Saturday, 29 December 2012

Best of 2012

      Yes ..... It is that time of the year again. 2012 is slowly but surely drawing to a close. The Mayans were dead wrong and we are all still here relatively unharmed. So, lets get on with the annual list of best movies, books and TV series.


           There are very few things I state unequivocally. So the following statement is special  - The best movie I watched this year is The Dark Knight Rises ( Read my review ).The Avengers, The Hobbit, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty, Les miserables, Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook are my picks for the best movies released this year. I still have to watch a few movies on this list but I heard good things about them from reliable sources. So, I have placed them on this list.

           There is one movie I especially liked - English Vinglish. What could have turned into a maudlin, over-dramatic mess is instead a light sensitive film with a superlative performance by Sri Devi ( the current crop of Bollywood actresses could learn a thing or two from her). There was a shot of Sri Devi clad in a sari walking along the streets of New York. It reminded me of my mom going out all alone in Abu Dhabi and that maybe why I found this movie so personal and touching. Watch this heartwarming film. You won t regret it.


             First the release of the final book of The Wheel of Time series gets pushed to next year. Scott Lynch and George RR Martin did not release any books this year. Sub par books like Fifty shades of Grey are on bestseller lists. All in all, a disappointing year for bibliophiles. However, I did find a few books that were worth my time.

          The new urban fantasy series I loved reading was The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. Two books in this five book series were released this year. The books are fast paced, light in their tone and thoroughly enjoyable escapist fare.

           Another book I really enjoyed reading was The King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. I have to confess I did not find the Prince of Thorns(the first book in this series) all that impressive the first time I read it. I reread it just before reading the second book and revised my opinion. This series is a look at the inner workings of a sociopath in a brutal world. It has an unapologetic tone and a dark undertone which sets it apart from the other series with a less than pure protagonist that keep rationalising their anti hero's actions. It is not a sweet fairytale; it is a story that will evoke a visceral response, make you uncomfortable and squirm but will ultimately make you empathize with the protagonist.

          The Emperor's soul by Brandon Sanderson and The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks were other books I enjoyed reading. The book I waited for with bated breath this year was Cold Days by Jim Butcher. It was worth the wait and had an engaging storyline. Now I lie in wait for the 15th book in the series.

          I hope that 2013 will be a better year for bookworms.

TV Series

          I want to start this section with an apology. I am sorry I included Revenge on last year's list. I hope I don t get anything that spectacularly wrong this year.

         At number six are two series that will be a part of Television history and will only be seen in reruns from the next year - Fringe and House. The last seasons of these two series were mediocre but I included them in the list only because they were truly original and when they got it right they were truly brilliant. I will miss these shows in 2013.

          At number five is last year's number five, Suits. This series got significantly better in the second season. We got an insight into Harvey's past and his relationship with Donna and Jessica. Donna is still my favourite character with her trademark zingers and I can hardly wait for the series' return on January 17.

             At number four is Boss. Kelsey Grammar is exceptional as Thomas Kane, the Chicago mayor who is slowly losing control of his mental faculties. The extraordinary supporting cast and the intelligent storytelling make it one of the most watchable series on television.

          At number three is Game of Thrones. The HBO drama based on George RR Martin's books is a great TV show and probably the only series in the epic fantasy genre. Peter Dinklage is still brilliant. I know the series is true to the books but I can t help feeling that the absence of Sean Bean and Mark Addy in the second season makes it seem a little rudderless.

          At number two is The Newsroom. This Aaron Sorkin drama has its share of detractors. They say that it is just one sanctimonious tirade after another; Someone remarked that it was a vehicle for liberal propaganda. Maybe it is. It still is good television. I like this series because it makes a good point about media becoming more and more about sensationalist gossip mongering and less about reporting facts in context. Emily Mortimer is endearing and adorable as the idealistic Mackenzie. I could probably do without all the silly personal drama of the younger lot.

       Coming in at joint first are Homeland and Breaking Bad. First about Homeland - This series has about itself the air of a good Forsyth novel. It has unbearably tense moments that keep you glued to the screen and award winning performances by its leads. Claire Danes' portrayal of the bipolar Carrie is par excellence and Damian Lewis is riveting as the conflicted Nicholas Brody.

           I discovered Breaking Bad this summer and was immediately hooked. This drama is unusual because of the lack of melodrama and a sedate pace which gradually builds up to a climactic crescendo ; there are no emotional pyrotechnics, no over the top performances, just nuanced acting by the cast. Bryan Cranston handles all the subtle shades of his character's persona with a masterful adroitness. The writers must be lauded for writing a complex character like Walter White. This series has an inherent melancholy and its characters seem almost Shakespearean in their emotional spectrum. This final season gives me hope that this is a series that will end before it gets stale or ruined.

        So, what do you think? Do you know about any good books or movies I missed? As always, your comments are welcome.


A National Shame

         When I first started writing this blog, I thought keeping the posts apolitical would be a good idea. That stance lasted for a month before I realised I couldn t be candid and honest by censoring my own thoughts, that it would defeat the entire purpose of this blog which I envisioned was about providing me a space to sort the important stuff from all the other sensory dross I subject my brain to. I still am reluctant to comment on political issues because I, like most people in India, am woefully unaware of the entire truth on any given issue. I would like to preface this post by saying that I am aware that I do not possess all the facts pertaining to this case and am only giving voice to my views.

          The facts as I know them are that a 23 year old woman was sexually assaulted by a group of  six men in a moving bus in Delhi. The men savagely forced themselves upon her, rammed foreign objects into her, beat her repeatedly, stripped her and threw her out of a moving bus at a secluded flyover. She was with a friend who was struck on the head with an iron rod and thrown out. This moving bus passed several police patrol vehicles through busy thoroughfares in New Delhi. It took forty five minutes for a passerby to call the Police after she was thrown out of the bus.

          This brave woman after battling for her life at a hospital in Singapore is now dead. Six young men, all of them residents of a Delhi slum, have been arrested and four of them have reportedly confessed. Sheila Dixit, the CM, on being asked about this incident, allegedly, had initially remarked that the license of the bus was cancelled. Those were the only words she had to say before the popular outrage was evident. No comment was made about the woman's condition or of any efforts to apprehend the men responsible.

         Sushma Swaraj, a BJP MP, in an impassioned speech asked for the death penalty for the perpetrators but not before remarking that the girl would be a living corpse even if she lived. All the MPs were unanimous in their condemnation of this heinous act and support for imposing the death penalty cut across party lines. This was the first instance ( barring the bill that sought to increase the MP's salaries ) that I have seen our MPs agree about something. In the week that followed, many people, most of them students, took to the streets in protest against the ineptitude of the law enforcement in Delhi. There are bound to be developments in this case. Please feel free to post any new information in the comments section.

         I have refrained from writing about this abominable act till now because I wanted to reflect upon this before I spewed forth an expletive laden post which would be cathartic but ultimately useless. As I wrote the preceding paragraphs, I tried my best to leave commentary out of the facts. The facts are themselves horrendous enough to induce nausea and disgust. When I heard about this for the first time, I was appalled. I was outraged, angry and felt helpless. I felt ashamed that something like this could happen in a country I live in, in this day and age.

        I was heartened by the outpouring of support for this brave young woman from people all over the nation. The public outrage was palpable all over the Internet. People demanding chemical castration, hanging, emasculation, beheading and other inventive forms of torture were vociferously flooding the social media with their posts and tweets. One of the milder ones read- " Every one found guilty of sexual crime must be tattooed with the word RAPIST on his forehead. These beasts should undergo the same humiliation the victim does but shouldn t. " ( I do not know who the author of this post is but this suggestion does hold some merit )

        But when the outrage dies, the passionate cries lose their vehemence and this incident fades from the public memory, what do we do? Do we then wait for another such unspeakable horror to wake us up from our collective insouciance? Or will we become sufficiently inured in the future, as we have to endemic and systemic corruption, that nothing will shock us? Let us channel this outrage towards productive ends and come up with ideas to help ensure nothing like this ever happens. Blaming the politicians, the judiciary, the police and the media is momentarily satisfying but in the end, utterly ineffectual. Societal apathy and desensitisation are what we need to fight. This is a profoundly important democratic and social moment. The onus is on us, you and I, to keep fighting, whichever way we can.

         Because of the media spotlight, the political leaders have endeavoured to speed up the judicial process. They are talking about setting up fast track courts, recruiting more women as police officers, providing resources to set up more patrols and better public transportation. I have no doubt that these promises were made with a preresolved intention of breaking them. But let us hold them to their word. Inundate the social media with open letters to the President, the PM. Keep those posts coming. Blog about it. Send SMSes about it. Write letters to your MLAs, MPs, councilmen. Keep this issue current. Those of you who are reading this and have the wherewithal to influence the glacially slow political process in any way, consider this my humble plea to use your influence to effect a positive change.
        Finally, I cannot presume to be able to articulate the suffering the woman underwent or the hell her loved ones are going through. All I can wish for is that her family continues to fight but I can certainly understand if they don t want to.  My thoughts and prayers are with her family.       

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Appallingly Bad ads

     I presume the aim of advertising is to create awareness of a product amongst the consumers and convince people of the product's effectiveness. While some ad campaigns such as the Zoozoo campaign of Vodafone are innovative, most are usually vapid and vacuous at best. Some ad campaigns make us wonder if they were conceptualised by lobotomised apes. Listed below are a few ads which not only insult the intelligence of an average viewer but also confirm the existence of brain dead troglodytes among the advertising executives.
     Coming in at number eight are the ads of deodorants which when inhaled apparently turn women into raving nymphomaniacs. It was novel the first time we saw it. Really people, can t you come up with something original?

     At number seven is the ad in which two women sexually harass their boyfriends who are driving scooters while proclaiming that the scooter has bodybalance. No man would want be caught dead in the vicinity of those scooters, much less drive them. What erotic dancing has to do with fugly scooters is totally beyond me.

    At number six is an ad in which a camera crew and Lara Dutta barge into a room, confront a hapless bloke with a toothache and ask him if his toothpaste has salt in it. Bad advertising at its best.

     Next up is the unbelievably annoying Colgate Plax mouthwash ad. The exaggerated gargling in the ad sets my teeth on edge. I know I am not the only one who feels that way.

     The Vicco toothpaste ads are irritating because of the sheer number of times I had to watch that cr*p at the movies. If you are not a Vizagite who regularly watches movies at Inox, you cannot fully comprehend the aggravation this ad causes me.

     Have you seen the ads for Rajnigandha Pan masala? If you have, you don t need to be reminded of them. Such idiocy cannot be forgotten easily. If you haven t, Lucky you.

     I don t exactly know which soap ad it is but the tagline is "Samskaaravanthamaina sabbu". I would love to examine the brain of the blockhead who came up with this campaign. I think he might be the missing evolutionary link between humans and simians.

     Finally the worst ad ever made. 
     What is the first thing a man asks when his wife returns home from shopping?????

Bats and Stars

       It has been quite sometime since I 've seen a movie that inspired me enough to write about it. The Dark Knight Rises is one such wonderful movie. It combines great story telling on a huge scale with exceptional acting by some of the finest actors of this generation and a haunting musical score. Usually when something is eagerly expected, it seldom lives up to its expectations. I waited for the release of this movie with fevered anticipation and was not at all disappointed.

      Comic book movies are usually imbued with a sense of juvenility, a silliness that asks us not to take them seriously and usually, that makes the movie going experience incredibly fun. The Nolan trilogy, however is dark, grave and almost melancholy. It is serious and appeals more to the intellectual side of the viewer. That is what sets this film and its prequels apart from the myriad comic book inspired movies out there.

      Every moment of this film is engrossing and you can t help but get invested emotionally in the story. ( When Michael Caine cries at the grave " I 've failed you , Master Bruce" - did you not get misty eyed ?? ) Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman is sensational. His acting is restrained and nuanced. Think about it - do you think you could ever feel sorry for a billionaire who has cool gadgets, an awesome crib and coolest cars in the world? - But you genuinely do. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman play their parts like the seasoned veterans they are. Tom Hardy had pretty big shoes to fill as he had to follow Heath Ledger's Joker as the villain in this movie. He does a respectable job as the malevolent Bane but I missed that indescribable something extra that Heath Ledger brought to the Dark Knight. His villainy seemed all the more evil because it had no purpose, no goal, no end game.

          Nolan's films work on many different levels. They have all the earmarks of a traditional superhero movie - a city under attack, really cool fights, car ( if i can use the word car ) chases, ridiculously awesome modes of conveyance ( Seriously, how cool were the Bat and the Bat bike ) and good looking women. They also can be viewed as an allegory of the times we live in. The mob taking over the city is eerily reminiscent of the anarchy during the riots in the UK. His films also bring to the fore the inner demons most of us harbour and make them all seem oddly personal. 

         I see and hear about fans of the Star Wars Franchise who collect memorabilia, attend conventions dressed up as characters in the movie and get married at Star Wars themed weddings. I never understood what made them so attached to the movies. [ Honestly -  the movies were probably great when they were first released decades ago but now they seem ( dare I say it )  ...ahem   .... lame.  Star Wars worshipers please don t kill me. ]. I understand now. This trilogy made me realise that we can genuinely like something so much that we would seem overzealous to others.

        I can say with little doubt that this trilogy will become something akin to the Star Wars of this generation, though I seriously doubt if the fans of Batman will ever be as crazy as the Star Wars fans. I certainly hope that no blogger, in the future, has the temerity to call these films lame. Only Time will tell.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

O Brother, thou art ............

     My brother and I share a complicated relationship. Calling it a love-hate relationship is too simplistic. I never really thought about it until recently. I was talking to my cousin about him and I found myself unable to articulate exactly how I felt about him. I have been trying to define the dynamics and nature of our relationship ever since. Maybe putting it on paper will help me make some sense out of it.

    My brother was born today; the same day Albert Einstein was born. I think that this was the Universe's way of subtly hinting at my brother's mental acuity. My brother is an incredibly intelligent person; he can do almost anything he sets his mind to. All my childhood I was amazed by his keen intellect and if I am honest, probably a little envious too. My brother was not as academically successful as I was. He passed all his exams with grades that were above average but not superlative. But no one could deny the spark of genius everyone saw in him.

      He was charismatic and larger than life, flamboyant and boisterous with a large circle of friends. He had has a mercurial temperament; short tempered but quick to forgive and forget. My brother could also be thoughtless and cruel. He could pick on the weak with ruthlessness. He would say and do things that would hurt people without actually intending to. He could be the charming and protective big brother or the bully from hell depending on his mood. It would be easy to blame my brother for the way things stood between us  but it would also be totally unfair. I am as much if not more to blame for it.

     Do you remember the bespectacled overachiever who always stood first in class, was every teacher's favourite and was seemingly oblivious to the seething resentment of his classmates? I was that guy. ( It took me a few years to ditch the glasses, baby fat and the competitive attitude. My transformation from Ugly Duckling to Ugly Swan is a story for another time. ) I was well known but had few friends. I was recognized everywhere in school but I was awkward with a complete lack of social skills. To quote something I read somewhere - " I had the charm of an undertaker and the sense of humour of a corpse." ( I like to think I 've changed a lot since then.) My anti social stubbornness did not help much either. I was vain, opinionated and never backed down from an argument. Needless to say, my social calendar was far from full. I have the IQ of an average person and barring good academic showing at the high school level, I am the very embodiment of mediocrity.

     My brother and I are as different as chalk and cheese. I was the golden boy at home and school. I never put so much as a toe nail out of line. My brother was the problem child. He tested my grandparents' patience and was a constant target of my stern grandfather's anger. ( Most of my schooling was under my grandparents' guardianship ). I had very few, if any, problems at all. My only problem at that time was my brother. We were at each other's throats and we fought incessantly. I thought he was the bane of my existence. I remember thinking it would have been better if I were an only child. I thought that every one else had great siblings but I was stuck with Mephistopheles. I promised myself that I would never forgive him for the hell he put me through.

     My brother moved to another city to start college and I found myself having conflicting feelings. I was happy to finally have the house all to myself but I was also feeling sad and I couldn t admit to myself that I would actually miss him. That sadness lasted for an uncomfortable five minutes before I realised I got my wish and my brother would only visit for the holidays. I jumped up and down with joy. ( I was being a prick ..........I know ) I started College a few years later and I met my brother only a few times in between. We still had our screaming matches and fights. But they were restrained and not as heated as they were only a few years earlier and never degenerated into outright brawling.

      My brother visited me at my college during my first year. He was very attentive and friendly, he was nice to me. I was thrown. I did not know how to handle this sober alternate version of the devil incarnate. I am ashamed of how I handled myself. I was horrid to him, I provoked him into starting a fight and screamed myself hoarse and convinced myself he hadn t changed. The next few exchanges we had over the years  were awkward as I could not reconcile myself to the fact that my brother had grown up. He wasn t the much maligned childhood bully I hated and was past all that unpleasantness.

      It took me a while to realise that I was being childish and that I had to give my brother a chance to mend fences. As soon as I started to be civil to him, I saw the old jerk re emerge. I thought that it would take him a while to realise that his little brother had grown up too. I was right. It took a few months for my brother to treat me with respect and civility. The dynamic of this relationship has changed irrevocably. Oh... we still have our disagreements, we still have our arguments but the undertones of the arguments have changed. There is a mutual respect and sometimes even grudging admiration that is reflected in the argument.

     It took years for the bitterness and resentment to finally dissipate. I promised myself never to forgive him only to realise that there was nothing to forgive. I thought he was the bane of my existence; I now realise that he was the only thing keeping me from turning into a megalomaniac. I thought I hated our fights; I now realise they are the cornerstone of our relationship. These arguments were the chance for me to drop the facade of perfection and vent. The fights made me realise that my points of view were not always well thought out and made me aware of my obstinacy. Our relationship made me a better person than I would have otherwise been. I thank the Gods that I am not an only child.

        My brother and I are still as different as chalk and cheese. I now know that it is those differences that make us that much more important to each other. We keep each other grounded. It astounds me that I never realized that we both are alike in a lot of ways. We are both passionate about what we do;  we share a common set of values; we have a similar work ethic; we never back down from an argument; we have egos the size of Russia and we share the greatest parents in the world. Then again.... chalk and cheese do start with the same letters. 

      Our relationship has evolved over the years. Its nature has changed many times over yet remained fundamentally the same. It is this contradiction that prevents me from clearly defining this relationship. The fact that we are not very demonstrative of our feelings complicates it further.

      O Brother, what art thou? Acquaintance, Adversary, Friend, Foe, Role Model, Competitor, Confidant or Guide? All of them? None of them? Thou Brother. I think that says it all.

      Happy Birthday ...............Have a great one.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Med School Chronicles 1

      " It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us." I have no hope of improving upon these immortal words penned by Dickens which more than adequately describe my college life, so I let them stand unchanged . This was the most enriching period of my life ( which I suspect is the case with everybody ). It was a period of self discovery and personal and professional growth. There are a lot of memories I cherish and experiences I recall fondly from my time in college. This post is the first in a series of anecdotes from my college life that have influenced my way of thinking and enabled me to grow as a person.

      It was a bright March morning with a hint of the lingering winter cold. The mist transformed the route from my room to the college into an ethereal scene straight out of a fairy tale. The coconut trees lining the narrow dirt road filtered the sunlight making shadows in interesting shapes. The paddy shoots rose above the mist to create the illusion of a verdant sea floating on a bed of hazy nothingness. I took this scene in for a moment, breathed in the clean air and started my five minute walk to the college.

     It was the first day of my final year clinical exams. I nervously started going through the developmental milestones in my mind (It was the Paediatrics clinical exam). I couldn t remember a word. I was hyperventilating, feeling nauseous, had an urgent need to pee and my heart was beating furiously. In short, everything was normal. I reached the department a half hour early, met some of my fellow examinees, speculated about the possible cases and the identity of the external examiners, laughed at some inane jokes and tried to calm down before entering the hall.

    I entered the hall after my number was called and went to station number 3 to examine a short case that I took down in ten minutes and presented confidently. For my long case, I was herded, by an assistant professor, along with a few others, back into the ward, handed a paper and introduced to the patient and her mother. I started taking down the personal information after asking the requisite questions with the nonchalant and practiced efficiency one acquires when one has done something more than a few times. It was at that moment I looked at the vacant stare of the little girl who was the patient.

    I could tell almost instantaneously that the child suffered from Cerebral Palsy. I quickly finished examining her and had time to spare before presenting the case. It was during that time that I started a conversation with her mother. She talked about raising a disabled child. She talked without a trace of self pity or bitterness. I listened to her in silence, my eyes brimming with unshed tears. She had every reason to be resentful but she wasn t. She was upbeat and positive. She wasn t religious or fatalistic, just matter of fact and candid. When her daughter soiled her clothes, she proceeded to clean without so much as a pause. There wasn t a moment of hesitation or a flicker of annoyance or revulsion on her face - just a look of unflinching adoration.

     I asked her how she put up with it and she answered with a smile and a look of mild surprise, " I am her mother. "  She did not, even for a moment, imply that her life was affected adversely because of her daughter's handicap. I cannot fathom what she must have gone through on realising that her daughter would never be normal or what she goes through day after day caring for a child who will never be normal but I could not detect a single crack in her voice when she spoke or recall a moment of weakness during our tete-a-tete. She is one of the most remarkable people I ve ever met. I haven t forgotten her or her daughter and probably never will.

       This incident stayed with me for a number of reasons. It made me realise how much I take my mom for granted. It put into perspective all the sacrifices our parents make to ensure we have the best possible life. This encounter reminded me of something that med students like me and doctors forget very early on in their careers - that we deal with people not cases, patients not diseases and with families not individuals. It showed me that the most unexceptional of people may have the most extraordinary stories - stories that extol the unconditionality of a mother's love, the courage it takes to be a pillar of strength and stand by your child and the unwavering fortitude one can display in the face of adversity.

     Before you go to bed tonight, tell your mom you love her and appreciate all that she does for you. It is a very small gesture that will mean a lot to her. Moms of the world - you rock.