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Showing posts from 2006
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SmallTown RuminationsIt’s not often that I travel beyond big cities in the country. So when work took me to Bareilly, I was quite looking forward to getting a deko at small town India. Bareilly is not really a small town – it has a population greater than 7 lakhs. Yet, in the hierarchy of Indian towns, it does get classified as a less than 10 lakh population town, so yes, it is a small town relatively speaking.
Of course, I had heard of Bareilly being the home town of Priyanka Chopra and had heard the song ‘bareilly ke bazaar mein, jhumka gira re’. Beyond that, I had difficulty recognizing that Bareilly and Rae Bareilly are 2 different places (I actually spent a whole lot of time planning my trip to Rae Bareilly, thinking they are one and the same). While this is an indicator of course of my dumbness, it is also a pointer to how insignificant any place beyond the big cities is, to the average metro dweller.
My drive from Lucknow to Bareilly was quite uneventful, despite several people w…
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The Alchemy of DesireBy Tarun TejpalThe book grabs you immediately with a dramatic opening line: “ Love is not the greatest glue between 2 people. Sex is.” The narrator (nameless throughout) you soon discover, is a young man in a marriage that is coming unglued slowly but surely. Desire, which has been a constant presence in their relationship, summoned up at will, any time anywhere, has suddenly and quite mysteriously disappeared. The narrator finds himself no longer desiring his wife Fizz (Fiza), a beautiful almost impossibly perfect woman. The novel takes us along their story at a brisk pace. A young couple, hopelessly in love, gets married, sets up house and with the husband’s ambitions of becoming a writer, struggle with holding down day jobs while allowing him to write at night. For this, they move from cozy Chandigarh to a harsher Delhi. With some money coming to them from his dead grandmother ( her story is one of my favourite parts of the book), they buy an old house in the H…
Lazy Poetry

Old woman sighs
In winter solitude;
A baby’s cry shatters it.----------------------------
Rain falls ceaselessly
In its pitter patter.
The walls form a prison.----------------------------
I wait.
The phone rings
And silences my thoughts.----------------------------
Old age shivers
Middle age covers it with a shawl
The young look away bored.----------------------------
Framed photographs and
Fresh flowers beside.
The decay smells.----------------------------
#9 Dream

By David Mitchell

I don’t know what it is with the books I choose…Japan seems to be a big theme. #9 dream was the only David Mitchell I hadn’t read so far. And now that’s done too.

This was Mitchell’s 2nd novel – after the success of his debut novel Ghostwritten, he had huge expectations to fulfill. I loved the book. Better than his first, in fact. His cleverly constructed multiple narrative style in the first book gives way to a single story – that of Eiji Miyake and his Tokyo sojourn. Yet, he does manage to slot in different narratives even in this single story. A World War II diary of a kaizen pilot, Miyake’s sometimes Matrix-like dream sequences and a book of off-beat short stories Miyake comes across in a safe haven. There is a touch of Murakami in here (even the title is a Lennon song…Murakami’s Beatles mania at work?) and I will not be surprised if Mitchell admits to some influence here.

The lead character is Eiji Miyake, a 20 year old from an outlying Japanese village who…
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Maqbool
To be honest, I was disappointed with Maqbool. Maybe, coming into it from Omkaara, I had pretty high expectations from Vishal Bharadwaj.The thing is, Maqbool lacks a hero. The closest anyone comes for me is Pankaj Kapoor as Abbaji. He is a powerful man who knows his power, inspires loyalty in at least some of his followers and is shown to have some principles when it comes to business (that his business is the Bombay underworld and what he refuses to do is smuggle arms into India for an ISI-like character is beside the point). Irfan Khan or Mian Maqbool, the lead in the movie is to me a completely flawed character. While overweaning ambition is his fatal flaw, his susceptibility to Abbaji’s mistress Nimmi (played by Tabu in an excellent performance) and his complete paranoia after his crime of murdering his boss Abbaji make the viewer view him with something less than sympathy.Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the basis for this Vishal Bharadwaj movie (he does have a knack of getting th…
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The number of apps for Flickr that abound are amazing. Here is a mosaic I created with my Flickr snaps.

This is a calendar I created.
A fun movie poster I made with an old Uttaranchal trekking photograph (it was truly a physically exhausting trek!).

A watercolour framing of an old Taman Negara snap.

I feel like a kid with a toy with these tools. I love it.
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V for Vendetta

This is a ripping good movie – haven’t been entertained like this in quite a while. The Wachowski brothers tell a darn good story. They had a tough act to follow after Matrix, but they come good.Of course, they have it in for Mr. Bush and that is pretty obvious. The England they portray, somewhere in the not-so-far future is a good estimate of what the US could be in 20 years time if the neo-conservatives had their way without any opposition. It’s an extreme portrayal, but if you can ignore the agenda, and just watch the movie as a movie, you can come away pretty satisfied with the experience.
The story is set in an England ruled by a Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt)who oversees a police state. He bans the Koran, torments gays and fosters a climate of fear. People who protest disappear overnight in camps that seem like Aushwitz but could as well be an approximation of GuantanamoBay. V (Hugo Weaving whose face is never seen in the movie) is a Guy Fawkes mask-wearing former vi…
GhostwrittenBy David MitchellHere I am, reviewing yet another David Mitchell. I quite dig this chap – his stories are clever and interesting, his characters span a variety of timescapes and landscapes and he’s on his way to perfecting a narrative format that is pretty unique (at least I have not read another quite like this).
Ghostwritten is Mitchell’s debut novel. It was noticed almost immediately, winning itself the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. For a debut, it is a pretty ambitious book – as its sub-title reads, it’s a novel in nine parts. Nine parts that are as diverse as they come. From a cult member terrorist in Okinawa on the run, to a broken investment banker in HK, a record store salesman in Tokyo finding love unexpectedly, an old woman living through China’s tumultuous history in south China, a transmigrating ghost who finally finds her human body in Mongolia, an art thief in post-Soviet St. Petersburg who is double-crossed, a depraved musician and ghostwriter in London also fin…
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Goa!Goa conjures up images of the sun, sand and sea. For many Mumbaikars, it is the idyllic getaway; the perfect antidote to the city’s traffic and noise, pollution and dirt. Goa is where Mumbai goes to refresh its soul, to recover from the daily fast-paced grind of big-city life. They say time itself moves slowly in Goa; almost the antithesis of Mumbai, where everyone seems to be in a terrible rush. It is almost a cliché – Goa is Mumbai’s alter-ego.
Over the years I have lived in Mumbai, I have had innumerable people tell me of their definitive Goa – the no-name shack that serves the best prawn balchao, the perfect hidden-away beach, the seaside café that serves the best apple pie, that little corner shop where you can buy the best grass in town. Each time I have heard this, I have listened to it with a bit of impatience. After all, I had been to Goa a handful of times and I had not discovered the magic of the place. Blame it on my indifference to beaches, the office conferences that …
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Picture-postcard pretty Prague. The river, the bridges, the castles - like a fairy tale come alive. You almost expect Prince Charming to come in and sweep you off your feet.
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An Artist of the Floating WorldBy Kazuo Ishiguro
Post-war Japan is the milieu. The protagonist and narrator is an aging painter, once renowned in Imperial Japan, now denounced in the period of the American occupation.
The book raises interesting questions. What is it like to lose a World War? And what is it like to have to look unflinchingly at your country’s past and your role in it and acknowledge that you and your country might have been wrong? And should an artist have a political role at all?
Masuji Ono is the painter and narrator who is at present leading a quiet retired life with his unmarried daughter in a Japanese city that hasn’t escaped the ravages of war. He spends his days tending to his home and garden and going out to the local bar with his drinking buddy. An occasional visit by his married daughter and her young son and the marriage talks for his younger daughter provide the only ‘events’ in his life. Yet these events precipitate the onset of darker memories, of a time wh…
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Norwegian Wood

Haruki MurakamiThis is the book that made Murakami so famous in Japan that he had to take refuge in the anonymity of Europe and later the US. Norwegian Wood is a simple straightforward narrative with little of the ‘fantastic’ that is so much a part of his other novels. It is the story of a young man, Toru’s journey into adulthood.
Written as a remembrance by a 37 year old Toru, this story moves from school life in Kobe to university days in Tokyo. University life in Tokyo seems very Western – Toru reads Scott Fitzgerald, Updike, Thomas Mann and listens to the Beatles, Bill Evans, Cream, Simon & Garfunkel. It’s the late ‘60s and there are rumblings of the student unrest in the background, but there is never any intrusion of that into the story. In fact, there is very little intrusion of the outside world into Toru’s inner world. He does go out partying and picking up women with his college friend Nagasawa. But that is never the real Toru – he is most himself with his b…
OmkaaraOmkaara is Shakespeare’s Othello set in the heartland of India, in UP. It translates to this setting well. Othello is a Moor and a soldier, Omkaara a half-caste and a gang lord connected to the most powerful politician in the territory. Desdemona was white nobility, her hand sought by all who matter in the highest echelons of Venetian society. Dolly is a fair and beautiful upper caste girl, daughter of a prominent lawyer. In both cases, society does not sanction their union and they are forced to come together stealthily.The movie is shot beautifully – the vast barren landscape provides a fitting backdrop to the tragedy unfolding. It is also shot stylishly, with camera angles, the editing and the music building up tension and intrigue. The script is grabbing, though a lot of the meaning was lost to me in the mix of regional dialect and Hindi. At the end though, this movie had to be about the actors. And the casting is quite faultless. Ajay Devgan as Omkaara is pretty good, ther…
LondonstaniGautam MalkaniHere is chick-lit in reverse – a boy-book if I can call it that. Fun to read on a plane, not to be taken too seriously.
Set in a part of London, Hounslow, that’s more South Asian than English, the first thing that strikes us is the lingo - fresh and therefore interesting. It is an unabashed mix of English, Hindi and Punjabi – the ‘pehndu’ and ‘innit’ and ‘bhanchod’ and ‘wikid’ all flow effortlessly together. And this is probably the best thing about the book.
Londonstani showcases a fusion culture where kids grow up in Britain, yet stay Indian or Paki. In this twilight zone, arranged marriages are the norm and families are more Indian than those back home. Dads drive ‘Beemers’ and moms hold satsangs. Kids listen to Bhangra pop and integration is a dirty word. In the heart of Britain, the line dividing India and Pakistan is as strong as it has ever been – Muslim and Hindu are swear words you throw at each other across the line. It is all very laughable if you don…

ta prohm

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ta prohm
Originally uploaded by paronair.
Trees growing out of the ruins of an Angkor temple. Provides an unusual and extremely photogenic sight. One of the most distinct temples in Angkor.
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Faraway Land

Brown, blue and grey – those to me were the colours of Ladakh. The Uttaranchal Himalayas were lush and verdant. Ladakh is barren desert and mountainscape, an expanse of craggy snow-covered peaks and muddy deep rivers. The silence-filled expanse is magnificent and mysterious. It feels like few people have walked these lands before.
The Indus was the river we followed on its course. The Indus that gave India and a whole civilization its name, the Sindhu of our puranas, the main water resource of the Punjab and Sindh provinces of Pakistan. We saw it in its upper reaches, closer to its glacier source. So it is muddy and brown and unlike the Alaknanda of Uttaranchal, much less frisky and playful. The white water rafting on the Indus was exciting but not scary – the rapids not being so wild and untamed.
The mentions of height above sea level are casual and matter-of-fact – Leh is at 12,000 ft, mountain passes at 17,000 and 18,000 feet. To a plains-dweller, that is pretty awesome. …
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Your Personality Is Like AcidA bit wacky, you're very difficult to predict.One moment you're in your own little happy universe...And the next, you're on a bad trip to your own personal hell!What Drug Is Your Personality Like?
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An Iron HarvestByCP SurendranThe ‘Rajan case’ as it came to be known, rocked Kerala in the ‘70s. It was the emergency, Rajan was a student of REC Calicut, a hot bed of Naxalite sympathizers and one day he was taken into police custody and never seen again. It is supposed that he was tortured in police custody and killed. His father Eechara Varrier waged a courageous battle against the authorities, pressing for information about his son and filing a case against the government when the emergency was finally lifted. The case led to the resignation of the chief minister Karunakaran (who was the home minister at the time of the incident) but the police officers who were in charge of the police camp where Rajan was taken were prosecuted but later acquitted.This incident forms the kernel of Surendran’s novel. He describes a time in Kerala where Naxalites had fired the popular imagination, with students rallying behind an ideology that promised revolution and a changing of the old guard. It …
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A drizzly morning in the rain forest of Taman Negara. Remote, lovely and calming.
Black Swan GreenBy David MitchellI knew Cloud Atlas would not be the last novel I would be reading of David Mitchell. Black Swan Green is his latest and is really quite different from Cloud Atlas, though there is a character from Cloud Atlas here too. Mitchell seems to love carrying forward characters from one book to another. A slightly endearing trait, I find.
BSG is a book much narrower in scope than Cloud Atlas. It is a simple narration of a 13 year old boy with a stammer and a skill for poetry. It traces a single year in the life of this boy Jason Taylor, the year of the Falklands war. Through him we live his life filled with all the angst of a pre-teen boy with a stammer in a school full of bullies. It does not help that he is a poet, a skill that is seen as so ‘gay’. And that his parents are in a relationship that is not so healthy and that his sister, who was a hated character till recently, is now going away to college.
It’s an uncomplicated tale of the complications in Jason’s…

cambodia

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cambodia
Originally uploaded by paronair.
One of my most cherished holidays - Angkor Wat and Cambodia. A lovely country unaffected by the unabashed tourism. I guess camera-wielding tourists are preferable to the horrors of war.
The Legends of KhazakBy O.V.Vijayan
It is easy to see why this book is considered such a seminal work of fiction in Indian literature. Published first as a novel in 1969 (it was serialized in the Mathrubhoomi Weekly a year before), it pre-dates a lot of the magic realism that Rushdie brought to the fore by more than a decade. But The Legends of Khazak is not just a tale of magic-realism. A lot of the fables in the book are very real for a Keralite. They are reminiscent of stories that you grow up hearing – the ‘velichappaadu’ (oracle), the ‘poothams’ (ghosts), the ‘yakshis’ (spectres), all are familiar. As they are for the villagers of Khazak, these are an everyday presence, real and true, not just a part of some writer’s fantasy.
The tale is of Ravi’s – a would-be astrophysicist who chooses to come to the remote village of Khazak to teach at a single-teacher school. Khazak has not seen a school before. And so the conflicts between the local madrassa, the Hindu paathshaala and the new s…
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Cloud Atlas
By David Mitchell

A riveting read. My first David Mitchell and this will definitely not be my last. What strikes me when I read him is how comfortable Mitchell is in so many different worlds. The book is a series of 6 different but strangely interconnected stories set in different geographies and different times, varing from the Pacific Islands in the 19th century to Europe in the early 20th, to a Reagan-era California to a 21st century middle America, a clone-era somewhere in the future and an even further future after the fall of civilization. The connections between the stories are tenuous - there is a strange birthmark that travels across characters and diaries and manuscripts of one character from one time period are found by characters in other periods. Most of the narrative is in first person and that is what makes it so amazing. Mitchell manages to get the differences in language and narrative patterns between the different worlds down so pat - the early 20th century…

Cheong Fat Tze mansion

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Cheong Fat Tze mansion
Originally uploaded by paronair.
The 'blue' mansion in Penang. A heritage building over a century old, this perfectly feng-shui-ed home belonged to a Chinese businessman. His rags-to-riches story had him dubbed the Chinese Rockefeller. Currently the house proves to be a popular tourist attraction, it being one of the few original Chinese courtyard mansions left.

Tioman

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Tioman
Originally uploaded by paronair.Rated one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world by Time magazine sometime in the late 70s, Tioman was also the setting for the magical island of Bali Hai in the film South Pacific. For me, Tioman was the my first weekend getaway from Singapore. It was also the site of my first snorkelling attempt. It's a beautiful island, though thronging with tourists from Singapore and Malaysia.

Bali

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Bali
Originally uploaded by paronair.
Have seen this a million times on postcards. Yet being there was special.
Sputnik Sweetheartby Haruki MurakamiSputnik Sweetheart is not one one of Murakami’s most representative books – or so people who have read a number of his books tell me. But it’s different enough from normal for me to recognize this writer as unique. For one, the book has a Japanese setting without anything in it being particularly Japanese. Other than the names of the characters and the places, the story could be set anywhere, in any of the big cities of the world. So there is no exoticisation (if there is such a word) of a culture – nothing at all like, for instance, Memoirs of a Geisha. For another, while the novel tells a seemingly normal story, there is always an undercurrent of the surreal which gets magnified as the story progresses.The narrator of the story, identified only as K, is in love with a childhood friend, Sumire, a writer. Sumire’s life is untidy and chaotic, with no fixed plan, unsympathetic to a commercial world outside. The only steadying influence is K, a school …
Saturday by Ian McEwan
Henry Perowne, a London neurosurgeon, wakes up before dawn on a Saturday in February 20003. He goes to his window, sees a burning plane land, turns on the TV and discovers that it is not a terrorist attack, goes back to his bedroom, makes love to his wife, goes out for a squash game in the morning, crashes into a BMW while trying to avoid an anti-Iraq war protest in the city, is saved a roughing up by the driver Baxter because he diagnoses Baxter’s neurological disease, finishes his squash game, buys fish at the fish market, visits his ailing mother in an old-age home, attends his musician son’s concert, comes home and makes fish stew for dinner and awaits his son, poet-daughter, poet-father-in-law and lawyer-wife for a re-union dinner. The family re-union is interrupted by a furious knife-wielding Baxter but the day ends with Perowne saving Baxter’s life in an operation theatre. It’s all a Saturday in the life of Henry Perowne.
The plot is deceptively simple. The…
Proof

Just saw a small, sweet movie - Proof. It's based on a Pulitzer-winning play and all the reviews I had read about it were mixed. So I went into it without a lot of expectations and was pleasantly surprised.

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins and Jake Gyllenhaal, Proof is a story about a young woman Catherine (Paltrow), daughter of a brilliant mathematician (Hopkins) who leaves college and any semblance of a real life to look after her father when he becomes mentally ill. Years of taking care of her unstable father leaves her little scope for furthering her own mathematical genius. And when her father dies and when her less-than-understanding sister comes back home for the funeral, Catherine begins to doubt her own mental stability, especially since she knows she has inherited some of her father's genius. Things come to a head when one of her father's pupils and her lover Hal (Gyllenhaal) discovers a notebook filled with the construction of a 'proof', tha…
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Adventure in QueenstownYou have to be at least a bit crazy if you can jump off a plane. Or a bridge for that matter. But you head to Queenstown in New Zealand’s pretty South Island, and you realize that there are a lot of crazies out there. Queenstown advertises itself as the adventure capital of the world. Going by the number of sky divers and bungy jumpers and river rafters it attracts, that is no tall claim.The town itself is pretty as a picture. It lies on LakeWakatipu and the foothills of the Remarkables range of mountains. The snow-topped mountains and lake combine to make Queenstown a year-round tourist destination. Summer sees skydivers and bungy jumpers and river rafters do their thing, while the winter brings on the skiers. So, if you have even the smallest adventure bone in your body, you need to come here.We didn’t get to do this ourselves but if river rafting is your thing, the Shotover and Kawarau rivers can provide you thrills and more. There are half day rafting trips …
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The terraced rice fields of Bali. Worth a deko.
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Hanoi: Van Mieu, the Confucian temple of literature. Beautiful, calm and wise.
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Carl Sandburg 1878-1967Here’s some poetry from a favourite poet – Carl Sandburg. I first came across Sandburg’s poetry at an Americal Literature class, and I was immediately struck by the sheer simplicity and force of his words. His words strike at you – there is no holding back here. There is passion, strength of emotion and a bold and distinct point of view that looks at the underdog as the real hero. He is obviously a working class poet – a socialist, who wrote about the common man and woman, everyday struggles, loves and joys. His most famous poem is of course, Chicago. It’s a tribute to what surely must be a magnificent city and I sometimes can see Mumbai in those words. In his long career, he wrote a Pulitzer-winning 3 volume biography of Lincoln as well as a book of children’s tales. Critics might not rank him in the American poetry pantheon as one of the best American poets. But to someone who is easily moved by emotive words and pictures, Sandburg is right up there.HAPPINESSI…
Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro is a writer I like. His prose is spare and minimalist yet manages to imbue drama in the plot almost effortlessly. Never Let Me Go is one of his most recent novels and like Remains of the Day, one of my personal favourites, it takes you into the mind of the narrator and leads you through the days of her life, without fuss, without melodrama.The narrator is Kathy H. No surname, no one in the book has one and no explanation as to why it is so. Her narration is simple and seemingly normal – about her memories of her old school Hailsham and her 2 closest friends Ruth and Tommy. Except for stray words like ‘carer’, ‘donations’ and a complete lack of any reference to family, there is nothing unusual in a woman’s memories of a boarding school – the usual bullying of weaker classmates, the mindless cruelty only children are capable of and the fierce inexplicable loyalties between friends. Yet slowly, the reader begins to become aware of unusualness. You start to r…
Rang De BasantiHere's a decent Hindi flick after a long time. A good, taut script and the right casting make this a film worth buying the DVD for. It’s a coming-of-age movie, much like DCH, but with a ‘cause’ added on, a la Swades. It’s a story of 5 young college students hanging out together in an urban apathetic cocoon and whose lives are irrevocably changed when a ‘gori’ comes in to make a film about some of India’s freedom fighters. The 5 students along with a rabid Shiv-Sainik kind of character (Atul Kulkarni in a nicely crafted role) are chosen to play the leads in the film. Starting out cynical and not really caring about the Bhagat Singhs and the Chandrashekhar Azads, the students slowly get into the skin of the characters and when they face a real-life ‘cause’, they soon get drawn into it and make a decision to do something to change things. This decision and the consequences they face form the climax of the movie.To me the best moments of the film are in the casual ‘hang…