Monday, December 24, 2007

Vacation Vacation

Had a spectacular vacation.

Three weeks of free time with family, friends and just with myself. There were a couple of family occasions involved, which doesnt bother me as much as I know it does a lot of people. I guess I have a pretty cool family! Also, I loved the time I had with my son and loved watching him interact with (and gradually rule over) the entire family!

My cousins in Hyderabad are always fairly entertaining. We went out for a couple of drinks the day before one of them got engaged. And were treated to a lot of funny stories about their relationships. My younger bro seems to have picked up the idea that its real cool to ask a lot of vague, deep-sounding questions. Like - 'Dada, whats the biggest mistake you ever made?'! This, when we were sitting on the steps of a tiny shop at 11 PM, in what seemed to me a slightly disreputable part of town, smoking a couple of cigarrettes and washing it all down with cold coke's. I was sorely tempted to say 'Wishing for another brother' but avoided the temptation. I got the feeling the kid needed some advice on which of his girlfriend's he should not be dumping. I liked the one he introduced me to, and hinted as much. But kids these days, what can you say!

And I have always been very close to my grandmother. It was great to see my son enjoying her company too. Seeing her enjoying the imitations of her walking style by my two-year old and in fact making sure everyone else sees it too, was typical of her self-effacing humor. The time we spent together re-inforced my feeling that I have been blessed to have had such a warm relation with my Dida. There was also the one night she didnt feel at all well, and it worries me.

My son is fascinated with auto rickshaws! He doesnt get to ride one very often in Bangalore, and enjoyed all the auto's we took while in Mumbai. Everytime he is in an auto, he grabs on to the cross-bar behind the auto driver and acts like he is driving too. Everything the driver does, including pulling on the starter lever and waving his hands to signal a turn, is mimic'd. The funniest was when we returned from Pune at around 1 AM and caught an auto outside the bus station. Sio was asleep on the bus, but the moment he heard the auto start, he woke up and took up his post as the assistant auto driver. He actually thinks auto's are much cooler than our car!

The only thing I missed during this time were the bunch of graphic novels I left behind in Bangalore. I could have really got through a lot of them in this time, its my fascinating new obsession. Or rather I am re-discovering the love for comics which I had lost at age 10 probably. And to find the wonderful array of mature graphic novels available has been eye-opening. I wouldnt be as interested if comics still meant the grainy Phantom and Mandrake comics of my childhood - though there's nothing wrong with them, its just that I need a more mature aspect to the plot lines. There will certainly be a large number of posts in the future related to the comics I have on my reading list.

Anyway, I did have the wonderful Shashi Tharoor's novel, The Great Indian Novel with me on my vacation. And its a brilliant read. I'm still not done with it though, so more on it later.

This is probably going to be my last post this year, so wishing any stray reader a Very Happy New Year!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dame Agatha's return

I was 12 years old, maybe 13. Not quite bored of Enid Blyton but ready for something a bit more intense. The school library was not quite as vast as I would have liked it to be. And anyway, reading recommended by teachers was bound to be boring, wasnt it? So then one day, my English teacher (whom I loved, by the way) digressed from the lesson at hand to discuss what she thought we should be reading. I still remember her words, when she said "I hope you are not wasting your time reading trash like those Agatha Christie novels!".

Of course, that was all that was needed. I devoured most of Dame Agatha's novels with relish and became an ardent fan of Hercule Poirot especially. The first Christie I read happened to be "The Big Four" and my 12 or 13 yr old self was thoroughly impressed. But the Christie phase ended as reading tastes matured.

Anyway, even though I havent read a Christie novel over the past decade or so, I have always had a fond place in my favourites list for her mysteries. I still own half-a-dozen of them, and thats after having 'loaned' a bunch of them to friends, never to get them back. So, when I recently found 40 Agatha Christie books, the nostalgia itself egged me on to collect them.

And the first of the books I decided to read was "The Big Four". The same story which so thrilled me as a kid, seemed like one of Agatha's worst this time around. Hercule Poirot just does not seem the type who would have cigarettes which would double as a blow-pipe containing a poisonous dart. Although it does work in bits and pieces, overall - bad decision Dame Agatha.

I followed that up with the truly excellent "Mystery of the Blue Train". Perhaps this book is one of the best constructed of the Poirot mysteries. I was a bit dissappointed to find that I was able to guess the culprits identity well before the end, but I guess being a lot older than 13 has something to do with that. But it didnt take anything away from the pleasure and charm of reading a classically constructed Agatha Christie plot again. This story is also probably one of the less common Poirot stories which does not always follow Poirot around, making it necessary for the great detective to be constantly on the scene. He is very much in the periphery for great parts of the novel, and does not even make an appearance until well into the book. This book also differs from many other Christie novels in the build-up to the crime - which is a lot more detailed and complex, reminding me of PD James and Ruth Rendell. Much more than the usual dinner party with suggestive small talk during the main course! I dont think Agatha's fans will like that description!

But whether it be the antics of super-spy Poirot, or the intricate laying out of red herrings in the second book, the charm of reading an Agatha Christie novel once again has me in its embrace.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Radiohead's fans leave them 'High and Dry'

Social experiments are a way to understand society and social behaviours. As such, they can often lead to rather unglorious statements about our society.

So we have studies on how swearing at work can relieve stress. Maybe another study is required on how employees are affected when one of them starts relieving his/her stress by swearing loudly at meetings. Another on the impact on prospective customers/clients maybe?

Radiohead, the alternative rock band, decided on an alternative means of selling their new album, In Rainbows. They wanted their fans to decide the price at which they want to buy the album. The album was released on their website and allowed purchases for as low as 1 penny. This was an interesting social experiment which also had a possible econimic backlash to it. And unfortunately for Radiohead, and everyone who thought this was a path-breaking idea, its not quite gone as planned.

Studies show that more than 60% of the people who downloaded the album paid nothing! Only 38% paid anything at all, and the majority of these people paid less than 4 dollars - probably about a fifth of the price that would have been quoted for the album if it had been released the normal way. Kind of harsh!

On the flipside, Radiohead does get almost everything paid by a buyer since this model eliminates the label companies from the equation. This is a band which has a huge fan base of millions worldwide but when it comes to paying top dollar - i guess theres nothing like a freebie. But Radiohead was prepared for it, they knew it may all come to nothing at all. The website clearly informs the buyer that its upto you what you pay. Its a path-breaking way to connect to your fans definitely. And if this was Led Zep putting their new album out there and asking me to pay what I want for it - I would know what its worth and would pay it. I bet there were the true Radiohead fans out there too, who would know the albums worth and would pay the best they can.

With the worldwide popularity of peer-to-peer networks, and the high cost of buying music cd's, especially a new release, its hardly surprising that most people just helped themselves at the buffet. Being only a middling Radiohead fan, I guess I would have probably done the same - maybe I would have paid at most 4 dollars, the same price which Frys Electronics charged me for a brilliant collection of early Deep Purple classics which apparently no one was interested in. I found it in one of those discount bins, hidden in a huge pile of forgotten albums and collections.

But it must have hurt to think your fans dont think your new album is worth much. Radiohead now seems to have decided to re-launch the album in physical format. Possibly that haunting Thom Yorke refrain of "Dont leave me highhhhhh, dont leave me dryyyyyyyyyyy" must have come to mind more than once.

And what a night it was!

Following up on my previous post, a night to remember for the Kop faithful no doubt!

Liverpool 8 Besiktas 0 is not a scoreline Liverpool fans have seen often. I dont have the stats, but I definitely cant remember us scoring more than 4 in a match for some time now. But the team did what they did when it was sorely needed.

Again, Benayoun and Crouch made strong statements for bigger roles in the first team. Surely now Benitez must rethink his plan to use Crouch as a bit player. Crouch is not a great player, and strangely for a really tall guy he is better with his feet than with his head. But his contribution on the field is excellent. His ability to win balls allows players around him to play better too. He must surely be considered ahead of Voronin at least in the squad to play in the front line. Voronin was excellent yesterday playing on the wings too. But up front, his combination with Kuyt has not paid off yet.

Yossi Benayoun put in a brilliant performance and his hat-trick showed off his positional instincts wonderfully. Two of his goals were opportunistic and punished the goalie for his inability to hold on to a couple of cracking shots. Babel coming on late in the game and scoring two was also a good sign.

Benitez has a wealth of talent to use this season. With Kewell back, and putting in a decent performance against Blackburn in the weekend stalemate, there is a healthy competition on the wings. Crouch's performance might just have added that much pressure on Rafa to persist with him in the starting line-up. That would mean using Voronin on the wings, in addition to Kewell, Babel, Pennant, Benayoun and Rafa's possible favourite Jon Arne Riise. Inspite of their performances against Besiktas, neither of Crouch and Benayoun nor Babel may be sure of a starting place next weekend.

Here's hoping that Rafa works out a better alternative to his strategy of regular rotation.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tonight's the night...

...when Rafa Benitez and Liverpool truly need to stand up and be counted. The clash against Besiktas today in the Champs League is of utmost importance if Liverpool are to avoid crashing out of the biggest football tournament.

And Stevie G, Rafa etc are making the right kind of confidence-boosting noises, but I have a sneaky feeling its going to be another one of those nervous evenings for the Kop faithful. In recent times, Liverpool have always seemed really edgy and brittle in important fixtures. And I cant help but think that a lot of the blame for that lies with Rafa.

His policy of enforced rotation, without consideration for present form is becoming less and less supportable. Almost no one is guaranteed a place in the starting eleven, even if they performed brilliantly in the previous match. At the moment, Sami Hyppia and Jamie Carragher are the only certainties in the first team, and thats because Benitez doesnt have cover for them with Dan Agger out. God forbid one of those two get injured before the January sales!! And with Torres unlikely to start, Benitez has a bit of a problem.

Kuyt has just not delivered so far this season, and has nothing to show for all his industry. His partnership with Voronin has not clicked at all, and the only times the Pool attack seems to be incisive is when the lanky Crouchinator is on the field. But there again lies a stink raised solely by Benitez. His trumpeting in the media about the need for Crouch to adjust as a bit player is clearly a sign that the lanky one may be on the shop window come January. Funnily enough, Crouch's performances (however erm, short they may have been) have probably made him attractive enough for the likes of Aston Villa and even perhaps Manchester City... though thats a rumour all my own. In fact, I'll just go out on a limb here. If Kuyt, Voronin and Crouch were all available, I think Crouch would generate the most interest.

So with so many of Pool's problem's seemingly Rafa-generated, has Benitez reached a plateau with Pool? Is a Houllier-like moment coming up sometime soon? Has the 'Rafalution' reached its climax? The expectations from the new owners and the fans this season is the highest it has been for some time now. Benitez has been provided the funds to deliver, and if he implodes in the first round of the CL so spectacularly , it will surely raise more than just a few eyebrows in the board room.

Thats whats making this game with Besiktas so important. I have my fingers crossed, especially with the prospect of Crouch being played from the start with Kuyt. Lets hope that Rafa sorts out his rotation itch and decides on his best team.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Footie Roundup Post!

I've missed blogging. I've missed blogging (make that rambling on and on and on...) about footie even more. So here goes.

With more than a quarter of the season gone, the English Premier League table looks very different from the past few seasons. The most sensational story of the season has definitely been Manchester Citeh who are still riding on highs they havent seen in their recent past (their last moment of glory was in 1981 when they were, erm, FA Cup finalists). Sven Goran Eriksson and the dosh from the ex-PM of Thailand seem to be doing miracles for the club. Sven is clearly showing why he was a much better England manager than Steve McLaren can ever hope to be. Many of the players he has brought in were near-unknowns (even those Championship Manager fans didnt know about Elano, i'd bet!) but their quality has been undeniable. I always felt that Sven's being hounded out of the England job by the tabloids was disgraceful and that his achievements with the England team were phenomenal. But the English media seem to believe they should be winning every tournament they participate in, and thats never going to happen. It would be a minor miracle if Steve McLaren can take his team into the Euro Championship now, after their defeat in Russia. I mean come on, McClown replacing Sven! Ridiculous!

Both Manchester United and Chelsea had a much more shaky start to their seasons than usual. That great showman of a manager, Jose Mourinho, the Special One, found out that no one in the Chelsea setup is untouchable. Avram Grant and Henk Ten Cate seem to be proving themselves to be the right combination for that club. Sir Alex on the other hand, is reaping the rewards of his excellent bunch of attacking players. Nani, Hargreaves and Tevez, all are paying off their high transfer values on the field. Arsenal has also been brilliant this season with Cesc Fabregas coming very close to being the best player in the premiership, taking that mantle over from his ex-captain Thierry Henry. Van Persie, Hleb, Walcott, Toure have all been doing brilliantly, and Arsenal's version of kid-ology has them ruling the premiership table at the quarter-season mark.

Blackburn and Portsmouth have also gone off to great starts to their seasons. Though neither is potentially a top four club this season, they are definitely making progress in the right direction. With Roque Santa Cruz, Blackburn has bought a brilliant attacking player. Pompey on they other hand have made excellent purchases in John Utaka and Benjani. Both clubs have also kept their main players from the previous seasons.

Tottenham have definitely been the big losers so far this season. Martin Jol has lost his job on the basis of a string of poor results, but his work over the past seasons has been commendable. There is no doubt that Juande Ramos has a very good team at his disposal. Its upto him how he uses them. He made his reputation with Sevilla by getting the best out of a talented team without (arguably) having stars in his squad. If anything, he has made Freddie Kanoute more of a star than he ever was while playing in England. Dani Alves's star has also risen under Ramos' tutelage. Unfortunately for Ramos, every new manager is expected to bring in his own players, regardless of what is available. With a strike force consisting of Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov, Darren Bent and Jermaine Defoe; supported in midfield by the talented and pacy Aaron Lennon, Teemu Tainio, Steed Malbranque and Didier Zokora; and defenders like Ledley King, Gareth Bale, Kaboul etc. Well, its a pretty decent team - but Ramos will need to make decisions and he will probably spend some more of the Spurs kitty, if only to prove he has a mind all his own.

Liverpool's season had started like it hasnt over the past five or six seasons. They were expected to hit the ground running and with the additions of Torres, Voronin, Babel and Benayoun and adding the resurgent Jermaine Pennant to the mix, Liverpool did do much better in the early part of the season this time around. But Rafa Benitez's rotation policy has yet again hit a snag and has come under much criticism from fans and 'experts'. Sometimes Rafa is a bit too fixed on rotating his team. And ignoring Peter Crouch is something a lot of people have done before and the tall one has always come back strongly. He has been given too few chances this season, according to me. There have been too many Kuyt+Voronin combos already and it would probably be much better to have the gangly Crouch in there to break the monotony. Also, Benayoun has been ignored a bit too often I feel.

Anywayz, theres a long way to go this season, and it may turn out to be even more exciting than the last one. This time there promises to be battles for positions all over the table instead of only for the top 2 or 3 places. Any slip-ups from one of the top four, even a string of 2 or 3 poor results can easily come back to haunt them.

Johnny Gaddar

Lovers of good crime thrillers in India, rejoice! Here comes Johnny Gaddar with a thrill-a-minute ride without resorting to histrionics and melodrama. Or to Bunty-Babli style histerical repentance for all the fun you just had!

I had a great deal of expectation from Sriram Raghavan's second movie. His first was the taut revenge drama "Ek Hasina Thi" and he delivers big time. JG is a straight crime thriller where there are no purely good or evil characters. Each of the characters are given screen time to flesh them out and to show them in proud shades of grey.

So we have Dharm paaji playing the leader of the gang of no-gooders without any Godfather airs and without an army of thugs around him. He lives alone and in his twilight years still possesses enough guile and strength to not be bothered by it. His partners in crime include - Prakash (Vinay Pathak) who manages a gambling den for the gang, but has a weakness for the cards himself; Shardul (Zakir Hussain) who is possibly the wealthiest and definitely the flashiest of the gang, runs a night club, and is married to Rimi Sen; Shiva (Daya) provides the muscle and is given responsibility to carry the money for the gang to Bangalore where he needs to close a deal for them; and finally Vikram (Neil Nitin Mukesh) who is the youngest and we find out the sharpest of the gang.

Its Vikram's illicit affair with Rimi Sen which leads him to double crossing the gang for the money. Oh, and also his love for James Hadley Chase novels and old Hindi mystery movies. Relax, spoiler-phobes, this all from the first fifteen minutes of the movie.

The decision once made, the rest of the movie deals with Vikrams plans on cheating the gang out of the money. And of course, with the James Hadley Chase reference, its clear that not all goes according to plan.

The direction is slick and never slackens the pace of the movie. The performances are excellent from the entire cast. The plot twists and turns without becoming too predictable at any time. The dynamics within the gang are shown very realistically and its not hard to believe that this is probably how things are done in the unorganised underworld. And the con-man in this movie is not shown to be so amazingly good as to fool his much more experienced colleagues, there is a good deal of luck involved. But will his luck hold through?

The answering of that question keeps the audience on the edge of the seat. And you couldnt ask for more from a thriller. Heres to many more films by Raghavan, India's answer to Quentin Tarantino, and much fewer from the RGV factory!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Its been a while. There have been a few starts and stops, beginnings which were ended long before any end was on sight. There has been no lack of comment-worthy news, but due to a combination of several reasons, no comment came forth.

To continue from my previous post, the politics of power seems to have triumphed over good intentions. The nuclear agreement is all but dead. Dr. Manmohan Singh, perhaps the most important leader this country has had post-independence, has had to bow down to the pressures from several sides to accept the fact that the death of the nuclear deal is preferable to the downfall of the government. He has had to face up to the truth that an Indian electorate may not bear in mind his efforts as they go to the voting booths, there is no guarantee that the Congress will be able to come back to power if they call for elections now by defying the Left to pull out their support.

And the fickleness of Indian politicians has never been so blatant. The mischief-mongering Leftists like Karat, Yechury and Bardhan with a supposedly anti-American ideological stance has proved itself to be truly anti-Indian and anti-developmental. Their actions have appeared to be purely sensation-seeking and an attempt to assume a more central role than they are capable of in the national political stage. Their resistance to negotiations shows their closed mindset. They oppose to show they can oppose. As if we needed more proof!

The BJP being the single largest opposition party has also made opportunistic noises with the sole purpose of shaking the foundations of an otherwise stable government. That the economy has boomed under the secular image of the Congress party is not of any consequence to them. That foreign investment is driving growth in every sector of the industry is of no import. We are the opposition, our dharma is to oppose everything the government does. It does not matter one little bit that the discussions on the nuclear deal was started under the BJP government. If it goes through now, the credit will lie with the Congress. It does not matter an iota that it may lead to further growth for the nation, we oppose and oppose and oppose.

Anyway, so much for our political scenario. In other areas, the news has been much better. Dhoni leads India to the Twenty20 WC, it was definitely a tournament worth remembering. What is it about the absence of the big three that seems to spur a young Indian team on?

Vishwanathan Anand becomes the world champion of chess. This man must be brilliant. Its a huge achievement and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Sania Mirza breaks into the top 30 ranks in the world. I hope she can hang on and keep doing better. She really has something to prove in the Grand Slams.

The Sensex has been soaring to new heights making me feel like banging my head on my desk for not having invested in the market a few years ago.

There does seem to be a curious drop off in IT jobs recently in Bangalore though. At least, the TOI's Ascent seems to give that impression. There hasn't been a lot going on and the Ascent is getting slimmer every week. Have IT companies completely gone with the likes of etc?

Well, its nice to be back here indulging my need to rant again. Hopefully I will stick to a more frequent verbal diarrhoea from now on.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Doing the 1 2 3 dance

And so the Left has been trying to make Mr. Manmohan Singh do the 1 2 3 dance! The way things have gone reminds me of the classic Procol Harum song, 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'.

We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
But the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
The waiter brought a tray

The skipping, turning, feeling seasick with joy, is very much how Manmohan Singh and most of the nations thinkers and well-wishers have felt. But when the UPA wants the deal sealed, the comrades played the errant waiter and pooped the party with their tray full of threats, ideological hypocrisy and generally antagonistic stance.

When the PM announced the 123 agreement with the US on sharing of civil nuclear technology, it was treated as a huge breakthrough. Diplomats on both sides have been working for the better part of a year on the technicalities of the deal, a lot of pushing and pulling has been done, and both the US and Indian governments have had to make several compromises in putting the deal on paper.

But now in the final stretch, when commitments have been made by the Indian govt, the communist comrades have decided to rise and sound the warning bells declaring that snuggling up to the Americans is not the way they see India go. Karat, Yechury and the Communist politburo are vociferously putting forth that the deal would limit India's sovereign right to test nuclear weapons. The hypocrisy in this, especially coming from the Left, is mind-boggling.

When our ex-PM of the soporific 'Yeh achi baat nahi hai' fame sanctioned the Pokhran tests, the Left was the most vociferous opposer. They even organised a 'Convention against Nuclear Weapons' at that time! Now they claim they are against the 123 deal as it stops India from testing nuclear weapons.

The Left claims it does not want increased collaboration with their ideological 'Evil Empire', the US, but at the same time, the CPM government in West Bengal is actively pursuing more American investment. Thankfully, Buddhadeb has tried to distance himself from the politburo's decisions.

Part of the ideology of communism is that it is against nationalism, but suddenly the politburo is upholding India's nationalism. The mantra for communism has always been 'Workers of the world unite', not just indian workers.

The deal itself has its points worth discussing. There is the Hyde Act which in some way tags along with the 123 agreement. It is easy for those wholly backing the deal to see the Hyde Act as required policing in such agreements. But there are clauses in there which can be seen as undermining India's sovereignty and its right to defend itself.

The crucial points are -
  1. The 123 provides an opportunity for India to move out of the 'developing country' class into a class above. Nuclear energy is critical in this, as without power, development is stunted. Especially in the backlands, and even the class B or C towns, it would drive growth. It would drive an increase in jobs in the heartlands where youths are constantly migrating to the larger cities in search of work. It also specifies that collaboration will be spread to other areas besides nuclear technology, and this can mean improvements in agriculture, chemical industries etc. Havent we had enough farmer suicides already?
  2. Once the deal is signed, it opens up trade not just with the US, but with several other countries forming the Nuclear Suppliers Group. This includes France and Russia, countries which may not be so concerned about stopping nuclear trade with India, in case the US decides to pull the plug from the deal sometime in the future.
  3. Another crucial factor is that the deal is not just signed between India and the US, it needs to be ratified by both the NSG and the IAEA. The NSG will decide whether India will have a right to re-process spent fuel and definitely has a more accomodating policies.

There is so much good that can come to the country from this deal that the cons are completely out-weighed. But unfortunately, they cannot be completely ignored.

  1. In the event that the NSG or IAEA does not sanction the deal, it remains only between India and the US. In this case, India will need to sit down and re-negotiate some of the clauses. So there is still some more diplomatic hustle to go.
  2. If the US pulls out from the deal in the future, say in response to India testing nukes, and if the NSG also stops fuel supply, India will be left with a huge power problem. There is a great deal of investment required in setting up the infrastructure for nuclear energy generation, and this would be money down the drain. This is a remote possibility though.
  3. If Musharraf loses power in Pakistan, and is replaced with a more fundamentalist government, India will have no choice but to make nuclear noises. This is not that remote a possibility.

This deal could be the way into the future for India. If it goes through, maybe in a few years, India Shining will not just be a phrase - it will be what India looks like from space. Maybe that will attract a few of those UFO's which only seem to show up in the US! ;)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Leaky Cauldron?

This iconic writer spends the better part of 2-3 years (i honestly don't know how much time she spent on it... talk about research) writing the last of a record-breaking series. She lives with her family but cannot share her work with her husband or kids. Her agent sits on the manuscript when she needs to take a trans-atlantic flight, perhaps fearing for her job if she lets the manuscript out of her sight for even a second. The editors are sworn to secrecy, and probably several clauses in their contracts ensure they keep their promise.

The publishers have to sign heavily loaded legal contracts ensuring they will not leak the contents. They cannot talk to the media or boast about the history-making event they are involved in. The type-setters are made to work in dim lighting, trying to keep them from reading the story. The printers are watched closely by armed security guards, their lunch boxes are checked, their bodies frisked. The packers again work under dim lights and are hand-picked to ensure the precious manuscripts mystery and mystique is maintained. They pack the books into individual boxes labelled "Do not open before July 21st 12:01 AM" and each box is tracked by satellite. The trackers watch every movement of every box ensuring none go astray. The shadow of the deathly hallows is on them all.

Millions await with bated breath for the book's release. Tension grows as major bookstores around the world run their countdown to the biggest moment in publishing history since the Gutenberg bible. Fans everywhere repeat the same questions which has had them mesmerised since the moment they finished reading part six. There is debate, conjecture, excitement.

And then, someone, somehow, gets his or her grubby hands on the precious. And with Gollum's growling possessiveness proclaims "Its mine!" and shall be no one else's. This hateful Gollum proceeds to put every page on the internet, his/her's only concern being the demolition of the joys of millions, snatching away their right to read and uncover the mystery for themselves. Will shabby pictures of the precious pages on a background of a red and green carpet be a substitute for the book itself?
You, Gollum, shall not succeed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Liverpooooooool Liverpool

Long overdue football post!

After one of the more exciting football seasons of recent times, its been pretty interesting to see the transfer activities of the european clubs. The 2006-07 season saw an unexpected English Premiership winner in Manchester United. Compared to Chelski's huge acquisitions of Shevchenko and Ballack at the beginning of the season, the only addition to ManU was Michael Carrick. Not the signs of a potential winner! But Sir Alex backed the aging warhorses Giggs, Scholes and Neville to all have one of their best seasons with their overall contributions. Also, the phenomenal season that Cristiano Ronaldo had, was not something anyone predicted.

At the same time, over in Spain, Barcelona threw away the title in spectacular fashion. Beckham must have been very grateful for Barca's implosion as he drove Real Madrid to their first title in four years. Cut to scenes of hysterical badge-kissing from most of Madrid's heroes who had been dubbed as zeroes for most of the season. But all that hoopla could not save Fabio Capello his job. The mental Real board thought his style was not exciting enough and readily offered him his severance package after just a single, albeit triumphant, season. On the other hand, Frank Rijkaard keeps his job at Barca despite dissappointment in both the Liga and the Champions league.

Anyway, thats all in the past already. The latest buzz is all about the transfers. And one of the first clubs to make their mark in the transfer season (reminds me of those 'Duck Season' Bugs and Daffy toons!), was Manchester United again. They made their transfers official way before any of the other major European clubs even announced their intentions. Sir Alex seems to be building yet another generation of Manchester United players who can challenge for everything. Anderson(17m), Nani(14m), Hargreaves(17m) and possible Carlos Tevez(on loan) very soon. Thats a great roster to add to his squad.

Chelsea this season seems to have forsaken their attempts to buy their way to success. But Jose is proving himself capable of picking up a bargain as well. The captures of Tal Ben Haim from Bolton, Claudio Pizarro from Bayern and Steve Sidwell from Reading, all free transfers, seem pretty sound. Also, he has added Florent Malouda as his only big money signing this season for 13.5m and he has a pretty good reputation as a speedy winger. But Jose may still have the problem of trying to fit in Ballack and Shevchenko in his team next season, unless the rumours of Sheva's return to Milan and Frank Lampard's possible transfer to Spain or Italy actually happen.

Another team which started early this transfer window was Bayern Munich with their big name signings of Luca Toni, Franck Ribery and Miroslav Klose in the close season. Barcelona, of course, made one of the biggest transfers in terms of the quality of the player involved - Thierry Henry leaves the English league. He will definitely be missed, most of all by Arsenal fans who must really believe their club is becoming a selling club now.

I should really stop torturing myself (and probably my readers) by straying so far from the one club i really do want to discuss. The first few weeks of the transfer season was sheer torture for Liverpool fans, as rumours floated about how the American owners had tightened the purse strings and squashed the Kops hopes of seeing their beloved club become more competitive. But those rumours have been proven false as Pool made the big purchase of Fernando Torres for 27m. They have added to Torres with one of the most wanted young players in the world - Ryan Babel, and one of the best midfielder/wingers from the English league besides the top four clubs - Yossi Benayoun. Add to this the free transfer of the experienced Ukrainian forward, Andriy Voronin and two other highly rated youngsters - the Argentine left winger, Sebastian Leto and the Brazilian midfielder, Lucas Leiva. Overall, it already seems like a really good squad which can even play exciting football - now that would be a change for us Kop supporters. Not that it ever mattered, but Liverpool now have pace on their wings and potentially we will be able to see Gerrard making his marauding runs through the middle more often.

Another huge factor will be the introduction of Torres into the squad - potentially the biggest star player that Liverpool has purchases in recent times. Till now, under Rafa Benitez, there have been no competitors in star power with Gerrard. This may change this season. Although, both Gerrard and Torres have a reputation for not playing up their egos, it may be a genuine attempt by Rafa to reduce the overwhelming status of Steven Gerrard at the club - which has caused severe consternation every time Stevie threatens to leave.
And finally, it may not even be Torres who is the most important signing of the season - it could well be the two new wingers.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Salman - The Great

No, not the shirtless wonder. The bespectacled, much-married, much-reviled but also much-admired writer, Salman Rushdie.

After running through the gamut of Enid Blyton, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Hardy Boys, Sidney Sheldons etc, one of the first "literary" books I read was Shame by Rushdie. This was followed in a matter of weeks by Midnight's Children. The second still remains one of my all-time favourites and the one book i have re-read the most (hmm.. except maybe the Harry Potter books. Dont think thats anything to be ashamed of!). Its the only book I have bought twice, after having lost my first copy to a bunch of borrowing friends who probably never read it. He was the first writer I called my "favourite writer" after I got over Dame Agatha.

Though he still counts among one of my favourites, the only other book of his that I have read is "Satanic Verses". Maybe this was a factor on my not having read any of his other books, not because of the controversies attached to it, but because I found the book a complete drag! The words were as beautiful as ever, and a Rushdie book is never one which you abandon half-way. But one craved the magic of his art. Was this the same writer who created the marvelous scene at the beginning of Midnight's Children where Aadam Aziz hits his nose against the ground while performing his prayers in the frosty winter of Kashmir? The drops of blood become rubies before they touch the ground, his tears turn into diamonds... This was the same magnificent writer who left this wide-eyed, young reader mesmerised with "knees and a nose, nose and a knees". The high suspense as the midnight hour approaches in the chapter aptly named "Tick Tock". I would probably end up with a post the size of the book if I keep going at this!

Compared to Midnight's Children, the controversial Satanic Verses felt like a let-down. But yet, its been in some ways the defining point in Salman's life. Ever since the fatwa, he has lived in constant danger of assassination and persecution from Islamic extremists. In 1989, a plot to blow him up was foiled when the bomb exploded prematurely, killing the terrorist instead. The recent Glasgow burning-car-in-airport-terminal incident was said to be inspired by the rage of the extremists on Britain awarding knighthood to Rushdie.

Salman was the first writer from the Indian sub-continent who dared to write not in the Queen's language, but in the queer mix of regional tongues and English which is the true Indian English. This use of the colloquial language itself has inspired a generation of writers ranging from Rohinton Mistry to Chetan Bhagat in accepting and writing in their own language, rather than aspiring to the prose of their western counterparts. He is also considered one of the masters of the "magic realism" genre although his more recent books have not been strictly of this type. More than this classification though, the magic of his stories come from Rushdie's insistence to get to the origins and get to the roots of his protagonists. Saleem Sinai's story would never feel the same without first having learnt of his quaint antecedents.

Through all the persecution, Salman has maintained his dignity. When Britain decided to ban the Pakistani movie which had Rushdie as a villain plotting the downfall of Islam, and is shown as vanquished by the long arm of erm.. Allah himself, Rushdie himself requested that the movie not be banned. His logic was succinct and street-smart - a banned movie would have become the hottest video in town. He has appeared in many discussions and has always upheld a reformist view on Islam.

He has spoken in support of women's rights to not wear the burqa and has spoken in support of free speech. He has maintained a certain amount of self-deprecating humour at times. When asked by a journo about how he felt when he first heard about the fatwa declared by Ayatollah Khomeini, he replied that his first though was: "I'm a dead man!" Every time he speaks about the reforms needed in the Islamic world, fresh death threats are issued. But Salman continues to speak out on the same topics. Maybe a few will hear.

To a smaller extent, his shrouded, turbulent life recalls the same kind of persecution as Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi faced. His every move needs to be protected information. As he mentioned in an interview with Salon magazine, "(if) you ask me where I am going tomorrow, I can't tell you". But inspite of these, he had it in him to give the below answer to the same interviewer -

Q: Fiction is not taken very seriously in our culture and yours has been taken so much more seriously than most. Having been sentenced to death for the content of a novel, how seriously do you think fiction should be taken?

Salman: Very. I think there is nothing wrong with the idea that fiction is a matter of life and death. Look at the history of literature. Look at what happened in the Soviet Union. Look at what's happening in China, in Africa, and across the Muslim World. It's not just me. Fiction has always been treated this way. It does matter and it's often very bad for writers that it does. But that just comes with the territory.

I bow to you, Sir Salman Rushdie.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Vacation time

Wow... its been so relaxing over the last 10 days or so. Being on vacation right after a whirlwind of work has been knocking me around for the past month and a half, it feels great! Stay in bed till almost noon, have a relaxed lunch, lazy afternoons with a book, meet friends in the evening, maybe a couple of relaxed drinks (maybe more than a couple), watch the cricket when it happens, read the Times, spend time with the family, watch Sony Pix which seems to be the only channel playing any half-decent movies currently, and then to wrap it all up, read till i drop to sleep somewhere close to dawn.

Then of course, being in Mumbai for the first time in 5 years during the monsoon, i was really enjoying the rains here. I mentioned this to a friend while we were sipping some Single Malt whisky on the rooftop restaurant of Samudra, and was waxing nostalgic about how the rains in Mumbai are so different from Bangalore, Phoenix etc. He smiled ironically to my remarks and said, "Baarish dekh liya na, ab floods ke liye bhi ruk jaa kuch din!" And the whole place was flooded the next morning! Boats on the streets, people swimming through the parking lots, the unfortunate ground floor dwellers fighting to save their property while battling to keep their frustrations and rage buttoned down, thankfully there were many upstairs neighbours available for help this year, as opposed to 2005 when the devastating rains had left people unprepared for the damage. Luckily, this time around it was not as bad in my area, although in other regions of Maharashtra, Gujrat etc its been a lot worse.

Then there's been all the depressing news which I try to ignore but its pretty hard to forget. The terror attacks in the UK, the all out battles between the Lal Masjid fan club and the Pakistani hawaldaars, the depressing political gamesmanship in the Indian Presidential elections, the Indian jawaans who were paraded naked in Kashmir as they tried to rape a local girl etc etc etc.

And then there was the horrifying murder of a girl in Thane by her boyfriend in broad daylight, on a public bus stop, with around 40 people watching. He stabbed her 20 times, then stabbed himself and fled the scene. All this with no one intervening. The girl was critical for 5 days before succumbing to her injuries finally. 40 people... one assailant, insane no doubt, but still just one guy. How much could he have harmed 40 people if they would have intervened? But he couldnt have harmed that girl so fatally if even 5 people had intervened...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Golden Baltics?

Sometime ago I commented on the triumphant return of both Saurav Ganguly and David Beckham from their respective wildernesses. In recent times, Beckham's return has been nothing short of awesome.

Steve Maclaren (or MacClown as he is called in the Brit media!) had to do an immense U-turn to get Becks back into the team for the games against Brazil and Estonia. In both games, Becks was huge and proved exactly what England had been missing. Of course, MacClown had to spoil it all by bigging himself up as the 'mastermind' who decided that Becks should be recalled. Conveniently forgetting that he was also the 'mastermind' who decided to drop him from the England setup in the first place!

Dropping Becks had been nothing but a political statement from Maclaren as he tried to distance himself from the Sven-era. The problem, of course, is that he made the wrong choice then of dropping Becks instead of Frank Lampard. Lamps has rarely been a huge performer in the international stage and even his form in the last season has not been what you would expect from a former top-three finisher in the European Player of the year selection, but Maclaren has never selected a team based on form! His strategy seems to be to only pick players from the top clubs. So, Kieran Richardson, Alan Smith and Jermain Jenas are constantly in the England squad inspite of being no-shows for their clubs. On the other hand, top English performers like Joey Barton, Scott Parker etc do not get into the first team in spite of excellent form. Its weird!

Anyway, coming back to Golden Balls, or Golden Baltics as one newspaper called him after the Estonia game. Becks's return has been so complete that never-before-heard-nor-done things like a manager, Capello, who once claimed Becks would never play again for Real Madrid, is now making statements implying that its all his fault and they should have never let Becks agree a contract with LA Galaxy. The Real board are making noises trying to prove to the supporters that they are doing everything they can to keep Becks at Real, inspite of the fact that they have already sold him to the American club. Of course, at this point in the transfer, its all just an attempt to save face for the board. They should have done this about 6 months ago! Nevertheless, the Real management has been left completely egg-faced with all this. Especially, if they manage to lose the Primera Liga next week, the supporters will let them know how they feel about the shabby way they handled Beck's contract.

Speaking of the Primera Liga, what a mind-blowing weekend it was!! And it could well be another roller-coaster this weekend too. Barcelona may well have handed the league to Real though.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Another brick in the wall...

Damn capitalism! Companies nowadays seem to believe their employees dont deserve any free time at all! Productivity is the mantra; get on that seat boy, nimble up the fingers and churn out lines of code, or whatever you do. How can you have any pudding, if you dont eat your meat? No, its eat your meat, brush your teeth and get back to work, there isnt any pudding anymore.

So whats inspiring this rant? Its them blasted internet firewalls which the corporates use to make sure employees dont get any pudding. I understand the need to block the particularly juicy kinds of pudding of course, after all you dont want your employees drooling in the cubicles and the corridors of this monument to profitable and untiring industry . That degree of freedom might be a few steps too far, and I stand stoically by the corporate in this decision, though with a slightly heavy heart. I even applaud the decision to block all web mail services during the official working hours. After all, the corporate can justly claim that employees only need the corporate mail service for all business purposes. But then, in their frenzy of righteous virtuosity, they decide to follow these decisions by adding another: let there be no sports!!

And thats where this loyal crewmember baulks and abandons ship. To club sports with the afore mentioned juicy stuff and the small discomfort of not being able to check your webmail is highly unfair. An avid football or cricket fan should be allowed to follow the game while at work. After all, the other option is to not show up for work at all!

Sports websites have been blocked for some time now, but the Slayer usually finds a way. I love those remote PC connection tools! Connected to a remote PC which was on a network that did not have sports websites banned, the Slayer was able to peruse the latest news in the world of sports whenever overwhelmed by his tirelessness of the past few working hours. And then came the rude shock today which lead to this overflowing of emotions and attempt of anger management through this rant. When the Slayer connected to that lovely remote PC today, and typed in his favourite football (or any) website URL, following that up by a dramatic rap on the Enter button, he was in for a rude shock - "This website is banned due to its content: Sports. Repeated attempts to access this website will be considered against company policies.". That remote sanctuary with its lush football-field-green pastures had been shut down, the drawbridge has been lifted, the gates closed, the towers manned by archers and the Slayer was on the outside.

Oh hateful, hateful day!

And by-the-way, all those links are to just show off my spanking new snap shots blog tool!! And the juicy pudding link might dissappoint some folks!

Monday, May 28, 2007

That Library Thaang...

One of the things I constantly gripe about is that I dont get enough reading time nowadays. I am probably down to about 2-3 books a month. Really need to do better, especially as my To-Be-Read list continues to grow and grow.

I came across this fantastic website though. Its a great way to keep your library catalogued, and also provides good suggestions based on books you rate. Need to browse more into the website to check out all the tools it provides. You can also browse through other people's libraries and rate/review books. Neat!

Book fest at work last week. There was a literature based quiz contest as well, and I won two prizes. One was a nice little pen-and-business-cards stand, useful desk decor. The other was a Rs. 250/- gift voucher for one of the stalls at the book fest. Unfortunately, this was the stand which had obviously decided that what the techies must need most are books on technology. Blech! Anyway, they did have Freakonomics, so I picked that up. The other book I bought was "Motherless Brooklyn" by Jonathan Lethem which I have been planning to read for a while now.

Currently have a bit of a back-log though. Reading "My name is red" by Orhan Pamuk currently. I'll probably jump to Lethem's novel after this one coz I really am very excited about it. Orhan Pamuk, though, has me completely engrossed in his 16th century world of Turkish miniaturists. Wonderful stuff.

Other books I have on my reading list (the one's I already own that is) are Wally Lamb's "She's come undone", Tom Wolfe's "The electric kool-aid acid test" and James Ellroy's "American Tabloid: A Novel".

Friday, May 25, 2007

Milan 2 Liverpool 1

I would have loved to report a different scoreline above, but thats how it ended in Athens. Not half as cool as two years ago in Istanbul.

But, hey! You can't win them all. Not that Liverpool has been winning 'them' all recently, but two European finals in three years is commendable. The irony really was that unlike in Istanbul, this time Steven Gerrard and his team went out on the field with the determination to take the game by the scruff of its neck. Playing Gerrard in a more advanced role than the right wing, as Rafa usually has been doing, signalled that even the cautios Benitez had decided to go for a greater focus on attack.

And there were definitely very good performances put in by many of the Reds that day. Milan are a good team, but not a team in the same calibre as Barcelona, who would inspire fear through their attacking prowess. Kaka is excellent, but Mascherano and Dan Agger put in terrific performances in controlling him. Where Liverpool severely lacked though, was on the wings. Zenden and Pennant huffed and puffed, but especially in the case of Zenden, were completely powerless to influence the game. Pennant actually surprised a lot of his detractors, including me, through several intelligent runs, but his greatest weakness is his final ball. His crosses either never go past the first defender, or are lobbed too high and far over the danger areas. The first time he did manage to get a tight, low cross in, it was the 83rd minute (or so) and Crouch didnt manage to beat the keeper. The next time his cross was low and tight, Agger touched it on for Kuyt to score the consolation goal. But the match was already lost by then.

Notable performers - Carragher and Agger were solid in defence, except for one misunderstanding which Milan could not take advantage of. Riise and Finnan were both very good, although Finnan had to cope with not enough help from Pennant down the right flank. What we wouldnt have given to see one of Riise's magical long distance goals on Wednesday!

In midfield, Mascherano was superb, as was Gerrard. But I was surprised to see Alonso losing his head so often. He was a ticking bomb waiting to explode, and finally he did concede the free kick with a foul on Kaka, which was converted by Pirlo via Inzaghi's wincing arm or shoulder. Harry Kewell got a chance to find out what the second half of a CL final feels like this time, but he could not influence the game as much as could have been hoped. Kuyt was hard working, but he did not see enough chances created for him.

So, another season comes to a close. Having missed most of the season in the US, I hate the thought of nearly 3 months without any football. But there will be a lot of action happening in the transfer market. And this time, Liverpool could be among the big spenders, thanks to Hicks and Gillett spreading the dosh around. Hopefully, we will have a couple of brand new wingers as high priority requirements. If the rumours are true, Arjen Robben could be out of Chelsea soon, but do we really want the oldest 'young' player in the world? Can Kaka be dragged away from Milan? Will we see two new exciting Portuguese players in Simao and Nani travelling to Merseyside next season? Will Rafa keep faith in Kewell for another season? Zenden, i feel, will definitely leave. Pennant may remain as backup only. Also, Gabriel Palleta and Sami Hyppia are probably leaving, so there should be another center back coming in. And how much dosh will Rafa be ready to blow on either Torres or Eto'o? Or David Villa?

Loads of questions. Hopefully, we will get the answers gradually over the summer. Exciting times ahead for Liverpool!!

Friday, May 11, 2007

I knew this one...

You Are 16% Sociopath

You're empathetic, loyal, and introspective.
In other words, there's no way you're a sociopath... but you can spot one pretty easily!

The Superhero in me !! :P

You Are Batman

Billionaire playboy by day. Saving the world by night.
And you're not even a true superhero. Just someone with a lot of expensive toys!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pleased to meet you...

If I was more of a pious guy, I guess I'd probably be ringing the ghanta of my neighbourhood temple (there's one right next to my house) a lot more, thanking God for the wonderful things he has given me the capacity to appreciate and enjoy. But I missed that bus a while back.

And then there's the undeniably un-godly nature of some of the music I appreciate a bit too much of course. Case in point, as the title of this post suggests is the terrific Stones number "Sympathy for the Devil". Of course, the Rolling Stones were not to blame for the hue and cry from the clergy and the moral police who related rock 'n roll to satanism. That argument goes a long way before Mick and Keith paired up. But this song, along with several other Stones numbers, have had their fair share of controversy.

But who cares? What a great song! Great lyrics penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, great music which, according to rumour, had Led Zep's Jimmy Page pitching in with a guitar solo. Page, of course, was a well-known occultist and probably begged Mick for a bit part in this ode to Lucifer. Also, the lyrics are said to be inspired from Mikhail Bulgakov's great masterpiece "The Master and Margerita".

Bulgakov's book has its own colourful history, taking him almost a decade to complete. In Socialist Russia, Bulgakov had to go through a great deal of censorship and harrassment as his book was seen as inflammatory and satirical about the bureaucratic system. Three years into the writing, Bulgakov one day decided to destroy his work and burnt the entire document on his kitchen stove. Boosted by his wife's support, he again re-wrote the entire book and finally managed to get it printed, though in a censored form. The book is now considered a great piece of literature of course. I've got to get me a copy sometime soon!

Coming back to the song, I can't resist printing the lyrics here, with due regard to Mick and Keith who wrote it.

Sympathy For The Devil
Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith
And I was 'round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
I stuck around St. Petersberg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the Czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank
Held a general's rank
When the Blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
What's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah
I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the Gods they made
I shouted out
"Who killed the Kennedys?"
When after all
It was you and me
Let me please introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadors
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what's confusing you
Is just the nature of my game
Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
'Cause I'm in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste, um yeah
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, um yeah
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, um baby, get down
The song is from the point-of-view of the devil, with references to the mysterious deaths of the Czar and the Kennedy's. The vocals are brilliant, as you would expect from Jagger. The song was later covered by Guns 'N Roses also.
Themes inspired from Bulgakov include the references to the Czars and also the lines "And I was 'round when Jesus Christ/Had his moment of doubt and pain/ Made damn sure that Pilate/ Washed his hands and sealed his fate". The story of Pontius Pilate meeting Jesus and reluctantly handing him over to those who wanted to kill him forms a second strand in the novel.
So, some great music, intelligent lyrics, intellectual inspirations. What more could you ask for? So what if it deals with themes that are considered controversial. Go, listen and read. I already am.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Back in Bangalore!

I'm back, and it feels good.

Things I will miss about the US in general - driving on those lovely freeways, the smoothies, the fantastic beer, the great scotch, and that Mecca for book-lovers in the Glendale area, the Foothills Branch Library. FBL - it was great while it lasted. I will miss you.

Spending a week in Mumbai with family was great. Even though the weather was a killer, the lazy days doing nothing much felt damn good. Gorging on vada pav and the terrific Mumbaiya pav bhaji was yum. Also the delicious maacher jhol at home, with mom trying to make me go through a month's quota in a week.

Being able to watch football on the telly is another pleasure I've been looking forward to. I missed almost the entire 2006-07 season of the Champions league and the EPL, but it was great to catch Liverpool's victory in the CL semis over Chelsea. Also, very very happy that ManUtd is now the EPL champs beating Chelsea again. Its great to see that big money doesnt always win you everything. Chelsea fans - you are free to rant.

The downsides are also there of course. Its becoming harder to watch the news everyday. Its astonishing the level of corruption in this country, with new cases of "fake" encounters every day. Were encounters ever supposed to be legitimate? I understand that they are a necessary evil in many cases, but the flip side is the fact that many of these encounters seem to have involved victimization of innocents, rather than the guilty. Now we are faced with the ugly mug of DSP (or watever) Vanzara, a criminal of the lowest order plumb in the middle of our police forces.

My first experience on reaching Bombay airport. The visibly inexperienced Indian steward on the Delta flight, had made the mistake of handing out just a single immig form per family, instead of one form per person. Standing in line at Bombay airport, the disgracefully dressed, vernacularly challenged person who was responsible for guiding people to the various booths for other similarly challenged people to process the forms, looks at the single form per family and says - "Cha maayla, kon toh chu**ya", which translates to "What the? Who's the a**hole who gave out single forms". And this loud and clear, without bothering to notice that there are families and women and kids around. Lovely.

Then the gentleman actually processing the forms, suddenly looks past me with his mouth wide open and eyes lit up. I look back to see an American lady in her mid-30's, drawing a lot of looks coz she left one shoulder uncovered. Bang, bang, bang go the stamps on my forms as the immig man tries to make sure she gets sent to his booth! Well, there's my immig checks done.

Not that I want this to turn into a rant, but there really does need to be something done to improve the first experience that visitors have while entering our country.

Well, on second thoughts, thats not the only thing that needs changing. We really need to do something about the beer we get here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Play It Again

Sometimes a song just grabs you and seems to become part of you. Well, that can happen with lots of stuff, not just music. A great book, a great movie, just a great something. But lets keep it simple and just focus on the music for now.

Probably every classic rock fan knows and loves "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I have only recently discoved this song, having always considered Southern Rock as glorified Gospel or Country music! And its just got a hold on me. What great lyrics, fantastic tempo that goes from the gospel-ish beginning to that mind-blowing guitar driven orgasmic crescendo. Great stuff. And a couple of posts ago I had mentioned the movie "Duets" which had one of the lead actors singing the words from this song. Its just so good it feels like touching some kind of brilliance which will never be recreated again.

If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be travelling on, now,
There's too many places I haven't seen
And if I stayed here with you, now
Things just wouldn't be the same
Well I'm as free as a bird now,
And a bird you can not change.
And a bird you can not change.
And a bird you can not change.
Lord knows I can't change
Bye, bye, its been a sweet love.
And though this feeling I can't change.
Please don't take it badly,
The Lord knows I'm to blame.
And, if I stayed here with you now
Things just wouldn't be the same.
For I'm as free as a bird now,
And this bird you'll never change.
And the bird you can not change.
And the bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can't change.
Lord help me, I can't change.

Play it again Skynyrd.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Goodness Gracious, great stacks of comics!!

Alright, I have officially gone nuts for comics.

It all started with Alan Moore's "Watchmen" (see my review here). The fantastic art along with the mature, elaborately crafted plot opened my eyes to an art form which I had stopped indulging in since I stepped out of primary school.

There is a world of comics out there though, which do not cater to kids alone. And I have sampled a fair amount of these in the past couple of months. Hopefully will be able to sample a few more in the future. Of course, being in the US has the advantage of being able to use the fantastic public libraries here. But I know I'll end up buying a boat load of these deeply satisfying comics when I'm back home in India. And these comics dont come cheap.

Although many of these comics stay within the super hero genre (like Alan Moore's Watchmen, Swamp Thing series, Top Ten series, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series; Kurt Busiek's Astro City series), these are not the usual tales of crime fighting like Superman or Spiderman (not that these are any less worthy, they arent the all-time best-selling comics for nothing). For example, Kurt Busiek's series contains stories set in Astro City which is home to many crime-fighting super heroes, some with super-powers, others are athletic humans who fight crime through ingenuity and skill. But the stories do not revolve around these super heroes. Instead, the series focuses on telling the tales from an ever changing perspective. There are stories told from the innocent victims point of view, the regular people who were going about their own business when some super villain decides to stage some mayhem in their vicinity. There are stories told from the view point of observers of the mega-events. This series is about the lives of people living in a society which is protected by super heroes, and threatened by super villains.

But graphic novels are not limited to this genre. Take Art Spiegelman's wonderful two-volume retelling of his parents surviving the holocaust in "Maus". The uniqueness of this book is in that it chooses to depic the Jews as mice, while the Germans are cats. All other races and ethnicities depicted in the comic are represented by animals. This deliberate cartoon-ification of a hard-hitting story sometimes softens the blow, and sometimes makes it even harsher. The all black-and-white artwork is free of any fancy angles and is focussed on telling a tale Art believes requires no further inflection.

Art Spiegelman has possibly been the greatest inspiration to the modern serious comics writer and artist than most others. Alan Moore's inspiration lies in focussing on the story, making it the basis of everything rather than only focussing on the art or the drawing.

Spiegelman inspired graphic novels have been written by writers like Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, David Boring), Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan) and Bryan Talbot (The tale of one bad rat). These stories deal with mature subjects like sexual abuse, dysfunctional families, mid-life crises etc.

Moore has inspired another set of writers to remain in the fantastic realms and still ground their work with some astonishing writing. The Fables series by Bill Willingham is one such example. This series has as its premise the concept that Fables (like Red Riding Hood, Snow White etc) truly exist in lands far far away. But something happened, an unknown adversary launched a great war on the fables lands and the characters of these fables were forced to escape and they now live among us. These characters (at least the humanoid ones) now live as humans, and they have their own governance which keeps their existence a secret from common humans (called the Mundy's or the Mundanes a la Muggles). The stories are interesting in that though the premise is based in children's stories, the treatment is more adult. It makes for a gripping read.

Another series which blows the mind by its wonderful writing, and often historically based stories, is Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. This series is simply incomparable for its unique storylines and its rootedness in classical literature, myths and mythologies of everything from Greece to Persia to Africa, and also on true human history. The series is also unique in that its not concentrated on its main character, the Sandman or Morpheus, the Dream Lord, as much as you would expect. Sometimes he is peripheral to the story. But he is also the focus of the story in strange, haunting ways. Its hard to say much about the Sandman series without going into a lot of details, and I will keep that for another day, another post.

Sometimes a great movie

Its been a terrible time in some ways. Mainly because work has kept me away from things I would much rather be doing. I havent seen any movies for like a couple of months probably, havent spent as much time with the family as I would have liked to, have been carrying around a bunch of great rock songs in my USB drive, but barely get the chance to listen to them, I have been reading some interesting stuff but have not been able to give it enough time. All that whining is basically pointing towards the fact that corporate imprisonment is taking its toll. I'm sick of it.

So last night, when I caught sight of Paul Giamatti while flicking channels, I thought what the heck, take some time and lets look into this. Giamatti is a good actor, and I thought maybe the movie has some potential. And it seemed funny in a quirky way, which always gets me.

So I watched, even waited through the long commercial breaks filled with those irritating weight-loss gimmicks which all claim to be the next best thing since iPod shuffles. The movie captivated me, primarily through the sincere performances, the mix of wistful humour and an underlying sensitivity towards the issues it was trying to tackle and of course, the great music.

Its called "Duets" and is basically a road movie, with a bunch of people travelling across the US to Omaha, Nebraska to participate in a Karaoke contest. Along the way, there is a lot of singing, a lot of black humour and lots of stuff going on.

Paul Giamatti (most recently in "The Lady in the Lake" unfortunately, better known for "American Splendour" and "Sideways") is as salesman who has become frustrated with his life. He tells his wife he is going out for a pack of ciggarettes and ends up taking a road trip with no destination in mind. He happens to stop at a karaoke bar, where a rather flaky girl inspires him with a lot of encouragement and a couple of lil blue pills to get on the stage and sing. When he wins the contest that day, he finds a new interest in life and wants to pursue it by contesting the big Karaoke contest in Omaha.

Besides Paul, the movie stars Huey Lewis (yes, the singer of the "Power of Love") as a Karaoke con-artist. He is suddenly confronted by his estranged daughter played by Gwyneth Paltrow who herself does some wonderful singing. The daughter wants to spend some time with her dad, and thats another sub-plot running through the movie.

The most interesting bit of the interlocking stories is that of an escaped black convict named Reggie (played very well by Andre Braugher). In one scene, as he hitch-hikes through america, he sticks-up the trucker who has just given him a ride. The trucker says "Learn a trade son, dont do this" and Reggie's anguished expression when he says "I did. This is it!" is remarkable.

Reggie has lived most of his life in prison. He never even learnt to drive a car before he was put in prison. The movie does not delve into the past, but shows Reggie's anguish at a lost life very well. Andre Braugher has been seen in quite a few character roles and is a recognizable face, but maybe not as much as he should be. When he meets up with Paul Giamatti, and though originally his intention is to rob him too, they become friends. There is a poignancy in their friendship as they both come to a deep understanding of what each is going through. They also join up and produce some of the best karaoke numbers ever.

And the music in the movie is just plain lovely. From Gwyneth Paltrow's surprisingly soulful rendition of "Betty Davis Eyes" to Andre Braugher and Paul's duet of "Try a little tenderness" and culminating in a fantastic rendition by Andre of "Free Bird", the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic. Just loved it.

Duets is not a classic, not a movie which will perhaps be remembered through time. But I will remember it for a while, for its music and Paul and Andre's performances.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My Vocabulary...


Your Vocabulary Score: A

Congratulations on your multifarious vocabulary!
You must be quite an erudite person.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Its been ages since I last updated this blog. I've been adrift in the wastelands, deep in the abyss, caught in the net. Been too busy to blog, in brief.

In the meantime, Liverpool again lost to Man Utd at home in the league, but kept their European campaign going with a brilliant victory over Barcelona. In the league, its looking more and more likely that Liverpool will not manage a higher position than 4th, which means they'll be involved in the third round qualifier for next seasons Champs League. Another year with a too early start to their season. But there is still hope, and Arsenal have shown that its highly likely that they will slip up - especially without Thierry Henry for the rest of the season.

And of course, the cricket world cup has got under way. The traditional game of Super Selector has begun, it should be fun. The Indian media has gone nuts like never before. The hype is sometimes cringe-worthy. The 30-mins of Indian news that I get to see (sometimes) on the telly has 15 mins worth of the newsreader repeating news about inane training sessions, trivial player and coach quotes, and similar balderdash like its the second coming. A story about a few food-poisoning cases occurring in the Indian team's hotel is given coverage equivalent to Saddam's hanging.

Then there's the quirky stuff too. Like Zee News proclaiming the Indian team as Dada's Army!! Quite besides the fact that this echoes the wonderful DA (Dumbledore's Army) from the fifth Harry Potter book, the eponumous Dada is not even the skipper of the Indian team. Seems like Saurav Ganguly is getting a lot more support in the media now, than in the turbulent period a year ago. But Rahul Dravid is our skipper, and the last thing we want in the middle of a tough, exhausting and mentally draining tournament is to see politics rearing its ugly head in the Indian team. Dravid is our skipper, and he should have our support. May he (with Dada and Sachin) bring that pot of moonshine home.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Barcelona 1 Liverpool 2

Who would have thunk it! But its true. Of course, its far from over. But the second tie being at home, Liverpool will definitely take heart from the precious away victory. They can now literally afford a 1 - 0 defeat at home or a draw. But I think they can even add to this win with another at Anfield.

To add to the romance of this victory, the goals were scored by the two players everyone thought might not even start today. Craig Bellamy and Jon Arne Riise were the two players who were the most likely to get the sack as their team-building trip to Portugal had the opposite effect. Especially at fault was Bellamy, who allegedly attacked Riise with a golf club. With his past record, the media was claiming this was the end of Bell at Liverpool. It may still be, Rafa is not one to take lack of discipline in his squad, and additionally there is money flowing in of course after the takeover, which means Rafa may be able to afford a less volatile player with perhaps the same or better skills than Bellamy. That boy Bellamy even had the cheek to celebrate his goal with a golf swing !!! I dont know if Rafa might have appreciated that bit.

But for the present, these two players might just have redeemed themselves on the field. For most of the first half, Barca were lording over Liverpool and the scousers were barely seeing about 38% of the possession. But they got the goals that mattered as Barca consistently were unable to find the net in spite of all their attacking play. They now play Sheffield Utd and Man Utd at home in the Premiership before Barca comes a-visiting.

Great big whooooop for the Reds!!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Things left unsaid (thus far anyway)

While I'm at it, there are a couple more things to talk about. Urgently.

Firstly, a great big whoop of triumph at Saurav Ganguly being named the man of the series for the India - SL series. The big man is back and with a bang. His has been one of two cases of actions being louder than words which has happened over the last month or so. The second being the triumphant return of David Beckham into the Real Madrid first XI.

Looking back, the silence in the face of allegations and harsh criticism of both Gangs and Becks had seemed to indicate that these two stars had given up on their careers. Gangs decided to try his luck in English county cricket while Becks retaliated to the intense pressure heaped on him by the Real board to sign an extension to his contract or leave, by making the in-your-face decision to leave for the MLS. In return, Greg Chappell for the Indian team, and Fabio Capello for Real made similar noises about the door back into the squad being shut for ever for their respective players. Capello was a lot more outspoken about it saying that Becks will never play in his team again.

In both their cases, luck has to some extent played its part. The Indian team started playing really badly, it needed a spark and it looked more likely to come from its erstwhile captain than from the rookies who were tried. This combined with injuries to players like Yuvraj, and the poor form of some of the remaining senior players provided the opportunity of giving another shot to Gangs.

For Real Madrid, a series of dissappointing showings resulted in a clamour from the public to bring back Becks, who had made a mark in the hearts of the fans by his professional nature and his passion on-field. Capello though might have managed to ignore the public outcry, but when his influential players like Raul and Guti publicly commented on the teams need for Becks to be re-instated, he could not ignore it anymore. Another factor, as pointed out by Tim Stannard, in his excellent articles about the spanish league on Football365, is the unerring survival instinct of the Real coach. Capello brought Becks back, and he has been the lynchpin in Real's mini-revival over the last month. Capello even managed to get some credit from it by making the statement that a smart man knows when to change his mind.

Both games are richer for having these two wonderfully skillful players back on the field. For Becks, there may even be a return to the England team as McClaren has reportedly decided to follow Capello's lead and look a lot closer at his ex-skipper. If he looks close enough, he might just find a way to save his job.

As a postscript, my big hope of Liverpool accumulating 15 points before coming up against Barcelona in the CL, has been dashed to bits. First, they were held to a draw by Everton, then they actually lost to a resurgent Newcastle. Thats 5 points fewer then than they could have taken. But its Barcelona tomorrow, fingers crossed for that game.