Saturday, December 19, 2009

Paleri Manikyam

This movie by Renjith gets a grade of 7 out of 10. “What is the relevance of this now?” This question crops up in the second half and the reply starts with “It is a reminder…”
That nearly explains the purpose of the movie.

The movie is based on a book by T. P. Rajeevan (which I have not read) and is concerned with the brutal rape and murder (given away by the diffident subtitle Oru Pathira Kolapathakathinte Katha or Midnight Murder Story) of Manikyam, a young beautiful low-caste woman. This crime happens in a village called Paleri in 1957. And now, 52 years later, a detective obsessed with this unsolved mystery reopens the case.

Though the movie is supposed to be a detective story, the pieces of the puzzle fall too easily into place, and it might be more appropriate and fulfilling to view the movie without any expectation of suspense. In fact, the investigation is narrated just like a documentary.

This movie unfortunately has only one main actor: Mammootty in a triple role. As the detective, he does not have to do much. As the rich landowner and main suspect Ahmed Haji, he is wonderful. In fact, the director seems to have done very well in capturing the period of the crime rather than the present era. The same might be said of the screenplay which is mostly good. Surely, the crime analyst if not the extra-marital affair is superfluous. Sreenivasan and Siddique put in a cameo performance. The rest including Shweta Menon and Mythili try well and some if not most are convincing. The photography and sound are fine – maybe, the loud heart-thumping orchestra could have been replaced by something more subtle, edgy and diabolic.

To my favourite question: will I watch the movie again? Yes. There are lots to savour: a low caste woman watching her helpless husband being killed like you would stamp and kill a centipede; the killing of the young woman with the command “go and silence her”. It is ironical to hear the detective express a view about extra-marital affairs and infidelity “to possess that of another” and a villain exclaiming “why does she have to cross my path and raise all kinds of bad thoughts”.

As mentioned earlier, this movie is an apt reminder. Does it matter whether it is the 50’s or this millennium? The influence of power over the helpless and the weak, sex crimes, willful suppression of facts related to a crime and the list goes on. Déjà vu, right? It is tough not to echo the words in the movie “I do not have ideology nor faith.”

(N.B. The quotes might not be entirely correct – I had to recollect from memory and worse, I had to translate.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fare Thee Well (Or, After Reading Larkin Before Breakfast)

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
(from Aubade)

I wish I had a hangover when I read these lines – not at four, but at a healthy six after four hours of sleep. I do not have time to think of death. Each day, I procrastinate and postpone my rebirth. A confirmed anti-social in social networking sites – I love it. A click works faster than cyanide - I can vaporize from the Net into jumbled senseless bytes.

The narcissistic Net! It is freedom for the middle-class – biggest revolution after the all-purpose nightdress; cure for mid-life crisis, release of angst, to forget snail mail to agony aunts and/or editors, to cook up news (damn it, the quizmaster says that it is not North East West South but Naughty Entertainment Woolly Stories) and, of course, to contact old best-forgotten pals and compare visiting cards.

Aubade means “A song or instrumental composition concerning, accompanying, or evoking daybreak.” Or, “A poem or song of or about lovers separating at dawn.”

Enough of that, I flipped the page.

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(from Annus Mirabilis)

Each generation prays for paradigm shifts! But, it is usually as Yogi Berra said “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Science and technology might have paradigm shifts. But, in human thought? We will not allow Hussain and his naked goddess; fortunately, we did not have to create Ardhanarisvara. It would have offended some manoos and a gutless government would have been ready to ban. After all, for longevity and success, it is better to be “nice people with commonsense”. If you take MBA (hurry, you can still appear for the CAT tomorrow), they will teach you to be that minus ethics. As for me, I vaguely remember Isabel Allende saying in a TED talk “Nice people with commonsense do not make interesting characters – they only make good former spouses.

For those who really long for longevity and success, there are two things to do in life: create a new word and compose a memorable epitaph. Nothing else will remain. Learn from quantum, boojum, defriend, tweet, blog, skype. If the word is really good, you can bring out an IPO. If not, you can always blame your parents with:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
(from This Be The Verse)

I have procrastinated enough for a day. I have a version of the old Hindi song which starts something like “angrezi mein kehta hai ke fare thee well”.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Aparan

This movie by Padmarajan gets 7.5 out of 10. With the dearth of decent movies (released from any Wood – Holly/Molly/Kolly/Bolly/Tolly), a movie buff can either sit and cry or rummage through old storage boxes for a CD/DVD of a classic – like this one from 1988.

The story revolves around a case of mistaken identity involving a decent youth from a lower middle-class close-knit family and a look-alike who is an orphan and a hardened criminal. Jayaram makes his debut in this movie – excellent performance and I would not be too surprised if the great director had a big role to play in that also.Along with Jayaram, we have a host of well-thought-out characters (with Madhu, Sukumari, Parvathy, Soman, Mukesh, Sobhana and other excellent actors).

With this genre of suspense, one usually has the lurking problem/doubt: have I seen this story elsewhere? It does not matter. In this two-hour long movie, there is hardly any flab and there are many scenes you will remember for a long time: from the play with shadows and reflections to the smile on Jayaram’s face in the last scene.

This movie comes from an era in Malayalam cinema when the heroes were men and not supermen, and the Malayalam movie/actors/directors did not resemble their counterparts from the neighbouring states. This movie could compete with some of the best in the crime/suspense genre in Malayalam cinema, and to name just three of my favourites: Yavanika (with the superb Gopi), Kariyila Kattu Pole, Ee Thanutha Veluppan Kalathu (the last two also from Padmarajan as writer or director).

Keep these in mind when you want to watch a decent movie with your family rather than waste grey cells and lots of money on trash.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kayyoppu

The movie deserves a grade of 7 out of 10. There are two main themes: (a) writing, writer’s block and a Muse and (b) clarion call to end differences based on religion, begging for human kindness and against cruelty such as terrorism. Here, I will not let out any spoilers regarding the story or plot (available from other sources with a simple Google search I am sure). Most probably, I have given an extra point because I am biased towards writing. Also, I enjoyed the movie and I will watch it again on another night when I want to relax and think alone.

The first theme is the dream of a lot of dreamers – from school kids to geniuses in the creative world – of a Muse who crosses one’s path and inspires. At times, the Muse might bring love and reciprocate one’s own affection; sometimes, without personal attachment but with just their presence and the right words at the right time, creativity breaks free from any yoke or block; and, for some the Muse remains just an ill-defined spirit.

The second theme is about terrorism. It is now not just a headline about something that happens to others in faraway places. It happens to us and those close to us. It has two main goals: to terrorize, cause suffering and attract attention; and, to create large-scale friction in society via misunderstanding and labels such as religion and to fragment the society. This movie tries to raise a voice against these cowardly acts of terrorism and its goals.

This movie by Renjith is uncomplicated, pleasant and refreshing; and tries to deliver the message without guile and through simplicity. The simplicity of the movie might be its failing, too. I might be ready to excuse simple plots and average visuals, but I need at least one full-blooded character. Maybe, I am just being cynical. Mammootty and Khushboo have done very well on their own (are they too restrained one wonders); with Mukesh, Mammu Koya and others giving excellent support. I liked the background music and the discussions about writing.

This is not a new movie and thankfully, Moser Baer has brought out a CD/DVD of this movie.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Freedom in China & Nilekani’s IUD

“When the Chinese get freedom, this depression will end,” my great-uncle Hosappan paused with a dramatic sigh, shifted the home-rolled beedi from the left to the right molars after relighting it with his ancient Zippo lighter, and continued, “and that’s why Obama met the college kids in China and told them that information should be freely available. Which information? Whose? Glasnost. Perestroika.” He chuckled and refused to say more on the topic – every story has to stop before the end, that being his ambiguous motto.

Till the Cuban missile crisis, everyone in my village used to call him “Fibbu” for some now-forgotten reason though his name was Jose (pronounced with a J). Around the end of October 1962, he told everyone that he should henceforth be called Jose (pronounced as Hosay). Decades back, he baptized me by whispering roughly in my ear “Call me Hosappan." He seemed a nonagenarian then and still does – bald head, clean shaven, strangely black hair sticking out of his ears and nostrils, thick mat of white hair on his chest, wizened face with deep-set unblinking dark brown eyes peering through bushy black eyebrows. In my worst nightmares, I see him as the Grim Reaper.

He was a communist then – in 1962. Two shelves on the left side of his library store his collection of those days. When I was a kid, I borrowed two books from that side: the first called “Relativity and dialectical materialism” (mistaking dialectic and dielectric) and the second, a censored version of “The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer” sent to him as a wedding gift by a Jana of Brno, signed and sealed by a Party member (which I assumed then to be a sign of authenticity). It was much later that I discovered the I-love-you scene with Becky Thatcher in an uncensored copy of the book. Though Hosappan might still not know about that scene, I doubt whether that stunted his love life in any way.

He converted to capitalism in 1973 – before his second marriage. It was after he saw Godfather, some claim. The postmaster of that time confided in many that it was after the twelfth letter (without reply) to a Jana of Brno. All I know for sure is that his second wife was a spendthrift. He changed his wife once more but remained a capitalist.

During my last visit, he expressed to me his displeasure with Nandan Nilekani with hot-blooded capitalist fervour “Social security. Healthcare. My arse. It’s going to be like during the Emergency if not as in concentration camps. All names will be deleted and instead, everyone will get a unique number. It has something to do with contraception – man or woman, everyone will get an IUD.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

From Developing To Developed Without Being Nouveau Riche

Hans Rosling says that income per person in India and China will overtake that of the US and the UK by July 2048. Headlines in the print media never include error bars associated with data points even though Rosling himself hints at probable sources of error, for example, read the interview in the Economic Times. But, the common man on the street knows that Rosling must be right. Give or take a few rupees, onions at Rs 35/kg, jeera rice at Rs 50/kg, a sovereign of gold at Rs 14000, a cent of land in a Tier II/III city at Rs 1000000, a 25-year old with a half-baked degree earning enough to stay in a 1 bedroom flat and keep 4 servants (to wash the car, to clean, to cook, to walk the dog or the baby). In most Indian cities, if you talk about the great divide, the reply is “It trickles down” and you hope that it trickles fast fearing the birth of urban Naxalites. At least 100 years after independence, we should become developed, right?

We have nearly 40 years and there is plenty to do – for us and the government. The list is long and it is quite meaningless and too tiring to be complete here. As far as the government is concerned, they should first stop devaluing the education system. It is the most important infrastructure project and to stretch the metaphor, relying on quantity rather than quality is like building a bridge without concrete. Secondly, the government should listen to people like Enrique Penalosa (the former mayor of Bogota – read this article from the Hindu in which he says “Footpaths make all the difference”). Some time before we are developed, we will learn to walk, we will stop wanting to be a manager and we will take a degree to be educated on a subject we love.

Before we are developed, there are a few things we can do to be prepared. First, consider the case of Rahul (name changed). He was a VP in an investment bank in the US (graduate from IIT, postgraduate from an Ivy league school in the US). He faced a slump in his career out there and was given an opportunity to relocate to the Indian office and build a group or leave the firm. He made the obvious choice to be the successful “expat” in India. Within a year or so, he had nearly a dozen or more IIT graduates working for him and he was on the “fast-track”. He came and went in a posh sedan, with a driver who carried his bag from the entrance of the office to the car in true British Raj fashion. Back in the US, he must have used public transport along with his boss and probably his boss’ boss. Sure, there are snooty people out there but they are usually pea-brained or super-rich and mentally challenged. With more and more people becoming crorepatis (I am still a few zeros away from that and do correct me if that is a low denomination these days), it is important to avoid the problems of the nouveau riche (NV). In the old days, the NV were sent to prep schools to be educated on how to pretend to be born with blue blood. These days, the NV should learn from people like Obama (he might bow low to the Emperor of Japan but none, with sense, will doubt that it is due to low self-esteem). The lesson seems to be: try not to be nouveau riche.

Secondly, we should be ready for the pains associated with the developed world and the list includes higher rates of suicide, divorce; fierce competition in a meritocratic society; and, a view of being either a success story or a loser. Here, I would like to recommend a TED talk by Alain de Botton on a kinder gentler philosophy of success. He stresses that we should always allow for the haphazard in our lives – random events that could make or break us (hopefully, just for a while). For example, on Monday, if the Dubai debt crisis triggers the next wave of defaults and a black swan waddles into our life saying “I am back.”

Friday, November 27, 2009

It’s About Sex, Right?

When did she ask me that – fifteen years back? Or, is it twenty? A few days back, I saw a clip of the movie “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” which is based on the book by Milan Kundera. And yesterday, I picked up that book from a lending library. Probably that triggered this chain of thought.

I had given that book as a birthday present to her. Two years later, I gave her “Love In The Time Of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was when we met a few years later that she asked me the question “It’s about sex, right?”. I did not know how to reply. That year, I got her an omnibus edition of Daphne du Maurier’s novels. I did not know then that that would be my last gift to her.

The next time I heard that same question was nearly half a decade later, and from a friend from erstwhile Soviet bloc. A mutual colleague had given to her Philip Roth’s “Sabbath’s Theatre” which I had read around that time. And by sheer coincidence, we were reading the latest from John Irving “A Widow For One Year”. Must have been around 7:45 on a winter morning, temperature well below freezing point, while we warmed our hands with a cup of hot coffee and before we got on with our work, and we were discussing the books we had read recently. And she asked me “It’s about sex, right?”. I did not know how to reply.

Even now, I wish I knew/know how to reply.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Soliloquy (Nearly) On A Honeymoon

Is this world I see, with you, today
Same as that I saw, alone, yesterday?
In stealth did it come that thought
Like that childhood game ‘I see – I see not’.

Was it by the sea? Then, the weeds were
Ghosts’ tangled tresses, with frothy gurgle
Of death from dark depths with white above.

With you, the ebb and flow of pregnant tide
And my passion tread the same measure,
From green shallows till the azure faraway.

In the train? The past’s already vague -
Inert, staring blindly through grills; now,
Pressed against you, heart’s chugging along.

Around the lake? Then, with self’s company,
With blank verse to fill blank life, mute;
Now - walking, holding, living - silence speaks.

I had to tell you, it’s late I know.
I had to see your eyes when I told you.
Tired you must be, it’s late I know,

When you turn away with “Whatever”.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sketch … of you and me …

How blank this appears:
Each word seems to mar
the empty depths of truth.

From this crushed cursed cushions,
Her eyes seem to spy upon the hidden.
Image of my reflections, shy away,
Bring not shards of memory to mould,
as life prances on razor’s edge.

An apparition she certainly is?
Why do you leave your abode
of banished silence
to be by my side, to whisper, to soothe –
how it aches,
how it pains,
don’t you know?

Maiden, how careless, your hair
seems as if a thousand hands
have caressed,
tenderly tousled tangles,
wishing the one would fondle;

as early light casts a million shades
but never seems to rise,
to remove the shadow that lingers
ever growing
upon your brow –

Bruised, scarred vast expanse
that never hides
the mental torture;
each line faint upon the gentle skin,
each throb pulsates a measure –
which balm will ease you,
which hand refused,
the sacred silence shatters,
a single word would be enough
but none seems to bind
the mind
that wishes no longer
to be whole.

Cool these cheeks,
such fires burn life’s embers;
hurt not your lips so,
so swollen, so expectant;
this beauteous mould,
erase such a grimace –
sorrow by the right,
smile by the left,
place it not upon such a rack,
would understanding set it right,
would a few words do,
but what reason
could have blinded him
of this sight
of blossoming love –
how he should have plucked
and let it not wither.

There’s no place, but there
let me linger awhile –

Your hair I cannot caress,
the brow seeks balm I have not,
these cheeks I dare not hold, they burn,
these lips are not for me to kiss,
the mould of mortal clay is not for me
to mend,
to set aright;

For I am the child of your glance,
it is these depths that lure,
that which sketches more than you can tear,
Blink, little one, hold on no more,
let the tear slide along,
from furious rapids,
from scorned depths,
from discarded abandon,
from deafening silence,
from restless rest,
from love unrealized,
from innocence raped,
from time that speeds by,
from shattered mind,
from barren womb,
from bleeding heart,
let the tear slide along –
it may not mend,
it may not erase,
it may just carry
a little pain.

I shall not look further,
Blurred vision
or
hastened departure
but for sure you know,
that I will be
by you –
In mirth, let’s cast eyes;

who is within,
who is without?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pazhassi Raja

The movie “Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja” deserves a grade of 6.5 out of 10. It is a movie worth seeing at least once. But, will I watch it again?

One should try to bear in mind the following: (a) it is based on history (b) it is long (3 hours and 15 minutes) (c) before watching the movie, try not to be biased and try not to compare (d) forget the Hariharan-MT-Mammootty legacy.

Mammootty and the Indian co-stars are good – restrained, powerful and quite perfect for the role. Given the length of the movie, one wonders whether the characters could have been more well-formed. Is that why one does not feel like brandishing a sword at the end of the movie? Mammootty seemed a trifle stifled (especially if you know what he is capable of) and Sharathkumar who has the best role did very well. The foreign actors performed as if it was a school play and the women are unfortunately quite forgettable. At times, the scenes seemed abrupt and if I am not mistaken, by way of continuity, the second half of the movie is better than the first half. The fights could have avoided the touch of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The orchestra in the background score seemed to lack a local flavour and the songs fitted in like fillers. The photography and the location of each scene are beautiful and picture-perfect. Since it is supposed to be Kerala, one wonders whether there is too much light and too little mud.

Can one compare this movie with Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (OVV)? No. OVV is loosely based on a folktale and twists the tale to the extent a much-despised character (Chathiyan Chanthu) is the hero and much-adored characters (Aromal Chevakar, Unniyaarcha) are shown in bad light. Filmgoers then protested about such literary freedom but loved that product of Hariharan-MT-Mammootty. In OVV, female actors like Madhavi and Geetha impressed with intelligence and beauty and not their cleavage.

Finally, a few notes regarding the scene at the theatre. I tried the 10 a.m. morning show. The cost of the balcony ticket is INR 40, and along with INR 40 for the to-and-fro rickshaw ride and INR 15 for a packet of crisps, it is not too expensive. Since it was a morning show, there was ample leg room - quite ideal for the elderly people who kept me company. Interestingly, some elderly ladies had come alone while the old men were guided by their grandchildren. A young-turning-middle-aged man who sat two seats away in the same row reeked of alcohol - hopefully a result of a hangover rather than morning efforts. There were just a few groups of college students who hooted and whistled only a few times; lustily cheered when Mohanlal speaks in the beginning and equally well when Mammootty makes a less-than-grand entrance; and, they even shouted Bharat-ki-jai in the beginning. But unfortunately, even they did not feel like shouting that at the end. As I left, I tried to remember a scene. When I do, I might watch the movie again with the rest of my family.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Releasing blood

‘A poet’s work,’ he answers, ‘To name the unnamable, to point at friends, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep.’ And if rivers of blood flow from the cuts his verses inflict then they will nourish him.

From ‘The Satanic Verses’

…---…

Listen to me while I suck my own blood.
Release of that which weighs me down –
life blood!

Remember…

Her dark hair straying across that beauteous face,
Black eyes filled dim, alight yet through the full race,
Tear stained cheeks glistening like moonlit waters anew,
Long wet lashes as reaching branches dripping dew,
Blood stained lips trembling, lucky breath to kiss her tender,
Yet not touching, harming her no more but silent yearn render.

O lover! What remains of that but a jester forsaken, tear torn tear -
A letter unfolded tracing creases to be folded again – does life bear?
Fools’ fate foretold – ‘Curs’d be a lover – to tears, one on one, to pain.’

And again…

Wrong mind setting thoughts right, leaders behind the masses led,
Patient pained pawns wait for death, pray gently be bled;
Deafened by clamour, he hears not the heavy tread of Death,
Blinded by tears, he seeks solace in frightful sight’s dearth;
Laid inert by gloom, he begs his brethren to swing the sword low,
But a last hope to quench life’s thirst – a manna of love from below.


Ah hope! Where was the brother – which eye did he close: that to you or his pleasure?
Images to images, rock to rock across a river, each tread to this fancied measure –
Learn for once, survival’s silent password: ‘Do unto others as they do unto you.’

Alas…

Enmity, jealousy, agony, torture – of self and others – life a row,
Blasphemy, thraldom, hopeful – salvage of a wreck sunken low,
To little capsules: shadows flitting by, enticing gestures in misty night
Whence senses may seek repose sans alarm, darkness to tunnel of light;
Intoxicated in the dark, arm in warm waters, the other for the dagger,
Release to bonded dreams – refreshed breath, life at stake, soul to stagger –

What would this life be – in the promised hundred – if this be the remembered one?
Born to be one, the heart to pound alone – betrayal, pain, illusions: none!
Any company but solitude be folly, any thought but oneself is just to be sorry.

Yet, one dances on the razor’s edge,
Forsaking reason, hope on love’s pledge,
In a path in the wilds, round and round,
Losing, realizing the right path – yet nowhere bound,
That be the fate of souls mould in mortal clay,
Bruised or hurt, seeking unknown pain each day.

Releasing blood, sucking one’s in,
Hither to thither, but to abide within;

There’s no release, by one’s self.

Tired?

Tired, can I be? Hoping for a wish.
Staring at scrap – old photos, old life.

Scream, shall I? Mourn, maybe.
I won’t cry, mourn, seek love stupid.
O poets, I can love. And fight wars.
Brood about a world going waste.
But the traitors, where are they?
They will say it’s an old story.
Tough they are with no hope.
With wise words to soothe or sting.
Do you know the rotten cuckold?
Or the poor guy who died poor?
And the usual death and love?
Or the tale of one with no tale?
Mortals’ usual woes, not so new.
Then, is there reason to write?
I am tired. Tired being tired.

Oddity IV

A canvas for the mind – that be life –
No marred margin mourned and gilded edge shorn;
Labour be so, too – through joy or strife –
By whim or intent it’s coloured, shaded or torn.

Much could be philosophized on the above –
Much with ignorance, much for comfort thought;
How could the defeated and rejected in love
Engrave what he knew not and what he was not?

But with surety could he fill a moment of repose
Looking at the workings of the mind – his sole guide –
In loneliness company made, in silence a tune to rouse,
In gloom a smile to blossom, in dying life to be astride.

A wayward dream to be structured, sans sense, a soulmate;
A mate who merely smiled made a rack – of torture and pain;
In pain did descend dearly into depths too black – reason too late –
Too late – fiery lines slash upon lighter blue as a growing strain.

The jasmine bought do not bring a gentle sight
Nor the dying aroma a few borrowed pleasures,
The bed is cold with sweat on this winter night
No tinkling anklets, no soothing caress nor measures.

If it’s reality to be marked upon the canvas:
Weary mind, take the leave for long you sought.
The white should speak for itself, honest, unless
It would be better suited to mark the predestined dot.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Morning News (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo): September 30, 2009

A tsunami with about 15-foot waves and an earthquake measuring around 8.0 on the Richter scale have hit Samoa islands. More than 100 people have been killed.

Elsewhere, there is talk about climate control; about creating a world body to monitor and reduce risk/greed; and, about trying to figure how if not when to reduce fiscal stimulus assuming foreclosures or defaults or unemployment will not escalate.

The tsunami and the earthquake have happened and the rest are on paper.

In the last two days, the government (Centre) has posted in the local paper notices from the Ministry of Commerce to placate the people of Kerala concerning ASEAN FTA. Yesterday, the government (State) called it “eyewash” and raised issues regarding the same. Tomorrow, one political party will blockade the AG’s office. The day after tomorrow, another party will form a human chain across the state to protest against the issue and not to show the strength of the party.

Meanwhile, in the last week or so, magazines and newspapers have wasted precious space wondering about the state of the Indian funny bone, and in particular, pertaining to Tharoor’s tweet/joke. Some claim that it would have been understood only in the common room of St. Stephen’s. Is there anyone who has not got the joke the journalist played on Tharoor? As for the masses, it is just embarrassing when a minister allows a scribe to put words into one’s mouth. It is also embarrassing for the same masses when their representative has to start explaining about the source of income for one’s expenses – whether he, his boss and his underling paid out of their pocket, whether the government paid, whether a private party sponsored or whether the hotel gave special rates. Quite seriously, the masses want ministers who do not get caught on the wrong foot most of the time. Do we expect ministers to be one of the masses – surely, you are joking!

The holiday season brought a few new movies. New movies typically get released on Friday; and by Saturday, decent newspapers are supposed to have an independent movie review. If the system had worked properly, these movies would not have lasted till the end of the long weekend. To be fair, the second was not bad – when compared to the first (names are not required – just pick any two running in the theatres). Frustrated, I visited a movie store and Lady Luck gave me the DVD of “The Verdict” for INR 299 – Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Sidney Lumet. The evening and the month came to a fine close after reading Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery”.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wake

Reading news a week old,
with old music stirring the stifled air;

having supper of coffee, salami
and dead bread with no spots of green;

fresh and free of yesterday’s phlegm –
I am here, with you, safely with you.

There’s time to tell stories, to listen.
There’s no race, no desires, no needs.

Nothing that death can remove.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Trying company (1999-2001)

I watch the clouds, and fit company they are.
Hesitant, wondering whether to part, to yield to that above,
Or, to remain, in a sullen pout with dark cheeks just a little wet.

But there is the whole world to see, I have been told,
Without.
And so I watch.
Like the clouds above me,
But no, not in that vein again.
At first, I try out the reflections but I see myself and I do not wish to, not even I.
It is no crime to look, I am told,
But one never knows when it will be.

Across the aisle, in my row, is a blonde whose tresses cover her study.
When she came, relaxed, letting go of the load, sighing,
Her legs stretched and apart, fingers strumming her knees, eyes closed.
But she had to sit up, cross her legs, and from a black bag came notes to save.

Before me, by the door, stand a couple, close but closer they can be.
Whispers, kisses and looks well-known. They even give zwei marks to a beggar.
She has a dark line carefully drawn on her lips, thin they are but enough for him.
The station arrives, he pats her bottom, to push off to another scene.

A bunch of kids block my view. With earphones on, before they try louder giggles.
A petite nymph for a boy, pimple in one hand, the other lunging for her flesh.

There is the usual company, a lady in a brown coat, hair in careless girlish scatter,
Forty or fifty, who cares, she could be twenty for me, but wait a moment,
I wonder why she stares out, blank to the world, hurt and licking her wounds.

I am tired with company, for they make my loneliness pain even more.
No, I am told, try for a little longer.
It gets better with time.

A woman, grey-specked hair, but with no wrinkle upon her face, a mother,
I suppose, with a bag but nowhere to go, and there is a smile on her face. So peaceful.

And how did I miss him? A lad, little jerky, munching on a grey sandwich,
Glancing at me, others, everyone, interested, amused, and with a smile on his face.

I am scared. I turn to my clouds. Scared to smile. Or cry. Scared to be crazy.

Love to murder (1996)

Look at him –
The little bird that’s fallen off the nest:
do I gather him and care,
do I let him be,
and walk away?

Let me watch him grow
under my eyes – proud and a little selfish:
how he shall glance at me,
how he shall love
in helplessness!

He and I shall part for a moment
as it needs to be in natural ways –
will he stumble and starve,
will he fall prey
to the unloving?

Let him be in young abandon –
orphan, senselessly dying –
let him slip away unknowing,
let him know not
future despair!

Oddity I (1992)

I am bound to act by another’s whim –
A little puppet! But who is Master – a mortal or Him?
Or Mistress – if it is laconic Lady Luck?

Ever in silence – but with with fanciful and secret touch
Coyly nudge me on from joy to pain with not even a hunch,
And leave me with not a mutter uttered!

A gentle caress and a soft whisper: “Life! Awaken!” her only call,
With a vision splendid, a hopeful heart, an unfettered soul:
Azure deep, blossoming fringe and chirpy clime.

And with not a dark cloud the glory fades,
The day creeping ahead in unnatural shades –
Waxing and waning till midnight chimes.

But that be a rarity – for Sleep stealthily shies
From the tortured depths that beg – be fair, only till it dies –
Much like a maiden well-versed in life’s chicaneries.

Teased with little joys and taunted by endless nightmares –
“Life! Are you awake?” What a state of affairs!
Fit for a mortal – creatures of paradox – born unasked to die unasked.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What happened to the postman?

A few days back, I was at my friend’s place watching an old Malayalam movie called ‘Midhunam’. In one scene, the hero who is trying to cope with grave problems concerning business and family is exasperated with his wife-cum-childhood-sweetheart who reminds him of his promises mentioned in old letters all of which she has saved.

My friend and I exchanged guilty glances. No, we were not thinking about any promises made to old sweethearts or anything embarrassing, and definitely not scandalous. No, we were not in the habit of going through those searching for nuggets from the past knowing that most of them were less than flattering. No, though those letters are not lost, we do not remember touching them in the last ten to twenty years. But yes, we still kept old letters.

I studied in an obscure college in an equally obscure village hidden in the innards of this country. It took two to three days to reach that place from my hometown. It took a letter a little more than that. We got access to telephone in the final year but it was not a viable option since a call was as expensive as a cassette of Doors or Jethro Tull.

I used to know how many sheets of paper I could stuff in an envelope without requiring extra stamps. Life was usually boring then but some transient selfish desire for attention with a modicum of affection and care managed to fill up those pages in that age before cynicism - with music in the background along with the rustling of paper and the scratching of an ink pen. Then, the agonizing wait and close scrutiny of the reply - reading between the lines and trying to decipher those words which were blackened or crossed; finding more meaning than there ever was in those letters. In the course of a semester or a few semesters, one could see the ebb and flow of each relationship in those letters. With some, the letter degenerated to a compilation of tweets written at various places and times, just fillers; some who erased or were erased without reply; and, there were those which were special and will remain so.

The postman used to come to the hostel around one o’clock. These days, the postman delivers tattered annual reports and pristine monthly bills. But, even though my inkpot is nearly empty, when the postman does not turn up I still ask “What happened to the postman?”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Morning News (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo): September 17, 2009

Kerala has always lamented on being the Johnny-come-lately in IT in the company of the other southern states. But now, they have Mister (oops, sorry) Minister Twitter. Can anyone predict the ending of this Twittergate scandal which started with the question “Can a minister pay from his own pocket for a room in a five-star hotel?” and might end with “Can you call a holy cow in the party holy cow?” If the people who voted for him in Trivandrum are not complaining (please do remember that they have been quite busy with quotation gangs recently), why should anyone else complain? Unfortunately, India might face problems due to the bad monsoon; there are lots of people below the poverty line; there are other elections to think about; and, it is not only those taxpayers there who pay for the various government guest houses and his salary in the Ministry for External Affairs. And, I always thought that that Ministry taught “a weapon lost from your hands or a word (tweet) from your mouth (fingers) cannot be taken back”.

Twitter reminds me of the other networking wonder, Facebook, which has managed 300 million users in 5 years. It is now supposed to be profitable and there could be an IPO in the very near future. Please refer this for some statistics. Roughly 300 million active users (50% using Facebook every day); fastest growing demographic is those 35 years old or older; average user has 130 friends; 2 billion photos are uploaded to the site each month; 6 billion minutes spent worldwide each day. Thus, each friend could get about 2 hours a year. I suppose that is enough.

Sticking to financial news, the equity markets everywhere seem to be doing quite well – though noone is really sure why. People seem to think that the recession is probably over and that we might have hit the plateau at the bottom with no reason to expect a double dip recession. Please refer to “Macro situation notes” from Paul Krugman which states “…There’s a tendency to treat worries about a double dip as outlandish, as something only crazy people like the people who, um, predicted the current crisis worry about…”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lehman Brothers: Reporting to Work on Monday, September 15

This evening, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. announced it intends to file a petition under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. None of the broker-dealer subsidiaries or other subsidiaries of LBHI will be included in the Chapter 11 filing and all of the broker-dealers will continue to operate. Customers of Lehman Brothers, including customers of its wholly owned subsidiary, Neuberger Berman Holdings, LLC, may continue to trade or take other actions with respect to their accounts.

We will be open for business on Monday, September 15 and we will have more information to communicate at that time.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Morning News (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo): September 3, 2009

Is it the same ‘to be just’ and ‘to prevent injustice’? Does justice have any meaning if it is not absolute/perfect but relative/comparative (at least, at any point of time)? To wake up with these thoughts is to get out on the wrong side of the bed. Like most bad dreams, it is a result of recent reading and to top that list would be Amartya Sen’s The Idea Of Justice (I have stopped after chapter one – I need to breathe and assimilate). What else?

Today, there is an article in the Hindu titled “Divorce can be granted even if consent is withdrawn: court”. It says:

Writing the judgment, Justice Kabir cited Supreme Court judgments and said no purpose would be served by prolonging the agony of the parties to a marriage which had broken down irretrievably, and the curtain had to be rung down at some stage.

I do not understand how the court works and recently I asked a few questions in a blog concerned with “prolonging the agony” and “the curtain had to be rung down at some stage”. I wanted to suggest that divorce should be made as easy as marriage – probably the number of cases in court might actually come down when people cannot use the judicial system to trouble and torture others.

For those laypersons like me, I did a Google search for Article 142 and came up with the following article (if you have other useful references, please do let me know).

On the global stage, there was the Lockerbie case (refer the Guardian’s page). One, I am totally against capital punishment and therefore, the culprit should be incarcerated till the day he is of no harm to society. If a person is a mass-murderer or Hannibal Lecter, when would that day be? Two, if the culprit is terminally ill, should he be shown compassion? What do we gain by keeping him in person – some sense of revenge or justice? Another tough one, right?

Then, there is Jaycee Dugard (now 29 years old) who was held captive for 18 years. How did a society allow that to happen? What failed? It is interesting to read a related article in the Economist titled “Sex laws: unjust and ineffective”.

On a lighter note, we have a head-hunting firm’s dispute with an investment bank (refer Times Online for details regarding this ‘David and Goliath’ fight). And, what kind of stakes are we talking about? Approximately, 90 million pounds only. There is something in the air which tells me that someone is going to get really rich soon.

An article in the Financial Express about the ASEAN FTA agreement suggests that Kerala should:

“…wake up to the global context from the present home market insularity and recognise the wider national and international economic imperatives.”

And I thought it was because people in Kerala ‘woke up’ that it is nearly impossible for a medium/small-scale farmer to harvest paddy or tap rubber due to shortage of feasible labour. With the cost of coconut picking rising (in the cities, it is about Rs 30 per coconut tree), I hear that people are looking forward to the coconut tree climbing robot. Of course, it might be sufficient if the farmers learned how to tap rubber, climb coconut trees and harvest paddy (if you know about training institutes, please do let me know).

Finally, there is the case of the Mashelkar report on patent law issues. Please read the article in the Business Standard (of course, if you have other useful references, please do let me know). The experts’ report seems to have quoted another expert to support their contention but unfortunately, the latter says that his views have been misinterpreted.

I still keep searching for news/columns that I want to read.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Tweet A Face A Blog

Can I:

tweet a tweet
with 140
characters
when all I
want to say
are just 4?

face a book
with x
friendly pals
when all I
want to see
are with me?

mail or blog
with too many
doggerel
when all I
want to write
are to you?

Fare Thee Well.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Scavenger

Loneliness has been the trashcan
To huddle around, to burn memories,
With the company of strangers,
Nothing new and nothing to get used to…

Found an old album in the junkyard
Useful to borrow kith and kin,
Even love, when noone looks,
For an hour, or a day, no more…

Quite rarely an old familiar peeps
From a distance,
Fearing the disease of need,
Embarassed too...

Craving any addiction
But company
Anything to hurry Time
But not to maim…

He's no reason to live nor die
He's no karma nor bhakti to guide
He gathers pain from every corner
Searching for some way, some answer…

When one fears not death
Can one be mortal
And love, and dream,
And live, and pray...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

p.s.

I used to read Byron and project his life onto his poetry. Before I tried Ted Hughes, I remembered Sylvia Plath and a gas stove. But, whenever I read Wuthering Heights or Remembrance, I realize that I do not know much about Emily Bronte. Who knows what they wanted to say nor what made them say what they had to say. Maybe, they wanted us to join them in creation.

Before going (2001)

The restaurant at Charlottenburg was nearly empty. There was a family of five in the middle of the room. And the two of them near the window away from the street. Apart from the usual formalities, they had not said much till the dessert was served. His eyes had a glazed look while he stared at the plate for a while. Then, he turned his head away, looked outside at the sky, at nothing. She looked at his grey hair and weary eyes. She was still looking at him when he turned his face to look at her. As per habit, his eyes tried to adjust and change the expression quickly to the smiling carefree one. But he gave up that effort and just looked at his companion’s dimple and deep dark eyes. Companions in steady flight, with farewells that merge with welcome, a relationship never defined.

A: Were you surprised?
S: Not surprised, just trying to figure it out.
A: What, Swapna? Figure what out?
S: Why?
A: I need a partner. I need a life.
S: Yes, I know that part. But that is not what I am thinking about. Why now?
A: Why not now?
S: Are you tempting fate? You know about your luck now.
A: Yes. If I fall, let me fall heavily. Is that what I am thinking? Am I being selfish and not thinking twice about dragging a faultless girl with me down into the dumps?
S: What about having a job before marrying?
A: What if I have a job and got smashed by a truck?
S: But Arjun…
A: No, Swapna. Can’t you see what I am doing? Forcing a rebirth.
S: And, are you ready for the personal change?
A: Can one be ready?
S: Arjun, don’t change too much…
A: I have to, Swapna, I have to. The old style just doesn’t work.
S: But, I can’t picture you as the patient unperturbed insensitive lover.
A: Well, will you like a demanding excitable oversensitive guy?
S: I don’t know. And the rage and pain – all that which makes us?
A: Will I put up a charade? Is that what you are asking?
S: Will you stop asking for total loyalty? Will you stop yourself from giving totally? Will it be just pleasant decent stuff?
A: If the woman is successful and free of trouble, does she need more? Will she appreciate the look in my eyes? Will she want a letter or a call? Will she feel thrilled when I kiss her hand? Will we hold each other and feel totally uninhibited?
S: Arjun, will I have to go?
A: (nodded)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

14/03/97

The beach-
lonesome, it seems-
apart from this little girl
and the eyes that watch.

She
glances awhile,
searching
for the helping hand.

Gentle sand,
playful ebb and flow,
caressing breeze-
company for the child woman.

Sand castles,
tear washed as they crumble
but the sparkle lights
as she tenderly builds.

The beach teases,
extending
her stay-
in embrace forever.

Patience anew, and
hope, the only support,
within her bosom
there’s love that binds.

There is the hand
that awaits
for a mortal grasp-
not knowing how.

The moment of birth
lingers
awaiting joy-
an immortal child.

Emotional Trauma/Torture = Normal Wear & Tear?

With reference to an article in the Times of India “Marital tiff not cruelty, can’t be basis for divorce”, a few points come to mind:
  1. How do you prove emotional trauma/torture in court?
  2. When you fear to return to your house and spouse after work everyday, is it normal wear and tear?
  3. Does the court recognize the fact that certain couples are incompatible and that incompatibility could be the reason for the absence of trust, respect and responsibility?
  4. How do you prove the absence of trust, respect and responsibility in court?
  5. Why is it that the judicial system recommends that divorce be granted only when people are "at fault" and does not usually recognize that relationships can suffer "irretrievable breakdown"?
  6. The court considers marriage to be a sacred ceremony and worries about the future of marriage due to the flooding of divorce petitions. Why is it so easy to get married and so difficult to get divorced?
  7. In marriage and divorce cases, should the court consider prevention to be the best cure (unlike criminal cases where the court needs to act after the problem arises)?
  8. Should counseling and third-party mediation/certification be made mandatory before marriage rather than before divorce? Maybe, couples who are getting married should also visit the District Family Court and observe the proceedings for a day or two, and understand the shoddy environment and situation, the pain and agony and also, the prevalent deceit inside and outside court.
  9. If the court assumes that the couple were adults at the time of marriage, should not the court assume the same at the time of divorce?
  10. Does the court recognize the fact that in lots of cases, couples have gone “through hell” and life could be on the brink of disaster without aggravating and destroying lives by prolonging cases and waiting for couples to reach some kind of mutually agreed divorce?
  11. Is there justice if it is delayed and can the court take a few years of life if not all?
  12. Does the court recognize “the stigma of being divorced” and does the court condone such a thought which seems to be similar to an old custom where widows (and maybe, widowers) were treated as stigma?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Curious Case of BSE Sensex

If you had Rs 100 on August 17, 2007 and then by some passive means (say, index fund or portfolio of stocks mimicking the Sensex) let the money grow till August 18, 2009, you would have in hand Rs 106.30. Thus, the profit would be Rs 6.30.

Now, consider two periods with 99 days: the first starting August 17, 2007 and ending on January 8, 2008; and the second starting March 25, 2009 and ending on August 18, 2009. Then, follow the same investment strategy but just for 99 days. Rs 100 invested on August 17, 2007 would give Rs 147.60 on January 8, 2008; and, Rs 100 invested on March 25, 2009 would give Rs 155.50 on August 18, 2009. The difference in profits between the two 99 day periods being (Rs 155.50 – Rs 147.60), i.e., Rs 7.90 which is reasonably close (given the volatility of the market) to the profit made if invested for the entire period of 490 days.


Summary: If you invest Rs 100,

Profit if invested for entire 490 days: Rs 6.30
Profit if invested for first 99 days: Rs 47.60
Profit if invested for last 99 days: Rs 55.50
Difference of profit between last 99 days and first 99 days : Rs 7.90

Disclaimer: Please do let me know if there are any errors. Of course, I am not predicting the future (just observing a curious case).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Morning News (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo): August 17, 2009

In this part of the world, today is New Year’s Day. Wish you a very Happy New Year.

In today’s paper, H1N1 is already competing with SRK for attention. For more information regarding swine flu, please read the article in the Economic Times titled “What India should do to combat swine flu”. Also, please check the Ministry of Health site which seems to be dedicated to this (I presume the homepage is still being connected to this – on the top there is a wobbling title “Influenza A (H1N1) (SWINE FLU)” but I could not find any links when I last visited the site). As for the SRK episode at Newark airport, I am trying to imagine the scene: an immigration official at Newark facing a computer screen with the list of suspicious names – Jane Doe, John Smith, Quick Gun Murugan, Khan, Obama, Singh, Swapna,…

Hurrah! Dravid is back in the team. I have stopped counting the number of times he has had to return or be considered once again. I do not believe in heroes and the old order has to change yielding place to new. But, with some people it seems safe to assume that they will hang their boots when they know their time is up. Till that time, let’s enjoy their art. It was so for people like Steffi and Sampras and I believe it will be so for Federer, Tendulkar and Dravid.

It is tough not to comment on the world of finance. The latest FOMC statement says “economy is leveling out” – now, what is the nature of the apparent fixed point: minima or inflexion point? If you have not heard about the guy who gets a nine-figure salary in USD (will you settle for a nine-figure salary in JPY?), please read the article in WSJ about Andrew Hall. A few small banks have started closing shop, some are guessing that commercial real estate might cause the next crisis and there is just old news regarding big banks like Goldman Sachs and Nomura from Rolling Stones and Times Online respectively.

I still keep searching for news/columns that I want to read.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Morning News (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo): August 1, 2009

More than 20 people have died in a series of blasts in Baghdad. Most probably, it might appear in tomorrow’s edition of the local newspaper. Maybe, I should classify the dead or the alleged killers. But, for now, let it be just people. A long time back, I was involved in a personal project – creating a collage using the headlines on the front page. I chose the wrong time. On February 13, 1991 (if I am not mistaken), it was about a bombed bunker in Amiriyah. I do not remember the details (100, 500 or 1000 killed?) but I stopped the project.

This week I read about 5 women. 3 deaths (Cory Aquino, Gayathri Devi, Leela Naidu), an adjourned trial (Aung San Suu Kyi) and a book review in the Economist (Arundhati Roy). It is definitely impossible not to admire these Women.

Finally, for comic relief, news from the world of finance. The CEO of Deutsche Bank says that bad loans are next wave of crisis (see Bloomberg). Meanwhile, the Cuomo report says that there was “no clear rhyme or reason” for pay (see the BBC report). 3 weeks back, the Economist had an article about the integration of Nomura and ex-Lehman and this week, the two were back in the news following reports that seem to suggest that Jesse Battal might be leaving soon (see the following from the New York Times).

I still keep searching for news/columns that I want to read.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Last Days At A KPO/BPO/… (or, How To Make Your Employee Write His/Her Own Pink Slip)

Yesterday, on the local train, I met a friend who had left his job. That is what he told me though I suspected that he got the pink slip. He was with one of the BPO/KPO/service centers of an investment bank (are there any left?) and this is an extract from that conversation:

I : How was it like ?
He : What was what like ?
I : You know, recession, credit crunch, pre-/post-Lehman …
He : (silent)
I : Come on, you know, living with the threat of a pink slip, loss of job, money, …
He : (laughs) Heard that some pensioners in Japan lost some money and a few people in US and Europe.
I : You are being insensitive.
He : (after staring at me for a while) Where I was, we made money. Yeah, we did not get a pay hike but we got bonus. Nearly 30-40% of fixed pay. And for some, an additional bonus to be paid in the course of a year – 100-200% of fixed pay.
I : Wow, if I am getting a lakh as fixed pay, I will get bonus of a lakh or two.
He : Yeah, if you are getting 20 lakhs, you will get as bonus 6-8 lakhs plus 20-40 lakhs. And that’s just for lower management. And, they can’t chuck you out without paying - unless they can prove that you have been bad.
I : (a little dumbstruck) Then …
He : Now, as for pink slips, there are smart ways to get the job done – and, without paying bonus or any severance amount.
I : What ways ?
He : Let’s assume that I am your boss, a non-technical manager, and you are a conscientious employee who reviews/manages the technical work done in the group.
Now, what will I do:

(1) Divide & rule. Make you co-head with another less technical person; I will route all communication and opportunities to that person and neglect your progress.
(2) To the others in the group, you are visibly not even a co-head. Even if the junior associates abuse you in public, I will do nothing about it.
(3) Increase neglecting you to the extent that you do not get a chance to talk to your technical manager for 5-6 months.
(4) Assign tasks/assignments to you that are low on priority, involves heavy work and lots of time.
(5) I will assign to you associates (if any) for projects who are allowed to keep very flexible timing (say, come to office at 11 am, leave for lunch at 1:30 pm, return at 4:30 pm after siesta, etc.). If you still manage to make the associate do some work, I will allow the associate to go for a long vacation – without even asking you. When you have done most of the work and the associate returns after vacation, I will shift you out of leading that project to completion and allow the associate to take credit.
(6) I will do nearly everything without even talking to you – and further, assign you to a new task rejected by others in the group.
(7) I will reject your request for leave – even for 2 to 3 days. If you manage to get the leave application approved, you are assigned a task which has a deadline clashing with your vacation.
(8) Now, if you are still around, you are assigned to a task in the London office for a period of 3-4 weeks. And due to urgency, I will advise you (verbally and never written) to take from India a business visa rather than a work permit. Recent UK immigration rules are fuzzy about this - at least, fuzzy as far as you can gather from local sources. You are going to work in London on your account or someone else’s account on various trading platforms and systems but you will state that you are just going for tutorials or training. Now, will you make it through Immigration at Heathrow airport and will you return to work with me?

I : But surely there are people who take care of employees … like HR …
He : (laughs)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wish I Could Say Something True, To Me … (1991)

If the words do come from within,
If the hand that writes is mine,
If the thoughts spelt make sense,
If my heart pours into each mark,
If all that I do were truly, truly
For me, then I could say with cheer
“I am not alone”. But the tragedy
Is in the final dot, for it speaks
Of the loss of clarity, hope and care,
For these scattered dregs of sweet life
Seem to be for another’s – not mine.

The Garland (1993)

Behind wrinkles her merry eyes twinkle,
Weaving the low-down string through jasmine;
And I to weave another tapestry – a travesty,
Weariness to be dust and the day’s disgust
From the armour well worn, of self-assertion.

The garland’s wrapped and it’s time for the parting chat.
For the expecting wife she prays, and me she praises-
To have each detail is her part till I depart.
A boy or a girl? A baby – the reply to please, maybe;
Of trying trivial troubles, of morals, money, mortals;
Ration, labour, savings, in-laws and to-be-siblings.
Forward she stretches, and closer attention she fetches:
“A grandchild! You are now man enough for them?
Your ancestors arrack-dealers, hers by royal stealers;
And now by no coconut grove or royalty, but in the ministry;
Do they now complain of the miscast match?”
Awhile in pregnant hush, I spot a blue scar she masks in a rush;
Queries are not for me to utter, of her mate she dare not mutter.

It’s time to part, and she nods at my pining heart;
And hands me the love-pack, the saviour from the rack-
A husband’s tensions of how to please; she mentions
Of how it differs, from those of early customers
For greedy monetary gods, and here to love, the God.

Here, at my walk’s endis the lover, father and husband;
The padlock never oiled creaking, the door never open, complaining;
To sit on the floor of cold stone, to count the moments alone,
The garland still in my clutch, dreams before decay are such.

Seasons (1994)

Summer’s heated passion lingers over,
Among sweat soaked sheets, like Past –
All alone. Could it have been better?
Shriveled residue like a shrunken raisin,
Awaiting morning dew to fill and cry.
So light is the air, it cares not to caress,
As in winter’s cold, wrapped and fondled.
Spring and Autumn – awaited lovers:
To break the fidelity to lonely extremes.

Setting (1992)

Cursed be this son – victim, vandal or voyeur?
Each fleck of ash from the pyre be sin’s attire!
Blame the brother – of bondage – that be the mortal excuse!
But seeking no reply – each cry, tear and look forever accuse!

Gentle vines, dew tipped leaves, tender branches fanning over,
As waving tresses, joy laden lashes, caring limbs to reach forever;
My face laid against Her – past’s pleasure pains present – to hear,
A lullaby, of Life lingering about Mother’s womb for solace dear.

The gentle breeze brought songs from them in flight – like Heaven’s rite,
For a newborn era – as I gazed at my love in yonder hills clad in white;
Across green vales – bejeweled, fluttering like a dainty maiden – to meet,
Did we not walk together hearing the river ripple like whispers sweet?

And here I watch! Those tresses by the roots shorn of a mute mangled prey,
Limbs scarred, pained bosom heaving, shattered within – and I merely pray?
Clarion calls as dreadful dirges deafen, the river gutted, black – Death’s haven,
Poisoned air to rupture sight; my love gone, gaunt, grey – and silent heaven…

On hearing a woman sob in Cargese

It is 7 pm. I am hiding in my hotel room.
Next to the road, on a thread-bare bedspread,
Thro’ cheap curtains, there’s no view but I’m OK.
Then I hear a woman sobbing. I repeat, sobbing.

This is not the place for a woman to sob.
There’s the sea to soothe (with a few irritants ashore).
It is scrub land (but city folks’ paradise).
One is loony to be alone (now you know why I hide).

But with savage tourist instincts,
In the land bereft of natives, with the French speaking English,
With the tired cleaning lady covering her bra,
To eat paella or burger? Who cares to be naked on a nude beach?

This is my first touch with life, hurrah!
I listen to the woman sobbing for 10 minutes,
Probably her dog has flu, or her bikinis are wet,
But for the rest of my stay I could think.

It hurts to see beauty (Nov, 1998)

It hurts to see beauty
with eyes that run dry.
A blood-stained collage envelopes:
a fettered body below azure calm,
tormented by sunset, scared for a while,
you by my side with bindi-
strange calmness between us, forever.
But darkness will rescue-
from feigning, from laughter,
(it is strange that there are no smiles)
from this madness called life.
It is beauty that hurts.

Fading (1996)

Eyes peered
forever,
at his
blooming rose;

but how
lonely
he feels;
for now,

petals,
they have
withered
away;

senses
fade, for
it hurts
otherwise…

Awakening (1997)

Say not, again, “…it’s but your choice…”
does any mortal choose doom?
And never “…you never understood…”
let me laugh at such mirth, may I?
Speak not “…but you are…”
in your ignorance let me be deaf.
Simply selfishly say “…stupid…”
How so … I know … you utter so well!

Did I really love you?

Did I really love you?
Were you just a creation
of a moment’s fancy?
But I did care for you.
But I did worry about you.
But I wanted you helpless and mine.

No! I did not love you.
I did not rejoice
in the moments of strength.
You were just not clay to right mold.
Then why do I think of you?
There’s nothing else to do.

Friday, July 24, 2009

10 People To Meet At The Coffee House

· Ingrid Bergman
· Caravaggio
· Pierre-Gilles de Gennes
· Nadine Gordimer
· Aung San Suu Kyi
· Vanessa Paradis
· Ayn Rand
· Arundhati Roy
· Erwin Schrodinger
· Oscar Wilde

These are not people I revere (if there is such a list). These are the people who affected me – maybe, with character, with elegant writing, with an image or a style, with their philosophy or the way they pursued their philosophy. I might not agree with them but I would like to sit across a coffee table, to have a brief discussion and to recollect that which shaped my life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Crime As A Hobby

Recently, I attended a job interview where I was asked to name my hobby. Reading crime novels, I replied, and added that I specialized in reading an entire series and that I focused on novels from UK/Europe written post WW II. Now, does that sound like a candidate’s specialized topic in the BBC quiz program Mastermind? They did not ask me for further details. Like some people with a hobby, I want to be a persistent bore, convert a few to this path of crime and provide a short note – straight from the heart, a cliché to excuse errors, chronological confusion, completeness and paucity of academic points – say, dummies’ guide to crime novels.

Similar to the classical pranamam, the foundation is laid with the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and bits of G.K.Chesterton, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham and, that is of course, just naming a few in the pre-WW II era. Then comes P.D. James’ Dalgliesh (personally, I preferred the early books about this detective-poet who survived the loss of wife and child rather than the later novels with more romantic sentiments) and Ruth Rendell’s Wexford (the family man with his devoted wife, weight and heart problems, daughters who reflect the changing times and the equally well-formed sidekick Burden). This is one instance where my favourite novel of the latter is not one of the series but the stand-alone The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy (writing as Barbara Vine).

Next, one should try the more contemporary (from the late 70s to the 90s) novels by Colin Dexter, R.D.Wingfield and Reginald Hill with their respective detectives E. Morse (working class background, never completed studies in Oxford, loves a good drink, classical music especially Wagner and crosswords), Frost (people are more familiar with the TV series but the books offer a better character though a less politically correct one) and Dalziel & Pascoe (the gross Fat Man whose wife left him and the refined assistant with a strongly opinionated loving wife). Like Reginald Hill’s novels, Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks (divorced, two kids, likes rock & blues but dislikes country music) series are based in Yorkshire. Minette Walters does not have a series with a hero but her books which deal with contemporary issues, and wronged misunderstood individuals are not to be missed. From Scotland, we have Val McDermid and Ian Rankin. Val McDermid has three series of which I prefer the Tony Hill & Carol Jordan lot (psychiatric profiler with lots of problems of his own and a successful policewoman). Rankin’s Rebus is divorced, loves his daughter, lonely, well-versed with rock music, drinks, smokes, abhors promotion and works best alone. From across the Atlantic, we have Michael Connelly’s series with Bosch who is similar and tries to come to terms with emptiness and hopelessness. We have less misanthropic heroes in the series by Elizabeth George (Peter Lynley), Martha Grimes (Richard Jury) and Anne Perry (William Monk).

Now, crossing over to the Continent and elsewhere, one should start with the Swedish husband and wife pair, Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall and the Martin Beck series of the 60s and 70s. Beck (divorced, two kids, favourite pastime being miniature ship building, methodical, hardworking) and the other interesting characters are used to give a picture of the Swedish society and frustrations of that time. Following that tradition, we have Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander (divorced, one daughter, difficult relationship with father, struggling to control weight and relationship) series. I started with the stand-alone novel The Return Of The Dancing Master where the protagonist is trying to come to terms with cancer and mortality, and later got hooked onto the series. With Rebus, Bosch and Wallander retired, the serial reader is left wondering about future works of crime.

The atmosphere is quite similar in Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavik series. From that part of the continent, and straying from series, we have Peter Hoeg’s bestseller Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Here, I admit that I preferred his lesser-known non-crime eco-related novel Woman and the Ape. Quite recently, volumes 1 and 2 of the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson have been posthumously released. These novels are quite different from the other crime novels mentioned here and, the protagonist is an oddity.

Moving to warmer climate, we have three interesting series from Italy. First, the more serious and pondering Aurelio Zen series from Michael Dibdin who died recently. Second, we have Andrea Camilleri’s hugely popular Inspector Montalbano series set in south Italy. Third, we have the Commissario Brunetti series from Donna Leon. Though I will not describe the protagonists here, I recommend trying out Brunetti as appetizer, followed by Zen for main course and Montalbano for dessert. Now, how can one leave Italy without ever trying Umberto Eco’s The Name Of The Rose?

Finally, shifting from Europe, one should try Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen series which is set in Shanghai. Reading about certain Chinese dishes in Red Mandarin Dress is itself an experience. Now, try these site from the Telegraph or TimesOnline for a better list.

By the way, I did not get the job – surely, that was not a cliffhanger.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

To My Son – Beneath The Mushroom Cloud (1993)

“…lived happily forever!” And now, sleep sweet son,
Though in darkness I’ll be. Kindle that flame at dawn.
With the frailty of this hard age, I’ll watch over,
Sentinel over hope’s tides, wary of the silence of the rooster.

Did you have your fill of ancient lore this night?
Or did you sight the charade of this modern knight-
While my breath match my hope, or my tear shorn eyes
Stare within the dark globes basking in the glow which arise?

Let these gnarled fingers cuddle you to my bosom-
A white rose never prey, I pray, to the awesome;
The self same fingers by morn bent over buttons
Ready to spear an invisible foe when another summons.

Your gentle breath and smile of peace,
Sweet nectar that flows- such sweet release!
What will I leave for you- a past you shall hate,
A present to hide, a future none or just too late?

What will you inherit- my son, cherub, love and heir,
When this clay’s shattered while your’s smoked in fire:
Charred earth, graves’ estate, or blind by what you saw,

Will you be dead, deaf or dumb by what I sow?

I see the world (1999-2001)

I see the world in a reflection.
People reading the book
the epilogue the preface
and the climax a catchy start.
These people seem so close,
close enough to touch.
Shall I? Oh, let them read,
if they wish, which they do, I think.

I see the world through a peep-hole.
People with strange shapes, but
still a form to invisible footsteps
and like the tide, my hope.
These people too come close,
close enough to open my door.
Shall I? Oh, let them go away,
If they wish, which they do, I know.

The Oldest Trade (1997)

The trade be the oldest, they say,
By the street side, enticing,
promising, little maybe, but enough.

Bargaining in subtle ways,
Presents or gentle chatter,
never to hurt, never the truth.

The clock is set,
And the alarm shall ring,
Heed it not
But the sudden awakening,
Shall ache the head.

The same customer,
The same way,
The same time?
Maybe yes, maybe not,
Expectations nought.
But competition leaves
nagging Solitude…

Treasures in the attic-
affection (they said),
friendship-
That be the name of the trade…

biodata

an unknown person
in an unknown place

sans form sans name
i will pass on like a dream

or maybe
a nightmare

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Morning News (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo): July 18, 2009

I keep searching for news/columns that I want to read.

This week nearly belonged to Goldman Sachs and the second quarter earnings (in these times of recession, I turn to the financial page after reading the sports news instead of trying to prevent Alzheimer’s with the Sudoku puzzle of the day). The estimated average compensation at GS touched roughly USD 600,000. I am informed that USD 600,000 is still a huge paycheck in those parts of the developing world.

Everyone seems to be unanimous in admitting that the GS guys are great at what they do. To reflect (and, possibly dampen over-enthusiasm), it is worthwhile reading Paul Krugman’s “The Joy of Sachs” and to remember taxpayers (who?) with Allan Sloan’s “Goldman Sachs bites Uncle Sam’s hand”.

It seems like it was yesterday when Dick Fuld said “Until the day they put me in the ground I will wonder”.

Next, I raced past the madness of the Jakarta bombings (I suppose the bombers are trying to be media savvy by targeting 5-star hotels but irrespective of whether 5 or 500 are killed, whether it is the rich or the poor, it is still madness).

Then, Cherie Blair caught A(H1N1) flu and there was the fury of the monsoon in God’s own country. You might call it insensitivity but I preferred reading about the feast of 46 jumbos described in The Hindu “The heavier the rain, the merrier they were. Waving their ears, they raised their trunks to sniff the air as the scent of food wafted up towards them…About 500 kg rice was mixed with ghee and honey to prepare a delicacy for elephants. Turmeric powder was thrown in as a digestive. Organisers had garnered more to tickle the jumbo palate. The elephants avidly chewed up loads of sugar cane, cucumber, pineapple, bananas and corn.”

Have a great day!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Meaning of Life: What, How Or Why (1999-2001)

Have you heard about dead great men
And their quest for a way?
To them, in times of mirth,
I too find something to say.

With the rest, it’s why, O why. Or,
A train of how, how to live.
Trading bread and pride, lost,
Nameless with nought to give.

That’s not the truth, maybe.
Most likely a passing fancy;
If you ask what, how or why,
A half-wit’s smile’s a clever lie.

There’s a purpose, I suppose,
For faith to walk on hot coal,
There’s a whisper “nothing there”.
I laugh. My feet feels plenty there.

To & From & In Transit




The clinical psychologist placed three photos on the table and asked me to tell him what I saw.

At breakfast,
I tilted my head,
Slowly,
To the left and the right;

By lunch,
I gathered my thoughts,
On paths of subjective loneliness,
On certain objective materialism;

For tea,
I stalled time’s direction,
Without disorder,
Without To-From-In transit;

There’s dinner,
I will pray for love, farewell, etc.,
With mounting insecurity & faith,
I will fear & forget to live.

I placed the three photos on the table and, told him what I saw – nothing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

From Cargese To Akathumuri

Even He could have been more imaginative. Well, what else can I say about my July vacation, the only one in a long time? Come on, give me a break. Being the chaperon of religious girls in bikinis who talk to you about their boyfriend isn’t exactly a break, is it? OK, I could have made the situation better without getting into a schizophrenic frenzy, either the recluse or the talkative social bore. It is good to be in the arms of Solitude before she changes her name to Loneliness.

At least, the flight is leaving on time. The crew is going through the drill. The plane is half-empty (more mentally correct to say half-full) and I am stuffed in a window-seat overlooking the wings. Across the aisle is a lovely lady and her kid. The brat is hyper-active and she seems to be tolerating it quite well. She is fair, sexy and young. Around my age, I think, if I were a few years younger. Blue jeans and white blouse. Brown eyes, black hair and lovely lips. We have exchanged smiles, with the help of the brat. He seems to have taken a liking for my comic gestures.

The choice of cheap beer and wine has come and gone. And I need to piddle. Luckily it is not one of those flights in which I would have been locked in my seat due to turbulence. And, there is not too much of a queue. I light a cigarette to suffocate my lone companion.

“Excuse me, can I borrow your lighter ?” It is the lady-from-across-the-aisle. Without a word and with an idiotic smile, I hand her the lighter. She lights her cigarette, twirls the cheap lighter on her long fingers and lets out the smoke.
“He’s finally decided to sleep.”
“Lovely child. How old is your son ?” Very clever.
“He’s not my kid. You seem to like kids.”
“Well … not exactly …” I think I saw her right eyebrow rise a little. I could never do that. She signaled that the loo’s all ready for me to escape. With cold water on my eyes and the shirt tucked properly, I returned to my seat. The little one lies alone across two seats. Poor orphan. Well, he doesn’t seem to know. I start counting the number of flaps on the wing. Makes me feel intelligent.

“Do you mind if I sit on this side? He seems to have taken my space.”
“Sure…”
“Were you playing with him because you thought I am his mother?”
“I guess so.”
“What did you expect?”
“In reality or in dreams?” I am getting smart.
“Which is better?”
“For whom?” She smiled. What a smile. A smile with laughter echoing silently. And, she can look straight into my eyes. Without blinking or rolling her eyes every other way. It has been a long time. When was the last time? Who cares? I am resisting myself from talking about myself. You know, the works. Books, music, film, places, names. A whole lifetime can go by with such friendly stuff. “You are lovely, you know?” Now, that’s original. My first time.
“I know.”
“Lucky you.”
“Lucky me.” The same smile. No, not exactly. This is a gem that I have tried in vain. A pregnant river shadowing its own depths, the clime above trying to let the smile peep thro’.
“I suppose you must have been told that a million times.”
“Since my first boyfriend.”
“In school?”
“No, in school, all they wanted were my boobs.”
“What did your boyfriend want?”
“At 18, he wanted me.”
“Noble guy.”
“Ambitious guy.”
“Oh, didn’t he get you?”
“In the beginning, yes. At the end, he didn’t want me.”
“Dumb.”
“Is that consolation or do you pass judgements easily?” Ooops. This lady is tough. She continued “Small town kids with big city habits. To be seen and admired. In those days, we couldn’t jump into each other’s arms and kiss every other moment. The game was more subtle. Three years. Some time around the middle of our final year, it ended.” I decided to keep my mouth shut. My hands made a steeple, my eyes heavy with the load. “We were going home. By train. For a change, we were in an empty compartment. Empty apart from the two of us and a gang of racist maniacs who we had not seen when we got on. At first, they started abusing my boyfriend with obscenities. To me, all they said was “Sister, why did you choose him?” Then they started smacking, punching and kicking my guy. And the poor idiot, believing in some inner strength, kept trying to get up and look at his predators. This infuriated them even more. Shattered, smashed, soiled he lay. Finally, too weak to think, and to pray, he tried to look at me and them. They pissed on him and left. At the next station, I went to the police and they took him to a hospital.”
“Did he die?”
“No, he did not even file a case. Some stupid ideas. After that, he left the place. Got married to a rich girl, I heard. Lived happily ever after.”
“He must have been in trauma or something like that.”
“Maybe. But not regarding me. Our time was coming to an end. Marriage was, is a different business.”
“It must have been awful for you.”
“I don’t know. I got married within a few months.”
“Oh.”
“Yes. A successful rich businessman. Families liked each other. For me, it didn’t matter as long as he allowed me to pursue my career. He is very supportive. That’s how I’m flying around.”
“Good it ended well.”
“Ended? Well? I am married, yes. He is a good man. And I think I like him too. At times, he is a sexual brute but I can’t have everything, can I? In the beginning, priorities are different. When we were engaged, he asked me if I would have sex with him. Later, he told me that it was merely a test. On the first night, I had fever of 104 and rashes due to a reaction to pills. He asked me if he could have sex. I undressed, I bloodied the sheets, I vomited, he slept. With time, I realized that the hurt reduced. After all, I did enjoy sex most of the time. Bolder, older, with a new list of dreams, I went thro’ it all, buggered thro’ and thro’. I am a lovely woman, ain’t I? And, a lovely woman has to keep her man, right? Yes, it ended well. I think I even love my husband.”
“But there could be…” My steeple had crumbled, knuckles like gravestones jutting heavenward. She looked at her hands. I looked at her. “Other men, other people?” Pauses are strange. In that void, there is little air to breathe. Not a charade. Not a lie nor truth. Only time shrugs and moves ahead.
“I am going back after one. A poet. Tender soul. It is nice to walk in strange cities with him. To museums and cinema. History feeds him stories, the present’s a grief and the future’s non-existent. He strives for penury. That is his glory. And for freedom’s sake, his own emotions revolve around his words.”
“But, wouldn’t life be better with him?”
“No. He is gay and he needs me to know a woman and I need him to know a poet. We are not lovers. We have others for that.” She smiles. It is the old one this time. She likes my steeple and the heavy drugged look. I knew that she would like it. I keep nodding my head. Slowly. Sieving thro’ the stuff. Understanding, people call it. It has the right appearance. “I have talked a lot. First time I ever did.”
I nearly said “Glad to be…”
“Do you always speak so little?”
“You are the first to say so.” Why did I admit that? She deserves it.
“So, was this your dream or reality?”
“Dream, I suppose. Reality never happens.”
“Are you trying to be clever?”
“Yes.”
“Tell me about yourself.”
Oh no, lady, you don’t really want to get me started, do you ? “Well …”

The little one woke up. With a surge of adrenalin, he cried “Mama …” “Yes, love.” The lady went back across the aisle. And I resumed making comic gestures at the kid. April could be the cruelest month but July comes pretty close. It is a long way from Cargese to Akathumuri.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

His Story : Epilogue: To Her (1991)

Part 1
Part 2

I need not spell your name, dear one,
I need not paint your form, my friend,
For my emotions and passions for you
May lie in vain in a chant or an idol.
Many a time have I stood mute as a praying nun,
Endlessly seeking words to suit my desire’s trend,
But what could this simple man review
In want of words true but unknown to any mortal.

Pained I am to be so far from your self,
Yet to be crushing near with our heart;
All I have to ease my ache and remorse
Are memories of your gentle smile and eager eyes.
Every time my senses lie blocked, your words awaken my self,
When the body is in wasteful repose, promises made fire me apart,
Doubly fueled to meet life – whether gentle or coarse,
To rush to the day when we meet – to a proud surprise.

So friend, beloved – whatever you maybe to me,
Know how much I love, I care – I owe my life to thee.

what you want me to be (1999-2001)

There’s a guy who speaks French,
as a rule, to his kids;
his wife searches,
in old romances, for a word.

There’re two girls, one in bikinis
hates the other for wearing a headscarf;
conform, she says,
the silent reply hides thoughts far ahead.

Who am I ? I am. I am. I am.
A murderer of love, faithless in lady luck;
a beggar, for some a loser, a loner?
Alive, I ain’t what you want me to be.

Sailors' Custom (1993)

The cold wind lashes my brittle heart,
My friend, I pray, don’t drift apart;
But it’s time for the rites of the high seas
When by lots we shall decide whom to cease;
You, me or the others, whose blood shall soak,
Whose flesh shall fill; let mind go senses broke.
If it’s me, feed on me
without a qualm,
If it’s you, shut your eyes
for they might break this lunatic calm.

Somewhere, there used to be a sailors’ custom when they are stranded on the high seas - of taking lots to decide who to eat.

His Story: Searching and Finding (1991)

Part 1
Alone, wandering, searching in the vast expanse-
The air spoke past’s agony- the night before dawn.

I was not alone for I could hear a gentle sobbing-
Another lonely heart; breaking rules, the like did attract.
Away in a mansion- dark but for a single lamp,
It’s flare flitting restless, drops of oil aflame fall as fiery tears;
And beyond it lay a corridor, lit shadows treading a measure
Giving form to the moment’s tale to the rhythm of woeful passions.
This stifled light crept along the corridor,
And caressed a form lying by a shuttered window.
The stroving eye has met its mark, the search is over
For there lay my dreams moulded in mortal clay!

But? ….

This quill can never trace my heart’s treasure.
But with confessed cripple, let me say “O dainty maiden!”

Her dark hair straying across that beauteous fair face,
Those tear stained cheeks glisten as moonlit waters,
There were creases strange on her brow, selfish-sorrow-scarred;
The black eyes filled dim, but no power could mar that wonder,
The long wet lashes like reaching branches dripping dew,
Yet, through the full waters, there lay a light – from yore, or hope of morrow.
Her bloodstained lips trembled, lucky breath to kiss her tender;
Her face rests on a step, flesh on stone, warmth on cold-
The rivulet of tears trickled till they dropped on her heaving bosom,
The unfelt cold, for her heart seemed afire with passions too fiery.

Why? …

There she lay still but for her straying eyes
Which looked out into into the night, looking for …

How I wished to break that troubled repose!
And then, as if thoughts spoke, she turned, startled-
Our eyes met, questions not asked, answers known;
I stepped down and knelt by her, but not touching-
Not to harm her gentle self, but with yearning,
And as per heart’s decree, she set the password of the moment:
She smiled.

O love!