Sunday, April 30, 2006

my freedom, my business

Sometimes I feel I should write more on current issues - those that are determining the course of our nation or even lesser ones affecting any significant chunk of our huge populace. I read my newspaper, watch my news and pay my attention. I can claim, to a reasonable degree, to be abreast of whats happening around.

I hear all kinds of people - friends, colleagues, even strangers on TV - having clear opininons on a plethora of issues. Then you have the Internet: treasure-trove of all kinds of views in black and white (soft copy actually). People havent suddenly become current affairs savvy or plain socio- politically aware. Yet there is a sudden surge of opinions.

How much of this posturing, especially in forums like TV and net, is backed by hard facts? Its ok to speak your mind before friends and not worry about how logical or practical you sound. But when taking the opportunity to express where millions read/hear you there should be some apprehension. Which should drive you to know your facts before you speak out. On the net you find people (with anonymous names at times) who argue rabidly without making matters clear a bit. Where there should've been a fruitful exchange of ideas there occurs promotion of half baked facts and unhealthily biased views. I am not talking about political correctness. Its another thing altogether. I am hinting at 2 things:

(1)speaking on very important subjects without doing their homework and

(2)being opinionated instead of having an opininon.

Some will say who has the time to work on his blog (for example) on a controversial topic (thats a big reason why its controversial in the first place - mouths working faster than minds) Well then is it worth posting? People usually just blurt out second/third/multi hand information safely assuming that reflects the mood of the masses. Like stories that have been passed across generations with a new interpretation at each passing of the baton what we read or hear is a twisting of truth at different junctures, giving it a distinct hue suited to vested needs.

Freedom of expression comes with a few caveats. It's not an inevitable excuse you resort to whenever you are asked to explain yourself.

P.S : By expressing myself this way I'm liable to be labelled the moral policeman/purist and I'm also putting serious constraints on what subjects I can post on. But what the heck! If fingers are pointed at me, or brickbats thrown, I expect to get away with freedom of expression, right to voice my opinion and other tactically put variants.

It's a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself

For quite some time now I've been fascinated by career changes, mid-life crises and how people free themselves of their photocopied days. This urgent need to fill your time with something thats nothing short of spectacular! All of this while doing your job, living everyday. Maybe I am just too busy with nothing to do. On some occasions a movie comes to the rescue, on others a long drive or music or writing. On the outside I'm supposed to be living this exciting and successful life but . . . Yet if am not feeling there's something wrong then there's something wrong. You wake up, brush your teeth, preen yourself, put on your favourite suit, polish your car such that you can see yourself smile on the windscreen. For what? Why would you do all of this? Why would you care? Its not your life anyway. You are only doing stuff you are supposed to do rather than what you want to.

Lester Burnham has been long dead. This is what he had to say:

"It's a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. Makes you wonder what else you can do"

and this too

"I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday."


P.S: In case you feel this is the rambling of a child prodigy in mid-life crises then ignore it. I've been having bouts of insomnia lately. And I promise future posts will be more bubbly

Friday, April 28, 2006

mending wall

I opened the door to go out for a walk and there was this lady, right in front of me, looking confused. Out of curiosity I asked her about who it was that she was looking for.

"Alka Arora," she said.Immediately, almost unthinkingly, I blurted out, " I am sorry. No Aroras live here." As an afterthought I added, "Maybe you can check the names put up on the ground floor." A lurking fear that I was wrong, rather than courtesy, made me follow her to the list of metallic names put up at the entrance. And there in all its glory, reflecting light upon my sheepish face, was the name plate of Mr. Samir Arora. To the lady's credit she only gave me a wry smile. I deserved it! For putting my foot in my mouth. And for not knowing my next door neighbour.

This is so unlike how I've been brought up. From where I come from neighbours are people whom you not just know but are good friends with. Not just the sugar or salt asking types but genuinely friendly. If you had nothing to do, go to your neighbour's house. The kids of both households play and their mothers gossip about neighbourhood affairs. Sometimes even the fathers join in and discuss politics or sports.

And here I am living in this apartment for 10 months without knowing my next door neighbour. I know who all live in the apartment and can point them out in a group of people but I can't associate names with their faces. I had obviously seen Alka Arora except that I didnt actually know that she was Alka Arora.

In my defence I'll say that bachelors, living on rent, are not regarded upon too compassionately. Maybe if I was living here with my family we (my ngbrs and I) would've got along. I mean remembered names, at least. Bachelors have this reputation of being boisterous,wild and predatory and hence best avoided. Like in the movies where the good-for-nothing loafer dreams of eloping with the 'khandani rayeez' 20 something beauty with nothing but an empty wallet. Our parents have seen such shitty movies way much more to fall for it in real life? Add to this the fact that we - bachelors - hardly stay at one place long enough to induce mutual bonhomie. So you've an ideal concoction for next door strangers whose only moments of 'intimacy' are those half a second acknowledgements when they pass each other on the way in/out to/of the lift.

I'm reminded of Robert Frost's 'Mending Wall' (from my ICSE days)

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.


And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

I've promised myself I'll try to show more initiative in neighbourhood matters. I've thought of a couple of things too. Like assure Mr. Singh her daughter is not the only one in his family whom I love. Or even go out asking for some sugar from Mrs. Shetty and strike up a conversation. Until then though if you are looking for someone in my apartment better check the name plates.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

worshipping false gods??

Are we living in a society plagued by a distinct shortfall of role models? Where are the statesmen - is the lament of our times. No matter who we turn to there are skeletons in his cupboard. There are so many questions swirling around in my head that I need to put them coherently in order for them to make sense.

The typical complaint is that the general moral fabric has been fouled for which we have fewer exemplary individuals who can stand upto lofty moral standards. Or is it incessant public scrutiny? Why do these 'icons' have to put up with this? Isn't it asking for too much? These are mortals, of flesh and blood like each one of us lesser ones, who succumb to the same temptations as any of us. Why then do we need to be cynical or disillusioned when we see these edifices (of our making) crumbling?

There were fewer scams/goof-ups/busts earlier because of fewer available opportunities. I see no logical reason to believe that if similar amount of money was on offer to throw cricket matches as it is now players would have put their country's interests before their own. The more the temptations, the more we succumb to it. Generalising people on this account is the easy way out because then you are overlooking the underlying symptoms of the disease.

People who are famous because of qualities they display in their professional capacity need not have unblemished characters. If we take objectivity to an extreme it wouldn't be far from the truth to say that Hansie Cronje was as dishonest as any public servant who cheats. If a match-fixing scam of such proportion would've been so blatantly exposed in India it would've been nothing short of catastrophic. We are champions at vandalising public property for the flimsiest of excuses anyway. But why such strong reactions? Almost everyone swindles money when given an opportunity. And every public servant's work - bureaucrat, cop, politician - involves the country's interests. If any minister in power is compromising national security by fleecing money alloted to our soldiers' coffins then every doctor who stays away from govt. hospitals to practise privately is equally guilty.

Continuing in the same vein, I believe there shouldn't be any double standards when we hold our citizens responsible for their acts. If there is a strong reaction against a public persona for his misuse of power/position there should be a commensurate outburst against the local ration dealer who sells adulterated kerosene to the deprived. This dealer, if given the chance, would in all probablity, suck us like a leech not less than anyone in power.

There is this almost patented Indian concept of demi-gods. Even the gods would be embarrassed at their petty fan following when they see how Rajnikanth is idolised in Tamil Nadu. Such levels of adoration put enormous pressure on public figures to live up to their frighteningly larger than life reputations. And then at the slightest lapse we come down heavily upon them. Not just what they do but every word uttered is dissected like an intestine under examination.

If we have to look for role models to inspire us, to egg our youth on and to reaffirm the faith of our embittered aged then we need to stop worshipping false gods first. And look closer instead. Every ordinary citizen who stands up for a just cause is worth much more than an applause and any act of defiance against everyday injustice deserves more than a couple of minutes of our time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

what is a lesser evil?

The other day I found myself going through a blog about a campaign against eve-teasing - 'BLANK NOISE'. This forum, currently functional in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, provides women a platform and helps them garner support against, and fight, eve-teasing. The subject interested me and I went on to read the comments which readers had posted. One such comment caught my attention. It was about the fact that eve-teasing is a lesser evil when compared to other more serious atrocities on women in a society as patriarchial as India. The implication: we should work to tackle bigger problems before concerning ourselves with such lesser evils.

Well, who decides what is a lesser or greater evil? For any woman who has been a victim of any vile act in public such harassment is the greatest malady. As observers, far removed from reality, nuclear disarmament or AIDS may be a bigger issue for many. People stand up for causes they can relate to , or whose consequences they directly feel. There are so many ways our dignity can be shattered or our freedom snatched away that to categorise all acts/issues in an order belittles the very purpose of standing up against them.

The biggest casualties in any such society are the weak. And the proportion of the weak is constantly growing because of public apathy. There is an indifference, shameful yet undeniable, which makes people turn their faces away when people around them are being humiliated/attacked/murdered and drown out their shouting consciences until all that is left of it is a squeak. With such being the pulse of the society, who are the weak? Are they only the economically backward, or the socially neglected ones? It is dark outside if we dare to step out of our artificially illuminated lives. Unless we take responsibility for our action or inaction we'll, at some point end up on the newspapers as victims of something despicable. We always hope that somehow we will not have to face any situation, ever, where something more than playing safe and walking away is required. But the law of averages has to catch up, sooner or later.

the irony of it all!

Beethoven started losing his hearing when he was in his 20s. He composed his masterpieces later when he was as deaf as a lamppost. This is called irony of fate. I especially like it. Or like when there was a sharp escalation in violence in the Gaza strip almost immediately after Yitzhak Rabin, the then Israeli PM and Yaseer Arafat, the Palestine supremo, were awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1994.

Indira Gandhi, after Operation Bluestar, heightened her 'Z' category security only to be shot dead by her own bodyguards. Instances of irony are everywhere and are captivating, if not compelling. Not all irony is so grim though. Sometimes there is an unmistakable hookup between irony and humour.

Like in June last year, the State of Virginia Employment Agency, which handles unemployment compensation, announced that they would lay off 400 of their employees for lack of work because there werent enough unemployed people to take care of. How I wish something of this sort happens in my country!!

What happens here is equally enchanting though. A friend, pursuing her bachelors, told me teachers in her class ask students to 'tone down' their english because Bangalore University evaluators may not understand their papers well enough to award them decent marks. Laugh out loud! During engineering a friend of mine - a genuinely inquisitive mind - got barred from attending classes because he asked too many questions! No wonder back-benchers flourish in our colleges!

I guess there is no moral of the story. Irony has to be taken with a pinch of salt or, if the situation is tragic, a clench of the teeth. As Andy Dufresne, in 'Shawshank Redemption', would've vouched for when he said, "The funny thing is - on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook."

P.S: Shawshank Redemption is one the best movies if you want to turn philosophical about how ironical life can be!

Sunday, April 23, 2006


What is it that pricks my conscience?
Guilt wrecks my peace; it haunts me
This obstinate nightmare
Reminds me of my erring past
Can I outlive it?

The heart of darkness
Is the recesses of a depraved heart
My timidity is shocking; I impugn my improbity
Introspection uncovers truths
I’m shamed to discover

The masks I put on for the world
Lacking them am I faceless?
I miss childhood’s artlessness
When I look at my reflection

A wild duel rages in me
As I grapple with outrageous sameness
Dealing with the living and the dead
Ah! I know now the poignancy of a wraith!

A sneering fate, an indifferent people, a lowly existence
Redemption I seek
Redemption is for the battle-scarred
Redemption comes with pain

It is only when I vanquish the inner demons
I earn the right to go home
In this battle
How many times shall I live?
How many times have I died?

Thursday, April 20, 2006


In retrospection it isn’t that abstruse to imagine what a momentary rush of adrenalin can do to your decision making faculties. More so when the subjects concerned are a group of four sprightly and excitable 22/23 year olds.

We, Rohan, Sidhant, Abhinav and yours truly, began unceremoniously on 23rd December - not being able to get seats in the second class compartments on the Kanyakumari Express. At 11 in the night, in Bangalore railway station, we decided (there was a cautionary voice in Sidhant but we vetoed him!) to make a Road Trip. On Bikes. To Kerala.

Our trip to Kochi, the first destination, sapped us. We were zombies by late Saturday morning. And then what transpired is what anybody will agree is the perfect setting for usage of “skin of the teeth”. Rohan, deprived of sleep, saw a truck motoring towards him and instead of moving away, charged head-on. He had blacked out! It was only the wild honking by the truck driver that awoke him and he veered away in the nick of time. This stuff looks cool on TV but when you see it up close it’s bloodcurdling! The rest of our drive was pedestrian, of course, and we reached Kochi (after we took a horrendous 80 km detour) just in time for midnight mass. It was beautiful all around and that somewhat alleviated our weariness as we crashed in at John’s (our trusted friend in Kochi) house.

Christmas involved a tour of Kochi- Fort Kochi in particular. We got a Christmas tree and had a quiet drink with John’s dad. On Monday morning, we left for Alappuzha (Alleppey), the backwater hideout. A backwater boat ride is like being in a moving lounge bar. You start from narrow waterways which opens into a huge expanse of spellbinding beauty. Lines of coconut trees border this watery boulevard as they see their reflections on it's shimmering surface. We spent the evening on the beach where the highpoint was a rendezvous with Benjamin, a fisherman, who asked us, in a hundred ways, for money before we caved in. Barring Abhinav we had relaxing massages (after 800 odd backbreaking km in 3 days) before we collapsed on cozy Y.M.C.A beds.

27th morning. We would be touching Kanyakumari later in the day. The thought tingled us. We made a stop at Kovalam, checked in a hotel and dropped off our baggage. It’s 90 km from Kovalam to Kanyakumari and we left at around 4:30 pm. It was a race against time and we made it 10 minutes before sunset on the southernmost tip in India.

When you are in such adventures you are philosophical at times but still somewhat concerned with everyday worries like food, shelter, etc. It's after you come back to the normalcy of your everyday lives and you look at people when they crib about their dull lives you feel lucky to have lived your life. You get a glimpse of that bigger picture which people talk about. At Kanyakumari, it was a lifetime lived in a few hours. Every moment is seared into my memory for keeps.

On our way back north, we spent a day at Kovalam- home to the best beaches in India. The sand is so soft and the water such a beauteous blue- you have to be dragged out from the waters. God sent a picturesque postcard and it dropped off at Kovalam. We stopped over at Kochi again, went on a village backwater ride with 3 charming European girls (Carolina, I hope you will remember me) and set off for Munnar on 29th afternoon.

Munnar is abode to Nature’s bounty in all its cornucopia. The green carpets of tea gardens on the hills seem in perfect competition and harmony with each other. Each is magnificent and none the poorer. The speed boat cruise on the waters of the Madupetty dam reservoir was breathtaking- the closest I got to the foreign locales which our Bollywood actors so regularly visit. We visited John’s resort, Windermere, a splendid locale, in the evening.

A word about John's dad. An opthalmologist (thats an eye doctor), he quit his job to build, from scratch, what is now this spellbinding resort. The entire plan was laid out as per what he wanted, even the interiors, and the result is sublime. The guests at Windermere like him and he is the same gracious host to anyone who cares to chance upon his beautiful habitat. Somehow I feel there is serendipity in my seeing all this. A leitmotif of following your heart runs through such stories.

On Saturday morning we began our final journey back to Bangalore. The drive was delightful ( save the mishap involving Sidhant and I where, driving like a fool, I skidded while negotiating a sharp turn on the ghats from Munnar to Coimbatore ) and we arrived in Bangalore on 31st night barely an hour before New Year. We had driven 520 km straight that day and 2500 km that week!

A lot of time has elapsed since that day and I realize that there was a certain discretion in our valour. What is free will for if not to follow your dreams?

I also ask myself - What do travellers do? I cannot help smiling as I write this:
They chase horizons. As we did on our way to Kanyakumari.
They visit Elysian Fields in their lifetime.
For all their troubles they don’t bring back much with them except for a good attitude. A view on life. A new perspective.
And sometimes thats all thats worth having.

Adventure does not lie outside a man; it lies within
- Anonymous.

P.S: Trip Details

Duration: 8 days
Kilometres covered: 2500 km
Bikes: Fiero F2 and Pulsar 180
Places visited: Kochi, Alappuzha, Kovalam, Kanyakumari, Munnar

of movies

Movies can make you come alive like nothing else

In 'Million dollar baby' the narrator, Morgan Freeman, says 'sometimes the best way to throw a punch is to step back'. In the ensuing footage you see Big Willie, a protege of Clint Eastwood for 6 years and a soon to be heavyweight title contender, coming to the latter's place to perfunctorily thank him before leaving him for another manager. If you thought this was just a boxing movie, look closer.

'American Beauty' is every middle-aged, disillusioned, apathetic, paranoid man's autobiography. What keeps you rivetted is seeing your story on the big screen. The liberation, pain, desire which every man feels or goes through is shown in a couple of hours.

'Amores Perros' (spanish movie) shows the different faces of love. Love for your dog, for your daughter, for your beloved. Love unrequited, unacceptable in society and love that destroys. "Don't worry if you don't see this picture, you are going to LIVE IT anyway"- this is one of the taglines of the movie. Getting my point?

The common thread seems to be the connection you make with something illusory and unreal, maybe abstract. You know its make-believe (unless its based a true story) and yet you are drawn to it and how well it has been portrayed makes an impact- searing or otherwise- on you.

There are also movies which are larger than life; its not what you will relate to but how you will be teleported across space and time. Havent you seen those ones where you never realised your agape mouth until people around pointed out? These dazzle with their scale, superhuman protagonists or fantabulous special effects.

Essentially celluloid has the power to convey more in a scene or montage what can perhaps be an entire chapter of a book. And while cinema is at this it attacks the senses in a manner which can be duplicated only by the intensity of actual experience. The lines stay with you; you can rattle them off at the drop of a hat. The scenes tingle you; memories keep flooding back. People watch movies for different reasons which encompasses a myriad things that can well astound anyone with the disparateness. Any experience which even remotely makes an impact on people segregated by this miscellany is worth more than an applause.

I would, in all earnestness, like to hear from people why it is they watch/like/adore/cherish movies. I can see a thousand reasons myself but if i can see one more 'the juice is worth the squeeze'.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

are you like everybody else?

I vividly remember writing 'my aim in life' compositions in school. Not just for one year but for a number of years until they could think of a topic which better suited my intellect. And most of the times i would aspire to be a doctor, at times scientist and on a few occasions businessman. For most of us the choices were simple and the boundaries clearly demarcated. Who thought we would turn out the way we have? How many of us dreamt of becoming engineers? I seriously doubt any significant percentage.

In an interview a couple of months back i was asked why is it that the brightest students have to do engineering and then probably an MBA. I put down the reasons to job security, career options, etc. The interviewer, a respected professor of a premier business school, wryly smiled at me and asked "what about peer pressure"? I knew what he was referring to and i had this queasy feeling. My expression told ' isnt it obvious? why are you asking me this?'

It is a good thing to burn midnight oil for entrance exams, secure a decent rank and get into a good engg college/ b- school. It makes parents proud. It is quite another thing, maybe the best thing, to not follow the herd and follow your dreams instead. The third generation Indian middle class stories are littered with an overdose of sameness which is showing now in a sea of similarly talking, walking, thinking, acting multitude . The problem, if you agree with me in calling it one, is easily identifiable.

There is an important element missing in such stories. The element of risk, that point where you have to take a chance for a dream that no one but you see. This is not necessarily good in itself but when you ask yourself about your true calling it assumes great signicance. This cocoon of safety has to be broken at some point, sooner rather than later. Because i still cant believe all of us want to become engineers. As i say this i am struggling with the fact that i am in the same boat which will take me, as also a few million others, to the same shore and while we are on that journey, maybe we'll all see the same sights.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

debilitating, mind numbing conference calls

I'm in this conference call now which is unbelievably irritating..looks like the pandora's box of system crippling issues has been opened and the onus is on me to put the lid back on..see how i m seamlessly oscillating between the metaphoric and the literal! now do u've an idea of the cruel and unusual punishment i am being meted out?

It started off well with all the items in the calendar being addressed as per schedule (software jargon!!). But the meeting hit a snag when our onsite expert whom i'll call X decided in a fit of sincereness to discuss some long pending issues. Mr. X was driving his kid to school as well as attending the call (a tribute to the ambit of technology) when he decided upon resolving those debilitating issues. This somehow got a few more up and running and together they agreed upon mayhem. Mr. X exhorts us by this "guys these issues can be show- stoppers". He reaches office, digresses from the original meeting schedule and in a kamikaze strike bamboozles us (me especially) with database problems, the imminent need to have an alternative development environment and other cryptic problems of our applicaton versions.

And here i am stuck for the past 2 hours waiting baitedly for my 10 mins of fame. I just need to read out a design document (which ,i can proudly explain, outlines the steps to be undertaken to fix a certain bug in the application) which will not take, even Mr Vajpayee in a pensive mood, more than a few minutes. I see the faces of my teammates- people i had respect for as tough- and I see them breaking down. One by one. Bit by bit. The cruel onsite Business Analyst has the audacity to thank Mr. X after he leaves the call. Hell ya my turn has come!! yippee!! But before that let me confess that my faith in any higher force has been severely dented. That cornerstone of belief that He is there for you has been shaken.

Ok no more or i'll regret penning my musings at this inopportune time.

the indian male's stare

Staring, gawking and checking out women unites men-legions of them- across all ages, transcending cultural borders and marital status, mocking at barriers of age, caste and cutting through socio-econmic strata. Having an avowed bachelor as our Prime Minister (Mr. Vajpayee) didn't help either. If some national magazines' reports are to be believed it spurred half of the nation (more than half because of the skewed sex ratio) to extract the most fun out of the fairer sex without being involved in relationships.

Haven't you ever experienced something so innate in you that you can never tell when you started indulging/practising it? Like telling lies, breaking rules, hating work. Like staring at females. On busy thoroughfares, in shopping malls, on lonely streets, on school corridors, in conference rooms, in live shows, at the ' gaon ka mela'. There is no place or time where Indian males can be accused of gentlemanly behaviour and thereby blamed for missing a chance to gaze upon a belle dame.

As practitioners of this 'art' men do everything from glancing surreptitiously to casting long, discomforting gazes. The extent of this depends on how much is at stake with respect to issues of morality or plain 'sab dekh rahein hai yaar'(not much actually. most guys have nothing to lose) The animal male mind goes into a trance detaching all senses from the outside world. In those hypnotic moments only you and the object of your cheap, vile gaze exist.

To the cruder sex's credit, mostly they limit their interest to a few moments of such unadulterated joy. There are some despicable members but every clan has its black sheep. Most men are harmless. The married soon have pangs of guilt and the unmarried feel its the least they ask from girls. And on top very few actually go on to say 'umar hai sola, kamar hai coca-cola'. Eve-teasing isn't endorsed. They just want some moments of peaceful bliss. Is it asking for too much?

Well maybe yes if you ask the girls. But they are smart. They should understand this harmless pleasure and try looking at the bigger picture. What a small price to pay for getting hundreds of rejuvenated, virile men ready to spill their guts out for their motherland! Why else do you think they send Mallika Sherawat to Kashmir?

As a pre-emptive measure girls could actually stare at men before they are stared at? Oh how the guys would love this! Or walk up to the predator and innocently call him 'bhaiyya'. To give credit where it's almost due all guys arent perverts. Every guy is a lady's brother, or father, or son, or uncle or something. Think about what most of them have been subjected to. A life with minimal female companionship, very little interaction- not far from the caveman's life (ok i bit exaggerated. So next time you are being gawked at try to look beyond it, into those deep eyes, at the beauty of its soul.

p.s: Its so difficult to stay objective on gender issues. And even if you truly are trying to your efforts may not be as appreciated as you would want to. So ladies take this sportingly.

moving at the speed of life

Sometime back i had asked a friend to download David Cronenberg's 'Crash'- a movie about car accident victims grappling with reality by performing morbid sexual acts with each other (i can guess what a few of you might be thinking!). But instead he ended up downloading this year's Oscar winning 'Crash'. This turned out to be serendipitous as i ended up watching it quite a few times. What follows is my attempt at reviewing the movie.

‘Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other ‘- this is the tagline of Crash, an inter racial drama about the crisscrossing paths of people of different religions, creeds and sects yet citizens of the same country. Blacks and whites are the just a constellation, as we come to know; the galaxy encompasses Hispanics, Persians, African- Americans, Latinos and Koreans and so many more.

Paul Haggis having earned an Academy nomination for best adapted screenplay for Million Dollar Baby in 2004 moves from the aegis of Clint Eastwood and concocts a cinematic preparation that makes us have a relook at our take on ethnicity. Anyone from the Orient is dubbed a ‘Chinaman’, Persians are labeled Arabs, Mexicans are thought to be Black gangbangers- there is no end to the homogenization that we, as people, do to club diverse groups together and let our bias precede our judgement. The result is an intensely paranoid and insecure cauldron- Los Angeles, in this case.

Spaced over 36 hours and having coincidence as an imperative premise as the lives of people across races interlock, Crash, expounds on the relevance of tolerance and empathy in modern society. I presume a subtle message that the film puts across is this- the pursuers of the Great American Dream beware; reality is biting. It’s impossible to narrate the story solely because there are so many parallel threads running the reader will tie himself in knots in making sense of all of them. The movie, following parallel lines that converge at the end, can be broadly demarcated in 3 parts- the first where we are intrdouced to the charcters and their situations, the next where we see incidents which either shake their beliefs or prove their apprehensions to be real and the finale where there is a hint that the characters have somehow reconciled to their lot.

A black cop (Don Cheadle) has a missing brother, who has gone astray, to look for while he has to help his mother out of the trauma. He’s deep in an investigation where conscience beseeches him to pin the blame on a fellow Black officer but he would rather have charges against his brother dropped. A white cop, Matt Dillon, vents out his angst against all Black employees, who left his father high and dry, (when a pro-minority Bill was passed in Congress) by molesting the wife (Thandie Newton) of an African-American TV director on the sidewalk. The prim and proper wife (Sandra Bullock) of the DA of Los Angeles (Brendan Fraser) is paranoid about the Hispanic locksmith selling the keys to their house to his ‘gangbanger friends’.

The movie glitters with an ensemble cast with Terrence Howard and Matt Dillon leading the way. As the saviour of the lady from a car crash, whom he had molested a day ago his performance is gripping and it begs us to have a rethink of our opinions on people. Thandie Newton is refulgent as the proud wife of a law abiding Black citizen who hates to see him swallow his pride to escape the inequities in society. But, for me, the high point of the movie are two clips occurring at different times involving the Hispanic locksmith (Michael Pena) and his 5 year old daughter. They epitomize the very reason for which movies are made- to transport viewers to a different place and time and then to bring them back to their lives with a new perspective.

The movie has its flaws in a strong dependence on coincidence but the overall experience nullifies that feeling of it to be too fortuitous to be true. It asks nagging questions without being preachy and hopefully doles out a helping of empathy to us. In hindsight, Crash can be the best dissertation on inter-racial relations and ethnicity for your doctorate degree!

Monday, April 17, 2006

waiting rooms for the indian lover

The Government was kind
For the common man it wanted to lessen the grind
Eve-teasing and moral policing were at their peak
Privacy is what people seeked

In a fit of inspiration
To reduce the hoi polloi’s trepidation
The Government proclaimed in its mandate
To build the first, till date
Waiting rooms for the Indian lover
The ones that will help them stay undercover

By what the Government indicated
The married and the intelligent felt vindicated
At last they their problems would be solved
It was love, and love only, around which the country revolved

The process was simple they said
A gazetted officer should certify you a bonafide lover
And the deal was made
Your photograph and your consenting father’s signature
Do it this way or under the table rather

Father, son, mother and daughter
They all started running helter-skelter
The officer’s seal was at a premium
But they didn’t give up amidst all the pandemonium

Two years passed since that day
But no spark of hope nor a light’s ray
Red tape some blamed, some accused bureaucracy
It was killing our nation- this great democracy

Girls got married, some even lost their virginity!
Men went on strike- they had such temerity
A Committee was set up to look into the matter
All they did was pass time in banter

Needless to say the waiting rooms never saw the light of the day
The sun never shone for the Indian lover to make hay
The government is not happy; it wants to know the reason
And the opposition has vowed to raise the issue in parliament season

a short story

The other day I got talking to my alter ego - a quiet, brilliant and levelheaded soul who knows more about me than I do. We sat over more than a few cups of coffee and turned terribly nostalgic. Forgotten dreams, lost chances and funny incidents were on the agenda. Bittersweet. Like that brilliant day when I rode out, like the wind, on my sparklingly new bicycle only to come crashing down at the first turn. The pain of the bruised, swollen palms was commensurate with the joy of riding my new bike. Bitter and sweet in sublime harmony. Or that cloudy day when the air was pregnant with news of impending rain. The smell of earth and the mist in the air combined to mesmerise the coldest of men. I drove to her place without warning and pulled her out of her house for a drive.

Rita was her name. Rita of the innocent smile and the beautiful eyes. She of the porcelain skin and the noblest heart. She seemed unusually excited by the melliflous taste of the weather. Spurred by the call of abandon we rode like there was no tomorrow. Going around the city we discovered roads that never were. She tried driving the bike for a few nerve-wracking moments. We howled against the wanton wind like kids for toys. Even the most trite of songs seemed allusive. There was an unmistakable quintessence to living. It was quite simply the best life could offer.

After driving all through the evening we brought home a lavish meal. A power cut meant an unexpected candle-lit dinner. I was in a garrulous mood and spoke about anything under the sun. "All those who have made significant difference to history have been men of implacable faith," I remarked in a moment of epiphany. "Belief against a race as Hitler had or in the strength of non-violence like Gandhi. There is no denying the power of conviction," I continued. "It is we, commen men, who refuse to make hard choices. We try to pass away our years in apathetic neutrality never taking a stand nor standing up for a cause," I lamented.

She was looking at me with keen eyes and atypical reticence. I inquired about her silence. "I've been thinking about us lately," she said. In a moment of child like honesty I said,"I've been feeling special about you for some time now." Then with a fearless, yet hopeful voice I added, "I dont know how you feel but I just want you to be happy. Whatever it is please tell me what's on your mind." She looked at me long before speaking. "I have become fond of you too but I'm not sure about this. My parents have a lot of expectations from me and I dont want to break their trust. You maybe won't understand but I can't afford anything like this."

"Maybe you won't have to break their trust. Maybe they'll be more approving than what you think," I fought back. " They are your parents after all and they will have to be supportive. Every passing moment I feel surer about us and I know this is true." I wanted to take her pretty face in my hands and assure her of only happier days ahead. Somehow I lacked the courage to do so. We spoke for long as I struggled between the magnanimous lover and the selfish one. I wanted her happiness and her love. A combination little hard to get in a world corrupted by the banalities of mortals.

It was the next day. I don't remember her exact words when she requested me to reconsider our, what seemed to me,quickly yet surely forging relationship. She did not want to lose out on her family for anything. I lost my breath. She told me this after gifting me an antique mariner's compass of the "Royal Navy". It was enchanting - the rusty, seasoned piece that spoke of many worn out hands that had used it for direction in the fiercest of storms. On the underside of the lid was etched Robert Frost's " The Road Not Taken". The pain of unrequited love was only matched by the joy of a beloved's gift. The smile on my lips was equaled by the watery eyes. Bittersweet.

I'm 45 now. That day was half my life away. The only signs of bygone years lie in a few more black patches on the rim of my "Royal Navy". Did I give up my chance then? Did I sacrifice as only love should do? That dream of a wonderful tomorrow lingers in my heart yet. I still feel the flush of youth as I start again on a long drive. The words of Frost amble around my head as I take my trusted compass for direction along my journey.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference"

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Why do NICE GUYS FINISH LAST when it comes to scoring chicks?

Why do nice guys finish last when it comes to scoring chicks?

This famed question merits a sincere endeavour until we reach the crux of the matter rather than a cursory attempt. Let’s assume we stay neutral, more in thinking than in gender, before we delve into this matter of exigency for the ever so burgeoning bachelor fraternity. And in doing so, we avoid the first important reason for pitfall on this path. The second given is that no matter what your status is- committed, married, single, frivolous- you owe it your brethren to show empathy and understanding in this pandemic of problems.

At the outset let’s decide on what qualifies a nice guy. What are their symptoms? Pardon the language for it may sound harsh but sometimes even 'tough aint enough'. A nice guy is one who will not go for a girl who’s going around with someone and will seriously think about a girl who’s just friends with a guy. The lacunae, here, is initiative. How does this lack of initiative cost our nice guy? Numbers will help us here. For a nice, homely guy to start harbouring amorous thoughts he is usually a ripe 21. At least. This constitutes the last years of any bachelor’s degree. At 21 if there’s any girl worth her salt she’ll mostly be taken and if she hasn’t been then, in all probability, she isn’t worth the sweat. That means out of 1000 girls in college, of which 300 demand a second look there are only 30 available. A 3 % sample size! For this bite of the chick-pie how many rats are prancing around? For 1000 girls there’ve to be a minimum of 3000 guys unless you have 50% quota for backward and not overly forward female population. The number of simpletons in this gargantuan figure is another colossal (refraining from use of the same adjective) 1500 who are all ready to mingle and whisper sweet-nothings into a feminine ear. The ratio of prospective candidates to seats available is a whooping 50:1! This is worse than an IIT entrance exam because unlike there, academically superior qualities aren’t of much use!! Pity the poor souls!

Now if by some act of Providence the nice guy nets a decent ‘babe in the woods’ there are realistic obstacles. The ‘ice-breaker and freshers’ party’ period is over and so the time to build a long story is not there. And nice guys don’t fathom catalysis unless they are in the chemistry lab. Rushing into things isn’t their cup of tea. Juniors might look up to you if you’ve bagged that 5 lakhs placement or if you’re a sports champ in college. But if a nice guy bags a 5 lakhs placement then he has to be a nerd and what the heck if he’s a sports hero? This is not like those teen Hollywood flicks where cheerleading teams swoon over the high school quarterback. Nice guys are practical too so the above mentioned point holds weight.

Another serious issue with nice guys is the well documented ‘killer instinct’. Why, this is the very reason for which the Indian team languished at the bottom of ODI tables until Dhoni conquered anything even remotely female with his flowing mane. The days of the wandering minstrel penning out soulful poems for his beloved have long gone by too. Your magnum opus may tempt her to ask you to ghost-write one for her boyfriend on his birthday! Nothing can be more painful than that. Nice guys need to go on an overdrive to bag the damsel who’s not so much in distress. Fidgety body language and gawky image do no good. The lack of hunter like traits leaves them with no choice but be content with just 'bird watching'.

Social life-the killer. Good boys arent party animals. You would most likely find them helping their moms with 'Ram Navami' celebrations than in a pub or disc. Its a proven fact that beauties are more devoted to courtship causes in surroundings anywhere but places of worship. How many friends of yours have met their sweethearts in a temple or a church? The hottest legs and the best bods are to be seen dancing their way to glory in the fancy disc on friday nights while 'gay' abandon is the domain of good boys.

Nice guys are cute. But girls, almost pathologically, find just about anything under the sun cute. Even the Hutch pug is cute. So please stop your inflating your chest if the hot girl in your class calls you 'cute'. Girls like their boys with a streak of adventure. Havent you seen those uncountable mushy Bollywood traingles where the nicest guy has to give up the hottest girl for his dearest pal? Do not fall into such traps!

Nice guys are predictable and they treat everyone well. Some ladies need to feel 'special'. So if an arrogant snob, with terrible mood swings, gives attention to a girl then she convinces her tender heart about this sensitive and caring side of him. She feels like the sole recipient of his devotion.There have been a few collegemates- absolute upstarts who got along better with animals than humans- who have been blockbuster hits with the ladies. Make her feel she is the Kohinoor of your world. and yet learn to play hard to get. If you come too easily your availabilty might work against you.The bad boy who does not return her call or messages and forgets important occasions still earns her adoration. Agonisingly true!

What has been chronicled here refers to a syndrome of a section of the bachelor populace-the educated urban hopelessly single male. But the traits talked about are very much needed in different situations.One of my friends well versed in the art of wooing so thoughtfully said that the most fun a guy can have with his pants on is during the courtship period. So I exhort the single Indian male youth to take up cudgels against frustrating and confidence crushing bachelorhood and go all out in the pusuit of maidens like the legendary Don Quixote. Candle-lit dinner dates and weekend outings to the cosy theatre are very much within your reach.

P.S: The purists may scoff at the suggestions and analysis as superficial and at socio-economic reasons not being dealt with but thats their job.
Some remarks may have been made tongue in cheek but the message they convey is substantial.
Members of the fairer sex should not be offended in any way at the language and tone used in this piece. This is the only language guys understand

artless years

The faculty of memory is a benefaction
It conveys me across lonesome years
To the sublimity and symphony
Of mother's calls and grandma's fables
I'm a dazed child
My mouth agape i listen to heroic tales
As grandma feeds with wrinkled, loving hands
The chutney tastes spicier
As good always vanquishes evil

Thursday, April 13, 2006

whats her name again?

She is an unforgiving accountant- driven by scruples with what can only be a pathological penchant for the integrity of the figures in her book. Her methods are means to a single end that the final tally is a veritable reflection of her subjects. Truth of her numbers is truth of her character.

Each one of us is driven to griping against her and her ways. That she is a more regular companion to others and fleeting in her business with us. There never has been any direct communicaton with her. She only expresses herself through her dispensations. Not weekly or quarterly but every moment a judgment is passed. Some are convicted, some go free. There is never any lack of evidence though. There are no loopholes. You are laid bare of your pretensions and rhetoric. There is nowhere to hide.

We've been recipients of her dicta since the inception of time. It's time we understood her methods. If ever she flatters it's to deceive and her harshness has an unmistakable empathy. Being oblivious to this highlights our insensitvity and coldness.

Are our actions directed at wooing her? Do we do good in the hope that she'll smile upon us? Or since our past does not ensure our future is it any worse if we are steered by baser instincts? Clarity comes seeking when we realise there is no law of averages in right and wrong. Every deed is accounted for and questioned. Not just the result but the motive too.

The point is missed when we resort to imprudent comparisons. Can we decide on the penalty for hurting a child? How much worth is a life lost? Or a dream shattered? If there is a frame of reference for each one of us and each one is evaluated with respect to everyone else the result is a cacophony.

Slap on the face or pat on the back is but an illusion. If she has been harsh to you then that has not been compensated in the good fortune of somenone else. There is no limit to our happiness or good luck when we choose to get busy living the present moment. Without fear. With abandon. And then we are free. From Fate and her 'inequities'.