Monday, January 30, 2006

Got Tagged

by Shruthi , who is one of the many bloggers whose posts I look forward to. I looked up her blog after she commented on one of my posts, and have been checking regularly for updates ever since (btw, her post on one of my fav' books 'God of Small Things' is just awesome). Take up the tag, though my list is certain to be nowhere as verbose or comprehensive as hers (read this and this).

Things That Drive Me Mad:

# People who are not punctual. It irks me no end to wait for (or because of) somebody who doesn't care about one's time.

# People spitting on the road (especially red paan spittle).

# Somebody walking into a closed room where I am reading/sleeping/whatever to do something inconsequential, and then walking out without closing the door again - drives me up the wall every time.

# Somebody extolling the many virtues of Hinduvta while deriding other religions.

Somebody extolling the many virtues of India while deriding other countries.

# People who insist on speaking in their mother-tongue even though it is apparent that there are people around who don't understand the language - especially in office.

# The Heat - I can't stand summer !!

# Parents who try to get their daughters married as soon as they become pubescent.

# Men who are willing, and even demand, dowry - and then proudly mention the logistics to all and sundry.

# Stupid TV serials that go on for an eternity.

# Peoples' timetables being dictated by the stupid serials mentioned above.

# The kitchen sink full to the brim with unwashed vessels, with grains of rice and splotches of curry floating around randomly (is a much more common site in us bachelors' houses).

# Small pesky kids who spit (at you, or on the ground), and their parents who just murmur a mild admonition.

# Being urged by self-righteous, self-proclaimed 'guides' to pay more to get 'a better view' of the idol at crowded pilgrimage centres.

# That last mosquito which continues to elude you and hums annoyingly in your ear as you are trying to go to sleep.

# Vegetarians urging me to give up meat, and live a healthier life. Arrey, its my frigging body yaar !

# Navjot Singh Siddhu being called a good commentator - he sucks big-time !

# And, as expected, lots more.

Things That Lift My Spirits:

# Curling up with a sensational book, with soft music on.

# Having a scrumptious meal while reading an old favourite - its so much fun anticipating a particularly well-written passage, and actually getting to it - while munching away all the time, balancing both the plate and the book, and wiggling to turn pages. I know, I know, am loony!

# Seeing a much-hyped movie, and the movie actually meeting/exceeding your expectations (now, this is exactly why I love Kamal Hassan!).

# Chatting (online) with close friends.

# When a sketch I am trying out comes across well.

# Solving an issue at work that has been perplexing everybody else - gives you a different kind of high, believe me.

# When a new recipe being tried out turns out to be wholly & unexpectedly mouth-wateringly delicious.

# Goofing around with a cute and well-behaved kid.

# A well-stocked, cataloged library/bookstore with a whole lot of unread books, and lots & lots of time to spare - with nobody to disturb you.

# A cold beer in an air-conditioned room, after coming in from the Chennai sun during April / May - manna from heaven couldn't taste better, trust me (a plate of well-grilled tandoori chicken would go along well with the beer)!

# A well-written, well-researched article on a stimulating topic.

# Compliments from an unexpected quarter (a particularly difficult customer).

# When somebody you personally trained does a great job at work.

# Ribbing somebody sporting enough to take it in a good sense until he/she (preferably a she!) begs for mercy.

# Browsing around in a music-store / card-shop.

# Getting together with old school/college friends and talking about the 'good, ole days'.

# Sachin Tendulkar creaming the opposition in an ODI.

# VVS Laxman playing yet another very, very special innings.

# Brian Lara hitting yet another exemplary century when the stakes are down.

# And many, many more !

Of course, all those of you who read this are tagged as well - so go put up your own lists, and leave a comment for me to read it too.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Rang De Basanti: Movie Review

No spoilers - read on.

Rang De Basanti, contrary to public opinion, is not the quintessential Aamir Khan movie. It stars a whole plethora of stars - from Siddharth (of Shankar's 'Boys' fame) to Atul Kulakarni. However, Aamir does succeed in stamping his authority over the movie - chiefly through two powerful scenes where he displays a gamut of emotions including introspection, ruefulness, grief, contemplation and much more. However, to his credit he hardly ever attempts to 'steal' a scene from his young companions in the movie. Though his role was a tad similar to that of Akash of DCH, Aamir succeeded in imparting shades of insecurity to the character of DJ that went a long way in ensuring that DJ was not merely a Punjabi clone of Akash.

The surprise factors in the movie - for me - were Siddharth and Kunal Kapoor. Siddharth displays a newfound maturity as an actor, and hardly falters in his portrayal of the rebellious young man who can hardly wait to get out of the country. Kunal, on the other hand, is just about outstanding as the young Muslim who is often the target of the Hinduvta hardliner Atul Kulkarni (who, as expected, turns in an exemplary performance himself). Both Siddharth and Kunal have very vulerable personas, which made them apt choices for their respective roles. Soha Ali Khan did not disappoint (boyh, does she look like Saif or what!). Madhavan appeared affable in what little screen-time he had. Sharman Joshi (the one redeeming factor of 'Style') is as goofy as ever.

A review of 'Rang De Basanti' would be incomplete without a mention of Alice Patten, who acquits herself honorably in a difficult role (remember how many foreign actors have ended up becoming cariacatures?). In fact, of late, more and more non-Indian actors have been turning in more-than-competent performances - 'Kisna', 'Lagaan' and 'Mangal Pandey', for instance. I'd be glad to see an Indian actor do the same in a Western movie (of course, Om Puri has akready done it, several times over).

A.R.Rahman is competent, as usual. I liked RDB much more than the director's previous 'Aks'. However, I have a grouse - my favourite song Lukka Chupi ended up being clipped. I especially liked the Western bgm ARR used in the opening scene, where Bhagat Singh is being hung to death.

Is RDB worth a trip to the movie theatre? You bet your ass, it is! After the disappointing 'Mangal Pandey', Aamir Khan is back - and how !

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Write an Exam, and Get Marks - Free !

In my childhood, the Malayala Manorama daily used to come out with an annual edition of the most ingenious answers submitted by students appearing for their SSC exams. Needless to mention, some of the answers were absolute gems - to say they were merely hilarious would be a gross understatement. One of these answers has attained an almost-cult status in Kerala - part of SSC folklore, so to speak! I have tried to translate the answer below, from my memory:

Question: How does the amoeba catch its prey ?
Answer: Time slowly ticked away, and the night grew darker. In the distance, a dog - or was it a fox - howled mournfully. Still, the amoeba continued to pace up and down its tiny lair, glancing at its famished young ones with trepidation. Finally, it could bear the anguished cries of its young no longer. The predator stepped out into the jungle, determined to find hapless prey.
As the wind changed direction, the doe twitched its nose, somehow sensing the imminent danger. However, unable to discern anything outwardly ominous, it continued to munch the grass warily. Slowly and majestically, the mighty amoeba strode out of the scattered undergrowth. The doe stood no chance, as the amoeba roared lustily and pounced upon it. Shaking the doe by the scruff of its neck, the amoeba dragged the by-now dead doe all the way to its lair, back to its hungry young ones.

This is how the amoeba catches its prey.

Its not a patch on the original, which was simply mindblowing.

You know what is not so funny about the whole thing? The student probably passed. To an incredulous 'how', I have a one-word answer: moderation. This term in this context basically means that a large percentage of students are given 'free' marks to boost the already sagging pass-percentage of the state. And after the so-called 'moderation', the average pass-percentage of Kerala - of the 100% literacy fame - over the last 15 years is less than 50%.

Appalling? Disgraceful?

Then consider this: to 'pass' the SSC exam, you need 210 marks out of 600. To 'help' students scale this mountain, liberal correction techniques are recommended to the paper-correction committee (I am not sure what exactly 'liberal' means; me-thinks it probably implies that somebody who says a cow has 2 legs instead of 4 would get half-marks). And to 'help' out those students who fail despite this 'liberal' approach, up to 60 marks can be awarded free of cost - muft mein.

I do not have the facts and figures to articulate on the merits or demerits of this system. However, if despite the 'liberal' techniques and the 'moderation less than 50% of our students fail to make the grade every year, we have a serious fallacy in the system. It seems to me that a student who secures a pass in this manner is bound to fail in college (where there are no 'moderation' techniques applied, surprisingly - somebody must have put his/her foot down) - no good done anyhow. But then, a lot of jobs are open to people once they secure a mere SSC pass - a government bus-driver job, for instance. But does that justify the award of undeserving marks?

Another one of my posts which has no definite conclusion!

Friday, January 20, 2006

With Your Holy Permission

This relates to to the posts here, here and here by Uma (Indianwriting), Anand (Locana) and Aishwarya (Kaleidoglide) respectively.

To put it very briefly, the point all of them raise is this: are temples justified in raising a hue and cry about who they allow in, and who they do not?

Simple logic suggests that it is not a fundamental tenet of Hinduism itself that debars non-Hindus from entering places of worship. I say this merely because many temples (albeit 'inconsequential' ones, if I may venture to call them so - those temples that are not the sort of 'popular' places to attract pligrims from outside cities and states) do permit entry to non-Hindus. Thus, as far as I can infer, it is the concerned temple that has sole jurisdiction over its ingression laws

Consequently, IMHO we have here what is known in IT-parlance as a paradigm-shift. The question is not whether Hinduism is justified or not in preventing entry to its places of worship - the religion never did debar them in the first place (notwithstanding the shadow of the reprehensible caste-system hovering over this veneer of tolerance - a discussion on that would take a whole new post !). Instead, the question is whether such denominational entry policies imposed by certain temples make sense or not.

My opinion is a firm 'NO'. Notwithstanding the likes of Thakeray and his ilk, I am of the firm belief that Hinduism is an 'open' religion that did, does and should encompass all cultures & religions. Denying somebody access to a temple based only on his / her religion is as distasteful as refusing to share the same table with somebody because of the color of his / her skin. A common counter-argument here seems to be that our temples would be somehow 'defiled' if 'sceptical' people of other faiths entered 'our' temples merely to gawk. Several flaws here though:

(a) Are all people of other faiths automatically sceptics? If not, is it ok if we let the 'believers' in?
(b) Are all Hindus automatically non-sceptical, or does being born a Hindu automatically compensate for being a sceptic / a practising atheist, and
(c) Can places of worship be defiled that easily?

I could go on, but you get the drift.

A related issue here is that of dress-code for temples. For instance, in Kerala a man can enter a temple only if he removes his shirt. Now, being bare-chested has nothing to do with Hinduism or devotion - it is just a vestige of the times when everybody entering a temple had to be bare-chested so that non-Brahmins found inside a temple could be instantly identified (and presumably, flogged). To 'honor' this 'tradition' even today is deplorable, to say the least. I have similar thoughts regarding the compulsory mundu (dhoti) too, but that is admittedly also because of the 'discomfort' involved while wearing one (I never know when the bloody thing is gonna fall off!). However I really am curious to know the precedent behind the mundu becoming the obligatory garment for most temples in Kerala.

Personally, I am not all that enamored with popular temples in general. I like to associate a certain sense of tranquility with places of worship. Queuing up for 3 hours, with somebody's armpit (smelling of sweat-tinged 'Rexona' deodorant) at your face while somebody else is busy sniffing at (or rather, because of) your armpits, is not exactly my idea of serenity - what little peace of mind I have is lost by the time I see a corner of the idol. And when its your chance at a one-to-one with the deity, you always have a grumbling priest ready to shoo you away within the first 5 seconds. Sorry your Holiness, give me the 'inconsequential' ones any day!

There are exceptions, of course - for instance, the Padmanabhaswamy temple at Trivandrum. The main deity here is Lord Vishnu, depicted in the mythological Ananthasayanam posture where he reclines royally on the giant snake Anantha. The complete idol can be viewed only through three different doors. This temple, which overlooks a famous tank (too lazy to look it up - think its the Padmatheertham tank), is incredibly beautiful and serene. Of course, I believe it does have the usual trappings of dress-codes, DoS (IT term for denial of service - sorry, couldn't resist) to non-Hindus etc, but at least it looks like a place of worship. Also, there's a rather interesting story behind the idol of Vishnu in the temple. It was recently discovered that the whole idol was made of pure gold, but seemed to have been coated with charcoal, carbon and other such material due to which the idol appeared to have the usual black 'n' greasy look. Legend goes that this camouflage was done to protect the idol from the imminent threat of an attack from Tipu Sultan - dunno how far that is true, though. But now, the gold idol as well as the gem-studded room enclosing the idol look spectacular .

But I digress. Slowly, more and more temples are being forced to relax some of their more senseless rules. Hopefully, within the next decade or so, we will not have to dress up for a visit to the temple ! And I might just be able to take along my Christian / Muslim friends (not that I haven't already, despite awe-inspiring glares from family friends at the temple who knew that my friends were 'non-Hindus'). Hallelujah to that !

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Case of The Missing Husband

No, this is not one of those Agatha Christie-ishtyle mysteries where the suspicious wife murders and buries the philandering husband - not this time. The husband is (just) missing, or rather, he deserted her - with all her jewellery. And, of course, a vast sum of dowry.

The beginning was all hunky-dory, though.

The girl was doing her post-graduation, and her fiance - handpicked by her parents, of course - was well-placed (purportedly, he was a professor at IIT-Delhi). The girl was all misty-eyed after a couple of conversations with the chap, typing away furiously into her mobile phone (which, by the way, was forbidden within college campus) all day and geared up to take the sacred pheras. With the support of her fiance, she quit her course midway and joined LIC (which was what she had wanted to do anyway). All the girls in her class were green with envy.

She got married. A lot of of her classmates attended the marriage. She looked radiantly in love, and blissfully content.

Four months later, the husband went missing. Along with a sizeable chunk of jewellery, and a vast amount of cash. She was distraught, and frantic with worry. Until she came to know that he had done it before - thrice. Absconded, that is. The third time, IIT-Delhi had booted him out of their teaching program. The first time he'd decided to go missing was when he was in college (at some other IIT), and he returned a full 6 months later.

My point? His parents knew about this peculiar characteristic of thier beloved son. The bride obviously didn't. More importantly, nor did her parents. And I am sure, with some discreet enquiries, they could (should) have found out. They, like many other middle-class parents of their ilk, were lured by the prospect of an IIT-suffixed son-in-law, I presume - despite the dowry and other demands.

The tale above is not a figment of my imagination; it actually happened to a friend of mine. To her credit, she picked up the threads of her life, filed a lawsuit against the parents of the bridegroom (and got her bloody dowry back), got a divorce and is now coping up well - hopefully. Hopefully - because, if I know her correctly, she must have grown weary of all the brutal sympathy that must have been directed at her (and the unsaid accusations, of course - anything bad has to be the bride's fault). Perhaps that is why she is now in Calcutta, not much in contact with any of us. Hope fervently that she is alright.

Why this rant all of a sudden, you might be tempted to ask. Nothing in particular, was just amazed at the sheer nonchalance with which something as important as marriage is decided. I should know; 'processes' are going on in my household too.

Take my case, for instance. I am in this remote corner of NY, where it'd be pretty difficult to investigate my character/drug habits/drinking habits or whatever it is that'd be investigated as a matter of course (of course, knowing the proliferation of Indians, and esp Mallus, all over the world, it's certainly possible that the gal's second cousin's aunt's younger brother could be my roommate). I could be a drug-pushing, wife-beating deranged alcoholic, for all somebody in India knows (Gals reading this, I am not any of these ! Nor am I a habitual absconder, btw). And an unsuspecting girl could well end up getting married to the hypothetical me. Sad, but true.

There have been a couple of articles about this, and how to be careful and protect your daughters, and stuff like that (read one here). But the truth is, there is no infallible plan against this sort of thing - a terrible thing to say, but true neverthless (Why am I in a particularly pessimistic frame of mind, I wonder !!).

Sunday, January 15, 2006

SightScreen has moved

to a new location (on rediff instead of blogspot). To the uninitiated, the site offers great coverage of cricket by Prem Panicker, Worma and others. But somehow, I feel that the old site seemed easier to navigate (or am I merely feeling queasy about yet another change to a favourite blog) ? Let me give it some time !!

There's a great article on Sehwag on the site (full article here), by Prem Panicker (a writer whose stuff I follow ardently; he writes brilliantly about movies, cricket and politics). As mentioned in Prem's article, 'irresponsible' is a word I often associate with Sehwag. He plays pretty much in the same audacious manner, whether he's batting with the tail to save a match, facing McGrath in a particularly fiery spell or giving Bangladesh a fearsome pounding. When he carries it off, it looks spectacular; but on the other hand, his failures look pretty dumb as well (especially when he falls prey to wily ploys by the 'thinking' bowlers time and time again). Gawd, give him sense !!

P.S: Has anybody else felt that Dileep has a writing style very similar to that of Prem ?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Tumultuous Decision

had to be made. After days & months of careful cultivation and refinement, I finally had to succumb to all the pressure. Yes! I have finally decided to shorn myself of my silky, long tresses :( !!

Why, you might well ask.

Well, the entreaties and the speculation did their part in wearing me down, of course. But the clinching factor - the absolute last nail in the coffin - was this:

I have now become adept at handling the inane comments and questions; I can also turn a deaf ear to frantic pleas. But there is no way in the world that I can withstand comparisons to a monstrosity like this (Mallu-Mallu comparisons, you know) !!

So, off with the locks !

P.S: Mabbe now my mom will become a Mammootty (approach this site at your own peril) fan !!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Funny Bone

or rather, the lack of it. As GreatBong indicates in this fine post, we (Indians) are horribly humourless when faced with gags on ourselves - Sardars being the only honourable exception. I mean, for instance, would a Tamilian react well to a Mumbaikar narrating a joke (Thx Matthew) like

Siva spells his name out to an American over the phone:

S for She-cago
I for Indiaaa
V for Vaaa-ter
A for aa-rder

I would be very, very surprised if this didn't lead to a serious disagreement, ending up in which language is 'the best' - Tamil, Hindi, Sanskrit or English (believe me, I have seen this happen far too often). Ditto about Rajnikanth and Mithun etc. And equally, many Mumbaikars I know are very, very touchy about the infinite wisdom of India's self-professed Nazi, Mr. Bal Thackeray - any crack about him is certain to lead to a vicious argument. I can quote many more examples, but I guess I have made my point.

Of course, things get worse. Any joke on religion is sacrilege. A wisecrack on a stupid superstition - a so-called part of our maryada and sabhyata - is more often than not rebuked by a 'but, after all...' statement. And for the record - out-of-home romance is NOT part of Indian culture.

Think I am being pessimistic? Oh yeah?

Well, consider this: can a husband and wife - not a boyfriend-girlfriend scenario, nor a libidinous man cavorting with a concubine; just a plain, old arranged-marriage husband & wife - stroll quietly, hands entwined, thorugh a park in Chennai, Mumbai or Delhi, unheedful of the very thought that the moral brigade might sweep down on them at any moment? I don't think so; such 'park-raids' are becoming more and more common these days. Carrying your marriage-certificate in your wallet might not be such a bad idea, after all !

Why this sudden rant, you might wonder? Well, the rant itself was partly provoked by two bloggers I admire - Gaurav & HawkEye. HawkEye wrote a scathing article on Crystal Blur's spoof on the Mahabharata (a series starting here). Gaurav attacked HawkEye, HawkEye retaliated, and now CrystalBlur has a sarcastic piece up on her blog. I am sure the debate will continue.

Now, personally I felt that Crystal Blur's Mahabharata spoof was funny in parts, but often the humour was predictable - esp after reading a couple of the chapters. However, it didn't offend me much, but then I regard the Mahabharata and the Ramayana in the same vein, as say, Harry Potter or LOTR. To me, these are all but stories. As for the 'sexualization', well maybe Crystal meant it to be a sex-spoof all the time !! To be honest, I enjoyed Crystal's own Rishyashringa-spoof much more, esp as there is a pretty decent Malayalam movie called Vaishali on the same legend.

I also do not give credence to the gripe that it is only Hindu epics that are targetted - classic cases in point would be 'Jesus Christ, Superstar', 'Monty Python' (and the life of Bryan) or even the recent 'Da-Vinci Code'. Agreed that these were not 'sexualizations', but is that the issue here, really - I mean, with the Kamba-Ramayana, and Lord Krishna and his 1500 wives, and all that !! Moreover, before attacking/satiring other religions, shouldn't we at least attempt to laugh at ourselves ?

In the end, do I have a conclusion ? No, I have to admit ;) !! Just felt that I had to write something on this ongoing war of words. For the record: irreverent junta, Crystal's spoofs are highly entertaining; for the more devout, avoid Crystal like the plague !! And do check out both Gaurav's and HawkEye's blogs !!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Wiggle Your Left Shoulder

Lying on the uncomfortable divan at my house, with a copy Diana Gabaldon's book 'Dragonfly in Amber' on my side, I stared unflinchingly at my immobile left shoulder and commanded:

Wiggle your left shoulder !!

Not much response, though.

---------------------- Flashback -----------------------------------

After a fairly successful stint of skiing at the beginners' slope at one of the Pokonos ski resorts, I ventured onto the intermediate slope (the levels of difficulty at the ski resort were learners, beginners, intermediate, expert and advanced) with the confidence of at least a semblance of competence. Well, pride comes before a fall - literally, in this case. And all I have left is my non-wiggling shoulder to show for it.

---------------------- Back to the present -------------------------

Wiggle your left shoulder !!

Ugh-huh :(.
With a March vacation coming up, this is the last thing I need !! Some help puh-lease !! In all the ads, the sexy-looking lady has an immediate convalescence after some ointment is smeared on her attractive midriff. Well, I admit my midriff is not exactly attractive, but I did hope that the ointment would do some good. My hopes turn out to be pretty ambitious, though !! Wonder if Swami Ramdev could help, human bones and all ;) !!

The process continues:

Wiggle your left shoulder !!

P.S: For those of you who did not understand the oblique reference to 'wiggling', I suggest you watch the 'Kill Bill' series by Quentin Tarantino immediately. You don't know what you are missing, folks !!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Genius by Association ?

Read on Rediff a tribute to R.D.Burman, by none other than our own Anu Malik. Excerpts below (read the full article here):

I could see that suddenly, at the last moment, he (R.D.Burman) changed whatever music he had composed and whatever his musicians were playing.

Today, I find the same trait in myself -- I change my music at the last moment if I find it is not gelling.

Whoa, there !! Anu Malik and R.D.Burman ? Its like comparing sandal and cowdung, for chrissakes !!! Note that my point of comparison is cowdung, indicating that I actually have a lot of respect for Anu Malik - for cowdung is worshipped as Goddess Laxmi in India ;).

The self-proclaimed maestro doesn't stop:

He was a complete and versatile composer. He could give you an 'Amar Prem' and a 'Teesri Manzil' at the same breath --which, if you notice, I have done when I did while I composed 'Judwaa' and 'Refugee' and 'Virasat' and 'Border'. They are two different genres of music.

ROFL :).

Then Malik must probably have re-read what he'd written, and had a major guilt-attack. I say this 'coz Malik goes on to write:

He could twist tunes so well. He would pick up foreign tunes and make it his own tunes. If you remember 'Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko' [from the 1973 movie 'Yaadon Ki Baaraat'], or even if he lifted from Abba, he would turn the antara [the chorus of the song] so well that it changed the whole tune. I think that is one thing that any composer can learn from R D Burman. Rather, you could say that is what I have learnt from him.

Crediting his own plagiaristic tendencies to poor old RDB - some tribute this is turning out to be. Yeah Malik-saab, all of us noticed the subtle variations you made to that 'foreign tune' (Macarena) you lifted for 3 different movies at the same time.

The only decent passage in the whole article was this:

I remember going to a music company and while I was sitting there I saw Panchamda. He saw me and hid from me -- because he had come there asking for work. That was the most painful moment of my life - that one of the greatest composers, a living legend, was looking for work. This was just few years before his death.

Somehow, this whole me-too attitude of Anu Malik reminded me of placebos that drug companies manufature. Anu's out to market himself desperately, and what better way than to hitch himself on to Pancham-da !! Dunno why he's so desperate, since he's actually doing pretty well right now - loads of hit numbers, the choicest of movies and all that. Makes for entertaining reading, though !!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Purani Jeans, aur Guitar...

This Ali Hyder song never fails to conjure up old memories of my college days, all the way back in 1996 (a whole decade ago - depressing !!). Warning: short history follows !!!

1996 wasn't exactly the best time in my life, to say the least. My dad wasn't well, and my engineering aspirations had just been dealt a major blow. Since I'd pretty much decided that I wanted to do
something with computers (an Apple course called 'Graphix Thru Basic' had gotten me pretty much hooked), my entrance-rank ('SSLC-mark' and 'entrance-rank' are much-dreaded terms in Kerala, by parents and children alike !!) was nowhere near good enough. I had no choice, but join a B.Sc. Computer Science course somewhere. A couple of colleges were shortlisted, and we got conned into enrolling into one of these 'recommended' colleges in Coimbatore, TN. Now this was not one of those swanky, posh colleges; much to the contrary, it was a place where violent brawls were not all that uncommon, and the newer teachers were actually intimidated by some of the more rowdy students !!!

Somehow, I was not really aware of the dangers of 'ragging' at this time. All I had was a vague notion of what it could entail. Strange to realize how wet behind the ears one was then :). Well, I was about to find out !

The day I landed up in the college hostel, a couple of seniors had been suspended due to complaints made by a spirited first-year who'd decided that he'd had enough. The resentful seniors were ready to kick ass, and they got mine - handed over to them on a platter.

Looking back, it was the propensity for violence that shocked me more than the actual beating itself. The gleeful ferocity they employed to thrash the helpless kids was bewildering, and pretty frightening. A couple of my classmates definitely were affected by these random acts of savagery (pretty much anything could lead to a beating then) at that time. Since my defence mechanism was not to venture out of the hostel room much except for emergencies (meaning food), I was not picked on much (plus a lot of people 'protected' me when they realized I was good at academics). However, there were a couple of people who took a special 'liking' to me. I used to mumble the choicest epithets against one chap in particular, and never got friendly with that guy even after the battle lines were withdrawn. When I was in my final year, we got the news that this chap had drowned in a freak waterfall mishap (in Kerala). Strangely, guilt was the primary emotion that I felt - for thinking ill of him for so hard, and for so long.

Another guy who reserved 'special' treatment for me was a twerp of a chap (this rankles, even now) - one wide sweep of my hand, and he'd have been history. I almost did it once, before those supportive seniors I talked about lead me away. He took the utmost care to avoid me after the cessation of the ragging-period. This is one chap who'd better pray he never sees me again in his miserable little life !!

Today, even the ragging bit does seem fun, but then it was very frightening. An ineffective warden (whose English had to be heard to be believed) hardly helped. When I went to the college 4 years back, I was amazed to see the level of security in the hostel - 2 guards outside, special permission to go inside etc - jeez. The flip side - yeah, but of course - was that there was hardly any interaction between the seniors and the juniors, and annual days usually ended up in major brawls between the batches of different years (I miss the fantastic free-for-alls the most !!).

Of course, we had a whole lot of fun once the raggin'-period got over. Haunting the canteen, watching corny movies with friends, impromptu trips to Ooty, accidents, numerous heartbreaks and more - sheesh, college WAS fun !!!!

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Art of Reviewing Without Predilection

Annie raises this question in a fine post. Excerpts below:

...I find it harder and harder to pass judgement upon any such creative work. The fact that I don't like it means nothing. I am not the world. And if I do like something, that is very likely a reflection upon me - my tastes, my values, my sense of humour, my needs.

Which is why, I've more or less stopped reading reviews. Especially movie reviews, since I realised how upsetting the star-rating system can be. Most publications have a five star rating scheme, where:
5 stars = fantastic/unmissable.
1 star = awful/please-avoid.
1 and a 1/2 stars = so-awful-that-we're-feeling-sorry-for-the-filmmakers.
I recall a time when I used to look forward to Khalid Mohamed's Sunday reviews in the Bombay edition of ToI. His make-fun-of-everything style, his silly-billy rhyme-shyme was amusing, if not edifying. But then, one day, he reviewed the film Love ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega. He refused to give it a review or a rating. Not even 1 star. He said it didn't deserve even that!

Since it was an E. Niwas film, we watched it, anyway. It was a very decently made film. I was laughing almost non-stop. (Some people suggested it's lifted from somewhere else in the western hemisphere; I really don't care. That's the newest fashionable thing, nowadays - spot the slightest similarity between any old English film and any new Hindi film, and accuse the filmmaker of 'lifting'... besides, no western movie could ever have had anything as remarkable as Aslam Bhai).

That day, I lost respect for that review-column. Now, I've stopped reading film reviews. I'll read them if I'm curious about the story, or if the reviewer is a fantastic writer. But I refuse to accept reviewers' verdicts, even when ALL of them say the same thing. In fact, if they all say it's great, I get a little suspicious. If they uniformly hate it, I'm immediately curious. For instance, Apharan has good reviews but I'm not too keen on it.

The part about being disenchanted by a hitherto-favourite critic strikes a chord - in my case, with Mr. Subhash.K.Jha who writes regularly for Sify and NowRunning. Mr. Jha is a fairly severe critic (which suits me just fine), except when it comes to the Bachchans, Aishwarya Rai, Lata Mangeshkar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali etc. IMHO, Mr. Jha loses all objectivity when it comes to the personalities mentioned above (I mean, Aish can't even act, for chrissakes!! And even the great Lata's voice grates on the nerves nowadays), and I no longer follow his reviews as much as I used to.

Of late, I have been following the reviews by Raja Sen, Sukanya Verma, Patcy, Indrani etc at the Rediff reviews section - somehow, I agree with most of their observations on movies. I'd also recommend the reviews at Planet Bollywood and IndiaGlitz.

Incidentally, Annie's review of BluffMaster has got me interested - gotta watch it !!!!

No More

Reading this review of Dev Anand's latest ludicrous offering 'Mr. Prime Minister' sparked off memories of another one of Dev saab's imbecilic creations - Awwal Number (I actually had the misfortune of seeing this one in a theatre at Delhi), a tale of love, betrayal, family relationships and terrorism revolving around the Indian cricket team !!! The movie starred a visibly embarassed-looking Aamir Khan.

In fact, it seems that when Ashutosh Gowariker (of 'Lagaan' and 'Swades' fame) narrated the story idea of 'Lagaan', Aamir almost had a heart attack; not another cricket-movie, is what he said !!!

Dev saab plays the elder brother and - AND - coach of India's premier batsman, Aditya Pancholi, who happens to be an egoistical bastard. Of course, not content with these responsibilities, Dev saab was also the commisioner of Mumbai police and is now the manager-cum-coach of the Indian cricket team. When Aamir Khan challenges Aditya Pancholi's position of numero uno (in a classic sequence, where Aamir joins an Indian cricket theme song, and sings so well that he becomes the lead singer !!!), Aditya grows increasingly disgruntled and joins a terrorist organization !! In the meantime, Dev saab gives in to frantic requests from the public and takes on the added responsibility of 'Head of Anti-Terrorist Wing'. What he does when he discovers that his younger brother is now a terrorist forms the 'thrilling' climax against the backdrop of an India-Aussie cricket match, where it is revealed that our Dev saab is an amazing sniper as well !!

Whew !!

Bollywood producers, smugglers with black money to dispose of - I beseech you - please, please do not unleash Dev Anand on us yet again. Let him preserve what little dignity and respect that he still summons !!!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

May 2006 bring great joy, wealth and romance into your life.