Friday, 30 December 2011

The Year of the Protester

       For as long as I can remember, people around me have always been disillusioned with the state of Indian polity. Corruption was/is accepted as a part of dealing with any kind of bureaucracy. The words honest politician were are regarded oxymoronic. As one of my friends remarked, India develops in spite of her government not because of her government. As a nation, we are notoriously disinclined towards participation in any sort of political movement. We have convinced ourselves that this is as good as it gets. We accept rise in the prices of commodities, encroachment on the freedom of the press, billion dollar scams, corruption and scandals with equanimity, - no worse - with indifference.


       Time Magazine named "The Protester", person of the year for 2011. All over the world, people from all walks of life took to the streets in protest against a host of issues. People across the Arab nations stood united against oppressive regimes in their countries. People in Greece, Spain and other European countries revolted against the high unemployment rates and the inability of their respective governments to do anything about it. People in the US protested against inequitable wealth distribution, the huge gap between the incomes of the richest 1% and the rest with their Occupy Wall Street movement.

     In India, Indians of all demographics, all social and economic strata joined forces to support the fight against corruption spearheaded by the Gandhian, Anna Hazare.What makes the Anna Hazare movement special is that it has galvanised Indians to let go of their apathy and become actively involved in the process of political change. The aim of this movement is to push for the establishment of a central Lokpal and Lokayukthas in each state, constitutional bodies independent of parliamentary control which would investigate and judge cases of corruption.


     The fast unto death undertaken by Anna Hazare came to an end with the Government acceding to the terms set by him. A Jan Lokpal Bill has been introduced in the Parliament but is being delayed by the members of the Parliament seeking to water down the provisions of the Bill. They are now trying to make the caste based Reservation system factor in to the appointment process of the members of Lokpal. A genuine debate to fine tune the Bill is welcome but the whole process reeks of an attempt to put the Bill on the back burner and delay it indefinitely. Unfortunately, it is working. Already, the interest is dwindling and the movement is losing momentum.

      I urge everyone reading this to tap into the sense of outrage you feel when you have to pay a bribe. I want you to express the indignation you feel when you read the headlines about another billion dollar scam. I want you to take offense at the unapologetic plunder of our nation's resources. I want you to stand up and support the fight against corruption.  Don t let the Jan Lokpal bill be a casualty of our indifference. Do not sacrifice the future of our country to our short attention span. We have a small window of opportunity, one that is rapidly closing, to ensure the start of a political cleansing. 

      2011 was the year of the protester. It was the year in which the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a humble Tunisian grocer, incited the people of his country to overthrow an oppressive regime and earned Tunisia the title of Arab Gdansk. The fires of Tunisia spread to Tahrir Square in Egypt and then to Libya. 2011 was the year we Indians, finally let go of our reticence and made our discontent known.



     I fervently hope History does not remember 2012 as a missed opportunity. 

New Year Resolutions of an Inveterate Procrastinator

      When I look back on the year that was, I do have regrets. I regret letting go of great opportunities; I regret wasting time most of all. My life seems to conform to two cardinal laws - Murphy's Law and Parkinson's Law. I have already explained my experience with the former in an earlier post which reads like a Series of Unfortunate Events short story. Parkinson's Law, also called the Procrastinators' credo, is what dictates my day to day life.


      Parkinson's Law states that the amount of time which one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task. So if you wait until the eleventh hour, you will complete it in one hour. ( Of course, the stress causes you to lose sleep, hair and sometimes lucidity of thought and develop a range of physical and psychosomatic illnesses. ) This style of functioning has allowed me to be the consummate slacker, that I am. 


      As I look around, I see sensible people planning everything in advance and leading relatively happy lives while I live in a blissful state of near suspended animation till the last minute and then work at a hazardous pace to meet deadlines and become a nervous wreck. Just because it has all been hunky dory till now does not mean that my habit of putting off important things for later will not come back to bite me in the derriere.


       I have postponed writing this very post four times, so yeah, I have a serious problem. I have to come up with a list of resolutions for this post. For the past five years, my list of resolutions always included doing things on time, exercise regularly, study more and restrict extracurricular reading. I make lists all the time but never follow them. I break resolutions within the first week of the year then make up excuses, rationalise, procrastinate and feel guilty. I then proceed to draw up another to-do list and start the whole circle of laziness, rationalization, self recrimination and guilt all over again.


    Should I just recycle the old ones? NO... 2012 will be better. I will not break any resolutions this year. Why? Because the only resolution I make is that I will not make any resolutions. Hmmm.......Did I just break my resolution the moment I made it???................... Insert Homer Simpson's D'Oh sound effect here.

     Anyway, I wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year.


Best of 2011 - Movies and Music

       Continuing the theme of the previous week's posts, the following are my picks for the best movies and music of 2011. It was impossible for me to decide if one was better than the others so I haven t assigned any rankings and my picks are in no particular order.


Music:
      2011 had its share of viral songs, songs that fizzle out after the initial hype. Bhaag DK Bose and the recent Kolaveri are two that come to my mind. They are not on this list. My criteria for picking songs are a great tune, solid vocals ( not robotic auto tuned voices ), lyrics and above all else, songs that intuitively feel good.


        Let me start this list with AR Rahman's anthem Sadda Haq from the movie Rockstar. Though this was not even by a longshot, Rahman's best, it was electric, memorable, had powerful vocals and poignant lyrics. It will surely be used at protests around the country in the future.



     The song - Moves Like Jagger is well produced. Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera's vocals are funky but it is the irresistibly catchy whistling that makes this song memorable. If this song doesn t get your foot tapping, please get your ears and feet checked immediately.

 

         With a name like LMFAO, they clearly don t want us to take them seriously. Their Party Rock Anthem is definitely going to get you in the mood for a party. I hurt my hallux trying to learn the shuffle in this song. It's official - I can t dance.

   

        What happens when you put a hobbit, Marshall Mathers, a pop princess and one of the sexiest women alive together? You get this..



     Pink's Perfect is a song about accepting ourselves the way we are. A powerful message, great lyrics, an amazing video and Pink's rendition make it one of the best songs this year.



     Bruno Mars' Just the way you are is a song about love and acceptance. The simple lyrics, the upbeat tune, the feel good vibe make it seem like an instant classic.

   

      2011 was dominated by Adele. With everyone from Linkin Park to Glee's Lea Michele doing covers of Rolling in the deep, the song was heard everywhere. With the Billboard top song, top artist and top album honours under her belt, Adele is definitely popular and successful. It proves that over the top costumes and theatrics ( a la Lady Gaga ) are not required to make successful music.



Movies:
     I have to confess that I haven t watched many movies this year. If there are movies that ought to be on the list but aren t, it is because I haven t watched them yet.

    Lets start off this list with the genre that is my personal favourite, superhero/comic book movies - there were a lot of great movies but if I had to pick favourites - Xmen First class with Michael Fassbender as Magneto and Thor with Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman were the best. I can also predict next year's winners in this category - The Dark Knight rises and The Avengers....although I am also excited about the new Superman and Spiderman movies.


   This year in the Fantasy genre - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 was the best movie for me. I have bittersweet memories of watching this film as it marked the end of a much loved series, I grew up reading and watching. I haven t watched the Twilight movie or the new Pirates movie but I have been told they aren t better than this movie. I can t wait for the first Hobbit movie due next year.


    In the romantic comedy genre there weren t many films - Fellow Black Swan cast mates Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis starred in the movies, No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits with identical storylines . The latter was marginally better. I haven t seen the movie New Year's Eve which boasts of a stellar cast. From the promos, it looks like a Valentine's Day like movie.

    2011 saw the coming of age of a genre - the R-rated comedy - This genre was restricted earlier to the likes of the American Pie and Euro trip movies. This year we saw Cameron Diaz's irreverent and unapologetic portrayal of a marijuana smoking teacher in the smartly written and directed Bad Teacher. We saw America's sweetheart, Jennifer Aniston, showing her dark side as a nymphomaniac dentist sexually harassing her assistant, the unbelievably funny, Charlie Day in Horrible Bosses. The scene that had me rolling on the floor was the one in Hall Pass where Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis are caught on camera discussing .............something. Watch the movie and find out. Other films that I need to watch in this genre include The Hangover 2 and Bridesmaids.


      I haven t watched many drama movies this year, you know the movies that garner all the Oscar nominations. The Ides of March, Drive, The Help, Moneyball are just a few you ought to watch.


     The animated film category had great movies like Rio, Kung fu Panda 2 (the first part was a million times better), Cars 2, Tintin among others. I still have to watch Puss in Boots, Rango, Happy feet 2.


     The movies that I am sure would have made the list, if I had watched them - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ( huge fan of the books ) and Sherlock Holmes : A Game of Shadows.

 
    So what do you think? Any other movies that need to be on the list ? Any movies that don't ?

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Best of 2011 - Blog Posts

       We are in the last fortnight of the year. It is the time of the year when the top 10 lists are formulated and I want to start a tradition of my own - a tradition of posting my lists for the year's best in terms of music, books, movies and TV shows. Rating just other people's work feels a tad too condescending and immodest. So I am also putting up a list of my best and worst posts this year ( based on page views and stats ).

         The most popular post is In Memoriam - A Friend with 93 page views and counting. I don t think this is the best post I ve written but it certainly is the most heartfelt and clearly the most popular.

      The most controversial post is The Reservation Debate with diametrically opposite views being voiced by readers in the comments section. Few were downright casteist and not published. I am happy that there were people unafraid to voice opinions contrary to mine. I would like to reiterate what was published in my first post. Contrary opinions will not only be published but also be respected. Keep those comments coming.

      The most commented upon post is The Reservation Debate with 7 published and 4 unpublished comments and 58 page views and counting.


     The most humorous post, surmised by the number of lols, rofls, lmaos and hahas in the comments, is Murphy's Law and Murphy Days


        The most watched video was P.O.D. 's Youth of the Nation with 23 page views and counting.

        The least popular post was World AIDS Day. Lesson learnt people. No more PSAs on this blog. Ever.

        My choice - Best post - Matters of Religion


                My choice - Worst post - Just Wondering.... It was shoddy writing . I wrote that post at 1 AM after returning from a second show of Rockstar; I plead diminished capacity. Nevertheless, I am very proud of that post and will never take it down.

     While there were a lot of people commenting anonymously, few people commented and gave their names. Thank you for that. Dheeraj Prasanth aka Pofa had the most comments ( I have to ask, what is pofa short for? ). Shilpa Alamuri, Sruthi Dhavala and Tarun - Thank you all for commenting. All those who wish to remain Anonymous, Thank you all as well.

       Do you personally like or completely detest some of my other posts? Post your critiques in the comments section. I may not be able to blog for the next week or so; I wish you all a joyful Christmas.


     PS What do you think about the new look ? Love it? Hate it? Feel free to comment.

Best of 2011 - Books and TV

      As this year draws to a close, I found myself reflecting upon the year that was and the best stuff I read and watched. This is a list of the best books and TV shows of 2011, in my opinion.

The Books:
   This year, I read fantasy fiction almost exclusively and as a result all of my top book choices are from this genre. That being said, 2011 was the best year in recent times for fantasy fiction. Not only were a great number of fantasy books out in the market, the quality of writing was exceptional.

     Coming in at number five is the thirteenth book in The Wheel of Time series, Towers of Midnight, written by Brandon Sanderson, with the aid of extensive notes left by the original author of the series, Robert Jordan. I am a WoT fan and am eagerly looking forward to the final book in this series due next year. The joint fifth place is shared by The Way of Kings, the first of the Stormlight Archives series, also written by Brandon Sanderson.

     At number four is the delectable Red Seas under Red Skies, written by Scott Lynch. Heist story meets pirates and the high seas meets magic. Can t wait for The Republic of Thieves.


     At number three is Patrick Rothfuss' sophomore novel, The Wise Man's Fear. Because the novelty of the first book wears off, the ensuing sequels can seem a bit lacklustre. Not in this series, though. The promise seen in Rothfuss' debut is realised in this book and then some.

    The second best book of this year is Ghost story, the thirteenth book in the Dresden files series. The twelfth book left the readers on a cliff hanger and so saying that the thirteenth book was highly anticipated is like saying Sachin Tendulkar is a batsman ( true but understated ). I have already written a piece on why I love The Dresden files. Check it out here.

     There has neither been a more revolutionary writer than George R R Martin since Tolkien nor has there been a story more epic in scale than A Song of Ice and Fire since The Lord of the Rings. The world the series is set in, the rich multi dimensional characters, the unpredictability of the story and the exceptional style of writing place this series in a different league altogether. It has been called an instant classic and rightly so. A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in this seven book series, released this year was unbelievably good and my pick for this year's best book. Word of Caution, though - Do not get emotionally attached to any of the characters in this series; you might regret it.



The TV shows:
       I love courtroom dramas. I think the first few seasons of David E Kelley's "The Practice" contain some of the best episodes in TV history. I devour John Grisham's legal thrillers and loved reading Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novelettes. So, it comes as no surprise that two legal dramas share the fifth place in this list.

     


        USA TV's Suits is a legal drama that had a prodigious young man with an eidetic memory masquerading as a Harvard Law school alumnus in a prestigious law firm. The highlight of this series for me is Sarah Rafferty's portrayal of Donna, a sassy secretary and the witty repartee she has with the other characters.

     


        Sharing the fifth place is David E Kelley's Harry's Law which has Oscar winner Kathy Bates in the lead. Essentially a Kelley legal drama which feels like a toned down version of Boston Legal and Ally Mcbeal sometimes, the show is elevated by Kathy Bates' acting and screen presence into something eminently watchable.





       In fourth place is the comedy, Community. It is a smartly written series that parodies celebrities, TV shows, movies and everything else in the American pop culture spectrum.Not being American, I had to look up some of the pop culture references on the internet and I laughed out loud afterwards. It is a satire that shows us how ridiculous some things are by going over the top sometimes.

   



       Revenge is a show that premiered this fall and is a modern day reimagining of the Count of Monte Cristo with Emily Van Camp in the lead. Though I have the hugest ( is that even a word? ) crush on Emily, it is Madeleine Stowe's ice cold, treacherous and Machiavellian character, Victoria Grayson, that I like the most.

   



        Fringe is a TV show about alternate universes, interdimensional travel and yes, Fringe science. It is in its fourth season now and is pure entertainment. I am usually not a sci-fi fan but I like this series so much that it is number two on my list.



     Finally, the best series of 2011 is............... drum roll please, ................. HBO's Game of Thrones. The Television adaptation of George R R Martin's first novel in his popular series is true to the book and has an excellent cast. Peter Dinklage is perfect as Tyrion Lannister and his well deserved Emmy win validates this opinion. The ensemble cast, the art direction, the screenplay, the music and the direction are all par excellence.

What do you think? Did I leave any of your favourites out? Let me know....

Next week, get my list of top movies and songs of 2011.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Cricket - An Outsider's perspective

      Unless you ve been living under a rock or in the Antarctic, you know that Cricket is a sport and not just an insect that makes annoying sounds. I am Indian so there is no way for me to be impervious to the influence of Cricket. Peers discuss it, Commuters on buses enquire about the batting line up, auto drivers criticize the selectors, milk men summarise the pitch report, shop keepers place bets - yes, Cricket is a national obsession.


      Our house was not a place where this obsession took hold. I was aware of Cricket and enjoyed it occasionally but was more into other things. In our Quiz team, questions about Science, Mythology and Pop culture were more my forte while all questions about Cricket and other sports were my quizzing partner's responsibility. The only reason we were any good at quizzing was because my partner took care of the obvious lacunae in my knowledge ( I ve never thanked you enough for that, Dheeraj Prasanth )

      In College, the whole mood changed when a cricket match was on. Observing the faces of my friends on these occasions was fascinating. Their faces were so naked with emotion; the people who usually exhibited less emotion on their face than a Parkinson's patient suddenly became animated and transparent, the atmosphere in the TV room reflected the state of the match - shouts of jubilation when Sachin scored a boundary, profanities muttered vehemently when a catch was dropped, looks of homicidal intent when the power was cut during the match, a chillingly eerie silence during the tense final moments of a particularly thrilling match which preceded either a celebratory roar or a muted shuffling out of the hostel TV room depending on the result.

     I was an interested onlooker but not a passionate participant. I never understood what drove normally sane and self possessed individuals to exhibit their rambunctious side. George Bernard Shaw is said to have famously remarked that Cricket was a game which involved 22 fools playing and 22,000 fools watching. I wouldn t have put it quite that bluntly but I felt he was not very far off the mark. That was until I watched a match with my friends.


      I don t quite remember the particulars of the match, but by the end of it, my voice was hoarse from shouting and I truly felt jazzed up. The body slams, the jumping up and down with barely contained excitement, the boisterous howling - By partaking in these and other similar seemingly inane but thoroughly fun rituals, I was initiated into the tribe of Cricket lovers. I am still not a Cricket fanatic but ( as the song goes ), now I 'm a believer.

      Watching Cricket together made me aware of things about my friends that were unknown to me; the superstitious nature of one friend who kept changing chairs till the batsman scored a boundary, the incredible memory of a friend who recited statistics of players like a nursery rhyme, the hidden strategist in another friend when he detailed where he would place fielders on the ground and why.

     The most humbling aspect of it all was how patient they were with me when I asked the stupidest questions; ( I have been short with any number of people when they ve asked me stupid questions ). I understood for the first time why Cricket appeals to everyone. Playing and watching Cricket together promotes a sense of camaraderie; it provides a space in which athleticism, leadership, team spirit and strategic thinking can thrive. It is an arena where skill is matched against skill and differences are blurred. It is loads of fun too.


    The gentleman's game may be a patrician sport in England but in India it transcends economic and social strata. The Cinderella stories that abound in the Indian cricketing world are a source of hope and inspiration for many Indians. In the end, I think that Cricket is a unifying factor, a sport that galvanizes people, a sport that gives people a reason to take pride in their country and is one of the few bright spots on the gloomy Indian horizon today.
    

Sunday, 27 November 2011

World AIDS day

           For members of the medical community, a duty to educate the general population about health risks when appropriate is implicit. December 1st is World AIDS day. I will not lecture you about AIDS but it would be remiss if I do not take this opportunity to at least urge you to protect yourself against HIV.

   

     Safe sex is not 100% safe. Using a condom does not always protect you from contracting HIV but it is the best way to prevent it barring abstinence. Abstinence is the only way which is 100% effective. As advocating abstinence is futile, all I advise is at least be serially monogamous. If you are sexually active, get yourself tested at least every six months. Life and AIDS are both sexually transmitted and invariably fatal. So, do not ostracise or patronise HIV positive individuals if you know any.

     Remember guys, Spread awareness not the virus. Be safe.

Sharath's bookshelf - The Da Vinci Code

     I read The Da Vinci Code before it acquired notoriety; leastwise before I was aware of its notoriety. It does not have any extraordinary literary value nor can I vouch for the accuracy of the historical data in the novel. What it does have, is an engaging storyline and an imaginative author who uses various disparate historical facts and coalesces them to make a seemingly preposterous conspiracy theory sound plausible.


     This was the first Dan Brown - Robert Langdon book I read; so the layout of his novel was new to me. I hadn t read Angels and Demons yet. So the story felt fresh and it did not have the been there - read that vibe
I got when I read the other two Brown - Langdon novels. If it aint broke, don t fix it - is a quaint adage that I think Mr Brown has taken to heart. His novels are international bestsellers and their success make Dan Brown stick to his shtick.

      Anyone familiar with all of Brown's novels can see a common layout in all his stories. There is a city with historical significance that forms the backdrop ( Rome in Angels and Demons, Paris in this novel, Washington DC in The lost symbol ), a secret society (the Illuminati, the Priory of Sion, the Free Masons), a henchman fueled by fanaticism ( the (H)assassin, Silas ), a mastermind who is revealed at the end of the novel and an array of riddles and puzzles that no one except Mr Langdon has any hope of unraveling.

       This book was a magnet for controversy. It attracted the ire of the Catholic church which moved to ban the book. This ironically resulted in a phenomenal increase in the sales of the book and made the mediocre film adaptation,( albeit with a top notch star cast ), a financial success. I personally think that the whole thing was blown out of proportion.This book was also the subject of at least two lawsuits alleging plagiarism by Dan Brown.

      This book has been reviled by the critics as being historically inaccurate. Other critics have blasted Brown for his "clumsy" and "pedestrian" style of prose. I don t mind it that much. If you are like me, you know, the kind that loses track of time while in a Wikipedia spiral, you will definitely enjoy the asides about the divine proportion, the discourses about renaissance art and the descriptions of Paris.


       The book, though not a literary masterpiece by any stretch of imagination, is still worth reading. I enjoyed the book immensely though it does not lend itself to rereading( which according to me is the hallmark of a great book ). The movie is simply not worth commenting upon , though it gives us an opportunity to examine Da Vinci's The Last Supper.

Read it if you haven t already. If you have already read it, then skim through it and read the parts you like.  

The Big Fat Indian Wedding

      Indian weddings, as a rule, are loud, ostentatious affairs. Women in expensive silk sarees wear copious amounts of gold jewellery just to flaunt their wealth. The speaker system is set at a volume that ensures a sleepless night to the entire neighbourhood. The Indian wedding has nothing subtle about it; it is larger than life in a unique way.



      Observing people at Indian weddings is a study in the art of duplicity. The uber realistic fake smiles, the innocuous sounding veiled barbs, the affected largesse of the miserly uncles may bewilder the newbies on the Indian wedding scene who are not privy to the undercurrents of this social situation. The whole exercise reeks of one-upmanship and an overwhelming need to establish one's superiority - economic and otherwise. . 

      Indian weddings are largely a feminine domain, the male participation is usually limited to finances, planning, the groom and the priest. The men of the bridal party are seen running frantically sorting out problems that inevitably arise everywhere from the pantry to the groom's bathroom. The male relatives of the groom are seated closest to the ceremony and are pestered by the bridal party every few minutes seeking to display their hospitality by offering them beverages or food.



      The men, who are unfortunate enough to be dragged to these events as guests, are usually found trying to catch up with old acquaintances shouting to be heard over the cacophony of the ceremony, gambling away a full weeks pay with other equally compulsive gamblers or trying seconds of every dish at the buffet. The younger men form a posse and start ogling their decked out counterparts of the opposite sex.


     The older women generously compliment each other on their sarees, jewellery and then move on to exchange gossip. Jane Austen wrote, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." That was the mindset of ninteenth century English women; it is the mindset of twenty first century Indian women. I was at a wedding reception a few weeks earlier. For the first time in my life, at that wedding reception, I felt the speculative eyes of a couple of middle aged aunties pass over me. I felt like "the Empress of Blandings" (yeah..... Wodehouse) being appraised at a show. Even with my looks, I am apparently a catch, I was told later.


       I, like most men, want to stay a million miles away from a wedding. If my mom hadn t insisted on going, ( I am constitutionally incapable of saying NO to my mom ) I wouldn t be caught dead in the general area of any wedding, much less attend one. It isn t the migraine inducing sound, the stomach churning food, the patent falsity of the smiles or the condescending attitude of the people that is off putting. It is the unholy combination of all these and an inescapable feeling of being judged that causes me to run a mile at the mere mention of a wedding.


      
      Then again... In a few years when I get married (hopefully to someone great), I want my wedding to be bigger, better and totally Indian; not some staid and boring affair but a celebration without reserve, pretense or apology.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Just Wondering......

     I watched Rockstar yesterday. In the movie, a character remarks that great art or literature is almost always the mental product of a tortured soul. I thought about the same thing many times. Music, art, literature have always seemed better when they were created as an outlet for pain. Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Tchaikovsky, Hemingway, Kafka, Oscar Wilde, Van Gogh ......the list of "tortured" artists goes on and on. Why is it that heartache can be an impetus for artistic genius? Why does sadness provide access to a fount of creativity out of reach to relatively normal, well adjusted people?



     Is it because profound grief provides us with a clarity of thought and a narrower focus? Maybe it is because torment forces us to look for avenues to express our deepest feelings, a coping mechanism, a cathartic outlet to rid ourselves of some of the pain. Or is it because anguish causes us to become more aware of ourselves, our psyche, our inner workings, our true self; resulting in the creation of masterpieces.

     All the greatest love stories from Romeo and Juliet to our very own Devdas are tragedies. Why is grief such a poignant theme in the most celebrated works of art or literature? I think maybe it is because pain and sadness evoke in us an empathy, a subconscious connection, if you will, to the work in question. It causes us to react at a more primal level rather than the purely cerebral appreciation shown towards art with other themes. Such art touches us to the very core. Listen to any of Tchaikovsky's violin concertos and you will understand what I mean.



     I also think that art born out of such emotions is pure, unaffected and sincere. Happiness can be faked but for torment to be believable, it has to come from within. One has to bare one's heart and soul on paper or canvas for the piece of art or literature to at least seem convincing. Maybe, it is this genuine and undissembled quality that our subconscious responds to. Or it could be the personal link we develop to the artist after being privy to an intimate and vulnerable facet of his self, his essence, his life that makes us more receptive to and more influenced by his work.



     Maybe just maybe it is nothing but pure chance and there is no correlation between sadness and great art. Just wondering........

Video of the week - Manasa sancharare

      I find this song very soothing and listen to it when I feel restive. The simplicity of the instruments and the spell binding vocals of Vani Jayaram and S P Balasubramaniam never fail to lift my mood. I don t understand the lyrics but the song is easily one of my all time favourites. Just goes to show that music is a universal language.



    If you have any videos you would like to share, paste the url in the comments section. Your video along with your name will be displayed in the forthcoming weeks, if selected. Thank you. 

Sharath's bookshelf - The Tristan Betrayal

     Robert Ludlum is the world's best selling author in the political thriller genre. He is probably the most prolific as well. His books have been successfully adapted into movies, miniseries etc. His earlier life as a US marine is probably the reason for his acute insight into the inner workings of the military and security agencies which form an integral part of his novels.



     A typical Ludlum novel is characterised by a hero with special skill(s), a shadowy organisation that places the safety of the free world in jeopardy and a story that moves at break neck speed. The secondary cast contains a trusted colleague who betrays the protagonist and a heroine who gets mixed up in this risky business and falls for the dashing hero. This tried and tested formula always works.

     The Tristan Betrayal marks a departure from this trend. It is a historical thriller set in the Second World War era and is the story of Stephen Metcalfe, the protagonist, a spy for the Allies. The story starts in Paris where the American hero is under cover as an Argentinian black marketeer and play boy. His cover is blown, his team is assassinated and he escapes from Paris. For his next assignment, he is asked to rekindle his relationship with his former flame, Svetlana Baranova, a fiery ballerina at the Bolshoi and the paramour of a Nazi official in Moscow.

     Svetlana is Ludlum's most well written female character, in my opinion, even better than the more popular Marie Webb nee St Jacques of The Bourne series. The story has the trademark Ludlum twists and turns. The pace is unrelentingly fast but still sedate compared to his other thrillers. The courage and patriotism that Lana shows is stirring. The book provides a fictional reason for the U-turn in Soviet-German relations, during the later phase of  Second World War, which in many historians' opinion cost Germany the War.

    This book is rumoured to have been written by a ghost writer by expanding on an outline written by Ludlum. It was published two years after Ludlum's death. It does show a discernible difference in the phraseology, style and pacing. It still ranks as one of Ludlum's, if not this genre's best.



     Read this novel and comment.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

In Memoriam - A Friend


   
     Mom was cleaning the cupboards today and I came across my journal from college. Leafing through the pages I relived the best and worst experiences from my college days. One of the saddest entries was on the 30 th of October 2009. I quote it verbatim from my journal -

       " I lost a friend two days earlier. He committed suicide by hanging himself. I do not know why he has done that. I am still grieving. The moment I heard about it, I was shell shocked; My mind could not register the fact that a person who sat beside me many a time, a person I 've shared many experiences with, a person who has always been himself with me and accepted me as I am, is now gone forever. I stood there like a blubbering idiot unable to make sense of the goings on. I cannot even remember exactly what I did then.

      As I was returning to my room, it suddenly hit me, a wave of heart rending, soul crushing grief. All I could do was break down and cry and I did - unabashedly. After that there was a numbness of the mind and a quiet acceptance of the fact that he isn t here anymore. I felt emotionally deadened. I couldn t make myself react to anything for a while.

     I will always remember him and carry with me the memories of a generous and sensitive bloke who was always kind to me. Farewell Raghav. I miss you deeply."

     The reasons for sharing something this personal are twofold. One - to honour the memory of a dear departed friend. Two - to ask everyone reading this to keep a lookout for signs of depression in your friends. It has been two years and I still cannot get over the fact that I noticed nothing wrong prior to the mishap. It was clearer in hindsight - all the subtle signs, the lack of enthusiasm, the forced smiles, the affected bonhomie.


     In today's world of high speed internet and facebook, the thing we re missing out on most is face to face interpersonal interaction. We check our facebook and twitter accounts umpteen times a day but do not call on friends living a few blocks away. We use headphones to drown out the crowds. We can barely be bothered to make small talk with our neighbours. We build walls instead of bridges. Is it any wonder then that some of our friends feel a disconnect? Is it not foreseeable that some of them, especially those uprooted from their sheltered homes for education or employment , feel lonely?

      Reach out to the taciturn and withdrawn people you know. Make the effort. Who knows? You might even save a life.

Video of the week - Thriller

      Three words - Thriller Michael Jackson - 'nuff said




     If you have any videos you would like to share, paste the url in the comments section. Your video along with your name will be displayed in the forthcoming weeks, if selected. Thank you.

Vanity, thy name is human....

     One of my most frequently voiced laments is about my looks (or the lack of them to be exact). I was born to parents who are pulchritudinous (my obnoxious way of saying comely). Why did I not inherit their genes? I don t know who said that women age like fine wine but he was talking about my mom. She has a nearly flawless complexion; lively eyes, a cheerful disposition and can pass for someone who is at least a decade younger. My Dad is compactly built but has a persona that commands respect and attention.

     My face, on the other hand, resembles a bad reproduction of Picasso's portraits chewed up by rodents. I have a nose that looks perpetually swollen, lips that look bee stung and a smile that can be used to break mirrors. I was chubby as a child and not too thin during my college days. With all the home cooked food I am gorging on these days, it is only a matter of time before I resemble the Pillsbury dough boy. Even with my grotesque looks, I still delude myself into thinking that a new shirt or a different set of glasses will somehow make me look better and hence the abominably butchered and corrupted Shakespearean quote forms the title of this post.


     Vanity is a symptom of the human condition. I am, (though there have been arguments made to the contrary), completely human and not an exception. Most of us want to look good. I know people who spend more time in front of a mirror than they do sleeping. The barrage of ads on the idiot box or in the news papers for grooming services and the roaring business they do are an indicator of the rising interest in self image.

     With the increasing societal acceptance of the male metrosexual archetype, men are now embracing methods which hitherto were a part of the exclusive domain of female grooming. Men using fairness creams is one thing but waxing, manicures............. It does not stop at that. I had a class mate in college who wanted to gain a few inches height by going under the knife. With the advancement of medicine and surgical techniques, there are methods to correct every perceived  physical flaw if you are affluent enough.



      Why are most of us obsessed with making ourselves conform to a popular media propagated image of physical attractiveness? Is it because ours has a become an increasingly superficial and shallow society? We teach children that God does not judge by outward appearances and that we should not to judge a book by its cover. The sad thing is we do it all the time consciously or sub consciously. Scientific studies have established the same beyond dispute.

       Shouldn t we as the most evolved species be able look beyond a pretty facade? Why then are we attracted to the more evolved equivalent of bright plumage? 

Sharath's bookshelf - The Dresden files

   

       I love high fantasy and all its cliches - Chivalrous heroes who ride horses, fight with swords, rescue beautiful princesses from fearsome beasts and speak in archaic English. The Dresden files has none of these cliches. Jim Butcher's irreverent and unapologetic piece of fantasy literature is contemporary, deliciously kick ass and diametrically opposite to usual High fantasy. I still love the series.

     The USP of this series is without a doubt - the patently fallible but eminently likeable protagonist, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. The stories are told from his point of view. The narration is informal and full of laugh out loud sarcastic remarks and self deprecating humour. The storyline is a creatively crafted amalgam of fantasy and whodunit detective stories.



       The characterisation of the secondary cast is nothing less than brilliant. Every reader of this series has his or her favourite character. I personally like them all; whether it is Lieutenant Murphy or Thomas, Mouse or Bob, Mister or Michael, all of them are great. The city of Chicago which forms the stage on which this series is set is a character unto itself.

     The tone of the story is fun and light. That is what sets it apart from the rest of the series out there. It never feels heavy handed or preachy. It is pure entertainment. All the staples of fantasy fiction - vampires (there are three kinds ), werewolves, ghosts, faeries, wizards, necromancers, angels, knights among others - form various threads in the rich tapestry of the Dresden multiverse.

      This thirteen book series is a joy to read and has spawned a role playing game, a thriving online community and a shortlived TV series.( The TV series was badly produced and so given the axe.) I do not want to give out plot details but suffice it to say that time spent reading The Dresden files is time well spent.



      Read the books and tell me what you think.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Clarifications.....

     My post about Reservations has elicited a lot more comments than I expected. Most of them were complimentary but a few were downright rude (they were not published) . I do not owe any explanations or apologies for my point of view. However, I will be damned if I do not refute the filthy accusations hurled at me.

     First and foremost, I am most certainly not a bigot with prejudices against the lower castes. My post does not have a single word which can be construed as a product of any prejudice. I ask the person who left a particularly vile comment to consult a psychiatrist. You have a serious persecution complex. 

     Secondly, I stand by each and every word in my post. Each and every post I publish is subject to intense scrutiny and constant revision before it is published. I was not ambiguous in any way. My stand on this issue was crystal clear. I reiterate it now. I find the policy of Reservation not only arbitrary and inherently discriminatory but also reprehensible. It is not that different from bonded labour. Both these practices seek to punish the descendants for the actions of their forefathers. Only one of these practices is outlawed. Go figure...



      I never represented myself as a legal expert or a political analyst. That post was a lay opinion. However, I do not appreciate my post being trivialized just because it does not use political jargon or discuss highfalutin' anthropological notions of Reservation being anti-Darwinian. I wrote that post based on my observations. I qualified my entrance exam with a score which places me at the 99th percentile but I still did not get into the  med school I wanted. I know what I am writing about. I was affected by this issue and that sure as hell entitles me to an opinion, experts be damned. 

      Finally, my conclusion in the post may not be optimistic, but it is realistic. I am not a political activist. I do not have, at my disposal, any means to change the system or any recourse, legal or otherwise, to affect that change. I have accepted it. Grudgingly, of course. I urge all the disgruntled people who left adverse comments about the concluding statements of my post to go ahead and try to come up with a way to redress this social imbalance. You have my best wishes. 

      Just don t expect me to hold my breath.

Sharath's bookshelf - The Day of the Jackal.

   

     I was introduced to Frederick Forsyth by a friend. He lent me "The Fourth Protocol". I was enthralled. I then read "The Day of the Jackal". It was better. This book has spawned many imitations but they all pale in comparison. No other author writes with such colour and authority.

      Frederick Forsyth, prior to his fiction writing career, was a journalist with Reuters. His familiarity with the subject matter of his political thrillers probably stems from that. Whatever the reason, all his books clearly reflect meticulous research, in depth analysis and a natural flair for writing.

   The Day of the Jackal is imbued with all these qualities. Another common thread running through all his books is an element of truth. This book, for example, in its beginning discusses the actual assassination attempt made on Charles de Gaulle and then proceeds by detailing the fictional second attempt by the eponymous Jackal.

     The name of the professional assassin, code named Jackal, is never divulged in this novel. He is portrayed as being intelligent, ruthless and exceedingly efficient. By the end of this book, I developed  admiration and grudging respect for the cold calculating assassin. The Jackal has become such an unforgettable part of popular folklore that one of the most notorious terrorists of the world, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez a.k.a. Carlos (the same Carlos of the Bourne trilogy) was nicknamed the Jackal.

    This book details all the preparation made by the Jackal in eerie vividness. As the author describes the preparation, he simultaneously lets us know that the law enforcement agencies have also caught wind of this plan. This sets the stage for the cat and mouse chase that takes place across Europe. The Jackal is always a step ahead and uses ingenious methods and spur of the moment disguises to elude the police till the end of the novel.



     The pace never lets up. The chase is tense. It is suspenseful and thrilling and unputdownable. I have a confession to make. When reading Forsyth's books, I find the villains more interesting and end up wanting them to succeed, most of the time. What that says about me, I leave for the pshrinks to analyse.

      I recommend this as compulsory reading for all those who like political thrillers. Believe me, when it comes to his genre, Frederick Forsyth is in a league of his own. 

Matters of Religion.

     My earliest memories of a religious nature are those of my grandma teaching me slokas when I was four or five. I did not understand them but learnt them by heart. My experience with religion has been similar. I went through all the motions during festivals without pausing for a second and wondering what I was doing or why. My parents are not overly religious. So, growing up, religion and spirituality were not really a huge part of my life.

     Until recently I never really thought about religion or spirituality. Living alone in a new city without much to do leaves you with a lot of free time, free time which leads to introspection and daydreaming. In one such extended reverie, I was thinking about religion as it pertains to me. So I set about on a mind trip of religious self discovery.

      One of the basic tenets of any religion is the existence of a higher power or God. So, I asked myself whether I believed in the existence of God. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that I had not come across any evidence to prove or disprove the existence of God. So I declared myself an agnostic.

     According to Wikipedia, within agnosticism there are agnostic atheists (who do not believe any deity exists, but do not deny it as a possibility) and agnostic theists (who believe a God exists but do not claim to know that). I thought long and hard and decided that being an agnostic theist is more in line with my beliefs. I like to believe there is a God but can provide no hard evidence to prove it.


     It has become popular among the youth of today to question the existence of God and declare themselves atheists. I can understand their stand on religion because I was one of them. All of the greatest crimes against humanity from the holocaust to 9/11 were committed either in the name of religion or God or under the delusion that it was for the greater good. Religion was and is the most common pretext used to justify the most reprehensible actions and most deplorable prejudices.


      It does not help that religion has been the principal opposition for any kind of scientific progress. From the heliocentric theory to evolution to stem cell research and cloning, self appointed protectors of ethical values, fanatical in their adherence to religion and not reason, have always opposed Science. It behooves any rational man to therefore denounce religion and assert proudly their atheism, right? No.


     It has to be noted all the above reasons to condemn religion are the actions of a few and not representative of all theists. All religions are unequivocal in their condemnation of violence. The religious objections to scientific progress do serve a purpose. Unbridled scientific experimentation at the price of ethics is not in anybody's interest. The human experiments carried out by Nazi scientists are a cautionary tale. Dogmatic adherence to Science alone dehumanises people and turns them into robots without a moral compass.




      It would be great if people were inherently charitable but the reality is most altruism is motivated by guilt or the expectation of karmic windfall, both of which are products of religion. God has been the world's personal pshrink. Faith comforts us in grief and enables us to deal with it. It provides us with the optimism needed to start over and not descend into the vortex of depression and weltschmerz. I have always found that spiritual people lead the happiest lives.


      Blind religious fervour and unquestioning acceptance of faith are not what I advocate. On the contrary, I despise people who quote scripture as an absolute truth and rather than understand the underlying intent, allow themselves to be content in following it to the letter. All religious books without exception contain parts that are reflective of narrow-minded prejudices of the time they were written in. It is the prerogative of every progressive and enlightened person to follow their faith after expunging it of all objectionable practices and baseless prejudices and applying their God given intelligence to temper religion with reason and rationality.

     Only when there exists a precarious mental balance between faith provided by religion and healthy skepticism fueled by a scientific bent of mind can we lead a fulfilling life that is free from ignorance and intolerance.