Archive for September, 2005|Monthly archive page

Lembas Bread for the next year

We’re a society under siege, at the mercy of tykes & teens. Every where you turn, you’re confronted by yet another instance of someone bending over backwards to cater to children.

Popping a simple head-ache pill, taking a dose of flu medicine, finding a breakfast food without sugar or SpongeBob, enjoying a movie, watching television, reading a book… There’s absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about any of these activities. They’re the sort of boring little details that might eat into the 2 minutes of flashback provided to you on your deathbed (given a lifelong history of never thinking of the right thing at the right time, am convinced that my flashback will be almost exclusively composed of shots of me buying stamps, buying groceries, sitting at my desk at work, doing the dishes & other fascinating memories), but that’s about the only reason they might bother you. But every single one of these insiginificant actions has become a minor equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. Let’s tackle them one at a time:
a) Pill-popping: This is what provoked the current rant, and hardly ever fails to get a raise out of me – ranging from a defeated sigh to a full blown tantrum (the extended version includes swearing, screaming, heavy breathing, foot stomping, vein popping, bottle throwing etc.). My idea of child-proofing a bottle consists of placing the damn thing on the most unreacheable shelf at home. But no. That would suck the excitement right out of it. We have “press down & turn”, “hold sides & turn”, “start turning clockwise but immediately afterwards turn anti-clockwise” & a whole range of other physically impossible actions. They might as well replace the instructions with stuff like “Pain killers are bad for you. Have you tried a glass of warm milk?”, or “Convert to Buddhism. The Dalai Lama swears by meditation” or “Are you sure you’re in pain? Maybe it’s all in your head (no pun intended).”
b) Drinking of Flu medicine: See above
c) Finding breakfast: Walk past breakfast aisle at any store to see a live illustration of this point
d) Watching movies: Dukes of Hazzard. No more need be said.
e) Watching television: I pay $15 a month so that I can watch “adult content”. And by the way, “adult content” is far less prurient than the sort of images that the term invokes. Am talking of romance and comedy, of loss and grief, of history… Do you get any of this on “network” television? Nope. If you want to watch Sex & the City (the uncut version – Kadavulae, what times we do live in! That we feel the need for an uncut version of cotton-candy concoctions like Sex & the City?) stand-up acts by George Carlin or Robin Williams (Williams as benevolent genie OK. Williams as retarded man who does not know if he’s fathered a son. Fine. Williams, the comic genius – hush! The children might hear!), Six Feet Under, Rome, Deadwood or even Entourage – get HBO.
f) Reading: OK, here I’ll own up to reading every Harry Potter book & wanting to read Inheritance (the sequel to Eragon). But just because I enjoy these things doesn’t make the phenomenon any less skewed. Why are millions upon millions of adults waiting in lines outside bookstores awaiting the release of what is essentially a children’s book? Or are we supposed to express our gratitude to Rowling for having gotten these people to read anything at all? Can’t folks even write decent pulp anymore, that grown ups have eschewed sex & violence for a 15 year old wizard & his wand?

Yes, this is years of embittered frustration talking. When I was a kid, the only kid stuff on TV consisted of a 1/2 hour cartoon program broadcast on Sunday mornings. I grew up eating Idlis & Dosas & driking milk. No vitamin-and-essential-nutrients-enriched-fun-cereal-with-a-signed-autograph-by-wierd-looking-sea-sponge(who-may-be-gay).
I watched the same movies my parents did. If there were “scenes”, the family would honor the moment by observing a few seconds of strained silence, and move on. I swore as a kid I wouldn’t say this, but at 27, what’s one more broken resolution? So here goes- those were the days.

If you’re still reading, you may be wondering, “So what’s with the Lembas Bread?” Patience is always awarded. This morning, I remembered one more reason I love this time of the year. Right now, you’re in the 2 week window when Hollywood releases movies for grown ups. The season for summer tenpoles is over. The unbelievably dispriting “holiday season” is yet to start. And the Oscars still count for something. This is the time when I note down movie names religiously from the movie sections of newspapers. This year movies like Capote and The History of Violence are the Lembas Bread I stock up for the next 12 months. I dare not watch them all at once. It’s 52 long weeks before the next two week gap, when Hollywood takes a breather from its obsession with 8-18 year olds.

Am quite proud of myself, seizing a happy ending from the jaws of misery. How Hollywood 🙂

I take heart. Today the average age is around 30 & everything’s tailored for 5-15 year olds. When the average age hits 50, perhaps life will adapt to 25-35 year olds. I don’t have long to wait. According to the UN, it’ll be a short 300 year wait.

Reality check


Last night, I read a New Yorker profile on the fashion designer & bon vivant Valentino. While I’ve had a vague idea that I share a planet with some fabulously wealthy people, I suppose I’ve never personally confronted true wealth. As I read that his wedding gown collection starts at $35,000, I realized with a start that $35,000 will allow me to buy the car I would buy if I could afford:
a) the downpayment
b) the insurance
c) the gas
& buy this car not once, but at least twice, if not thrice.

I read on about Valentino’s many homes around the world. Palaces / castles / yatchs are more accurate terms to use. I did not feel the sense of yearning that comes over when I read say, the Travel pages of the NY Times. Surprisingly, there was no feeling of ‘God, I wish I had that.’ Although it doesn’t sound like it, I’m not beatifying myself. I’m merely registering surprise. Apparently, there are limits to my materialistic fantasies. Or wealth of this magnitude is so clearly out of reach, that I accept it without fuss – just as I do the fact that I will never visit Mars.

Couple of days ago, I read another profile. This time, one of Colonel Fawcett, a British explorer who went into the Amazonian forest in 1927, and never came back. Hundreds have tried to find him / his party / his remains. And the crazy thing is, I can see what made these poor buggers go out there, risking their necks for this stranger.

Reading this article brought back memories of Desmond Bagley novels read long ago. No high tech gizmos, no GPS, no satellite radios, no helicopters, no all terrain vehicles – just a bunch of hardy, adveturous souls. And as much as I know am not one of them, I like to think I am. It’s the sorta day dreaming that a really good Bond movie triggers (NOT ones that have Halle Berry in them!). You know it’s fiction, ridiculously unrealistic fiction at that. There’s nothing noble about it – it’s not as if you’re casting yourself in the role of Albert Schweitzer. And yet, you allow the silly plot to seduce you. You invent this parallel universe where you’re suddenly a suave, heart-breakingly handsom super spy who dodges every bullet & repeatedly saves the world. Not like Schweitzer who probably wanted to save the world, but incidentally, when your mind was elsewhere. That makes it so much cooler.

OK. Major digression there. To return to poor Colonel Fawcett & all the poor slobs who went looking for him. The closest I’ve been to a “jungle” is a resort in the Jim Corbett park. One morning, we ate hot aloo parathas, got all bundled up & went around what looked like a nice neck of woods in what was easily the noisiest jeep in the world & kidded ourselves that every tiger in the park was waiting to come out for a nice stroll at the precise moment we drove by. Even as the ridiculous footage of me, my 2 friends & this old driver flits through my head, I lay there thinking to myself, “Hmm, the Amazon…with the right equipment, I could do that.” Right equipment? As though I would even know what that is. I am the person who had to be taught how to tie shoe laces properly! Yes, all of us were taught this valuable lesson at some stage in life. My moment was 2 years ago – just outside Central Park, when the friend I was walking with was fed up stopping every 25 steps to wait for me to tie my laces again.

There is a point to this rambling, and am getting there. What makes some crazy stuff so appealing, while other equally crazy stuff leaves us totally cold? I have no wish to own a home in Holland Park, or sail a yatch around Mediterranean hot spots. I also have no wish to actually be stranded in a rain forest – but somehow the latter is more appealing than the former. When it comes to two utterly hypothetical options, why do we chose one over the other? It’s not as if we were talking from experience. Lots of times neither option is something we even want to do. And yet, we’re able to chose. How? And why?

Scary thought – do arranged marriages work on this principle? Do we make all decisions like this? Picking colleges, majors in those colleges, jobs, lovers? Yes, we may have a teeny bit more information when making those decisions, but really, what do we know? Is this where the famed gut feel comes in? What I want to know is what does my gut know of the Xingu Reserve? And what pray does it know about owning the Château de Wideville?

Let us set aside for a brief moment all the day dreaming, and intellectual cogitation on the mechanism of decision making, and consider the truth. Truth is:
a) in this lifetime, I cannot fit into that red dress, much less afford it;
b) I cannot afford that car in the next five years, if not longer;
c) I won’t be visiting even the outskirts of that forest in the next 10 years, if ever and
d) I will never ever meet that man, let alone be him.

That’s all for tonight folks.

Prayers answered.

16ْC. In Dallas. Well, what do you know, there must be a God after all. The sky is full of clouds. The sun is, well, not there. There’s a decided nip in the air. This morning, when I got out of the house to come to work, it was chilly outside. I was going to say cold, but realized that even my powers of exaggeration are limited. Inhabitants of the north, wipe that pitying look off your faces. If you lived in Texas, you too would be on your knees, thanking a multitude of benevolent Gods for a day like today.

On the commute, I dared to dream – is it time to bring out the “winter garments”? Time to put away the summer stuff, and bring on the jackets, baby! (note to the uninitiated: these “jackets” are made of the thinnest cotton, worn mostly to kid ourselves) Time to replace the sandals with 2 spaghetti straps with, er, sandals with pasta straps – oh, you harsh Texas winter, how I’ve missed you!

I LOVE winters. I hate the sun. As someone who spent most of my childhood & adulthood in the saunas of Madras, Delhi, Cuddalore & Trichy, I justifiably feel that I’ve had all the sun a person needs in one lifetime. Give me cloudy days. Air without a bite to it is no air at all. Life is better in the winter. You can walk all you want and not get exhausted. You don’t sweat. You can take piping hot showers. Savor your cuppa tea. Snuggle into your sheets. The pleasures are endless.

Because I’ve mostly lived in cities that can so easily pass for Turkish Baths, I’ve learnt to make the most of meager winters. In my two winters in Trichy, I believe I was the only one in college to not only own a sweater, but actually use it. Those were good days, for Madras doesn’t even give you that much of an excuse. Moving back to Delhi was terribly exciting. I actually needed a winter wardrobe! I’ve spent many a gleeful hour, shopping for cardigans and shawls and jackets and oh, a whole bunch of other stuff that would cause the average New Yorker to die of apoplexy brought on by excessive laughter.

Moving to Dallas presented yet another milestone. For the first time, I was going to be in a city where it snows! I know now why friends & colleagues were so amused by my gleeful winter shopping last year. Oh, yeah it snowed, alright. For about 4 hours, two days before Christmas. And that was it. But I nevertheless bought a pair of leather gloves in honor of the sparse white stuff that dotted roof tops for a day or two.

I now live right next to a mall and can buy all sorts of protective gear any time the fancy takes me. What do I do this winter? The mouth curves in a sly grin & the eyes gleam at the very thought. Mittens. Shoes, nay boots. Scarves. Skis? Perhaps for next winter…I have it on excellent authority that this global warming business is all hogwash.

I’ve some shopping to do. Before the sun comes out and melts my day dreams.

Waiting in vain

This week end was a trip down memory lane for a displaced Madrasi. Expected lightning, thunder, strong winds, heavy downpours et al & got zilch, as Hurricane Rita bypassed Dallas altogether. I am certainly grateful that Rita did not wreak the sort of havoc Katrina did, but it did bring back memories of those innumerable “depressions in the bay” that promise rain to Madras, but almost always fail to deliver.

I suspect that Madras is rather like an “engine driver” – the one thing that so many little boys want to be when they grow up, but few actually do, and if they do, it doesn’t look like it was by choice. Every baby depression in the Bay of Bengal expresses similar ambitions, “When I grow to a decent size, I want to blow all over Madras!” But once maturity hits them, they always find more popular destinations – Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal or decide to go “phoren” & pack their bags off to Bangladesh…

Come November, every Madrasi would allow himself to get all excited over yet another depression – the older members of the family allow themselves a fond, if elaborate dream – two days worth of rain seeping into the parched earth of Madras, and miraculous raising the water table to a level that lo and behold, you turn on the tap, and water (not air) flows! The children dream dreams of schools declaring a holiday… The folks over at the electricity department dream of the number of hours they can shut off power “poyal kathula kambam vizhunthidichu, saar!” The bitter irony is that only the TNEB employees’ dreams ever came to fruition most of the time.

Hurricane Rita was the same – well, almost. Of course, Americans are more fun to watch, as they panic so adorably. People bought cans & cans of drinking water, groceries (only stuff that’ll keep even if the power & ergo the refrigerator goes), torch lights, DVDs (we may be stuck inside the house for ages!), board games (in case the power gets cut off), called friends & family to reassure them that they were well prepared, and of course filled up their Hummers & F-150s convinced that gas prices would hit $5… Finally, not a drop. It was pleasant on Saturday evening – a pleasant breeze was in the air, brining a brief respite from the stifling heat. By Sunday, Dallas realized that Rita was just a hoax & the temperature climbed back to the usual 90s (It’s practically OCTOBER! When will Mamma Nature realize this?) .

Ah well. Born Madrasi that I am, I still nurture hopes. One of these days, Dallas is going to have to realize that this is fall. And that day, the temperature will start to fall, and this city will become habitable again. As for Rita – you tease, you don’t break my heart. Been there, done that.

My first sonnet

Who am I?

How inventive! How unobvious!
How superior to all that prevails!
Exclaim the green-tinted envious,
Even as I preen, revealing all my glorious details.

Backed by official sanction,
I claim dominion over an exact kingdom,
And seek to confer protection
From knaves who dare infringe upon this fiefdom.

My creation is anything but ordinary.
For I am trimmed with the choicest red tape
And although bounteous goodness accrues to my signatory,
‘Tis an experience that leaves your battered mind nowhere near shipshape

Am I some crafty diplomatic agreement?
No. Merely a regular utility patent.

—————————————-

Yeah, I was supposed to be gone for a month. But, vanity is an exacting mistress. Not that the above is anything to be particularly proud of… It was the only enjoyable part of a rather excruciating experience of writing & submitting (if you’ve done this, you’ll know why “submitting” deserves a separate mention) two patent applications. That is what I’ve done over the last couple of weeks. It was, as I said, a completely painful experience. I had to exorcise the stress one way or the other, and bad poetry seemed as good an idea as any other. Wow, that rhymed! Bear with me – I am new to this & easily pleased 🙂

Farewell for a month

I am off for a month. Wish I were hiking around Europe, admiring stained glass windows in obscure out of the way churches, writing my first novel, hiking up Machu Picchu, or well, a lot of other dreamy things. Truth – I need to study. Got a coupla exams. And blogging is way too much “fun”, and my conscience, in seargent-major mode has made the guilt too much to bear. Will return again, hopefully triumphant & full of beans. A bientôt.

55 or less

Eight ways to stimulate ‘Prefect’ Connor.

Flowers. Dinner at an intimate bistro. Orchestra seats at the Opera. Take the scenic route on the drive back home. Keep top down. Light candles. Turn on Harry Connick Jr. Move to patio, gaze at night sky.

Wait, did you say sImulate or sTimulate? And Connor not corner, right?

————-

Yes, it TERRIBLE. I know. The outcome of a bad joke at work – an extension of me trying to write documentation abt a “stimulated” protractor, instead of a merely simulated one 😦 Such is life.

Sorry Karthik. If I can think of anything better, I’ll let you know.

Never Let Me Go

Just finished Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Karthik, I know this is supposed to be your ‘homework’. If you’re still stuck with winsome sales girls peddling Danielle Steel novels, stop reading now.

OK, the Ishiguro. For an almost anti-septic / hospital corners sort of book, I must say, it had me all choked up by the end. With my 3 1/2 books worth of experience with this author, am beginning to discern the common themes. The actual pattern of each book may have some fancy (and in this case, not so fancy) penmanship, but it’s starting to feel like all the tales where woven on the same frame – memories of a better life, loss, and the absolute inevitability of that loss.

Never Let Me Go, for all its faults (& I’ll come to them) offers a sense of closure that I haven’t experienced before with this author. (For the record, I’ve read When We Were Orphans, Remains of the Day, about half of An Artist of the Floating World, and a teeny bit of The Unconsoled.) I vaguely remember reading some complaints about the climax of Never Let Me Go – just want to say that the climax is the least of my complaints with this work.

Is Ishiguro a fatalist? Well, that doesn’t matter, really. I suppose it would help if you were a fatalist when reading Ishiguro. The butler from Darlington Hall, the detective from Shanghai, the grandfather from post-war Japan, and now Kathy H. from Hailsham all try to reach out for happiness. Happiness is almost always equated with restoring some period from the characters’ pasts – an idyllic time, whose worth they were too young or too busy to notice back then. It isn’t that they sit back and twiddle their thumbs. As much as it goes against their grain, each of these characters does make the effort to reach out for his or her share of happiness. But in novel after novel, they fail. Because it’s too late. Because no one can bring back the past. Because it simply wasn’t meant to be? Reading Ishiguro always makes me sad.

So much for my two cents worth on Ishiguro’s “broader themes”. Let us return to the specifics of Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro’s brilliance has always been in painting that perfect world – that perfect past that his characters so desperately yearn to restore / relive. Till date, he has done an excellent job of selling the reader on the attractiveness of this past. He fails to do so in Never Let Me Go. I really didn’t see what was so fantastic about Hailsham.

The reason I fell in love with this author is because he is so darn amazing at evoking a certain period, a certain world. God, they say, is in the details. And so is Ishiguro. The large English household, the social hierarchy downstairs, the mannerisms, the white lies, the preparations involved in hosting a grand dinner party, right down to the tea cups, and the napkins, and the cucumber sandwiches – every intricate detail is captured. And presented to you in a way that you don’t ever feel overwhelmed or bored. Hailsham is no Darlington Hall.

Nor is it the International Settlement of Shanghai. The elaborate games two little boys play over a summer made for fascinating reading. Hailsham, while full of children, is also full of forgettable characters, forgettable incidents.

As for the actual “theme” of this book – the allusions to science, and our misguided advances in science, Ishiguro leaves too much unsaid. By choosing to remain vague, he doesn’t even provoke, let alone answer troubling questions. If you’re looking to get jolted into thinking about where we might be headed, I’d suggest you try Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you’re not into reading, watch Gattaca.

The final verdict (as if one were needed after almost a page and a half of dissing the poor book) – Never Let Me Go is most certainly NOT my favorite Ishiguro. But not unlike Ishiguro’s characters, I also remember the good old days. I remember Christopher Banks & Akira and the fun I had reading about their games. I remember Stevens & his Miss Kenton, and the daily crises at Darlington Hall. I remember Masuji Ono & the grand times at the Migi-Hidari. Perhaps in his next book, I’ll find another place, another character to add to my memories of great reads.

And we have a winner!

A few days ago, I’d mentioned interesting spam snail mail. Ladies & Gentlemen, we have a winner. Yesterday’s post included a postcard, addressed to ‘Resident’.

Front: All black. Letters in white saying “friends. with benefits.”

Back: “Good to have friends to hook up with. Even better if they can hook you up with a really sweet pad, right? That’s why you should have “ABC Properties”* on speed-dial. They can get you into “XYZ”*, their premier condominium development for people just like you. Single. Successful. Terribly good looking. A community that fosters neighborliness, some more than others…if you get the drift. Call us. Better yet, stop by for poolside cocktails and appetizers every weekend, or drop in our sales office at /Dallas address>*

(caps or the lack thereof, as well as punctuation have been reproduced faithfully from said card)

I simply stood at the mail room, mouth agape for a few minutes, before I remembered to move the lower jaw back to the ‘close’ position, and started walking back towards my apartment. I set foot in the house, and the first thought that actually goes through my head – “Easwara! Enna karumam!” I burst out laughing at my own reaction. I don’t know why this shocked me any more than spam email – after all I’ve had everything offered to me from Cialis to the latest Paris Hilton video. Seeing something in print always deepens the impact.

Then, I started thinking about it. (Obviously!) As nudge-nudge-wink-wink as the mailer sounds, what exactly are they offering, I wondered. And like retirement communities have minimum age limits, would this community (ha! and what a “community” it must be!) have “look” limits? After all the mail claims the place is full of “good looking people”. And like me, too! Gee, shucks, I sure am flattered! I think. For, if the rest of them are going to look anything like me, just what kind of place is this??? In fact, they don’t know anything about me, do they? Other than the fact that I can apparently afford the rent at my current apartment. They don’t know my gender or my sexual orientation. Or, this being Texas, am I supposed to assume that all will be “normal” and staunchly hetero? And what the hell is a community like this doing in Texas, anyway? As an old New Yorker article put it, isn’t Dallas supposed to be the buckle of the Bible belt? I probably have as many churches in the 5 mile radius around my apartment as there are in the whole of Jerusalem!

And how can you have a property developer actually developing something like this? And spending money on direct mail marketing, which I know from my previous job, is the most expensive form of advertising? Aren’t there laws about these things? And more worryingly, what about my roomie’s or my activities in the recent past has gotten us onto this list, for crying out loud? I usually get mailers from KERA (PBS TV / Radio in Dallas) asking for money. My roomie gets discount coupons from Osh Kosh BGosh. What have we done to besmirch our good names with the list people? I thought we were good, solid temporary residents in this country – listeners of BBC news, and looker-outers for good shopping deals. When did we turn into swinging-from-the-chandelier-party-animals, who are so into “neighborliness” that we might want to move to a special community so we can, well, be “neighborly” all the time!

Or is it just my dirty mind that insists on seeing more than what’s on offer here? Perhaps they really are just a friendly bunch of people, barbecuing together, sharing recipes for apple pie, enjoying the occasional picnic by the pool, even borrowing the cup of sugar or kaapi podi… And while they’re engaging in these perfectly innocent activities, just happen to be “single, successful and terribly good looking.” Just like in any ad. Shiny, happy, beautiful people. Who love their neighbors. After all, didn’t Moses or someone ask us to?

I will assume that the latter explanation is correct. The first one is too alarming… Am certainly not planning to seek the truth by attending the poolside cocktail do.

*Disguised, because I do NOT want to spend my time & space putting out an ad for these guys