remained pretty dismal for years to come. Most of us huddled during the class XII farewell again, save a very very few. And coming to IITG, for starters there were like 7-10 girls to go round for 400+ guys, so huddling wasn't really a matter of choice. And for another this was Guwahati with the 95% humidity - we got to know our collective BO in like 5 minues flat.

Coming to US therefore, I was extremely out of place anywhere near a dance floor. My standard routine at this point was to act as idiotic or stoned as possible, so as to evoke a "Gosh, you're silly (giggle)" or a "Ok, you need to sit down for a bit". Either saved me the embarassment of showing people precisely how I moved to the beat.

It wasn't till this fall that I decided to correct this situation. I joined the Swing dance club at Purdue - think slow music from the 40's and 50's and you get the idea. Swinging has taught me a lot. Broadly, how to move to a beat. How to develop a rhythm. And how to improvise on a routine without looking idiotic - Ok, that's an ongoing process. It also helped bring about an amazing sensation - moving with a girl (who isn't a relation of any sort) in your arms.

Ok, that is a rotten ending. But that's only to make way for a follow-up post. What precisely did I learn during Swing dancing?

Friday, November 23, 2007

OMG-ShahRukh-OMG

This is pointless excercise, 2-3 weeks after the film has released. It would have been equally pointless at the time of release, seeing as how all MSM people are gaga over Shah Rukh and Farah Khan. But hey, it allows me to think about a Hindi movie, and to compete with friend lexicomaniac (whom I've now beaten to the review. Poor chap's in Amsterdam)

People say Om Shanti Om is a remake of Karz. I disagree. Karz was about reincarnation - specifically of Rishi Kapoor's character, and the impact on other characters in the plot. This movie isn't.

What Om Shanti Om is is an adaptation of ''The Truman Show''. Like Jim Carrey in the Truman Show SRK acts as someone who is in a movie, as opposed to a person of flesh and blood. Like Truman in the Truman Show, SRK reaches out to the audience, unshackled by the confines of whoever he is supposed to be, rather than to his fellow cast. And like in The Truman Show, the broken fourth wall context is required so as not to mistake the protagonist's actions for overacting.

But, you will ask, is that not the same case with any Shah Rukh film since Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa? No, for the simple reason that unlike any previous SRK (or non-SRK for that matter) film, everyone and their respective characters - who coincidentally are all movie people - is aware they are in a movie.
Farah Khan is aware of SRK's Truman-esque behaviour (he, unlike Truman, is aware he is in a movie) and recognizes its potential dissonance (to put it mildly) with the narrative flow of a film. She solves this problem by tearing apart the fourth wall altogether, and making every character (save Arjun Rampal) conscious of his/her role in the grand scheme of things both sides of the silver screen. It's no coincidence that "Om Shanti Om" - the film title - is not only the compounded name of the lead pair, but also of the film being made within the film. Very Shakespearan. On the upside, this fissure in the fourth wall (widened every few minutes) makes Shah Rukh's Khan-isms and hamming (which could compare with the output of Oscar Mayer's largest factory) easier to bear. On the downside, when everyone knows they're in a film, what exactly is it that you're seeing? Greatbong calls it a product, which I guess it is, for the reason that it is something that makes money.

The plot is exceedingly simple - Boy (SRK) meets girl (Deepika). Both die. Both are reborn. Both meet again. Somebody else (bad guy - Arjun Rampal) dies. In between, the whole of Bollywood does an extended cameo in a party, for no other reason than to blur the lines between fact and fiction even further.

A note about this cameo by the way. It included Akshay Kumar in a Khiladi avatar that has to be seen to be believed - something for the archives of YouTube. It included Jeetendra, who looks remarkably well preserved for his age, and Tushar Kapoor, who presumably got in by supergluing himself to his father.

Shah Rukh Khan is, well, Truman with the self-awareness and a six-pack. Deepika Padukone is HOT. I mean it. The only song worth a dekko in the whole film is the one where she's a cabaret dancer from the 70's. She's got a beautiful smile too. Unfortunately, that's about it. She's eye candy, and in this flick, has a role comparable to one of the 295 unnamed Spartans from 300.

Arjun Rampal does a decent job as a villain. More significantly, he
is the one person in the whole movie who is unaware he is in a movie. Kudos to him for that. He and his shifty-eyed villain though, are perfunctory characters, comparable to one of the thousands of unnamed Persians from 300. Considering his similarly sidey role in Don, I wonder if he has to shine SRK's shoes or clean his trailer on set or something. Poor fellow.

OSO in all is a weird thing, a sort of Powerpoint presentation where Shah Rukh is slide template, layout and 90% of the content. It knows itself to be one. The question is, do we?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Beowulf - The Review

One of the common resentments against Bollywood movies is that you inevitably see the same stuff over and over again, whatever the title, theme or (for lack of a better word) plot. Coming to US, I find the same applies to a lot of Hollywood movies, the difference being that Bollywood films all pretty much rank as ''family entertainment'' while Hollywood films tend to fall into several genres - romantic comedy, heroic action, college flick, chick flick, slasher and so forth. Know the genre, however, and with a lot of films you will know the plot. Beowulf is one such film.

Beowulf falls under the "mythological recreation" subcategory of "heroic action". You can therefore figure out several things about it, even if you don't know the legendary Old English poem.

Since the movie is about a hero not in a war, there has to be a hero-requiring situation. Hence the opening fifteen minutes when King Hrothgar's feast, on opening night of his mead-hall is wrecked by Grendel, Gollum's twenty-five-foot cousin who speaks lispy Old English, has the skin of a Ramsay Brothers' zombie and hates the sounds of festivities - he'd have been a hit with the Taliban.

Prior to his attack we see Hrothgar, the drunken fat old king. His Queen is much younger, wayyy thinner and a good deal more refined - clear indications of romantic tension and triangles once Beowulf turns up.

He does, leading a crew of people all but but one of whom have no dialogue. It's clear - Beowulf is going to kill Grendel, just after the monster has wiped out this entire valiant gang. The guy with dialogue might just get in a dying inspirational speech or give Beowulf his wife's amulet or something.

He meets the King and Queen and in no time, the air's electric. Hrothgar offers him a golden dragon-shaped cup if he kills the beast, but it's clear Beowulf would prefer something to put his dragon into.

The beast comes, kills about 75% of the dialogue-less crew and wrestles Beowulf, who wierdly takes it on naked. He deals with it by yelling at it and chaining it to a chandelier and swinging about the rafters and so on - general naked hero stuff.

All this takes place in about 45 minutes. Since it's an hour-plus till the next show, the threat's not dealt with yet. It reveals itself as Angelina Jolie, who can slay men silently, appear in dreams and, when Beowulf confronts her, walk nude so sinuously as to cause a penis explosion. Highly dangerous, this mother of Grendel.

Seeing as it's Angelina Jolie, you know she can't die before the credits roll, and so must do some Satanic seduction stuff with our naked (Again!!) hero.

Beowulf, like any red-blooded male with functional sausage and meatballs, is taken in by this sinuous beauty, and ''agrees'' to ''give her a son'' (Oh the mortification of selling one's soul so!!!).

The rest of the movie deals with the consequences of his ''sin'' (And no, it does not end with Angelina Jolie and him moving in together a la ''Knocked Up'' to raise the baby. Neither am I talking something out of Masoom or Salaam Namaste). Suffice it to say that Beowulf's mighty dragon begets more of its kind.

The movie's motion capture based animation was unique, allowing CGI to blend in nicely with actual acting done by actual actors. But cinematography alone does not a good movie make, and when your plot is so riddled with cliches as to be checked off a list, the end result is sheer boredom.

Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Brendan Gleeson play Beowulf, Hrothgar, Hrothgar's minister and the sole survivor of Beowulf's crew. The real show stealer (and, when you see the trailer, the USP of this movie) is Angelina Jolie, who looks golden skinned, flies, has a serpent tail behind her and is mostly nude throughout her parts. Her digital body remains about the only worthwhile thing to see in this otherwise predictable film.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Brokeback Pottery

Dumbledore is all knowing and intelligent. He's supportive of wizards with odd quirks - lycanthropy, giant heritage and so forth. He dresses in highly colorful clothing. And he loves chocolate. All of which should, I suppose, have prepared us for this little ''outing'' of his.

''Shocking" hardly covers the reaction of kids and parents worldwide - self included despite this post poking fun at it. That the wise-mentor father figure had a functional fig and olives is OK - though we didn't need to know it. But now we find he liked figs, or rather a particular fig - growing off Gellert Grindelwald, with his blonde merry face and charming blue eyes or whatever.

Harry Potter has officially made the transition from Dahlicious PG-13 to R, as Rowling leaps from murder and incest to man-man love. How tainted I feel. I'll have to re-read every scene from Potter that involved Dumbledore and be sure there was nothing gay about it. Now we know, I suppose, why Dumbledore attended all the Quidditch matches with Harry in them. And why he gave Harry all those one-on-one lessons. The Chosen One indeed.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

From Here to Eternity

Literally. That's what it was. A journey from here to eternity. In addition to which, it will accompany me on my own journey from here to eternity..... (Don't mind if I'm starting to sound like a C++ recursive function call)

Strangely enough, I was the calmest through the trip to the airfield. Bored even - that drive lasted 3 damned hours, and when we got there we had to fill forms for an hour and wait for two more. Aurv and Srutesh went first. Both were a bit wobbly going, and considerably more than shell shocked coming back (Grinning from ear to ear though). Jeroen was quite uncomfortable as we boarded. I alone smiled, and straight into the camera (I'll get into that later). Eric, the pro I was in tandem with, backslapped me heartily as we got on. Even as the wrist dial started to go wild I was collected.

About the time it hit 16 they opened the door. A certain twinge of unease occured as people began to disappear into the void outside. But courage, Arun, courage - I told myself. Imagine Amma encouraging you to have adventures. And Appa's expression if you told him 170 dollars went to no use.

I did what they said, facing the door. Rock back and forth squatting. Arms crossed and folded. 5..4...3..2..it wasn't till we jumped right out the plane that the first "Naaaaaraaaaayanaaaaaa ......." escaped

The first sensation was cold. It was cold at 16000 feet, up above the clouds. Then came the wail of the wind in the ears. And the realization that it was wailing because you were whizzing down. From 16000 feet. Wierdly though, this wasn't the scariest part. For starters, I suppose there's no mystery in what's going to happen if you impact the ground from that height. Also, you can wierdly do turns and twists (even in tandem) in the air. Pretend you're Superman till the ground proves you otherwise.

That damned cameraman was hovering with us, grinning all the way. He signalled for me to smile, grabbing my hand as he hovered up. For God's sake, man. I'm falling down. Let me fall in peace. Oh all right, here's your damned smile for the camera. Grin from ear to ear with my cheeks flapping in the wind - not a bad thing to do before getting smashed to a thousand bits.

The altimeter was merrily climbing down. As it neared 5, Eric nudged me. At 5, wind screaming and all, I pulled the cord he told me to pull, "Narayanaaaaaa"ing all the way.

Silence. Suddenly the air's not screaming. The ground's a lot closer, but not charging at you like a paparazzi at Angelina Jolie. I can talk again. And am upright (head towards the sky and feet towards the ground) again. Whew. If only there was something for my feet stand on.

Eric pointed out the sun, now red, in the distance. "No sunset like one at 4000 feet" Amazing sight, considering that for people on the ground it's probably over the horizon. It would probably be possible to see the shadows lengthen on the ground with binoculars or something. The sights at this point were, to say the least, unbelievable.

This leg of the journey however proved to be the real challenge. For starters, the harness needed some adjustment (as a matter of routine) and Eric actually undid a couple of clips in the air. Not reassuring, to say the least. Also, he wore the parachute. So while we were what's-mine- is-yours with the acceleration towards the ground, the parachute belonged to him (In the Resnick and Halliday fbd mechanics sense). I was attached to Eric through the harness, and so was held up, but the result was like being hung off a hook. Damned uncomfortable. Specially when the hook went under and between your thighs.

That adjustment thing actually made we wobbly and I asked Eric if I was attached right. He told me, if I weren't, we'd be a hundred feet apart already. Gallows humour. There's no beating it.

The parachute needed guidance. Pulling on two additional cords turned us in the air. Soon we were gliding more than falling, and at one point we began turning circles in the air, spiralling downwards.

I can't explain why, but the queasiest quease (No other word for it) hit my stomach and covered me in a panic. Suddenly, I felt it would be OK if I only were free of the parachute. If I kicked and screamed and struggled. I had to get rid of the harness. The thing feels like a bad dream now, but it felt then like the only way out of one.

I suppose having my hands on the separated taught cords gave me some control (in that I was restrained). I asked Eric to cut out the turning "It's making me sick, man" I said. He stopped the spiral immediately.

The descent was more diagonal now. And steadier. The ground was looking a lot clearer. There were stalks visible where there was just an expanse of green. And wasn't that white cubical building a spot a minute ago?

"When I tell you to, kick your legs out" Eric said. "Sure" I replied. We were picking up a bit of speed, and the downward motion was clearer. The altimeter was somewhere between 1 and 0, and nearing the latter. At about (I found out later) 50 feet he said "Now". I kicked out and gave my abs the toughest workout they had. I found out why as we sailed to ground, reaching it while moving horizontally. Had I not kicked out, the impact would have broken an ankle at least. As it were, I took the impact on the old gluteus maximus, glad for once to have been relaxed with recent diets. Funny, 16000 feet and you land on your synonym-for-a-donkey. Hell of a way down. I got up, mouthing holy names of Vishnu and truly unholy profanities in the same breath. In that frame of mind, it matters more that you say something, than what you say.

Eric later told me the queasiness was due to my persistent looking down at the ground. "When you're up there, look around you. Look at the ground and you're head'll spin" Verily, a profound lesson - don't be distracted by the memories of Earth, when sampling the joys of Heaven.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

iPod, therefore Isolate

You see them everywhere. They're enjoying a sutta or a book on park or campus benches. They're waiting at bus and train stations. They're driving, biking or just walking around. They're lifting weights or jogging on a treadmill. Any one of hazaar such activities. And while doing so, they're listening to flat little cigar boxes with white earphones. It might be music, a comedy album, a radio play, hell even a recorded lecture. But they all come out of that little shiny box with a bitten-off apple and a metallic underside. While the iPod took the world by storm, it's taken the US... period.

The late 90's were the Golden Age for digital audiophiles. Before Napster got into all that RIAA trouble, MP3's were all the rage among the net-savvy (and I'm just talking about us guys in India). There was no more buying an album to listen to that one song that you loved on MTV. Get the song itself from Napster. Burn it onto a CD to carry with you, or just play it on your computer. Napster got sued, shut down and re-animated as an emasculated version of itself, but the playlist-based-singles-driven music craze continued to grow, generating an interest in digital players that were also a storage unit.

The first ones were uber-delicate 32-64 MB storing clunky little things whose memory would be wiped out when you removed the batteries. Then came some upgrades from America-based companies like Archos, Singapore-based Creative Labs and Korean companies like Samsung. Compaq licensed the technology for the first GB-order player to HanGo Electronics (I haven't heard of them either) which released the PJB in 1999. The competition around GB-order music players grew, until of course Apple came up with the iPod.

The market's never been the same. Apple remains the leader worldwide in digital music players and digital music. There's a few other players around, but no product matches the sleekness of the iPod, while the Apple store competes with Amazon on the music front.

More significantly, digitally spread mobile media has gained importance like never before. People downloaded songs from the Internet. Now they can do it off Starbucks' WiFi. Internet radio used to require a computer to listen to. Now it's on podcasts. People needed reruns or season tapes to catch missed episodes. Now they download them off company websites and watch it on their iPod videos. And Apple's latest product, the WiFi-enabled iPod Touch, lets the user download media without a computer. This on top of the iPhone, which is a phone-cum-address book-cum-iPod-cum-Net browser-cum-God knows what else.

This explosion of media was once an awesome thing. Now it feels a bit, well like an explosion, which is rarely a good thing.

As I mentioned before, music players before used to hold 64-128 MB. the GB player, when it emerged was considered something rally awesome. Given the opportunity to pick up a 20 GB Creative Jukebox, I jumped at it.

But since then I have found, at no given time can I listen to more than about 500 MB worth of music. No period of motion really lasts longer (or even as long as) the time required to play 125 4-minute songs. The only time now that I really use my player is when travelling out of town. How many of us really need even 1 GB of music to carry around when moving about the place? A computer is one thing but to need that in one's hand....it's bordering on the ridiculous (I understand (a) this does not extend to iPod nanos and flashes (b) I'm an idiot for buying my jukebox to begin with)

My next gripe is with the device itself. As I mentioned, music was just the tip of the iceberg. People now carry TV shows and movies on their systems. Again, do you need media that much whenever mobile? In fact more significantly, how do you get way from all that media? There used to be a time when Moms and Dads would tell us "Get away from that walkman/stereo/ television" so we could go out into the world and smell real air, touch real objects and feel real emotions. Interact with the real world and build self (Or as Calvin's dad would put it, character). But when the TV is now something in your pocket? Britney, Fallout Boy, Heroes, Lost, American Idol (replace them with their analogues outside the US) are things that stream into your head anywhere and anytime. That can't be good for you, to have them tinge reality like that. Makes you wonder - does the i stand for idiot?

My final point has to do with why portable media players and their supporting data networks so popular. What is it about being able to drag 2 episodes and/or 125 songs with you? My opinion - the playlist. I mentioned the playlist earlier as the base of the digital audio craze. It became much more than that. While mix tapes and CDs existed beforehand, they needed people, well to mess about with mixers and what not. The late 90's was the era of GUI driven systems with software that downloaded and coded music for you. This era turned the playlist from a figure of entertainment to a fingerprint, first for the techhead elite, eventually for the (still techy) hoi polloi. When you make a playlist, it's your playlist. It defines an action you've taken. It is a small you-zone. And when that playlist is 2000 songs long, you-zone becomes You-World. That's why people carry so much media organized in such fashion with them. They want to carry a bit of their world (which was restricted to such areas as the room or the house) with them. What's outside is a mixed bag. What's in the magic box can shut it all out, and so the investment in a flatbox with wires coming out of it. Something that I think marks an atavistic return to frogs in wells/ponds. It's more disturbing when you realize that world you cocoon yourself is defined by a handful of information someone else recorded. Someone else's world, so to speak.

Where will this lead us? What will it do to reality as we percieve it? Will we have a new "Ghost in the Shell"ish world, where people spend life cocooned in their own artificial reality (like 6 billion one-person Matrixes)?

Who knows??

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Of Phoren Phillums Past and Present

The Indian nominee for the Oscar Foreign Film thing has run aground before reaching the western shores. As I mentioned earlier, a comical war of words has come up with everyone and their brother screaming about which film ought to go.

Was there a bias this year, in favour of VVC? Not improbable by a long shot, given the committee's track record:

2007 - Eklavya: AB-baby is the palace guard Eklavya who butts heads with his unacknowledged son, reluctant London-returned prince (white ewe black lamb etc.) Saif Ali Khan, who in turn butts heads with other, evil royals while checking out Vidya Balan's butt. There's a lot of palace scenery and helicopters and so forth in between the skulls cracking. Prediction: Has as much a chance of winning a Foreign Film Oscar as my hindi vlog

2006 - Rang de B: The most over-hyped, feel-good-for-no-reason movie made. Showed a set of hip college kids who role-play for Bhagat Singh and co. Halfway through, a ''serious'' (he joined the Air Force) friend gets killed. Friends get the impression (it's never explained how) that a corrupt minister and a businessman are responsible. Their dharna fails. They have no options left (????) They shoot the two (blossoming from role-players into skilled and ruthless marksmen overnight) and take over a radio station to explain why. As they're shot dead in turn, the ghosts of dead freedom fighters appear. The nation wails in lament. Credits roll. This was selected over Omkara - not only an adaptation of an understandable-to-worldwide-audiences classic, but a movie with an authentic and gritty feel to it.

2005 - Paheli: A horror movie showcasing the kind of hard-on Rani Mukherjee can elicit from the undead, as she falls in love with SRK, a ghost. It gets scarier as you see SRK sport a Rajasthani turban and moustache, and you're haunted forever when you find out Amol Palekhar was the director of this excercise in necrophilia. Selected over Page 3 and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, both of which were again understandable to world-wide audiences AND had a gritty, gut-wrenching pathos in them. Paheli had about a ghost of a ghost of a chance.

2002 - Devdas: Once upon a time there was a young man. He decided to drink himself to death. Sanjay Leela Bhansali then decided to spend 50 crores showcasing his demise. Rather than send his film to Alcoholics Anonymous, the committee decided to send it to Hollywood. In place of, say, Monsoon Wedding.

The committee in short, is either malleable to the wishes of super-Khans, irrespective of film quality; or is phenomenally stupid. Given what we know about Indian goarnament committees, each is equally likely.

Having said that, it's equally idiotic and ungracious of a director to first scream "No fair" and then get a court order challenging Committee rulings. How are they now going to decide the best film? Have court judges or SC justices see both (It would be a unique first for our judges)? Take the two to a Lok Sabha session? Or will they go "Indian Idol" and carry out an SMS campaign? What's to stop a third person from screaming that his/her film was unfairly left out? And in the midst of all this, have any of these films much of a chance at the Academy (I haven't seen Eklavya or Dharm) Awards?

My verdict: Disband the Selection committee and have every director who can, send his/her film to the Oscars. People say films have to be chosen to represent the tastes and aspirations of the "Indian pippuls". Our tastes weren't much to speak of to begin with, and are now confused as well.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction

It was officially announced - Vidhu Vinod Chopra's "Eklavya" is going to the 2008 Oscars as the Indian Foreign Language entry. The announcement met with the usual "will it ?"s and "won't it ?"s for a while, and would have been shoved aside to make news for Rahul Gandhi, when all hell broke loose.

Bhavna Talwar, who made "Dharm", another contender for the Academy entry, first went to the media telling whoever would listen that Eklavya was a bad film and her film deserved to go to the Oscars [You'll find the HT link here] Once HT, TOI, the Hindu and IE had saturated their Filmi Khabar section and Aaj Tak had aired her views on that "Breaking News" strip at the bottom of the screen, she actually - I mean it, she did this - filed a petition at the Bombay high court, calling for an investigation into the selection of Eklavya. In the meantime, selection committee members, "serious" actors, "joking" actors, Bhavna Talwar, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and NDTV knows who else have presented soundbytes to the media either describing the shadowy conspiracy in smoke-filled selection committee rooms, or deriding "The young filmmaker whose film hasn’t gone..." for "having durrty crab mentality". The latest has been this "Front Page Headline" - the Bombay High court has given the Film Selection committee 10 days to file a reply to their evaluation that "there seems to be merit in the argument that the selection process was biased....." The matter will be decided during a date in October blah blah blah

The truth has not only become stranger than fiction, it's turned into some sort of Academy Award winning screenplay itself now - the kind of satirical one Cho Ramaswamy would write and Farooq Sheikh/Naseeruddin Shah would act in back in the 80's.

Amazing, ain't it?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shakespeare 'n Love

Here's a sign of trouble - I'm running out of things to rave and rant about. lexicomaniac sums this blog as reflections, and to my regret, you (or rather, I) can only reflect so much.

So anyways, this post is a set of little thingies going on....... with me rather than the world at large. So, no thoughtful Being Vir Sanghvi today.

Shakespeare. I've joined this dramatics group that can loosely be defined as a Shakespeare sketch show. We're planning a show with little clips from the Great Playwright's Greatest Plays. A feather in Yours Truly's cap is his bagging a role as Iago in an Othello scene, which should allow me one of those evil fourth wall grins that were creepy in Kaun and The Omen.

The role brought back memories from high and middle school. Of a time before IIT, when English wasn't quite English, but well.... English English. Or rather, ICSE English English. I'm referring of course to English spoken in a semi sing-song high pitched tone with special emphasis on diction and pronounciation, when reciting a poem on stage or acting out a classic drama. Don't get me? Ok, put simply, try reciting this, stressing on each sound:

"In this same interlude it doth befall
That I, one Snout by name, present a wall;
And such a wall, as I would have you think,
That had in it a crannied hole or chink,
Through which the lovers, Pyramus and Thisby,
Did whisper often very secretly"

Yep, that English. It's the one ICSE students pride themselves on in Calcutta or Bangalore. It's about as dead as the literature you enact in it, but it's fun. Coming to IIT, where Hinglish was more the lingua franca, and drama meant Hindi dialogue (and names like Kaal Bhuchandi), I lost touch with it. It's fun to relive it.

It's also a reminder of what kind of person you are. I had to summon IEE when reciting my lines. But the rest of the people in the group (all Americans born and bred) did not. Shakespeare rolls smoothly off their tongues. They doth their ayes and quoth their thees with cunning fluency. I don't. It's kind of a racial thing, but there you are.

I've also joined the Purdue swing dance club. Swing is something you'd see from the black and white films they had in the fifties - think "Eena Meena Deeka". It's informal, more fun and a less strenuous way to meet members of the opposite sex than say, salsa or tango (believe, they are best left to Banderas). Neways, swing is fun. What isn't is the interaction with the opposite sex.

It's been about two weeks since the club began. But wierdly, boys and girls are starting to pair up on a permanent basis already. Partner rotations are starting to feel more unwelcome and the post-class dances are seeing fixed couples, who dance looking all starry-eyed at each other. How in heaven did they go about it? I'm starting to feel left out, like the shithead you see in teen movies looking forlorn and pup-eyed at events like this, when he sees the class hot-chick dance with the jerk-jock. I wish they'd slow down and give me enough time to figure out the tricks of the trade and be smoother and less awkward when in close proximity to girls. Y'know, everyone starting the race at the same position. The science of coupling up. I wish they'd teach that in a course at IIT. The science of coupling. Way more practical than the effect of coupling forces on a tressle centre of gravity - D'you even come across such things in the real world?

Anyway, that's life now. Let's see where Shakespeare and Swing take it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Below

Basically, I decided to cut loose with all typical romace cliches and see how I could substitute em with some sort of scientificreference. There's poetry in sunrise and sunset and fruit and all that... so there should be in what I've described.

To My True Love – A Chemical Romance

Your eyes are what draw me to you, soft, deep and of unchanging hue.

I see deep into their core, little sparkles by the score.

They scintillate all the while, no two are the same,

Those flashes within your eyes, like ions in a flame.

I see the crimson of charged lithium, the green of a Barite,

The lilac of ionic potassium, a truly marvelous sight.

Your pupils are truly special, a wonder to behold,

They are so like a fiery wire of platinum or of gold.

Your nose entices me too, to its tip I succumb,

It’s delicate as a flower, yet strong as dry gypsum.

It wiggles with your swinging moods, it points to joy or terror.

It’s like a voltmeter, with negligible error.

So cheery is your bearing, ever so animate

You’re as effervescent as a hydrated bicarbonate

You re-dissolve my fears and cares, when I’m wan and glum,

From clouded Cu(OH)2 you vivify me, to deep cuprammonium.

You make the best of all you have, churn happiness out of all you see

Like zinc you could milk H2 from acid or alkali.

You inspire me and arouse me to a bolder, more sanguine state,

You feel sometimes like an overdose of acidified permanganate.

You could be sparring partner, co-conspirator, counselor or me-o-phile,

You resonate between all of them, running rings around phenyl.

Fellowship flows around you; reserve and distance thrown aside,

You facilitate people’s linkages, like vanadium pentoxide.

You’re as delicate as platinum sometimes, to poisoning so susceptible,

Yet at times you’re like carbon fibre, super strong and flexible.

I desire you and your love forever, (not to sound like a pop crooner on TV),

I want our bond to be strong and lasting; like diamond C-to-C

In writing this I present your importance to the process that is me;

In short, you’re the limiting reactant in our chemistry!!!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Daffy Definitions
What do you feel...
...when you see Orkut and Facebook pics of schoolmates whom all the girls had the hots for in classes IX - XII and find they've become overweight and look debauched and stressed, while you've improved to no end ?: Pleasure

...when you find that not only poaching is on the rise, but also deforestation in the forests, while cities reel with the incoming issues of water, sanitation and power?:
Hope

...when you read that J K Rowling, who was born in 1965, concieved the HP skeleton in 1990 and has completed it now, and realize your 24th birthday is around the corner?: Fear Panic

...when you're asked what you want to do at the age of 16, having been told there's nothing you can't do?: Confusion

...when you're thinking about what you not only can but also want to do at the age of 23?: Even More Confusion

...when you haven't written an awful lot for near a month, despite your blog being the writings (of a writer, no less) ?: Fear

...when you're trying to get that presentation completed as though your life depended on it, even though you go to sleep doing it?: Frustration

...from Ctrl+C to Ctrl+V?: Inspiration

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deadly Denouements

The Ugly

When you see Tuco in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", you don't know why he's "Ugly". He's not deformed or scarred, he doesn't have some horrible disfiguring disease or wound on him to make him so. He's about as cleaned up and well kept as Eastwood and Van Cleef. In the end, he's the Ugly because he's neither "Good" nor "Bad". Which is what this post deals with - things that you notice, that neither add to nor detract from the book on the whole. You just notice them, because they're odd or striking.

Deathly Hallows is pretty unusual among HP books in its markedly PG-13 setup. I mentioned the intense make-out scenes in a previous post. Additionally, a good deal of violence is described
in the book. Most striking is the language. For the first time, you see people curse about proper (The worst in previous books was 'cow' as an abusive/derisive adjective). Ron at one point tells Harry the situation is "effing hopeless", and Aberforth (read the book to find out who he is) talks about the 'bastards' who assaulted his sister, rendering her psychologically (and by consequence, magically) unstable for life. 'hell' is part of the strong vocabulary. "Why the hell" is used at one point (no rage like italicized rage) and Neville Longbottom bravely says he'll join the dark side when "hell freezes over"

This struck me as odd. The Potterverse is, by and large, an agnostic, if not atheistic universe. The only mentions of religion come during the celebrations of Christmas and Easter through the usual festive trappings of either - Christmas dinners, presents, easter eggs and so forth. When there is no God/s (which makes sense when you can magic away reality yourself), how does the concept of hell and heaven come up? The presence of ghosts (regulated strictly by the Ministry) is about the closest the books come to describing an aferlife. So, how do the wizards understand the connotations of hell? And why do they imagine it as we do, a place of fire and brimstone which could only freeze at the end of time or something? "when the earth meets the sky" or "when the skarnrock grows stripes" would be more plausible exaggerations for a wizard, especially one brought up by wizards (as opposed to Muggle-borns).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows resembles at different levels, Tolkein's "The Return of the King". Both basically are about climaxes, when heroes and villains are gathered and open, armed conflict has begun. Both involve small, relatively weak or poorly-armed protagonists who hold the real key to the conflict, as opposed to amassed power on either side. And both end with a thunderous battle wherein it is uncertain how things will turn out, and both sides strike out with desperate fury.

Key plot elements are similar too. The Deathly Hallows revolves about Harry's attempts to find and destroy four Horcruxes - artifacts into which Voldemort has sealed fragments of his soul. Shortly into the plot, Harry finds one - an ancient locket. The interesting thing about this is that the Horcrux is seemingly indestructible. Non-magical techniques and even conventional magical spells have no effect on the Horcrux, and to destroy it, one must destroy the object beyond repair. To ensure safety, Harry and his friends start to wear the locket. Each, upon wearing it, finds that the Horcrux alters behaviour, making him/her more depressed, more agressive, more fearful and reluctant to go on. Harry at one point discovers the only weapon capable of destroying the thing at the bottom of a lake. When he dives in, wearing the locket to retrieve it, he suddenly finds the chain shortening around his neck. When the weapon is finally obtained, Ron, Harry's friend, finds himself unable to destroy the Horcrux, as it voices his fears and projects illusions of them coming true. It is with great difficulty (I mean it, I was reading the thing and saying "Destroy the f#*@ing Horcrux already" halfway through this scene) that the thing is destroyed once and for all.

To anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings, the parallels of this scene to those involving Frodo, Sam and the One Ring will be obvious. The two objects are similar enough as it is, each being a receptacle of an otherwise invulnerable Dark Lord's soul/spirit, which can only be destroyed through extremely powerful magic. That they have similar effects on the people around them shows the homage Rowling pays to Tolkein in her finale.

The homage is also present in the final battle, when reinforcements arrive at a seemingly hopeless point in battle (When it seems Harry is dead on the lawns of Hogwarts vis-a-vis When it seems Frodo and the Ring are captured at the Black Gates). The battle restarts, and it is only at its absolute peak that the final hope (Harry reappearing/Mount Doom exploding) shows itself. There has been, in the interim, a good deal of death and destruction. Kind of apt (I don't know if that's the right word to use) that Rowling, who's the queen of modern fantasy fiction (On the sheer basis of number of books sold) pays a homage to Tolkein, the baap of epic fantasy writing. Nice way to enter the Big League of fantasy writing.

Homages apart, however, Harry Potter is, at heart a kids' fairy tale. The story, when you search in your memories, somehow brings back memories of Enid Blyton more than anything else, she of the Noddy series and The Three Golliwogs and the Famous Five and fairies and talking rabbits who, whatever else they do, do not miss tea and girls who don't get jam and cake at the same for screaming their heads half off. The books are about children, more than anything else. They are about a real world, which is just more fantastic than we know - you don't have to imagine a tower and Medieval Europe to get her stories. They are quintessentially British - with the 'propah' speech, manners and tea-cakes (and equivalents for modern day Britain). And they are fairy tales, in ending good and proper with "they all lived happily ever after"

And that is about all I can possibly say about "The Deathly Hallows". It's been about a week since I got it, and the damn thing has got me posting thrice in a week, when twice a month is the standard rate. Ok, that's the last thing I can say. Some book.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deadly Denouements

Ok, this is something of a pointless excercise. I mean, the book was the fastest selling book in history before it was released. William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer and J.R.R Tolkein jointly giving it two thumbs down wouldn't take a cent off the billions it's going to make. But anyways.....

THE BAD

Awesome though the book was, it had several things that well, niggle at the reader. By far the biggest niggler (no racist implications there) is plot predictability.

While waiting for the book release I, like any number of jobless HP fans with broadband access, scoured the Leaky Cauldron for info about the book release. In the process I ended up reading several predictions made about book 7. The most important ones:

(a) Snape would turn out to be a good guy after all, because he'd loved Lily
(b) Harry would willingly sacrifice himself to Voldemort in the end
(c) Harry would turn out to be the final Horcrux beyond the 6 destroyed (which is why he'd have to sacrifice himself)

Not only did all three turn out to be true, the book used the exact reasoning the predictors did. Take the Horcrux thing for example. The analyst's logic was that while Voldemort used specific murders to create Horcruxes with the torn portions of his soul, the number of murders he committed would make his an extremely damaged soul (think torn and patched here and there). It would make sense that since he killed two people before attempting to kill Harry, those one or two bits of soul would be hanging loosely and, when his rebound curse turned him into Shadowmort (the popular internet term is Vapormort), they'd disconnect. They'd then enter Harry, he being the only receptacle around. Hence his scar, Parseltongue-abilities and Voldy-sense.

In the climax, Harry finds out he is the final Horcrux, for the same reasons as described at the Leaky Cauldron. This was a bit of a let down. I mean, you don't think J K Rowling's plot would be foreseen with such accuracy, least of all by ginny_potterfan75 (fictitious). And surprise, surprise, he has to give himself up to Voldemort and die so Voldemort can be killed. I wonder - has Rowling been posting spoilers under a pseudonym to raise the fever pitch a bit? Or hiring ginny_potterfan75 to, ahem, help out with the writing?

The next bad is Harry's "power". The prophecy mentions "power he knows not", and as we all know, this is love. LOVE. LUUV. LOVEY DOVEY WOVEY Love. And the fact that Voldy's a bipolar sociopath who can't understand it. So, what role does it play, apart from getting Harry and Ron each an intense PG-13+ make-out scene? (Oh yeah, J K Rowling's put in something for everyone)

In a nutshell, none. Harry's finally defeating Voldemort has zilch to do with love, or his ability to love. It has to do with Voldemort not checking the fine print of:
  • Genesus horcruxus or Fuin jutsu: Horcrux fujin or whatever that spell was that seals a piece of your soul into something
  • That whole business of rebuilding his body with Harry's blood
and a series of duels - one in 1945, one in the Half Blood Prince and a couple in this book - that had nothing to do with love. Harry's love-powered self sacrifices helped set up Voldy for aeventual defeat, but in no way was love Harry's power, at least not the power you'd expect a "Chosen One" to have. From the previous book I figured Harry'd either use his Luuuv EQ to beat Voldemort in some mental struggle or make a Loveton: Rasengan or something. Neither happens. Disappointing.

Next, the Deathly Hallows - 3 objects that enable their owner to 'master' death. Their mysteerious background sets them up to be the focus of the 100th minute, the point where the villian's united the fragments and is either in possession of some super-supernatural ray gun, or has unleashed Cthulhu and Ghatanothoa from another dimension, and it's upto the hero/es to fix either in about 10 minutes, before the world ends and credits roll.

What they turn out to be is a setup to facilitate a terrific Deus Ex Machina, and a step short of a MacGuffin.

Deus Ex first. As with the Horcruxes, these things have been hidden (the difference of course is they have passed down through the ages). They started out though, with the Peverell family. Through a series of events, they moved from owner to owner. When the protagonist spends like 340 pages looking for a great Invisibility Cloak, it isn't the best of plots that reveals it to be the one in his pocket. Wouldn't you just know his great-great -great -great -great -great -great -granddaddy was the last Peverell or something? Ditto, when a superwand everyone's been looking for turns out to be Dumbledore's. The super-wand apparently gives allegiance to its owner, which transfers to whoever beats the owner ('beats' is hazily defined. All we know is to defeat in a duel, kill in sleep or simply disarm from behind count as 'beat') This is what finally saves Harry's posterior - Voldy didn't know a weak underling, whom Harry 'beat' earlier, 'beat' Dumbledore before Snape, whom Voldemort 'beat' to get the SmartWand. So when he and Harry slug it out at the end......... whoops, he should have taken Harry's climactic 5 minute wand exposition seriously. And that is what saves Harry's tush. Not love or character strength or Glucon-D.

MacGuffin next. Finding the three and putting them together does not give Harry the super-duper ray gun to beat Voldy or vice-versa. In fact, the only significant Hallow turns out to be the wand,which at the end is returned to Dumbledore's grave. The second is lost, and Harry keeps it that way. And the third is his Invisibility Cloak, which he continues to use exactly as he did before. The net point of "the Deathly Hallows" - Deathly boring.

Finally, the expositions. The Deus Exes are believable, but having them explained by Dumbledore in a pre-finale exposition (How the fuck did he do that? He's dead) takes a good deal out of the story. Furthermore, the final explanation of Snape's allegiance, the hardest hitting part of this whole sordid tale, takes place over a solid 45 seconds, five minutes before the pre-finale finale (the false finale, so to speak). Lot of info crammed into very little time. I wouldn't be surprised if Harry's "scar pain" were really his head exploding from all the info overload.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deadly Denouements
THE GOOD

Well, it's finally here. After a lot of Leaky Cauldron sessions, spoiler guesses, pre-ordering and fake version downloading, I got Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Saturday. Those who know yours truly will know of his phenomenal reading speed, and it is with a mixture of orgasmic satisfaction and nostalgic melancholy that I put down the book. What's following is a review of sorts, and yes, there are spoilers, so those who haven't read the book and want to, now's a good time to hit Alt+D.

The Good:
"Good" doesn't quite describe what's positive in this book. Super-duper-awesome or mega-fucking -great, they're better fits. This is the finale to the Harry Potter series and it shows. As we all know, this is when Harry's :

(a) figured out the how and why of bumping off Voldemort
(b) run out of father figures/friendly mentors worth a damn in a fight against him

Also, with Dumbledore dead and the Ministry alternating between (fake?) encounter killing & pretending everything's happy-happy-joy-joy, we know the time's right for Voldemort to show his stuff.

So how does he do it? By doing one of those "Acknowledge me ruler or die" threats from James Bond/Doctor Who/G.I. Joe? By rigging a global Crucio curse to will everyone into submission? By blowing up Parliament and putting the Dark Mark over it, a la V for Vendetta? Nope. The guy's smart enough not to incite open conflict. He simply kills half the wizards in the Ministry, Imperiuses (brainwashes/mindwipes for Muggles) the rest and establishes a puppet ruler, who announces the accidental demise of the previous Minister and openly establishes Voldemort's Nazi-type order. Muggle-borns are to be registered and investigated for "stealing powers from legitimate wizards". Hogwarts now teaches Dark Arts, as well as hatred of Muggles in place of Muggle Studies and gangs of beta-level followers thug up people for no reason. There is no resistance, because, as explained in the book, everyone knows who's behind the change. But this way, it's only whispers and talk within houses. People daren't confide in each other, for fear that their suspicions are false, and more fear that they are true. The fear of chaos, reprisal and targeting keeps them silent, and him in power.

This scenario is interesting, mirroring both past (Hitler Youth, SA/SS gangs and the Holocaust) and present (Dick Cheney, anyone?)
history, and fictional events (think of the Party with Big Brother and the Thought Police). When you consider that throughout the series, save the Order of the Phoenix, the state and the wizarding community at large have been content to be hapless victims who flinch at the memory of a dead foe, fawn over heroes without emulating them, discredit those who disagree with the State (Order of the Phoenix had a point there) and be openly, if mildly, racist (the House elves' servitude, the marginalization of Centaurs and werewolves and giants and a house that admits only pure-bloods), you have to realize - they've had this coming a long time. J. K. Rowling has done an exceptional job in showing how a 100 itty-bitty mistakes result in one giant reprisal.

Second, Harry's battle - starting with going about finding Voldemort's Horcruxes and avoiding his traps, to destroying them all and facing him in the finale - is a battle. It is Pelennor Fields and the Battle of the Black Gates (Incidentally in the climax, centaurs suddenly turn up as last minute reinforcements. Coincidence? I think not). There's difficulty - Harry, Ron and Hermione have to live off the land for weeks, and Hermione actually brainwashes her parents into foretting her and fleeing the country, to safeguard them. There's dissension - Harry stubbornly refuses to tell anyone else about the plan, which pisses em all off, Ron is fed up of chasing aimlessly for relics, and actually walks out on Harry in between. And there's the body count. This is some body count. The book has the largest body count in the series, with characters (the cutest, most innocent, most dragged-to-the-edge-but-saved-by-the-hero-at-the-last-minute type, most everything) dying left, right and centre, and in possibly the most horrifically painful ways. Rowling's depiction of this scenario is tragic, scary and most importantly, realistic.
At the end of the book, the War's over and Voldemort's defeated, but it cost lives. VERY IMPORTANT LIVES (I'm giving a hint here).

Harry's feelings are touched upon pretty well too, in terms of what he's going through and putting his friends through. He's uncertain and scared for the future, but no less determined to go ahead with what has to be done. Batman he ain't and at one point, you can feel the waves of exhaustion come off him when he says "I've had enough enough trouble to last me a lifetime"
and longs just for his dormitory bed, for everything it signifies - certainty, peace and contentment. There's a touch of Peter Parker in his desire for normality.

And lastly, what's great is the sprinkling of wit that characterizes J.K. Rowling - the little details. At one point, in response to Ron's description of childhood fairy tales, Harry mentions Cinderella, to which Ron enquires "Is that a Muggle disease??" Also, the Death Eaters show brains. When the coup is complete, they jinx Voldemort's name, so speaking it aloud summons them, armed and dangerous. Their logic - only the people likely to pose a threat to Voldemort ever use his name out loud. When you think about it, it's genius.

That's what's good. The bad and the ugly will follow......

Monday, July 02, 2007

St. Stephen's Fired

Up, that is. St. Stephen's college has finally contracted Reservationia pestis, after miraculously avoiding it through the whole of last year (Which, in retrospect, should have struck one as odd). Anyway, the brouhaha has started all over again, with two major differences.

One, this is St. Stephen's issue alone, so it's unlikely there's going to be the same level of action. Last year's announcement raised a storm (which was eventually contained in a teacup) - this is probably going to be a light shower. Two, last year's reservation plague was brought about by the Human Resource Desecration/Devastation/Depredation/Denudation/Deprivation/ Depreciation Ministry - this was done by the college's ruling board. The reservation moreover isn't for people of the Backward Castes/Classes but for Christians. (Though there's a major plus if you're additionally from some sort of Backward Caste)

So what's to rant and rave about?

The thing that differentiates the debate in this case from the usual Tooheyian vs. Galtian/Roarkian fights is the point the college board makes (led by some dude named Thampu. Anybody from Gitanjali here?) - the college started as a missionary-backed institute with the aim of educating Christians (and possibly producing more) and uplifting them; them as in 'Ctrl+I' them or simply, them alone. It's the Most Holy Trinity and its believers who back the institute, not the Almighty state or the students. So why shouldn't they decide who they let in or uplift or whatever?

Strange as it may sound, this point seems valid. Given that a college was started with a purpose by a specific group of people, why shouldn't it function for them alone? Sure, you'd wish these chaps would bring their arguments completely out of the closet (Thampu says “Academic excellence in St Stephen’s in recent decades has almost become a smokescreen for masking the privileges of the socio-economic elite” thus smokescreening his own view) but that's to do with the people making the point rather than the point itself. And this isn't restricted to "durrty paalitics"-plagued India. Purdue for instance, is affiliated somehow to the State of Indiana, and has to attract students from Indiana. They offer incentives for Indianans to come here and people are pissed if there're too many people from any place else (India or Illinois, Oregon or Ouagadougou) Same founding logic.

The bizarre dichotomy this reveals is this: Opening up any sort of institution dependent on individual and creative minds to the population at large is important for it to flourish. But at what point do you hold a restriction? I mean, imagine if tomorrow all world class institutes opened up completely, so anyone from anyplace could apply with an equal probability/passage of entry (JEE type stuff). Imagine IIT with a population of 40-60% smart Russians, Chinese, Brazilians, Americans whatever. There'd be an enquiry as to the "Indian" in it. Or what if Harvard were so filled with smart people from all over the place that Alex Worthington, whose dad built the Worthington Drama Hall, just couldn't make it in? The WASPs would unsheath their stings. And be justified in doing so too. So firstly, to what extent do you open up?

Conversely, to what extent is it OK for an institute to close up? To keep St. Stephens for those who frame John 3:16 on their walls or Purdue for people with the "Hoosier" gene or something? Those who started such institutions for their respective communities, do they have the right to render it unviable through such extreme measures?

Quite a conundrum - that's point 1. And two, Barkha Dutt was all bleeding hearts afire for the OBCs and denouncing the protesters's apathy towards OBC conditions and what not (she was justified in denouncing their abusive language though). Now that St. Stephen's going to have seats reserved in it she's gone and written this.

Tells you a lot, don't it?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Why do they suck??

It's a funny thing with Hollywood releases this year. The summer releases are all sequels. And not just sequels, they're part three sequels (trilogy sequels, if you will) and with one noticeable exception, they all suck. I mean SUCK!!!!!

My first premonition of things to come this summer was when I watched 'Spiderman 3'. I saw it the Sunday after it released. 30 minutes into the storyline came this scene - Peter's talking about how tough being Spiderman is to his increasingly jaded Mary Jane, when this girl who'd kissed him upside down (himself upside down) during a Spidey-honouring ceremony turns up AND turns out to be an old friend of Parker's. May Jane transitions from bored to bilious, shrieking "How could you kiss HER upside down? That was OUR kiss!!" and storms off in a huff. The scene significantly marked the first "What the f#@$!!!". More wtf's followed, with a count of possibly 40 by the time the movie was done. And this, mind you comes from yours truly, whom you all know believes Kalki or Christ, when they choose to save the world, will arrive swinging off weblines in red and blue tights. 'Let down' would be the understatement of the year, as far as the movie goes. Suffice it to say Sam Raimi and Topher Grace had best keep away from Comic Book Conventions for the next couple of decades. I can't imagine any Spidey fan not wanting to throw webs or goblin gas or chappals at them.

The next blockbuster was "Ocean's 13". While not sucking per se, it was something of a disappointment. Cast - the same as 11 and 12, save for Julia Robert's (thankful) absence. Eddie Izzard turns up as a replacement, but his role is minimal, as is Andy Garcia's as no. 13. Plot - the same as Ocean's 11. In fact, I might say the plot's a better version of Ocean's 11. They want revenge on Al Pacino, so they pull off a giant complicated scheme. Sure, the scheme was an intricate, twisty-turny thing, but so was the one in 11. Is a sequel supposed to be a piece in its own right, or simply a photocopy of an original? So the disappointment.

The third and most recent disappointment, was "Pirates.......bean: At World's End". While the first was neat and the second a maze that left you wondering as to the conclusion, this damn thing was simply an excuse to continue cashing in on Jack Sparrow t-shirts, Black Pearl rides and Davy Jones mugs. Following the initial 40 minutes, which the protagonists spend sailing to World's End (Get it? At World's End?), there follow a humongous set of double-crosses, locale shifts, exchanges of "Arrrgh"s and similar pirate jargon and to top it all off, a long speech by Keira Knightly about how even a few "free" men can fight evil conquerors and at the very least make an ending that is worth remembering, the kind that's delivered when your enemies are 7 foot tall dudes in moving thrones carried by hundreds of slaves. "Freedom" is somehow starting to become to America what Peking duck is to China.

When you think about it, this applies to most second sequels in the past few years. The Matrix Reloaded provided an interesting premise, but Revolutions turned out to be a philosophical-cyberpunk mush. Star Wars Episodes I and II sucked, and so did III, so not much of a disappointment there. Shrek 3 has been touted as dismal in comparison to 1 and 2. X-Men 3 was god-awful (my first post here panned it). "Return of the King" alone, has not sucked.

So why is it? Why are Pirates 3 and Spiderman 3 and Shrek 3 only marginally better than, I dunno.... Sivaji??

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Nod to Pandora

Having returned from a month in India, I've decided to emulate Esoteric Pandora, in comparing USA and India. While I did miss the country as a whole, I had no inclination to sing "Yeh mera India!! I love my India" upon landing. So anyway, here's my contrast of India and the US:

Things I was glad to go home to:
- Mangoes: This was summer, and the mangoes were a bumper crop this year. And Thainadu being Thainadu, I could cut a mango into two large slices and shove my upper jaw into each till the juice ran down my chin. (I'm still talking about fruit here btw, so VP don't get all suggestive imagery HAW!! HAW!!)

- Vegetables: I think I could count the various vegetables I've consumed over the past year on the fingers of one hand. Non-veg is fine as an occasional outside thing, but the TamBram stomach calls out for home made vegetarian sappadu. At long last, non-meaty things that aren't either boiled, served cold, mashed or served on a pizza/burrito!!! At long last, carrots and beans with coconut and chow-chow koottu and bhindi and vayakkai and fried chepangkayangu and keerai molaguttal and paruppu usuli. And my two all time favourites - masala-laden fried potatoes (the way Mom makes it) and Aviyal (the way anyone makes it). I spurned non-veg by and large over my trip. Screw meat, I can swim in it here. Vegetables and rice are what you return home for.

- Relegation: One of the things that makes life in America so character-building and strengthening, and thereby most unpleasant, is the need to do everything oneself. One has to cook one's own meals, make one's own coffee, iron one's own clothes, drive one's own car....... Being in the lap of middle class luxury was something else - a driver and car on call, somebody to clean the room and smooth the sheets and make the coffee and do just about anything else you can think of...Maybe if enough Mexicans come on over, I can have a 'maami' (the Mexican term is vieja tía, I believe) and driver of my own up here.

- Not having to go to a Wal-Mart or Costco or whatever. I mean, walk 10 minutes down the lane and there, you have Krishnan Provisions, or Satyam Kirana Stores or Singapore Shoppee or Gopal General Store. Beats the hell out of searching through a football field-size obstacle course for a packet of biscuits

- Carnatic music and shlokas: They sound pleasant at 5.00 am, sort of a feel-good "Brand New Day" thing

- Coffee: I mean coffee, the kind you set the decoction to half an hour earlier and have between 6.30 and 7.00 am in a stainless steel tumbler when reading The Hindu. Does wonders for constipation

- Haircuts that cost between 50 cents and 2 dollars

- Trips to Landmark for a good long browse

Things I'm glad to get back to here:

- Roads that don't have cracked pavements with reeking open drains below

- The assurance that the guy in the next lane will be prosecuted/sued properly in the event of a car crash and will therefore NOT get in your way

- Not needing cash for most things

- Broadband that's actually broad; and wi-fi too

- The cheap price of electronics

- Ice cream with genuinely exotic flavours

Monday, May 07, 2007

Most Disturbing

Being in High School was something of an advantage for liberals and right-thinkers (as in thinking correctly, not Right) back during the beginning of the new millennium. A number of things were changing, and most significant politically was the Govt's open advocacy of Hindutva.

The Ram Janmabhoomi thing was the stuff of the hour. People talked day in and day out about the need to build the temple to Rama there. Guys like Ashok Singhal, Praveen Togadia and Giriraj Kishore became in a certain sense, household names. Their message of rebuilding long-lost/razed down temples wherever there was a mosque or church, was simultaneously comical and frightening, like Mark Hamill's version of the Joker.

Cultural feeling, I suppose, grew. Indian culture was no longer the vaguely defined sum total of everyone's customs and aesthetics but some sort of maiden with a handful of Sanskrit names (foremost of which was sankriti) dressed in the light diaphanous material of the care of the elderly and protected by her strong elder sister who wore a chastity belt and armour of saffronium. This maiden had to be constantly surrounded, watched and protected 24x7, from the vile lascivious gang of 'phorens' - phoren books, movies, English, clothes and customs (read Valentine's day) - who, given the slightest opportunity, would gang-bang it, double-penetrate it, and force it to lick the filthy semen off their foul alien phoren penises. Hence the desperate rush to burn shops on Valentine's day, smash sets when films were deemed offensive, scream hoarse when any Westerner spoke about Indian culture, and start teaching astrology and Vedic science in school.

More significantly, the concept of national feeling as a whole grew. I hate to say it, but it did. From Vajpayee to the city-level BJP thug, whoever spoke in the media talked of us as a nation and concluded with "Mera/Hamara Bharat Mahaan" and "Jai Hind" - so much so that school assembly speeches and debates began to resemble some sort of B-grade British era pic. The saffron brigade wanted everyone to love saffron, white and green with the kind of choking intensity that you normally keep off with a restraining order, or associate with "K..k..k..k..kiran"


What was odd and disturbing was what defined a nation, and what defined loving it. I heard of the slogan "Hindu Hindi Hindustan" only recently, but though it may not have been said explicitly, it was certainly implicit. True patriotic Indians were people who collectively rejected Western culture - either by vandalizing Hallmarks on Valentine's day in real life, or denouncing it in films that did not invite empty and vandalized theatres. True India-lovers were the people who railed at Pakistan not being nuked back into the Stone Age (though in their defense, I hated Pakistan and everything to do with it after Kargil), and who hated the agents of Pakistan, the Muslims. The Muslims who could be everywhere and anywhere, who spread their seed across their many wives and bred children so they could eventually take over India by sheer weight of numbers, and who plotted terrorist attacks to integrate Kashmir with their brethren across the LoC (post 9/11, terrorist attacks simply to express their Muslim-ness). They had to be stopped. True Indians were the ones who contributed to that stoppage, whether by way of beating up inter-religious couples, 're-converting' lost children who took up this vile identity centuries ago when the foul Muslims came with their swords and cannon to this benign peace-loving land of milk and honey and sanskriti, or railing against them 24x7. The cream of the crop were those who, righteously angry with this foul species that had so infested Ahmedabad, saved them the trouble of existence and burnt down their homes, hacked them to pieces and raped their women (doubtless blessing them with their seed) while simultaneously convincing the Gujarati police and judiciary to keep their eyes wide shut (never mind look the other way). Gave a whole new meaning to "the scum rises to the top too".

Like I said, this was a good time for a liberal to be in high school (specially an ICSE school, which subscribed to non-NCERT books and was unaffected by the requirements for Vedic Science, astrology or the new theory that Indians spread into the rest of the world, where they were called Aryans) It allowed one to be sheltered from the hate plague to an extent (though I am certain one of my friends is infected pretty strongly). It allowed one to be righteously angry and argue it out with people. It allowed me to ask adults about the realpolitik of such things and only get "you're only a kid" by way of reprimand. It allowed us to develop our opinions strongly in opposition to this stuff and hopefully influence those about us who were more strongly exposed to Hateplagus saffronicus.

Ok, so what? All I've done so far is somewhat colourfully let off some steam.

The thing that's the real focus of my post is the prevalence of this attitude sans the government that inculcated it. It's something I've come across to disturbing extents. Look in the Net. Look in the Indian blogosphere. Search for blog results on anything involving Hindus and/or India. Look up Rediff columns that pertain in any remote since to socio-cultural and secular issues, and you will find the same attitude. The same principles and excuses. Hell, even similar names like proud_hindu and indian2007.

When there's news on films being objectionable to some Hindus, you will find these people challenging the director to make films objectionable to Muslims. When there is mention of caste and conversion politics, you will see great_hindu and his ilk talking of how Hinduism is on the wane due to people's apathy and the machinations of the Abrahamic faiths. When newspapers decry people's illiberality, you see them denounce the newspaper's liberality as left-biased, elitist, pseudo-secular (whatever the fuck that means) or ass-kissy, or a mixture of all. They demand to be able to order death threats and riots when any person upsets "Hindu sentiments" - don't Muslims issue fatwas when they see cartoons? And whenever there is discussion of plurality, you will find them posting crap like this.

All this has come to be without the delightful aid of the BJP,RSS or any other centralized organization. The stuff you see is the product of Netizen-activists, essentially armchair theorists and haters who have no idea of the world as it is, or as genuine right wingers want it to be. But they are nevertheless dangerous. With the rise of people like this, who go the extent of saying freedom of speech is overrated, and must be curbed when appropriate, two questions come in:

(a) The right wingers of the early 2000's essentially fucked the vision of a plural India as envisioned by Gandhi and Nehru with their Godhra and their anti-Conversion bills. We could all assuage our conscience by saying we had nothing to do with it, the VHP/RSS account for the opinions of a small percentage of Hindus and by virtue of that, we are innocent (which is fake anyway) But with this new network of Netizen Nazis, how true is that assumption?

(b) The true strength of the people of Al Quaeda and Lashkar e-Tayibba is their decentralization, which in turn has come from the dissemination of their ideas. It took them 40 years of dissemination and a lot of arms-dealing in recent times to reach their present status as faceless threat. If somebody starts with the Net as the source of his or her ideas, they'll probably achieve the same in one tenth the time. Do we really want to eventually confront the suicide bombers of the "Dharma Sena" or something like it?

I dunno what can be done to stop this trend (nice, maader spent so much time talking about it and no solution finally) I suppose we can all worry about it