Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Seen Any Good Salt Caverns Lately?

I may not be *anywhere* near Katrina's path of terror, but when I drove past a Mobil gas station today, I felt like I had been picked off the ground, spun around and most lovingly slammed against a sharp spire or at least an extremely thorny tree-top. The red, white and blue price sign read "$2.79/gal". Only yesterday, it read "$2.62/gal". Is it possible to be nostalgic for just the day before?

So when I heard the Feds had decided to release oil from the Federal Reserves, the first question that popped in my head was: "is that like a secret storage facility where they keep barrels and barrels of gasoline?"

Turns out that is exactly what it is. A huge storage facility containing barrels and barrels of gasoline. Just how big is this reserve? Enough for all SUV owners to say "fill 'er up" simultaneously? Oh, much more. It holds 727 Million barrels of oil, representing a total investment of $21 Billion. This is the largest emergency petroleum reserve in the world.

Please, Mr. Fed, open up your caverns and take us back to the days when a gallon of gas was cheaper than, well, today's gallon of gas.

Of Crooks And Critics

According to G.K. Chesterton, "The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic".

You like? Read his other stories from the "Innocence Of Father Brown" collection linked above.

If you have never even heard of the great Gilbert K., this is the page for you.

Read and relish.

Panch Blogiya Yojana

I got 5 for Blog Day. Read 'em and profit. There will NOT be a test at the end of this post.

Mind Hacks. Sure, it is occasionally arcane and they love to discuss subjects that have the word "neuro" as the modifier, but a fascinating blog. Doen't take a brain surgeon to read this one.

Guitar Principles. Don't let the name fool you. Mr. Andreas' deeply reflective essays on the correct approach to learning an instrument or on the right attitude towards practice are not simply in the realm of guitar-learning, but they are really little pieces on meditation and Bhagwad Gita and mindfulness. Here's an excerpt from one of his essays: "to discover your purpose is to be all alone. Paradoxically, it is also to be one with everything else". Dig it?

The man who is fighting the fight: Lawrence Lessig. Copyright, IP rights, creativity, ownership - these are issues that deserve a rigorous debate. Read the man's blog, his books and defend Bappi-da's right to create original music.

There are radio stations and then there is WFMU. Beware of the Blog is a great glimpse into this indie radio station's character. For example, read this post. Nothing can touch WFMU. NOTHING!!!!

Fark (caution: NSFW ads, occasional NSFW stories) is always funny. See the readers' comments for some inspired photoshoppery and their very unique brand of humor.

Thanks to the lover of cities for dragging me into this blog day busimess.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bengali Bombshell's Box Bombed By BIPoids

So I clicked on that link in Desi Pundit to Bipasha Basu's blog, expecting bullshit PR humdrumality. What do I get? Bullshit PR humdrumality, of course. But the comment box there is eye-popping.

The fans, or BIPoids, as I now call them, appear to be a highly diverse but dedicated lot. Look at the confidence with which some of them include their cellphone numbers in their comments. Or the unabashed sharing of their unlawful carnal knowledge. That should impress the actress, right? Here are some of the best comments. Read it now and thank me later.

(Note: These are all actual quotes or excerpts taken from the comment-box.)

King of the Bipoids (also the funniest man alive): "I love you Ajay Devgun" (please, Rediff Blogs webmaster, please preserve that comment for posterity)

The Most Pious Bipoid: "god is great becoz he has created such a sexyiest body n sent it to the film world" (Yes He is, man. That is exactly why He is Great)

The Bongs Rule! Bipoid: "Yes, there are a lot of bengalee females, who are not proud of your accomplishment...Don't be shy of the root and the culture you the language (bengali) too. "

The Fitness-Freak Bipoid: "well bipasa u only tell the one theing to the indian world that body fitness is the current mantra to get excel in the most havoc creating bollywood industry..."(does Times of India need a writer?)

The Depressed Bipoid: "made a mistake blogging" (heart-breaking, terse, pithy - could this be Hemingway's ghost?)

The Mr. Film Critic Bipoid: "You r a sexy slut but a very pathetic actor" (Roger Ebert, ever said anything half as true?)

The Cautious Bipoid: "Test"

The Morse-Code Bipoid: " i am really wondering......................................... ... ................ .................... ................... ......... ....... ................ & keep on wondering ................. .........." (and so are we, Bipoid)

The Creepy-Stalker Bipoid: "I wish I could share ur thoughths and feelings." (she would much prefer you start a pop-up filled Geocities site in black background and pink text about her, Bipoid.)

"Anyone Can Go Anywhere"

(found on Mirzapur district's official website):

"Tahsil Chunar is the center of district Mirzapur. Anyone can go anywhere"

There is something very liberating and disturbing about that sentence. Is it the sad nihilism in the governmental voice asking the citizen - not a particular citizen, but any citizen - to go somewhere, anywhere, anywhere but here, that is? Or is it that the inmates have been given the keys to the prison...?

Check out anytime you like but you can never leave.

Farewell, Angeline

The doctor to Mysore's Wodeyars, the royal family, died at the age of 94.

What an amazing life it must have been - to get an MBBS degree in 1947, to deliver a prince and 5 princesses but still provide free medical services for poor patients after her retirement. An excellent profile of the doctor appears in Star of Mysore.

But let me come clean. The real reason why this news is important to me is this: Dr. Stephen delivered my elder sister :)

So, in a strange, cosmic, all-things-are-connected way, I wouldn't be who I am if it were not for Dr. Alice Angeline Stephen. May her soul rest in peace.

Podcasting for Raju From Jhumri Talaiya

Thanks to Punditji and this blogger called Jo from Kerala for this cool idea to do song requests via podcast. (Jo has a pic of Che-bhai on his profile, so, all right, Jo, rock and roll, man.)

Now, this may or may not send cease-and-desist letters to your garibkhana (you lucky dogs outside Europe and N.America), but what a fantastic way to get to know fellow-bloggers and readers? So, let's get this party started, shall we? Er..I am making requests, not playing them.

Anyone here that can hook me up with the following songs, please?

Kraftwerk (anything from Man-Machine)
Blind Faith ("Can't Find My Way Home")
Metallica ("Battery")

Ok, that will do for now, thank you, tata ok, horn please.

P.S.: Don't own an iPod - never have, never will. And my Victrola isn't networked either. Too bad, because Pankaj Mallick sounds AWESOME on the 78s.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

How Many Coconuts Can A Woodpecker Peck?

Coconuts and birds have a strange connection since, oh, since the time I thought of blogging about this fascinating nature story in Deccan Herald (ignore the main pages of Indian newspaper sites and you are guaranteed to find really interesting stuff.)

Today's Question: do woodpeckers eat coconuts?

Apparently, this is a hotly debated topic among Indian orinthologists. Why? Because, it seems, one Mr. Ghorpade, a bird-enthusiast, was asked by villagers in Karnataka to
shoot down a woodpecker because it destroyed their coconut crop by "making holes into the nuts and sucking the milk inside". Bad, bad woodpecker, but come on, Karnataka villagers, don't make me hang my kannadiga-head in shame. Why shoot when you can shoo? Mr. Ghorpade, being of a scientific bent, reported his findings in the Newsletter For Birdwatchers in 1970. However, some bird-watchers could not stand this smear campaign that was unleashed on innocent Woody and they leaped - sorry, flew - to its support.

So in the August 2005 issue of the same newsletter (35 years later, isn't that cool), one Mr. Neelakantan (aka The Blue-Throated One) published a rejoinder stating, conclusively, that he has "never once seen a woodpecker on a coconut tree". See, no wishy-washy, namby-pamby, cautiously optimistic, euphemism-cloaked defence there.

Woody don't hang around 'nuts. So if nariyal-pani is not the favored diet of this Winged Nut Havoc-Wreaker, what does it eat? No gourmet he, Woody lives on beetles and grub.

Lest you dismiss this as trivial stuff, read that wonderful article by Mr. Futehally about the seemingly implausible connection between the game of cricket, the bulbul and Punjab. Orinthology is to be thanked for India's cricket-bat manufacturing industry. Who could have thunk?

Now about this other well-known, if completely unscientific, connection between coconuts and birds. A soldier once asked King Arthur if a swallow could carry a coconut. If you don't know the correct answer, rent Monty Python's Holy Grail and solve one of the greatest riddles
known to mankind.

If you've read this far, you are aware of the no-small controversy over another woodpecker sighting in America, aren't you?

(fonts are seriously effed up. My apologies.)

Mujhe Do Billiyon Ki Zaroorat Hai

Go, kitty, chase that bad man with the big mustache! (Found on BBC)

371 acres of the deadly Chambal ravines, proud home to 4000 kidnappings and 180 murders in the past 5 years. Hmm..let's see, we've exhausted our Police force, the army, the US Secret Service but nothing seems to be stopping these desperadoes...Shall we unleash the lions? (Eddie Vedder, how prescient art thou!)

Really, the police want to unleash a lion sanctuary in the Chambal region to help fight crime. But no, the lions will not be asked to wear a cape and a mask. Underwear worn on the outside is also strictly optional.

What's the Uttar Pradesh Police really hoping the lions will do??
"Not that the lions will be chasing the bandits, but the area will soon have a lot of movement by tourists and officials and will be lit up brightly. This will force the dacoits to flee to safer hideouts," said a senior police official Daljit Singh Chaudhary.
Ah. But what if something like this happens?

"ACRE 371 aur Billi kitni?"

"Paanch, sarkar." (seriously, RTFA. They got 5 cats in there.)

"MUHAHAHAHAHA. Bahut dar lag raha hai, hamein"

Tremendous source of hilarity for the daakus, don't you think? Besides, won't the lions also pose a threat to the good men of Uttar Pradesh police department? I mean, it's not as if the lions can distinguish between two daakus who are dressed just a little differently. Ok, ok, cheap shot, cheap shot.

The Wildlife Protection Society of India views the proposed plan in a more practical light.
"The lions will be used for target practice by Chambal's not-so-nice residents"
Forget lions, bandit-chewing brontosauruses and sharp-shooting stegosauruses, what they need is this man. Or at least these two men.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

This Revolution WILL be Televised, Comrades!

From BBC comes this sordid tale of exploitation. The separatist rebels in Tripura are making porn films to fund their rebellion.
"The former guerrillas of the NLFT have told police their leaders not only sexually abused scores of tribal girls recruited into the rebel army but also used them - and some male guerrillas - to produce scores of porn films, officials say."
I know the story is a tragic one, but for some reason, I was reminded of Woody Allen's 1971 classic.

Rebel groups without a clue, male guerillas being forced to act in porn...there is something utterly ludicrous about this whole affair.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Rock Snobs: All the Way to 11

Amit Varma brings up a topic dear to my heart: the imminent extinction of the rock snob. I used to be a rock snob, but not anymore. I realized could live in the warmth of my bootlegs of Beatles' bootlegs for only so long.

The basic premise of the New Republic article (that Amit has linked to) is this: Internet and the iPod are killing the rock snob.

The writer must have written this in jest. Isn't it the ultimate elitism to complain that commoners now have access to great music? As soon as an obscure piece of music is exposed to the masses, it loses its special powers. Remember when the Beatles' Anthology was released? Oh, how I cried that night (quick, rock snobs! Where's that lyric from? Hint: This band's drummer's first name was Keith, last name Moon. Ugh.)

But can a mere MP3 player make rock snobs - those impressive founts of rock knowledge - obsolete? Not so fast, Mr. Crowley. It still takes a rock snob to fill up an MP3 player or iTunes with that rare outtake, that forgotten live recording or that acoustic version sung with wrong words. Most middle-of-the-road listeners do not really care for them. At least not till it appears on a Volkswagen or Apple commercial. (Grrr.. those fucktards!)

Michael Crowley complains of being able to summon any rare track online, but if it is already available online, how much of a rarity can it be? As the sheer quantity of recorded music grows older and bigger, there is a stronger case for the obsessive-compulsive collectors who can spot that gem.

Short story long, rock snobs don't die, they are just re-released in a new format.These Secretive Guardians of Musical Eclectica who once scrounged vinyl stores were scrounging Napster in '99 (ah, that all-too-brief summer) and they are now scrounging blogs, flash memory sticks and hard drives.

Sidenote: Any rock snobs in Bombay who can tell me if the vinyl sellers in Fort (near the Bata store) are still around? (To be honest, their catalog was hardly rare stuff, but still, it was on vinyl.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mangal Pandey - Word on the Seats

A 6-year old sat directly behind me.

Ten minutes into the film, he goes

"YAAAAWN. Daddy, who's the bad guy?"

Even before Daddy can answer, comes another

"YAAAWN", followed by a

"Can I have some chips?"

"YAAAAWN-KRRUNCH-AAAAWN". Then suddenly, all was quiet on the northern front.

Screenwriters, take note. 10 minutes into the film and a 6-year old couldn't identify the antagonist. And with goras talking Hindi, the difference between "bura" and "bhura" was all but blurred.

Is it any wonder we lost the first battle of independence?

And about that Hindi dialog bit: did it serve any purpose other than making the hammy expository dialog even more expositional - if such a thing is possible?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Robert Moog - R.I.P

Robert Moog died on Sunday.

While many haven't heard of the man, the fruits of his labor helped define so many of our favorite albums. Abbey Road, Dark Side of the Moon and Autobahn are but three of the hundreds of great rock albums that featured the famous Moog synthesizer. Moog's invention changed pop music the same way the e-mail changed communication.

Mr. Moog, thanks for blips and chirps and whoooshes and kling-klang and millions of other beautiful noises. These are not just sounds, these are what shaped modern pop. It's what makes "Abbey Road" different from "Meet the Beatles".

BTW, it is pronounced "MOG" (as in "vogue".)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Mob Rules in Mississippi and Mysore

Back when Bob Dylan still wrote brazenly political songs about contemporary issues, he wrote one about Emmett Till, the 14-year old kid who was killed for whistling at a white woman. The murder of Emmett Till is back in news after 50 years.

But that's not what I want to write about.

I read a story about a "mentally unsound" man who "hugged" a woman in Mysore and almost got lynched by an angry mob.

My first reaction was "Great, mob rules." Ever the peace-loving, reasonable man, I. Then I thought about the girl. If she were someone known to me, would I think twice before tying up that man and thrashing him senseless? I think not.

That's when two other stories floated up into my consciousness: Emmett Till's and the story about one woman's train ride to Chennai and then things got really muddy.

Is whistling acceptable, but not embracing? Is tying up against a pole acceptable, but not murdering? Are there limits and who decides them? If the mob in Mysore can be forgiven, could I not forgive the people of Money, Mississippi?

While we can (and must) forgive the 14-year old's "crime", could the woman have forgiven it so easily? (We are talking about 1955 here, remember.)

I know, I am equating a "catcall" to a woman being groped, but one must also examine the issue from the woman's point of view. What if, to a woman, a catcall is as humiliating as a grope? Then is being tied to a pole and beaten fair game? And murder?

Suddenly, my outrage and self-righteousness disappear.

Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made this classic boast, a favorite of parents everywhere. So here are some boasts to motivate your pathetic, illiterate, unread, uncouth, unkempt, Xboxed Pokemaniac:

The Evergreen boast: We studied under a street-light (variations: We studied under a broken street-light. We studied under a broken street-light with a raging bull and a serial killer on the loose)

The Patently Absurd boast: We studied under a glowworm's ass!

The Tragic boast: We studied in the glow of grandfather's hookah/pipe/cheroot/bidi. He had to smoke an entire crop of tobacco for me to finish my bachelor's degree!

The Patherpanchaliesque boast: We studied in the light produced by the sparks on the rails by a passing steam engine that went through our village only twice a month. Every 3 months. Every leap year. In every alternate millenium.

Friday, August 19, 2005

"In the Grand Canyon, at sundown"

Uma writes about listening to the legendary Dust Bowl Ballads (thereby proving there is something called synchronicity - I am reading Steinbeck and she quotes from Tom Joad.)

While Woody's music has now largely been relegated to the Smithsonian/Folkways-folk music listening crowd, rock music owes a lot to Woody (right up to late 90s' protest-rock like Rage Against the Machine).

Protest music really came into being via Woody. Political (and social consciousness) in rock music exists because of Woody. (And how sad that *they* subverted and distorted "This Land is Your Land" and turned it into a patriotic song? It is anything but, read the lyrics)

Bob Dylan's admiration for Woody is itself a part of rock mythology: the young protege who surpassed the guru and scaled dizzying heights. As Woody lay dying, Dylan wrote a beautiful, stream-of-consciousness poem-song called "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie". (the song appears only on "Bootleg Series" album.) If Rock had once prided itself on the lack of tradition and lineage, this was Dylan's acknowledgement of Guthrie's genius. Everyone stands on the shoulders of giants, and Woody is one giant on whose shoulders stood many of the beloved 60s rock icons, albeit unknowingly.

And who can forget Woody's famous sticker on his beat-up acoustic guitar: "THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS". The idea that an itty-bitty acoustic guitar carried such a bombastic slogan is so awesomely punk.

Sidenote: Protest music is largely a western concept. Indian music (or at least, popular Indian music) really contains nothing that resembles "protest". I wonder why? (Other than the fact that popular Indian music has rarely stepped out of the filmscreen.) But is there protest in our folk music?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Saving the Tiger - Ullas Karanth in the New York Times

The New York Times recently ran a good (if brief) interview with one of the important figures of Tiger conservation in India, Ullas Karanth. Some excerpts below. (Bugmenot - link in the right bar - will help you say ta-ta-buh-bye to NYT site registration)

A worrisome quote:
In most of that territory, there's been a tremendous tiger decline due to habitat degradation by local people and development activities like mines, dams and roads, and the poaching of tiger prey.

A fascinating quote:
They are built to take down prey four to five times their own size. If I went into the forest, it would be hard for me to get within striking range of a deer. This huge cat does it effortlessly. It can grab onto something that weighs about a ton, wrestles it down and kill it, all very safely and quietly.

And, finally, a hopeful quote:
One thing that gives us a head start: India actually has more wild tigers than our neighbors.

We won't need to reintroduce them. Also, tigers reproduce easily; they are not like pandas. Also, I believe that there are aspects of Indian culture that can be mobilized for conservation. If you look at the Hindu religion, there's real guilt associated with the killing of an animal. So if you are protecting a park and you catch a poacher, this sense of guilt puts the enforcement officials at an advantage.

Thank God we have people like him watching these beautiful cats.

Daisy, Don't Chew That Grass!

From the "too-good-to-be-true" department:


Russia's long winter will just fly by for a herd of Russian cows which, a newspaper reported on Tuesday, will be fed confiscated marijuana over the cold months, Reuters reports from Moscow. Drug workers said they adopted the unusual form of animal husbandry after they were forced to destroy the sunflowers and maize crops that the 40 tonnes of marijuana had been planted among, Novye Izvestia daily reported. "I don't know what the milk will be like after this', Federal Drugs Control Service spokes woman said.
(italics all mine)

Doesn't this qualify as animal cruelty? 40 tonnes of badass Ruskie weed will be fed to cud-chewing cows. Imagine their plight. They will be rolling on the, er, grass, laughing their guts out, developing severe paranoid delusions ("see that farmer on the yonder mountains? Think a butcher he be?" yes, my cows talk like that.) and then getting a bad case of the munchies. My heart goes out to them.

But till the cows finish their long, strange trip (long after the winter, I am guessing, it's 40 tonnes), Jai Shambhu!

P.S.: I am scraping the bottom here. Stoner stories. Hmph.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Eye of The Beholder Just Stabbed

Sam is an ugly dog. So ugly, he was recently voted the ugliest dog in the world.

Yes, I was surprised too. A beauty paegent for humans, an ugly paegent for canines? Smacks of discrimination.

But what is not a surprise is that Sam has won the title, hands down, three times in a row.

I feel sapped just looking at the picture above, so I will refrain from Google-scouring for any more Sam pictures. Please excuse me, I must go and HHHHHHHHURRRRL.

Just kidding. (Inner conscience just chimed in: "All creatures great and small, right?" Yeah, but it doesn't say "all creatures beautiful and ugly" Waiting for I.C. to re-appear shortly.)

But if I were still 16 years old, listening to heavy metal and secretly practicing devil worship between calculus and organic chemistry, this would be the dog I would want in my room.

And you know what? Sam resembles Iron Maiden's Eddie. This dog is "teh metal".

Sunday, August 14, 2005

On Buying A Guitar

Guitar shopping has begun once again, tentatively but who am I kidding? As always, it is preceded by that sense of "yearning" and guitarlust. If only you had one more guitar, my mind tells me. Standard disclaimer, I have nothing to do with this mind. I am just obeying the orders.

So what will it be this time? (See how quickly one goes from mere lust to consummation?)

Like a magician and his wand, guitars have to come to you. They arrive first in your memory via sounds and mysterious associations. Then they arrive in your arms, where you make their acquaintance for the second time. The pleasure (or the disappointment) is nothing less than visceral.

So many questions. Should it be a Fender or a Gibson? And like buying wine, what year will it be? A '55 or a '68? Or will it be something prosaic, a 2004 or 2005? Should I spend a thousand dollars or five hundred? A sun-burst or a satin finish? Tremolo arm or none? Oh, the technicalities.

Often times, we already love the guitar and the sound and simply need a technical reason. It's why musical instruments come with spec-sheets. The left brain and the right brain both have to be pleased.

Then starts a round of frantic browsing, checking the classifieds (how did anyone buy anything before the Internet?), walking into music stores and hearing a distinct thump-thump as I walk by that Gibson Les Paul (only three thousand dollars, thank you), caressing the sides of a Marshall, oh, man, rock and roll.

Here's the beautiful thing: even now when I plug in, I get the goose-bumps. When the amp shows signs of life, that riff is still how one invokes the Gods. But before they appear, you must feel your blood just chill. I even start believing in all those rock and roll cliches. You know, "with one pure note, the world can be blown to bits".

But first, that pure note calls for a pure guitar. And that is where I am. Looking for purity in a horribly impure world. Oh, the woes of an amateur guitarist.

To be continued.

YouTube - Can Video Kill the Podcasting Star?

Blog (and Flickr), Podcast and now, YouTube.

YouTube urges users to "upload, tag and share your videos worldwide". Flickr has already become a treasure-trove of pictures. Will YouTube do the same for videos? (Rather, what will YouTube do to Mardi Gras and spring-break?)

The possibilities are endless. Travelogues, instruction videos, funnies, news from the scene, and of course, pointless trivia and minutiae.

(Someone uploaded the funny but sad clip from Graham Chapman's now-legendary funeral service, and I just had to put this up here. Enjoy)

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Haircut Must Really, Really Suck

This horror-humor-moral tale found on Star of Mysore, my online window to my most favorite city in the world.

Seeking the payment of paltry sum of Rs. 15, cost a barber his life in the Buzurg village of Uttar Pradesh, reports UNI

Look, Dev Kumarji, I don't know what you were expecting for 15 rupees, but here in the States, even 15 dollars doesn't buy me a decent haircut. We look at the mirror held behind our heads for a few nano-seconds, feel our hearts sink at the sight of the unevenly mowed hair, mumble a "shithatethis", shell out the 15 bucks, add 2 dollars as tip, thank the lady for her time and drive off into the sunset.

But as a principle, we never, ever stab the hairdresser. Even though we often feel like doing it.

You can insult them, change salons, grow your hair really long, shave it off, but murder? That is just too extreme a feedback.

August 15th in a Foreign Land

Many Indians will celebrate Independence Day in the major metros in the US.

In true American spirit, the day will be observed on a convenient weekend, not on August 15th.

A tiny explosion of green, white and saffron shall ensue. Flags, decals, parades ("parades" almost reads like "pardes") and of course, posters on the windows of grocery stores proudly announcing the "Grand Marshall" of the parade, some film star, who, as we all know is the real draw of the parade. About 3 years ago, the above HT article says, the I-day parade in Fremont, CA caused logistical problems in the city because of Big B's presence.

"Kisika" Independence mela, "kisika" traffic "jhamela".

One could easily intellectualize the whole affair and sneer at the hulla-gulla and the utter lack of irony. Or, one could just as easily romanticize the celebration - poor, huddled masses gathered under a flag to remember their motherland - shed a silent tear and gaze lovingly at a bumper sticker that reads "I (heart) India" or "Mera Bharat Mahan".

But I am skeptical of extreme viewpoints for they are simplistic and usually lazy. So are these celebrations just an excuse to hit the streets of NYC, hoping for a good view of the floats and the film stars?

What does Independence Day mean to Indians in India? What should it mean to Indians outside India?

What does it mean to me? I was not sure back when Independence day meant packets of laddus and white canvas sneakers and "patriotic" songs sung in front of some official-politician dressed in white. Now, here in the US, Independence Day usually means a 6-pack of beer, an extra helping of BBQ chicken and some more rock and roll on a beautiful summer afternoon.

I remember fondly Bombay's most awesome celebration of Independence Day: I-Rock. This was a 3 day rock music festival held in Rang Bhavan (which no longer exists, I am told). To me, there was nothing more subversive and jaw-droppingly liberal about India and Bombay than Independence Rock on August 15. We all wanted to sing "saare jahan se accha", but instead the words came out "Exit Light, Enter Night".

That was real freedom.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

March of the Chaplin

Sunday afternoons are made for watching wildlife films.

Like a gazelle nervously grazing even as it knows it is being stalked by a hungry leopard, I await Monday's nasty grip on the soft, delicate neck. Watching the endless cycles of life and death on screen is a distraction from our own endless cycles of work and leisure. And so we landed up at the multiplex last Sunday to watch March of the Penguins. In case you didn't know, the film is well on its way to becoming one of the highest-grossing documentaries in the US.

Long story short, these adorable, black-on-white Linux logos are not quite the cute, funny creatures we make them out to be. Take your worst Sunday evening blues and multiply it by 10 Quadramegagigillion and that still wouldn't describe an hour in the lives of these penguins.

At one point in the film (and I can tell you when that moment comes on the screen), you will find yourself asking this question: Do the penguins think it's worth it?

You may also find yourself pondering over another question: what about the pointless, repetitive cycles in one's own life? Is all this worth it? What does it all mean?

I soon found myself in a deep existential funk that was only exacerbated by a lack of popcorn and the harsh conditions captured on film.

So when I reached home, I needed to shake off my Big Question Blues with something funny. Chaplin's "Modern Times" was popped into the DVD player and I was once again regaled by the automatic feeding machine, the conveyor belt etc etc.

Then something incredibly sad and beautiful happened towards the end of the film.

The Tramp and his girl are down on their luck again. She has the blues. So Charlie looks at her face and tells the girl, "buck up, we are in this together". The girl hesitates for a split-second, smiles, springs to her feet and takes his arm. The Tramp walks hand in hand with the girl (the beautiful Paulette Goddard, thanks, Wiki) on an empty highway, in search of a better tomorrow.

And that right there was the March of the Tramp. He walks, not 70 miles, but forever. He knows it's worth it. No philosophical argument there. He must survive, and to do so, he must walk. Just like the penguins.

Men: The "No Aural" Sex

This is staggering:

Men do have problems listening to women.

(pic in the above link of an Indian couple coochie-cooing on Marine Drive, Bombay. Sadly, he can't hear a word of what's she's coochie-cooing.)

Let me wipe a solitary tear off my cheek and years of accumulated sweat off my brow. Now we will look at the rest of the research.

Men deciphered female voices using the auditory part of the brain that processes music, while male voices engaged a simpler mechanism

But...but....we've been saying this for years! Us men simple, you women complex. Pretentious aside: Watch "Amadeus" for a physical demonstration of this phenomenon (Herr Mozart's mom-in-law "explodes" into an aria.)

The female voice is actually more complex than the male voice..


..due to differences in the size and shape of the vocal cords and larynx between men and women

It's called "advantage". Stop boasting, ladies.

The findings may help explain why people suffering hallucinations usually hear male voices

Thank God. I just assumed there were these little men inside my head telling me to do deplorable things.

the brain may find it much harder to conjure up a false female voice accurately than a false male voice

So, the research was conducted on...Michael Jackson?

I am giddy with delight. Let's see how she gets me to put the book/guitar/newspaper down.

Witch hunt in Jharkhand: I Demand An Idiot Hunt

(Found via Drudge Report. Link's on your right, ladies and gentlemen.)

The Discovery landed today. Just imagine, there was a group of humans who kicked sand in the face of that 97 lbs weakling (aka gravity) for a few days, orbited the third rock from the sun, carried out a few handyman type jobs and returned safely. Wow.

Now read this news item in the Washington Post.

Are we even fucking living in the same universe?
"They beat me with bamboo sticks and metal rods and tried to pull my nails out. 'You are a witch, admit it,' they screamed at me again and again," Manjhi said, tearfully recalling her four days of captivity in June.

The men beat her as her six little children watched. (it reminded me of JAP's short but poignant post on a related topic.)

I begged them and told them I was not a witch," she said, showing wounds on her legs, thighs, hips and shoulders one recent morning in this village in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.

Bravo, motherfuckers.

No, I don't think - not even for a moment - that these village idiots believe in witchcraft. The driver here is fear and greed. But what kind of a man would beat a mother in front of her little children?

Witch trials are not exactly new. But now I learn they are not scarce either. The Post article quotes an official saying she sees "an average of five women a month being denounced as witches and tortured in rural Jharkhand".

Five women a month?

But the ultimate ironic revelation? "Only two Indian states, Jharkhand and Bihar, have outlawed witch-hunting" (also from the WP article).

Aw, gee, that's just swell. Now try not to burn and brand and beat the remaining few women in your two states, will ya?

Read also the closing sentence of the article for a "groan-and-gasp-and-chuckle-and-shoot me" moment.

And now for something completely different: this is how you spot a witch. (beware, link to a Monty Python sketch, will make you blow coffee out of your nose)

Monday, August 08, 2005

Revisiting Ray's Agantuk

Why do some films seem better on the second viewing? Better not just intellectually, but in being able to see the beauty in the film. It is a thrilling "a-ha" moment (and by that I don't mean you start hearing 80s synth-pop in your head.)

It is not unlike listening to a JJ Cale record. All Cale's records sound the same. But some cold winter evening, you will hear a Cale album as if for the first time and get it. It's a zen-like experience. Try it for yourself.

The film in question: Satyajit Ray's Agantuk. The first time I saw it, that aftertaste of "construction" and cleverness lingered. Lofty concepts were being discussed on screen: civilization, progress, humanity. I thought he almost telegraphed us an overtly critical judgement of the modern urban man.

The other problems (or so I felt on the first viewing) were the easy generalizations and abstractions. Here, Mr. Ray takes us out of a specific setting (like Pather Panchali's rural Bengal or Jalsaghar, the Music Room) and places us inside a generic, middle-class living room circa 1991. It could be anywhere, and therfore, it was right in our home. Those characters, those mistrustful characters - those were our families. So suddenly, the abstract became personal. And that upset me too.

The film is shot in three, maybe four locations. Entire sequences are composed like a one-act play: like when Utpal Dutt is grilled by the couple's friend (played by Dhritiman Banerjee). This sequence, fascinating for its love of ideas, left me irritated and feeling incredulous. Could one man really speak to another in that accusatory tone, and that too in a friend's living room? Let's not forget, in our (i.e., India's) acutely status-conscious society, an erudite, scholarly English-speaking person (living in the west) could NEVER be spoken to in that tone.

By the time I had reached the film's end, I knew just what to expect: guilt, regret, forgiveness, Lessons Learned, end of story. The Man's swan-song was certainly not half as great as his stunning debut, I thought to myself.

So I sat down to see it again this weekend and was genuinely surprised by Agantuk's charms. The flaws did not vanish entirely, but the bright spots were really visible this time around.

The three lead actors, Deepanker De, Mamta Shankar and Utpal Dutt, play their roles with subtlety. It's not like the couple are "bad" people (though their behavior towards an "atithi" who is a "devo bhavah" is practically sacrilege.) It's just natural urban mistrust of strangers. Moreover, the characters openly acknowledge their own paranoia and feelings of fear. If the two of them are unwilling to share their love (even though Mamta Shankar's character yearns for an uncle), the stranger is more than willing to shower it on everyone in the household. But what makes him more than a two dimensional character is his acknowledgement of the couple's mistrust. He can clearly see their discomfort.

However, the real beauty of Mr. Ray's screenplay is his handling of the character arc (if I may use that Hollywood cliche.) Even before the Grand Moral is taught, Mamta Shankar's character realizes her mistake. She repents. The resolution is tragic, but not bitter.

I don't believe life hands us That One Good Lesson in ten convenient steps. Things get messy, relationships go sour, people die and we forever fret over the possibilities of the past. Wisdom is hindsight and of very little use. Mamta and Deepanker are richer and wiser but not necessarily happier.

What about the Stranger? Does he follow his wanderlust and find his bliss? Or is he too forever burdened with riches and wisdom?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Frank and Joe and Fenton and Laura

Sometimes, milestones are remembered more fondly than the miles and none more so than those that mark childhood's road. So when I saw this Yahoo Pick of the Day, I remembered the experience of discovering books and libraries on one's own for the first time.

At the "convent school" library, where I first read a Hardy Boys book, choosing a book was complicated for a reason: we could pick a book that improved our minds or we picked a book that entertained us (but you got a disapproving stare from the librarian. Or so I imagined.) Hardy Boys did not save me from damnation.

What can one say about reading Hardy Boys' mysteries? (other than, how the hell did I read so many of them and not get bored?)

At the age of 10 or 11, the notion of two boys solving crimes is simply intoxicating. They owned a boat ("Sleuth"), drove cars, flew in planes and rode motorbikes. They even had girlfriends. Frank and Joe were just hardcore badasses compared to Dame Enid's alliteratively titled milquetoast detective "groups".

The library had this big stack of hardcover Hardy Boys' books. One day, while browsing through that stack (oh, what will it be, "Sinister Post" or "House on the Cliff"?), I found out that the book was first published in 1927. Now I am pretty certain the book itself was not a first edition from 1927, but from the 1960s. I was 11 and I didn't know any better. This was an old book! Perhaps it was the poor lighting in our convent school library, or the impressively aged oak bookshelf, but for that one moment, it felt like I had stumbled upon an ancient tome. Like an Egyptologist would upon discovering a new Pyramid, I did a little jig and picked up two more books from the series and rushed to the librarian before a rival explorer staked his claim on this stunning find. From there on, a blur of bus-ride, the school-bag tossed on the living room floor, lunch gobbled down and then the plop on the squeaky, springy bed with the two new books.

I don't believe I ever read a bad Hardy Boys book. But we know the truth: every story reads the same and the writing is smooth and bland, much like the Harry Potter series. But the repetitious nature of the characters actually made me like the books even more. An unread HB book would always be a surprise, but not too much of a surprise. The mostly sunny, occasionally cloudy universe of Bayport was good, book after book after book.

While I was reminiscing over these things, I was stumped by one simple question: how was I introduced to this series? Who recommends these things to a 10 year-old? Was it an older friend, a teacher or, was it mother? I wish I had recorded the name of my first Hardy Boys novel and my reactions (bet it was something along the lines of "I wish I had a boat, a car. Or at least a girlfriend." I was 10, remember?)

Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Famous Five, Secret Seven...all milestones. Without them, one wouldn't know the magical towns that were still to come.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

George Orwell Was Born Here

George Orwell Eric Blair was born in Motihari, Bihar.

He lived there for a year (from ZERO to the ripe old age of ONE.) There have been no known crayon scribblings of "1984" or "All animals are equal" etc on the walls of this house. He never wrote one of his superbly crafted essays about this garibkhana, nor did he ever return to Motihari.

Motihari is not really associated with writers and writing, much less English authors, and a trip to Bihar is not exactly on the map for bibiliophiles.

So why is this organization called "The Heritage Foundation" dipping into its stash and writing that generous check of $70,000 to build a museum and an "indoor stadium" to commemorate this great writer?

A museum, I can understand (though I don't think it's the right way to remember the man.) But an indoor stadium to honor George Orwell?

The chairman of the Foundation, Mr. L.M. Singhvi is confident that " the end of 2006, it will become an [attraction] for foreign tourists.."

I can easily see how Motihari, a poor, dusty little town with its top-notch "kidnapping industry", and now an indoor stadium, will attract foreign tourists.

Does anyone know if this "Heritage Foundation" has a website? I tried googling for it, and found a gazillion links, none of them directly linking to this Foundation.

I did find this website of something called "IIC Delhi" but the site appears to be down since morning. There were a couple of press-release type columns there.
Here's an excerpt from that page (google for the text below and read it in the cache):
"Motihari is the janmabhoomi (birthplace) of Orwell and karmabhoomi (workplace) of Gandhi."

Yowza! it rhymes, it mentions Gandhiji, ergo, it deserves funding.

I don't question the need to preserve Orwell's home. But why a museum? Why not just convert it into a primary school?

Wouldn't Orwell be pleased knowing that 50 or 60 or 100 loud, boisterous children are growing up tall and proud in the very place where he was born, rapidly shedding their society's old ways, not to mention years of disinformation and neglect by the state?

Wouldn't he be happier knowing that an additional 100 citizens of a poor state are being armed with information and knowledge, the ultimate bullshit detectors, which these people so badly need?

Wouldn't he be happier if someone funded a Hindi translation of "Animal Farm" and gave it away free to the citizens of Champaran?

But no, Motihari needs a tourist attraction and an indoor museum. The "foreign tourists", you see. Indian tourists really have no incentive to visit Motihari.

A curious coincidence that Gandhiji launched his non-cooperation movement in Champaran.

The first of these conflicts was between peasants and indigo planters in Champaran in Bihar. Gandhi went to Champaran in 1917 to investigate the peasant's grievances. Shortly after his arrival, he was ordered to leave the district, "as his presence was considered a danger to public peace." [4, 157] Naturally, Gandhi refused to leave. The magistrate, realizing that official interference with Gandhi's inquiry would only excite public anger, allowed Gandhi to stay. Gandhi's inquiry into the peasants' plight caused the Indian Government to form its own Commission of Inquiry, of which Gandhi was to be a member.
(excerpt taken from here)

And here's the irony that kicks you on your face (also excerpted from the above link):

While conducting his inquiry, Gandhi discovered that ignorance made the peasantry susceptible to oppression.

Ignorance & oppression. Orwell knew and wrote about those 2 ideas frighteningly well. So how about we honor this great man by establishing a free public school or a free public library in Motihari? I say screw the tourists, focus on the locals.

Surviving A Flood




The above links are probably based on southern US conditions, but I am guessing many of the tips are relevant in any flooding situation.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Of Sights Unseen - in Bombay

Amit in an e-mail to me (seriously, man, do you ever sleep?) about the Bombay rains: "But some of the stuff I see, never seen anything like it before."

I thought I would never see stuff like what I had seen in '92 and '93 when I lived in Bombay. It was so damn grotesque and gruesome - and unfamiliar.

Then we lived through 9/11. I never thought I would see Apache helicopters flying low, low over our backyards, in a full-blooded September sunset. The sound of their rotor blades thwack-thwacking in the late summer air, reminding us all of that famous sequence from Apocalypse Now. I half-expected to hear the Valkyries come crashing through the clouds.

Again, so frustratingly unfamiliar.

Now the pictures of the cloudburst and the aftermath are here to confound us.

Here's praying everyone is safe, warm and dry in Bombay. Today, tomorrow, always.