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.