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...