Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Lines Composed Upon Reading The Worst Allegorical Tale Ever

I recently read this news article on rediff.com about India's "3 IT biggies". Right there in the opening paragraph was the most hilariously bizarre analogy I've EVER read in a business news item in my life.

So I decided to rework this allegorical tale about the "three chickens which all laid eggs", woven so movingly by Monsieur H. Bijoor, brand consultant to India's IT Royalty Poultry, into verse. Here goes.


"The Chicken Song"

There were these little chickens three,
Who could lay the perfect egg
So Shy, Honest and Miss Noisy,
All spread their chicken legs.

The cocks were on the prowl at night,
and soon the birds got laid
The cocks a-doodled with all their might
And lo! the eggs were made.

Miss Shy - she shot a ninety-eight,
But no one came to see
But those that did were satisfied
And rubbed their claws in glee.

Miss Honest, she hit a cent per cent
Neither sad nor glum were we.
Every cock was just so ho-hum,
They got what they could see.

Miss Noisy, she was a wild child now,
she trumpeted her wares,
"Four Hundred, dear Sirs!", she screamed
And got the cocks to bare.

So the cocks all flocked to the Noisy One,
With dreams of a Four Hundred!
But when she gave them less than that
They got f***ed up in the head.

Read the article here.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Thingy must be shot, smothered with a feather-filled pillow, drowned, hanged with a barbed wire, hemlocked, buried alive, slow-roasted over the golden-blue flame-tips of a dozen Bics and if it survives the bite of ten blind, rabid mongrels, Thingy must be trapped shut in a Wilson cloud chamber full of death-rays till you hear it hiss and see it shrink.

Thingy must not be allowed to live is what I am saying.

Thingy is neither cute nor clever. Thingy does not make the imprecision or the incompleteness of the expressed idea disappear. It does just the opposite, in fact.

All we are saying is don't give thingy any more chances.

Please oh please let Thingy out and lock up the doors. Allow it to wander off into the meadow at twilight and when you hear the sound of Thingy tumbling down the cliff at night, call me so I can sleep again.

The Other India

Such a simple yet powerful idea: a blog to explore the other India. Here's more about the blog.

Given the calibre of the team members, this will be a must-read.

Friday, January 27, 2006

"Happy New Year, First of All"

You may have hundreds of albums in your collection, a million songs may have entered your ears, but there's usually two or three albums that form your sonic foundation. (God, do I sound like a pretentious teenage rock critic or what?) But you know what I mean. These are the albums that become your "standard". It's how you measure all other recordings.

"Band of Gypsys" was my introduction to Jimi Hendrix. I was 15 at the time, and therefore this is how I measure all live albums. Play me a live album, and I will be comparing it, subconsciously, to "Band of Gypsys".

This concert is easily Hendrix's most soulful performance. Soul, R&B, funk and blues played extremely loud on a Stratocaster. "Band of Gypsys" is about Hendrix the Expressionist. "Machine Gun" is pure rock expression in all its glory and fury. Very little in rock music comes close to it (except maybe Metallica's "One", which should have really been titled "Son of a Machine Gun" ;))

BTW, if you've ever dreamed of reproducing that sheer blast of "Machine Gun" on your guitar and the cheesy practice amp, read some notes on the subject here.

B.O.G. is a fearless jam, but it is not so loose and vast that it loses you. Buddy Miles and Billy Cox keep the groove swinging and tight for Jimi to do his thing. And how he does his thing.

A couple of interesting album reviews, some of them dating back to 1970.

If you enjoy the occasional jab in the eye, read this site for a detailed account of the concert. BTW, that site is a crime against humanity and it gives angry fruit salads a bad name.

Happy Birthday, Wolfie

"The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons and basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly - high above it - an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and turned into a phrase of such delight!"

The above dialogue is my favorite moment from Milos Forman's "Amadeus". Such a poetic and precise description. And to think these words come from the mouth of Salieri, Mozart's arch-rival!

If you can't rent "Amadeus", listen to some samples from the film here.

A disturbing thought: had Mozart not died in 1791, he would have been a 250-year old child prodigy today.

And a troubling question: if Wolfgang and Ludwig arm-wrestled, who would win?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Reading A Resume

Resumes are such strange things: crammed with serious and cryptic words, boasts and accomplishments, and even a paragraph entitled "career objective", all designed to impress the reader. But after you've read resumes for a few years, you look past the fonts and the formats and you learn to read between the lines. You recognize the euphemisms and the hyperboles and - and this is the part I find troubling - you start "figuring out" people.

Couple of days ago, I was reviewing the resume of a technology consultant with about twelve years of consulting experience. I noticed a significant time gap between his last two jobs. Not only that, the man had changed careers, going from being a technology consultant to working as a parole officer or something. For almost all business managers, these are red flags: long time-gaps and career changes.

My clever brain "figured out" Joe Tech's life-story in a snap. Joe was a consultant, doing well, no doubt, then got laid-off, couldn't find work, settled for the first job that came along and ended up becoming a parole officer.

I had figured him out. I wouldn't hire him.

However, just before I closed the document, I read it once again. It seems I had missed a crucial sentence in the paragraph describing his current job. It clearly explained the reason for the long break in his professional career.

It said right there that during that period of unemployment, he was living with his parents and was helping them with their day-to-day living. It also said his mother was fighting cancer.

Never could I have imagined that the simple act of reading a resume would reveal my prejudgment - and shame - so suddenly and clearly.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


"I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York. For Laura's horrible death, I was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her."

If one analyzes Otto Preminger's 1944 film "Laura" element by element, the film simply should not work. As a noir-film, it is not quite dark enough. As a detective story, it features some improbable ideas. Why would a detective agree to let a murder suspect tag along for the investigation? How come this cop is not once seen inside a police station? Yet there it is is, ranked 234 in the Top 250 on IMDB. Somehow, the film just works.

The film's storyline is not as (famously) convoluted as The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon, but is still gripping.

Laura Hunt, played by Overbite Goddess Gene Tierney, is shot dead. Killed at close range by someone who shot her in the face.

Lieutenant Mark McPherson is on the trail of the murderer. The suspects include a prominent newspaper/radio personality, an unfaitful boyfriend and Laura's aunt.

Watching the film, it seemed to me that there was something more to the screenplay (or in the screenwriter's mind) than what appeared on the screen. How (or why) the detective falls in love with the dead Laura Hunt is never quite clear.Never mind, there is a wonderful scene involving that romantic angle, but I can't write more without giving away a key plot-point.

What holds the film together is a key question that surfaces thrice (and beautifully masks and reveals character motivations): "do you, or did you love him (or her)?" Jealousy, insecurity and manipulation all appear side by side with love and fidelity, and that's the fun, isn't it ;)

One of the pleasures of noir movies is keeping track of the setups - true and false, the twists and the surprises, and the well-executed payoff at the end. "Laura" succeeds on all those fronts. The climax is indeed very good. What it lacks is Bogie delivering the goods as the detective. That would have probably pushed "Laura" closer to # 107 or # 54 on the Top 250.

(Fans of Inspector Morse - and I am one - have to thank "Laura" for the "the- orchestra-switched-the-program" clue.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

What's Playin' Here

Robert Altman's "Short Cuts": 187 minutes and 20 characters seemed daunting initially, but "Short Cuts" had me hooked. Absolutely hooked. As soon as I gave up trying to predict the eventual intersection of the stories, the film became so much enjoyable. If you have an hour or so, read this really interesting page about "narrative" and Short Cuts.

William Wyler's "Jezebel":
Wyler's 1938 film was almost the predecessor to "Gone With The Wind". John Huston co-wrote the screenplay, but the only reason for renting this film is, what else, Bette Davis.

"Jezebel" is a good movie, but ultimately, it is not as satisfying as "The Little Foxes" or "All About Eve".

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Rare Blood Group Needed For Cancer Patient

I had not heard of the "Bombay Blood group" till I saw this post on Uma's blog.

Some googling brought up a Pakistan-based foundation's page and fwiw, it may offer some leads for blood banks and the medical professionals treating the cancer patient in Baruipur.

(For some more analysis of the Bombay Blood group, read this page.)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Not Bad for Five Bucks

A VHS copy of Goddard's "Breathless", a VHS copy of "Princess Bride", the screenplay for Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" (I bought it only because it was an old-fashioned script style binding, with brass brads and typed up in that old typewriter font), a Foundation Course in Spanish, "The Bible for Literature And Arts Students" and a guide to Princeton, which is always useful for showing guests and visitors around and for showing them THE HOUSE. The House Where the Famous Frizzy-Haired Scientist Lived.

I have also conceded defeat to the inflow of books. There are far more books in the study (and the bedrooms and the living room and the bathrooms) than I can ever hope to read in this and the next lifetime.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Burning Question For The Day

What happened to Uriah Heep?

The Buffett Speaketh

"The U.S. trade deficit is a bigger threat to the domestic economy than either the federal budget deficit or consumer debt"

And its outcome?

"Political turmoil".

And the timeframe for this turmoil?

"Pretty soon, I think there will be a big adjustment"

Needlessly scary emphasis all mine, highly relevant scary views all Buffett's.

Jai Kisan Indeed

Dilip D'Souza, writing about the tragic trend of suicide among debt-ridden Indian farmers: "Think of farmers taking their lives, think of what drives them to do it..."

I cannot understand, though I can try to imagine, the thought-process that takes the poor farmer from the unhappy debt situation to ending his life. (That a suicide is the most impenetrable kind of mystery is another topic...)

Some must-read stuff on this subject on Vislumbres and Locana.

Looking For Comedy The American Way

Albert Brooks' new film "Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World" is getting lot of attention in the media (NPR, NYT et al).

Brooks is a funny guy and a cult figure, but the reviews for this film are mostly tepid. Though you gotta love a comic who has the balls to say "if I were to judge my material by audience's laughter, I would have quit this business long ago" (on Fresh Air, last night.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Wilson Pickett

Dead, at 64.

He wrote "In The Midnight Hour" with Steve Cropper. The Steve Cropper. Man. Whew.

Then there's his famous exhortation for Sally to slow her Mustang down. Everyone should, at least once in their lifetime, get a chance to sing "Mustang Sally", from an apartment balcony, after five beers, three drinks of whiskey and four tequila shots at 3A.M. It's good for the soul.

As hair-raising, full-throated singers go, Wicked Pickett was one of the best.

10 Years, 3 Billion Miles And A Cold Place

They finally left for Pluto.

I hope they remembered to carry plenty of music for the drive. Especially this song. (warning: listening to the song may induce an unstoppable and fatal giggling fit)

Auto Eroticism

The good news:
Detroit officials are looking into how a woman sneaked into the North American International Auto Show after closing hours early on Tuesday to pose naked on Chrysler's Dodge Challenger muscle car.

Now the bad news:
Chrysler had brought in "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria on Sunday to pose with Chrysler Chief Executive Tom LaSorda next to the new Imperial luxury concept car. Longoria was fully-clothed.

Dunno why, but it feels like I am playing Scrabble and I'm left with only 4 letters: K, L, P and D.

(From Yahoo)

What's Playin' Here

Jules Dassin's "Night And the City" - the night, the lights, the depths and of course, London. (The bonus material - Criterion's usual A-grade job. Particularly Dassin's frank views about about his friend Elia Kazan and Dassin's blacklisting from Hollywood in the McCarthy years.) Look how Harry Fabian runs.

William Wyler's "The Good Fairy". Preston Sturges wrote the screenplay. Who else has the chops to turn a dark story into a light comedy? Why can't Criterion do a Criterion for this film?

"By George (and Ira): Red Hot on Gershwin", a cool, cool compilation of covers interpretations of the Gershwin Brothers' most well-known songs. An excuse to hear Billie, Nina, Sarah, Ella - and Janis, really. It's fun to hear vocal and instrumental interpretations of the same song in succession ("The Man I love", by Billie first and then by Miles Davis, as an example.) Guitarist Kenny Burrell playing solo on "Prelude II" and Stan Getz playing "Summertime" - now that's how jazz is meant to be played.

"Drum Hat Buddha", by Tracy Grammer and Dave Carter: A fine folk album with an occasional tendency to break into songs about wizards and ravens, which I find just a little embarassing. Other than those minor (and pardonable) crimes, the duo wrote some terrific songs.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Phibetacuppa? A Tulloney?


Meaning: A super stimulant for the mind.
Usage: Everytime I listen to a Feynman lecture, I feel as if I have sipped the phibetacuppa.
Pronunciation: Fy-bee-ta-cup-pa


Meaning: All the rubbish that is spouted under the influence of alcohol.
Usage: Don't read too much into his rants. It's pure tulloney.
Pronunciation: Tull-low-nee.
Root: Tully (means drunk in hindi slang) + Baloney.

For more such hilarious neologisms, give 'em a spin. (via Cre8ive Ignition.)

Someone on the Word Mint team has a serious penchant (a bunchant?) for coining words related to the posterior. Funny, funny stuff.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Leaving Home

Gawker has a moving post on his last day at home.

I used to think the last-day experience would get easier with practice. After more than a decade of goodbyes (nice name for an album featuring a band that announces that one more farewell tour), I find it's the opposite. It just gets worse and worse.

And part of the reason is what Mark Knopfler sings about in "Southbound Again": "don't know If I am goin' or leavin' home"

Seen Any Big Cats Lately?

The Indian government launches a different kind of a census: to once again take stock of its tiger population. (40,000 a century ago, less than 3000 now - I'll take "fast dwindling" for 400 points, please)

Will the great tiger become a mythical, legendary beast, remembered only through pictures and paintings, poems and stories? Let's hope not.

If you think of extinction only in the context of dodos and dinosaurs, visit the Bronx Zoo sometime. The zoo has a depressing exhibit on animals that simply disappeared off the face of the earth. And the Tiger - the magnificent, beautiful Tiger - could soon end up on that wall in Bronx.

An old article in National Geographic (circa 2003) criticizes the Indian Government's previous attempts at such a census.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Here's A Great Idea

If, like me, you've been a part of a technology startup, you will recognize the lure of the Great Idea. It's that one blazingly brilliant concept that will immediately separate you from the other startups in the universe. It's the idea that will make your customers beg for your products and services. If ideas were symphonies, this Great Idea is the Ninth. Ode to Joy, baby.

But you also know that somehow, the Great Idea never seems to materialize. Till it does, and makes gazillionaires out of some other entrepreneur and elicits a "oh, i thought of this in 1986!" reaction from everyone on the team!

Been there, done that.

Which is why I thought this post by blogger-entrepreneur Ramit Sethi deserves to be read by everyone who's plotting to spring another technological marvel on the world.

I especially liked Ramit's closing words: "trying, not waiting" and "experimenting, not thinking about it". (Arun Verma makes a good case for doing in this post on Cre8ive Ignition.)

(via del.i.cious)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Going, Going, Gone

The (manually operated) bicycle pump, the ice-cream seller with a pushcart, the snake charmer - these are some of the things that, according to Falter Ego, will disappear in our lifetime. Sad indeed.

But "round the decay of that colossal wreck", there are so many "half-sunk, shattered" visages.

Seen a circus tent lately? It's gone.

Ever watched a slideshow through a (so-called) "bioscope"? Gone for good.

Someone tell me the dreaded "safari suit" is gone.

The Indian vulture, once found in most parts of the country, particularly in the North? Almost gone.

Oh, and a ten million girls. Dead and gone.

No Stinkin' Badges

Precious glittering gold, old dust-covered shoes, what's the difference?

There's a wonderful moment in John Huston's "Treasure of Sierra Madre", a little tragi-comic drama within the main adventure-drama, when two bandits fight over Bogart's shoes. Just like Dobbsie needs the gold, these two poor starving bandits need those shoes. And everything comes undone because of that need.

The amazing screenplay (it won an Oscar for John Huston) not only invokes sympathy for a deplorable character like Dobbs, but also heightens the drama to another level with a minor sequence. Somebody needs the gold, somebody needs the shoes and somebody needs a peach farm to find his happiness. That's what makes us human beings.

Wiki has a nice little entry on the film.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

While My Guitar Tunelessly Weeps

Automatically-tuned guitars?! What will they think of next? Digital cameras? Wireless phones?

Seriously, why would anyone want to use a computer to tune an instrument?

For one very good reason: it spares the guitarist the embarassment of playing an off-tune instrument. Unless you are a guitarist in a really avant band, in which case you are supposed to play offtune.

What can I say, there's the romantic/Luddite in me that still cringes at the mere mention of the word "synthesizer", let alone "computer-controlled-automatic-tuner". Why must we bring technology into every aspect of music-making?

Now look 'ere (that's my impression of a Luddite guitarist), guitars are supposed to go out of tune. In the middle of a song. Guitarists are supposed to spend at least 20 minutes tuning while the crowd trickles into the venue. They tune up, they hammer out a few riffs that everyone knows, they suck that cigarette dangling from the corner of their lips and that's how it's done. It's tradition, man. Don't mess with that!

It's also how guitarists have built their mystique. Yes, tuning up is how they impress the girls. "Look at me, I'm tuning a horrendously complex 6-string instrument and that's why I am so damn cool" is the message conveyed by ALL guitarists who tune their instruments while gazing vacantly into the dark abyss. You've seen the look. It's the sensitive-complex-pained hero look. It doesn't work with drummers, naturally. It also doesn't work for keyboard players (they have always had them damn automatic tuners!) and bassists...well, they only got 4 strings to tune...how difficult could that be? :)

Come on. Would Pandit Ravi Shankar buy an automatic tuner? And Ustad Ali Akbar Khan? What about Robert Johnson? (I think Jimi would have used it...but he would have also inflicted some serious damage to the unit)

Tuning an instrument "automatically" with one's hands and ears is part of the job description, isn't it? I really don't care if a rhythm guitarist is slightly off-tune, or if the lead guitarist needs 4 guitars for a song because he's written the song in 4 different tunings. It's how its supposed to be. So keep it that way.

Transperformance's website has the juice, and Cnet has the news.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What Is That Music?

Is there a coinage clumsier and more naive than "world music"? One of these days, I swear I will tear that Word Art generated, laser-printed label off the public library's music shelf with my half-chewed nails.

I found out, after a little Googling that the phrase was not sprung upon us by some music company executive in Los Angeles but by a group of Englishmen. (link to an about.com site.) So much for the popular stereotype about the culturally isolated American and the, uh, globally integrated Britisher.

Naani Yaad Aa Gayi

Reading this touching post by TTG (via Desipundit) made me remember my dear naani. Or ajji, as she was known to her grandchildren.

I tell you, living in a naani-less world is no fun at all.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Land Of The Ten Million Dead Girls

Indianwriting and Within/Without have both written about the Mystery of the Ten Million Deaths.

Also, an article by Dilip D'Souza on Rediff about this very subject. And if you like your data fresh from the tap, there's always the Census Commissioner's site (with a hilarious tagline, a la Tata Steel: We also count people in India)

I don't want to moralize here. Moralizing is boring. (Moralizing also poses a terribly awkward question. If aborting a female foetus is wrong, why is abortion itself right? I know the logical answer, I can't find the correct emotional answer here.)

All humans have perfectly valid explanation for their actions. Regardless of our backgrounds we all rationalize, both our smallest and our most important decisions (you can tell I watched Woody Allen's "Crimes & Misdemeanors" last night.) I am sure these parents who aborted the female foetuses have a good reason for their action. I do not understand the reason at all, but I just hope this ghastly reason disappears quickly.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Nearly 200,000 Indians In America Are Bi

Bi-racial, that is. (But, to paraphrase Woody Allen, does being bi-racial double their chances of getting married to the perfect man or woman?)

According to the cover story appearing in my favorite free mag, Little India, nearly 10% of the Indian-American population is bi-racial. Which means one of the parents is not an Indian.

(Little India's website does not have this article yet...they are still linking to last month's issue.)

Well, what are you waiting for, say hello to your two hundred thousand biracial brothers and sisters!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

"Blood Of The Beasts"

If you are looking for an excuse to turn vegetarian, this film is it. After I was done watching it, I was only too eager to erase all my memories of those wonderful lunches and dinners in Paris. It takes an awful lot of beating and violence and blood-letting for us to have that one elegant meal.

Georges Franju's 1949 classic documentary "Blood of the Beasts" is the ultimate anti-March Of the Penguins. It contains no cute animal images and it has no inspirational storyline. If "March of The Penguins" was about the self-preservation instinct, consider this: the animals in this film are way past that point. Chances of survival are zero. The forces here are much crueler, colder and stronger than polar winters.

This 20-minute film takes us inside the abattoirs of Paris, circa 1949 and shows us how cows, horses and lambs are turned into meat for our consumption. I double-dare a vegetarian to look at this film without squirming. I double dare meat-eaters to look at the film without squirming. Nothing could quite prepare me for Franju's painful directness (a reviewer on IMDB called it "sick and disturbing".) The sensation some of the scenes produce can only be compared to the pain one feels when struck hard in one's, er, cojones. It really is that bad.

("Blood of the Beasts" is available as a bonus feature on Criterion's "Eyes without a Face".)

Meanwhile, the vegetarianism debate still confuses me. Is killing an animal for food wrong? What about killing an animal for sport?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Could someone please explain why Pete Townshend felt compelled to send out an important PSA disguised as PR drivel? "I have unwittingly helped to invent and define a type of music that makes its principal components deaf"

Principal components? WTF?

Not only is he talking like a corporate hack, he is also not coming clean about the real cause of his deafness. All through the 80s and 90s, he claimed it was The Who's legendary decibel levels at concerts that caused his deafness. Not so, he says now. It was them headphones in the studio.

Well, now you know. Don't be pumping "Live At Leeds" directly into your ear-drum.

(For those with too much time and curiosity, here's how the ear works.)

(And for the really curious, a very good resource on Beethoven's deafness.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The New Greeting Card Tradition

I cut open the thick, white envelope with my cold fingers. It's a greeting card. But wait a second! The card looks familiar. Didn't I send a similar card to someone recently?

I pull out the card. Huh? The handwriting in the card looks familiar. Even the words are familiar.

Put Mr. Sherlock Holmes on Line 1 and cue in the Twilight Zone music.

What on earth is going on here?

It IS my card and my handwriting. It is MY card sent back to me. I look at the envelope for the "return to sender" stamp. No, it's not there. It is my address on the envelope.

I have no idea why it was sent back to me. Maybe it's a new business etiquette, who knows? If it's a new recycling fad, I am all for it. If it was meant in seriousness, I am still all for it.

After all, I chose the card in the first place because I liked its design. I also wrote the message myself, so it must mean something to me. Nothing wrong in receiving one's own card, is there?

Five Times The Fun

Lars Von Trier's "Five Obstructions": Brilliant? Pointless? Or both?

The film has a simple premise. The guru of "constraints-based cinema", Lars Von Trier, challenges his idol, filmmaker Jorgen Leth, to remake Mr. Leth's 1967 film "The Perfect Human" five times. Each version is dictated by certain obstructions. Examples of obstructions include: no edit may last more than 12 frames, no sets to be used etc.

Amazing idea, I think. I just wish the DVD instructed the viewer to watch Jorgen Leth's original film "The Perfect Human" first. Then this film becomes so much clearer and enjoyable.

(Arun Verma and I discussed constraints a few days ago.)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

This Time, Last Year

(A sticky. New posts appear below.)

The tragedy is far from over. Read, remember and react. Do something.

An addendum: Seshu, of Tiffinbox, pointed me to his blog where he wrote about the importance of continuing media coverage of the post-Tsunami situtation and SAJA's Reporting Fellowships.