Sunday, 27 July 2008

'To know my country, one has to travel to that age, when she realized her should and thus transcended her physical boundaries, when she revealed her being in a radiant magnanimity which illumined the eastern horizon, making her recognized as their own by those in alien shores who were awakened into a surprise of life; and not now when she has withdrawn herself into a narrow barrier of obscurity, into a miserly pride of exclusiveness, into a poverty of mind that dumbly revolves around itself in an unmeaning repetition of a past that has lost its light and has no message for the pilgrims of the future.'
- Rabindranath Tagore

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Hi Chithi and C'pa,

I'm just dropping a customary note since I have nothing better to do at this moment. It is pouring heavily outside and am therefore confined to my room in the hostel. I am currently reading "The Discovery of India" by Nehru and it is magnificent beyond belief. I cannot believe it took me so long to get down to reading this book. I had read a few disconnected essays from the book from time to time but it is only now that I am on a cover to cover voyage. It makes me think of everything else I read as overrated drivel. Page after page of Nehru's sparkling prose feels like somebody finally switched on the light bulb in a heart of darkness. There are so many things that he talks about and it is remarkable that the man possessed such an immensely ecumenical breadth of culture; something that one finds so lamentably lacking in even the most educated of Indians today.


Tuesday, 22 July 2008

PM's statement

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Lok Sabha statement is up for viewing, which he chose not to read but submitted it to the speaker. It is fairly verbose and does contain some self-righteous rhetoric regarding the contributions of the Congress to India's route towards development. But the document itself begins with a trite bashing of the leader of the opposition, L. K. Advani that is especially delicious. That it comes from a man who is usually regarded as a taciturn statesman and who calls himself a 'Prime Minister by accident' makes it even more punchy:

As for Shri Advani’s various charges, I do not wish to waste the time of the House in rebutting them. All I can say is that before leveling charges of incompetence on others, Shri Advani should do some introspection. Can our nation forgive a Home Minister who slept when the terrorists were knocking at the doors of our Parliament? Can our nation forgive a person who single handedly provided the inspiration for the destruction of the Babri Masjid with all the terrible consequences that followed? To atone for his sins, he suddenly decided to visit Pakistan and there he discovered new virtues in Mr. Jinnah. Alas, his own party and his mentors in the RSS disowned him on this issue. Can our nation approve the conduct of a Home Minister who was sleeping while Gujarat was burning leading to the loss of thousands of innocent lives? Our friends in the Left Front should ponder over the company they are forced to keep because of miscalculations by their General Secretary.

Friday, 18 July 2008

The Dark Knight

Caught the latest Batman flick first day-first show at PVR mulund and with the knowledge that it's a Nolan movie I had expected it to be good. But it was fantastic beyond belief. Let me make it simple - if you're a cinema fan with a slightly refined appetite that does not restrict itself to a particular genre, set of actor(s) or themes, go watch this one without fail! It shall be worth your money-that's my guarantee. For Batman fans I'd say get your ass in that theater as soon as you can.

For me, the movie has three heroes:

1. Heath Ledger as Joker- With due respect to the legendary Jack Nicholson, Ledger takes the cake by far with the last performance of his life. Ledger's Joker is sadistic, psychotic, disturbing and much more complex than Nicholson's. The scene between Joker and Two-face in the hospital in the latter half of the film is one of my favourites.

2. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard for background music - This is one of the best background tracks I have heard in recent times (the other one being that of Philip Glass in Kundun). The violins kept playing in my head hours after the movie while I kept imagining how the experience would have been, if it were not for the music. The music has a constant sense of urgency to it along with a mood of impending chaos, breaking into a crescendo whenever Batman or Joker enters the scene giving it a flavour that is so much more different than the usual drab monotonic scores of most superhero films (That said, the Superman score remains one of my all time favourites :-) ).

3. Christopher Nolan as Director - This guy is the twenty-first century powerhouse packed with the talent of Hitchcock, Kubrick and Spielberg together. He proved himself with Memento and totally arrived with Batman Begins. His Prestige remains one of my favourite movies of all time. But with The Dark Knight, he leaves his contemporaries far behind in skill not only as a director but also as a master story-teller. The over-rated M. Night. Shyamalan does not even come close.
The performances of all the leads are extremely competent and for one thing, it is a direct result of the shaping of their characters by the writers (points to the Nolan brothers once again). Christian Bale as Batman is good (albeit the look of his lips when he tries to get the Batman intonations working is definitely funny), Gary Oldman is restrained and good as Lieutenant James Gordon, Aaron Eckhart is fantastic as Harvey Dent/Twoface and Maggie Gyllenhaal makes for a good Rachel Dawes though I wish Katie Holmes were around. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are at their usual best. Though Heath Ledger outruns all of them by miles by being more than top-notch as Joker.

The film gets what it deserves from the cinematography front. The aerial shots of Gotham city and the action scenes are breath taking. On the flip side, the movie could have been a little shorter but no one's really complaining :-). There's definitely gonna be second viewing from my side sometime next week!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Back to business

After what was without doubt the best vacation of my life, I am back to my burrow with the sense of urgency reaching out to me- tentacles and clamps. Some unfinished business remains on the thesis front with regards to submitting a journal paper which I have absolutely no interest to work on. Amma smiles me with ladles and tongs in her hands reminding me of my utter lack of dedication when it comes to learning some cooking. I reply with the words "Sandwiches, salads and flavoured yoghurt." She responds sharply, "Proteins?"

My google reader has clocked 1457 unread posts. With one stroke of exasperation, I marked all of them as "read" and unsubscribed myself from quite a few pages. There are too many people around with too much to pontificate about and something in my head reminds me that I'm tired.

I realized that my flight to Boston allows only 23x2 kgs on board. Apart from the utensils and the cornucopia of masalas and other condiments that my mother has already made reservations for, I get a feeling I am going to find place for very few books. Despite being told that the first semester at MIT will allow no leisure for divergent reading I was hoping to carry some books that have been breathing dust in my library for ages. I have finally decided to do whatever it takes to carry the following books. Suggestions for additions and editions are invited though there is a polite possibility the latter might fall into deaf ears :-). Generous donations in the US will be welcomed with folded hands and might be rewarded with fine dining ;).

1. Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History - Jawaharlal Nehru. Both magnum opuses of immense scholarship. I have read both in parts over the last four years but something in me makes me think I would say the same thing four years hence too.

2. GEB- The Eternal Golden Braid - Douglas Hofstadter- Elezier Yudkowsky had recently remarked in Overcoming Bias that a person who has not read this book is incomplete as a human being. Taking that more as a compliment for this wonderful book than anything else (there is no shortage of such rhetoric in the internet these days :P ), I shall first admit that I am still incomplete as a human but shall strive hard to get there from now ;).

3. History of World Philosophy - Bertrand Russell- Once again, a magnum opus by one of the most fertile minds of this century. Haven't read much of the book except the chapters on Spinoza and Kant.

4. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass- Have a vintage copy of this book but unfortunately never got down to reading it.

5. Collected Short Stories- Jorge Luis Borges- The master postmodernist fiction writer. For any of you who don't have a copy of this book, I highly recommend this collection.

6-10 - Suggestions are welcome :-)

Sunday, 6 July 2008

There is life...

elsewhere. But there are no stories one can fall asleep to.

The porticoes where we hid and sought are now a charred legacy. Our secret inscriptions have long dissolved and are now polishing stones on river-beds. Light rays and bandicoots enter and emerge unscathed from that heartless house.

Time refuses to budge. Some compromise. Some life.


I have not stopped blogging (for better or for worse) :-).

In the middle of a family vacation, I have just managed to find an efficient internet connection in Haridwar and thus, am able to slip this post in. I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of mails in my inbox demanding an explanation for temporary dormancy on this blog page.

I know that my readership is still a very modest number and mostly comprises of close friends and some good Samaritans. Also, with the advent of the wonderful Google Reader, I thought it would be unnecessary (and lame) to wave hands and publicize my departure. Nevertheless, I extend sincere apologies to the handful who missed me and paid fruitless visits to this page. With folded hands, I shall also gently recommend the use of GReader.

For the record, I was hibernating the past few summer days in Auli, a ski-resort up north of India. Six days and six nights at Clifftop Club were extremely comfortable, indulgent and rejuvenating. Apart from long solitary walks on endless grasslands amidst the friendly society of cows, sheep, mules, sheepdogs and mountain peoples, I managed to catch up with cricket, Wimbledon and some awesomely kitschy hindi movies (Read Beta, Judwaa, Aflatoon et al).

I read Heart of Darkness once again. Can't say it was an easy read, but this time around, the imagery seemed a lot less alien than when it was confronted in the confines of concrete walls. Conrad was followed by the long procrastinated but fantastic City of Djinns by William Dalrymple. The book, in a nutshell, is about the city of Delhi. The author narrates the story of Delhi through the lives of its creators and inheritors through the annals of history. There is some fantastic early British, Mughal and Pre-mughal history in the book.

Dalrymple was followed by Richard Dawkins' collection of essays, A Devil's Chaplain. I somehow can never get enough of Dawkins! For those who don't want to go through the prolixity of his other books (The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion, Unweaving the Rainbow, Climbing Mount Improbable), the book makes for a great read. Especially heartening to read is Dawkins' eulogies for Douglas Adams, William Hamilton (the famous British evolutionary biologist) and Stephen Jay Gould (the famous american evolutionary biologist, popularly seen as Dawkins' academic nemesis).

I didn't know if I was ready for non-standard fiction just yet :). But binging on non-fiction called for a brief respite and I re-read Summer Lightning and Heavy Weather. Wodehouse is indisputably the best comic writer ever.

Following a friend's recommendation, I have finally gotten down to reading Jeanette Winterson. I had paid a visit to Odyssey the day before the start of my trip and picked up the only available book- The Stone Gods. I'm liking whatever I'm reading right now and I shall hopefully post about it later.


I shall be in Delhi for the next two days catching and will hopefully get to spend a day in the National museum. From the day I read about their repository of the Indus Valley relics, I have been longing to get there. Wednesday, I catch an early morning flight to Leh for a 5 day sojourn with a few close friends.

It will be another week/ten days before the revival :-) Adios!