The intrepid traveler returns

Back home. Back at my desk. Feels good. Am pleasantly surprised that it does. Have concluded that the anticipation of misery is much worse than actual misery. Just as actual pleasure usually falls short of pleasure anticipated.

On Saturday, as my friend & I walked back home from Time Square, before I bid good bye, I felt quite miserable. How had the week gone by so quickly? Would I ever be back here? God, I so do not want to think about work! Couldn’t believe I was going to miss this city, which had given me nothing but rain!

One of the worst kinds of miseries is when you’re in the middle of something and you miss it already. There’s a desperate attempt to memorize as many things as you can about your surroundings, about the day. A silly, obsessive need to touch everything, as if the happiness you associate with that place will rub off on you & will stay with you even after you’ve physically moved away. I completely understand why people buy idiotic souvenirs & other assorted junk at the places they visit. I will revisit the junk I preserved from this trip (two tickets for Goodnight and Good Luck, a “You’re Special” flyer a lady handed me after I’d asked her for directions, used up Subway passes) when it’s time to move. This is how I collect the assorted junk I never do muster the courage to throw away.

But now that am back at my desk, it feels alright. I was dreading this moment, but now that am living it, it’s not so bad. In a day or two, I can check off the “miss New York” item off my list. This is a favorite obsession – checking items off an imaginary list. On my last day, I look forward to the unbeatable satisfaction I will no doubt derive from a “Life – done”. Morbid? Sure. But hey, at the end of a vacation, this is a far more cheerful me that I myself expected!

Enough of the misery. What did I do over the last week? Apart from getting drenched on a regular basis, I read 2 novels, and watched 2 movies. Yes, we like even numbers. The books were quite bad, but the movies were both good.

First the books. Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress & Hari Kunzru’s Transmission. I feel a need to defend my even choosing the Brown, so I’ll start with that. It’d been a long while since I read pulp, and after all, this was supposed to be a vacation – a break from the usual. As I had a couple of train rides (to New Haven & Philly) in addition to the flights, I figured this would make for some nice easy reading.

For me, reading pulp is like eating tomato ketchup. I loathe the stuff. But every once in a while, I feel the urge to reassure myself that I still hate it. So, I try some ketchup. And immediately realize why I’d vowed to stay away from the stuff for all eternity the last time I’d tried it. Dan Brown did not do anything to alter my scripted response to pulp. What was tiresome about Digital Fortress was the amount of jaw-dropping the author expects from the reader. The heroine works for the NSA! The NSA is the National Security Agency! She can break codes! There is such a thing as an unbreakable code! Yawn. It’s one thing to read Dalrymple’s In Xanadu and see how this author has evolved into someone who wrote White Mughals. It’s an altogether different and far less enjoyable experience to see how Dan Brown could become the sort of author who wrote the Da Vinci Code.

The Kunzru was better than Brown, but only marginally so. Kunzru also demanded much jaw-dropping. Not for the characters or the plot, but for his own smartness. He’s a very “with it” author, or at any rate wants us to think he is. Reading Kunzru is not unlike reading Candace Bushnell. The language and the issues are all very current – like Bond-girl gowns. Hot, but with a rather short shelf life. But the crucial difference between Bond girls’ fashion & Kunzru is that well, Kunzru’s not very hot. Sure, he deals with all things “contemporary” – the typical software engineer, the Bollywood hero with underworld connections, the brand guru… But each of these characters is so stereotypical that I felt that I didn’t really have to read a novel to find out about. The Times of India would’ve sufficed. This novel came strongly recommended by an American friend. I decided to read it despite Karthik’s review, figuring it might be worth it. I suppose perhaps that’s where the crux lies. This is a novel written for Indophilic goras for whom getting inside the head of a miserable software type is a “new” thing. I am a miserable software type already, indeed am surrounded by miserable software types. So, I didn’t get much out of this book.

But it doesn’t stop there. After 3 years of Delhi Times & cover page stories about ‘Salman / Ash Break Up’ and “investigative journalism” on Salman being caught on tape, a Bollywood producer’s having connections with a Baby someone (Btw, “Baby” is a sorry transliteration for the “Chota” characters from real life) is something I’ve come to live with. It is not a surprise, it is not an interesting tidbit, it is not even funny. Ditto for the controlling-mother-of-the-heroine character, the sister-who-works-for-a-call-center, and oh, just about everybody else in the book.

Flavors did a far better job of giving us a peek into the lives of these stereotypical immigrants. Because it was unambitious, it was also more endearing. Page 3 is another example. The selfish socialites of Page 3 are by no means endearing, but you are provided with some opinion on these characters and their motives.

Kunzru expects us to love & admire his characters just because they are. Or does he expect us to love & admire him? For having taken these characters out of Delhi Times & Mumbai Times & movies-made-by-NRIs-for-NRIs and putting them into novel form, for easier consumption by a gullible western audience? A few years ago, westerners used to think India was full of snake charmers and burning widows. Now they know it’s full of software engineers day dreaming of Bollywood girls. As with Dan Brown – yawn.

Now the movies – Capote & Good Night and Good Luck. Enjoyed both. Capote is about the writing of ‘In Cold Blood’, Capote’s most famous work. My personal exposure to Capote’s work is limited to reruns of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. No doubt I’d have enjoyed this movie all the more had I read In Cold Blood. Perhaps in a few years, I will read the book. Even as you cringe at the selfishness, a part of you feels sorry for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote. Is every great writer screwed up in some way? My friend & I made a list, and concluded in the affirmative. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance makes Capote’s character credible without turning him into a genius who evokes more pity than awe.

In Good Night and Good Luck, George Clooney proves that he’s not just a pretty boy. I haven’t watched Solaris (Clooney’s directorial debut, I think), but intend to watch it now. More about this movie in a later post.

In short, it was a good break. And now am glad to be back.

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5 comments so far

  1. Gamesmaster G9 on

    Hey, can I add your 55 word story to this compilation?

  2. DoZ on

    Gamemaster: Are you sure you want it? If you do, be my guest.

  3. Karthik on

    . This is a novel written for Indophilic goras for whom getting inside the head of a miserable software type is a “new” thing. I am a miserable software type already, indeed am surrounded by miserable software types. So, I didn’t get much out of this book.

    You hit the nail on the head. Probably why the book is reasonably well-liked (look at the Amazon reviews), and didn’t appeal to us that much.

    BTW, the word verification thing this time was snozzer, isn’t that almost a word? From snozzer to karthik isn’t that far away…

  4. DoZ on

    Snozzer does sound like a word. Google did not provide a meaning, though. Feels like the sort of word American undergrads might use – don’t ask me why. What do u think it could mean?

    Btw – welcome back to the land of hurricanes, er, opportunities 😉

  5. Karthik on

    I can think of a hundred things it could mean, but none of them are PG-13 😉

    As for the welcome, thanks, but I think we’ll pass this time. Next week maybe, after I am done dealing with this travel agent lady. Knowing my luck though, as soon as we postpone, Wilma will stall, disintegrate and disappear. She will then give birth to multiple hurricanes that will attack Florida next week.


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