Monday, May 15, 2017

Seasons of the Palm by Perumal Murugan

We glorify the grand and the majestic yet it is the everyday lives that are the most interesting. It is astonishing that the accident of birth leads to such different lives when we are essentially the same.

Sitting in a coffee shop, as I start reading Perumal Murugan’s story of a little untouchable boy I begin to feel the usual sympathy for him. But the story cuts me short. This is not about me or my distance from the characters in this act. It is only about a few friends who meet every day while grazing the cattle for their Masters. It is about the bond between a boy and a mute sheep which is stronger than any bond between humans, yet at the same time, more delicate than the morning dew. It is about a relationship between two boys which looks like friendship but can never be that because they are born unequal and will always stay that way. It is about the earth and a people who live by it. Understand it. Something that most of us living in concrete houses can only imagine.

Who likes things to end? But they do end, there is destruction waiting in the wings, and all that is left finally is sadness and desolation.

This is not a sorry tale. But gloom and disaster always lies about the corner. A lost lamb, a failed attempt at collecting some peanuts from another’s field, a day missed at work can always lead to terrible consequences. But there are consequences for the Masters as well.

The description of the countryside and all its treasures is mesmerizing and flows smoothly. The translation is of high quality. You forget that it is a translation and immediately get engaged in the story. The one sore point I have about the translation is of the use of nicknames like Tallfellow and Stonedeaf. These might be accurate in the cultural context of the original language but feel out of place in English. Much like the hurriedly dubbed Chinese action movies on TV.

Poor strong Belly – she talks tough, sings merrily, but a single fear sits snug and heavy in her heart.

Isn’t this true for all?

[This is part of a series of book reviews I am doing for Flipkart]

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Lessons from Sairat (सैराट)

Having seen Nagraj Manjule's first short film Pistulya (Review here) and his first movie Fandry, it was obvious that Sairat will leave you shaken. And that it sure did.

Not because it told us something new. It does not have anything that you will not find in a newspaper every other day. But it managed to make it real for you in those three hours. It somehow takes a small newspaper article about something which happened in an unheard-of village and makes it a part of your life, your experience. That is the hallmark of brilliant cinema.

"लई इगो हाय तुला"

Everyone views great art through their prism, mine is this. Sairat is about the ego. The more successful and powerful you become the more it grows within you. The only person who can keep it in check for you is the person you love. If that person is strong enough to fight with you and make you fight with your own ego then you are saved. Otherwise it will end up eating you and everyone around you.

"Your mother is a quiet women, she makes me listen to my own voice. And it is a voice I do not like much lately." - Trumbo

This ability to be the conscience of someone else is hardly ever respected or praised. But it is a rare gift. I am not saying that you cannot be your own watchman. That you always need someone else you point out your failings. Most people manage to play both roles. But it is particularly hard for people who are most focused and driven. They, almost by definition, do not have any room for a contrarian viewpoint. And a balancing act is most important for such men and women, because they are the ones who are capable of most damage.

Also, if your long lost relatives - with whom you had a great fight the last time you saw them - happen to suddenly show up on your doorstep and are looking grim and silent, smell a rat and get the hell out of there.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hot girl walks into a bar

When does a look stop being an act of appreciation of beauty and start becoming harassment? Growing up in India with all the taboos and cultural stupidity regarding the opposite sex, this is not an easy question to answer. Oh our culture teaches us to treat women with respect. Oh most women are very happy in their marriage, just look at the low divorce rates. These statements confuse me a lot. What does it really mean to treat someone with respect? Let me try to understand it with the help of a couple of characters.

Hot girl walks into a bar hotel

'Level headed' guy, 'Confident when with friends' guy, 'Thinks he is better' guy and 'Will play people for fun' guy are sitting at a table. They are very different people but united in their complete lack of guts when it comes to talking with girls.

We allow for a moment's silence where everyone at the table takes in this new development. From top to bottom, lingering at the curves a while longer. Only the 'Thinks he is better guy' does not join the others in doing this. Yes, of course, because he thinks he is better.

Confident (when with friends) guy is the last to break the eye-body contact. He blows a low whistle or offers a few expletives to set the tone. Looking at this reaction, (thinks he is) Better guy realizes that in his pride he has missed something quite unmissable. For the rest of the conversation, he will be focusing on stealing glances and opportunities to stare at the aforementioned object. Confident guy is continuing with description of her breasts and how tightly her clothes were hugging them. (Will play people for) Fun guy ventures that he could clearly make out the outlines of her bra, and that it was silk for sure. Level headed guy is silent till about now. He, being level headed and all, makes a rational assessment of the situation. With a rack like that her boyfriend must be f***ing her at least twice a day, he summarizes. Further expletives are let out by the Confident guy, partly in anger (directed towards the yet unseen boyfriend) and partly in pleasure (imagining the twice-a-day event).

Fun guy, strategically shifts the conversation to why is it that such girls tend be not with us. Specifically, he adds, what is stopping any one of us, from 'getting' this particular hot chick? Level headed guy suggests the receding of their hair lines or advance of the waist lines as probable causes. This is generally ignored. Better guy forwards the age old wisdom of beautiful girls being so dumb as to choose stupid partners. This is very well received by the audience resulting in downing of beer glasses and ordering of a fresh round.

Meanwhile fun guy ploughs on with his instigation, covertly directed at the Confident guy in order to get some action going. 'Degree hain, job hain, bike hain, l*** hain. Aur kya chahiye sa** ko!'. In fact some of the guys around the table have amassed much more than that - like a wife and kids. But that is quite understandably left unsaid. 'Look at the way she is looking around, I bet she is ready to f*** the first guy who goes up to her', Fun guy continues. This finally has the desired effect and Confident guy brings down his empty mug with intent. Others smell blood. 'Abhi usko ja ke hi bol de', level headed guy chips in. Confident guy gets up and pushes his chair back. But the confident feet have other plans. They wobble and the confident body sinks to the ground for the lack of chair at the said location.

Let us pause and come out of the bar/hotel for a moment. What has happened so far? Have they treated the girl with respect? Maybe they have not treated anything so far, except their eyes perhaps. Thoughts are only a problem when they get converted into action. Right?

There is very little chance of action here (much to the disappointment of fun guy). As mentioned before, no one at the table has the guts (or the balance) to go trouble the girl anyway. But what if they were not in a busy place. What if there was no one except them and her? If it was late night and no help was forthcoming? Would that have emboldened them? Probably. Now, if they had done something stupid (otherwise perfectly nice married guys) who is to blame?

The thoughts? So are thoughts really harmless? Or perhaps we would just say that being at such a place, at such a time, in such a dress, the girl had it coming.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Arrogant Geniuses

What has arrogance to do with genius? Nothing really. At least not in real life. But somehow onscreen they seem to be inseparable.

Arrogance we are taught is a bad thing. Good people are humble. So obviously we get attracted to arrogance like smoking of that first joint or getting wasted in defiance of our preachy family and friends. When Mark ridicules a girl in the 'The Social Network' because he can think faster than her (and perhaps speak faster than he can think), we love it as an audience. When Steve abuses a programmer for not thinking as big as he does in 'Jobs' we join in in the abuse and marvel at the grand ideas that the hero is capable of. When Alan in 'The Imitation Game' fires a few guys unceremoniously, guys who have toiled at the problem as much as he has, the whole theater erupts in laughter. I wonder what I will feel if my boss fires me for having a low IQ and the whole office laughs their heart out pointing at me.

Obviously we are not putting ourselves in the shoes of the people getting put down. We think of ourselves as the conquering hero. We get to be a brilliant scientist revolutionizing science itself. Or a passionate entrepreneur who changes the way people go about their very lives. When the canvas is so large a little fun at the expense of a dumb-witted guy is OK. Is needed in fact. To prove the authenticity of the intellect in question.

I'm a woman in a man's job. I don't have the luxury of being an ass - Joan Clarke in 'The Imitation Game'

Is it indeed a luxury? Would a genius look less of a genius if she is always pleasant and nice to people? If he is not socially awkward? I wonder how a Albert Einstein or a Swami Vivekananda will be portrayed on screen? They were undoubtedly few of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. But it is hard to imagine them as arrogant. Of course I am not saying that Alan Turing, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg were or are asses. They might be sugar for all I know. But Directors choosing to show them as crazed go-getters and we loving them for it, tells us something about ourselves.

Do you know why people like violence? It is because it feels good. Humans find violence deeply satisfying. But remove the satisfaction, and the act becomes... hollow. - Alan Turing in 'The Imitation Game'

I have had opportunity of really hurting people with words. And I have let my tongue loose on many a occasion. I have been on the wrong side of the deal often times too. That crushing feeling when you are smaller than the smallest object in sight. And I have realized that truly smart, really wise people don't do that. They just can't. In fact, it is so true that it can be a test to understand someone with. I think we have mistaken style for wisdom. And bling for style.

Any fool can know. The point is to understand. - Albert Einstein

If I become a genius I would like to be shown like Phalke in 'Harishchandrachi Factory'. A brilliant inventor and artist who is many times funny and always likable. Even in the worst of times he is never crass.

And yes, I believe genius is a matter of becoming. Not being.

[Pictures courtesy -,,,,]  

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Gone Girl

It was refreshing to see such a negative take on marriage. We always joke about how marriage makes you loose your freedom and how you have to sacrifice on all kinds of shit. But it is always accompanied by something that compensates it. Love, sex, kids, security, just the company. This movie was devoid of any positive side. It was what the idea of marriage can become if taken to the extreme. And it is a rather unnatural idea when you think about it.

Given a choice nobody will marry an ugly person. It might be an insensitive statement to make, but is it not true? So what would you expect to happen to a relation which is based on physical attraction to begin with? It will be as fickle as the attraction which started it. But we fight with it day in and day out. To add some substance to it. Kids are of course a game changer. But what of a long and successful marriage without kids? In the end what will become of the two people involved in it? When none of them is attractive anymore.

Actually the end is easy. It is the middle years when all the infidelity and such-likes happens. When both think they deserve better. It is like marriage is designed to ruin you. But somehow, by a stroke of luck, you might be saved. The more successful and genuinely happy marriages that I have seen look more like any other friendship rather than the added baggage that is part of the marriage bandwagon.

But like any other hard, near impossible thing (like rock climbing, deep sea diving, cliff jumping) marriage, if done right, can forge character. Of course it might be a tad difficult if the spouse is a psychopath. But in most cases they are not. What remains is letting go of your ego and being kind. Ah, but what seems clear in writing, is hazy in doing. What seems like an obvious thing in principle, is always the hardest thing in practice.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Corrosion of Character

I have started reading this rather weird book upon the recommendation of an even more weirder character I know.
As I went through a few pages I have realized that this book presents a different view of things. New often means controversial, challenging your beliefs and the very way in which you have put your life together thus far. New also means it is not necessarily true. Or maybe true in general but not true in my case, our yours. Thus, there are going to be many interesting tit-bits in this book that I would like to record. Some in agreement, some in disagreement and some otherwise.
I generally use twitter for such shit. But the 140 characters thing can get irritating at times. So I will be sort of live blogging this book as a go through it. This post will be updated often, I hope.

"Career", for instance in its English origins meant a road for carriages, and as eventually applied to labor, meant a lifelong channel for one's economic pursuits.
The author is saying that earlier times people lived out their whole lives in one job/company, so there was great certainty and stability. Which was a good thing. Now people have to hop around so life has become more uncertain and stressful.
Me: Disagree. Stress is a result of trying to control the uncontrollable. It cannot be blamed on random stuff.

Time is the only resource freely available to those at the bottom of society.
Me: Interesting. Wonder if it is available freely at the top too.
The author writes about today's world and how we move around and keep changing jobs.

But his deepest worry is that he cannot offer the substance of his work life as an example to his children of how they should conduct themselves ethically. The qualities of good work are not the qualities of good character.
Me: Completely Disagree. A hard days honest work is enough substance for making a good character. It does not matter if you have worked there 10 days or 10 years.

Enrico had a narrative for his life, linear and cumulative, a narrative which made sense in a highly bureaucratic world. Rico [his son] lives in a world marked instead by short-term flexibility and flux; this world does not offer much, either economically or socially, in the way of narrative.
Me: Again Disagree. The narrative is that if you acquire a skill that is marketable then you don't have to depend on any one company for your economic needs.

"Change" means just drift
Me: Agree. If you have not figured out your own agenda then you will most like drift. But how was this different earlier? Lack of movement does not imply stability.

No long term
Me: The author says today's society is based on the above principle. I agree. I myself cannot make any long term plans. Because I can see it does not make sense in these times. But I do wonder what will happen to me in the long term. Hmm as Keynes used to say, everyone is dead in the long term.

Monday, August 04, 2014

अस्तु - So be it

Will I be the same person without my memories? Will the people who love me now continue to love me even if I treat them as strangers? Never recognizing or acknowledging their existence. Most relationships are give and take. If the take stops, how long before the give gets diverted in other, more fulfilling directions.

The strong point of this movie, for me, is the superb acting by the whole cast. Mohan Agashe, as the sanskrit scholar losing his memory to dementia is as masterly as ever. Iravti Harshe, as the elder daughter struggling with her father's illness and the expectations of her young children has given an intense performance. Nachiket Purnapatre and Amruta Subhash have played their parts to perfection.
The theme might be the illness. But in typical Sumitra Bhave - Sunil Sukhtankar style, the movie touches a lot of emotions, dilemmas and paradoxes which are part of our ordinary lives. I was troubled by one particular shade. The elder sister Ira (Iravati Harshe) comes out as maternal and caring kind of a person. She refuses to keep her father in an old age home in spite of the mounting difficulties and tensions resulting from his erratic and at times violent behavior. This obviously is taking a toll on her. The younger sister Rahi (Devika Daftardar) is of an altogether different nature. Clear, frank, without attachments and rational to the core. She casually suggests that their father is no longer their father and it is OK to let him spend the rest of his days in an institution. After all, he won't even know the difference!
This, to me, felt like a very easy but unfair classification. One sister full of empathy and care, the other equipped with cold hard reason. Why can a rational person not be empathetic? Why was these to traits always portrayed as opposites? Are they really, or is it just a lazy typecasting done to avoid confusion. What category would you put a person who has both? Because there has to be a category, oh yes. During an emotional outburst Ira mentions that the whole Bhagwat Geeta happened because of Arjun's रुजुता. His empathy. But that was not his weakness. It was his strength, to be able to be someone else. To think from their perspective. Perhaps Arjun was both kind and reasonable. After all, he agreed to, and did what need done. Didn't he?

The movie is about losing context. All our lives we collect memories and build context. People recognize and relate to us by that shared knowledge. But perhaps, while these nitigrities are being worked on, there is something else building up in the deep. Perhaps that can be called the real you. Which exists without context. As Chanamma (Amruta Subhas) says in the end 'देव झालाय त्याचं. सगळं सारखच दिसतकी हो त्यांना'

That said, the movie was not without goof ups and inadvertently funny stuff. Ira listening to their father sing O Rahi O Rahi and thinking he loves her sibling (Rahi) more than herself. Or Ira asking her husband to shut up in the middle of a serious conversation making Milind Soman so awkward that he ends up giving a random clueless expression. But the worst was product placement. I understand that marathi movies, especially such serious and sensitive types do not mint money. They might not be breaking even either. But putting ads in scenes just puts me off. I feel a bit cheated. I am referring to the scene where Ira stops for shopping keeping her father in the car. For a whole 3-4 seconds there is an advertisement board clearly shown past her window. They took great pains to avoid the चितळे and just showed बंधू मिठाईवाले in a previous scene. So I do not think it was unintentional. Or perhaps Chilate did not give them discount on the bakarwadis so they orchestrated sweet revenge.