Monday, May 30, 2005


Sometimes I wish matters had been arranged in a way so it was easier for one to kick oneself. At ICRISAT today. What would it have cost me to carry my binoculars? Nothing, that’s what. But bag was heavy; it’s so hot, I didn’t really think I’d have time to stroll upto the lake.
But I did. Easy pickings, I tell you. No fewer than 12 species from one seated vantage point. A dozen or so black kites and another raptor type within like arm’s distance, coots, scores of too-far-to-id water birds, one comic brown fella on the grass, wagtails, herons, egrets, koels, treepies (a pair, rubbing beaks). All just hanging about, begging for a closer look. Lazy lazy person.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Remembering Sunil Dutt

Outlook recently had a fandom survey to establish Bollywood’s biggest giants. Of six father-son pairs, Sanjay Dutt was the only son perceived to have outshone his father. It is still Vinod Khanna over Akshaye, Sanjay Khan over Zayed, Feroz over Fardeen. In spite of the fact that I ‘get’ Sanjay Dutt now, I thought that was unfair. Expected, but unfair.

Sunil Dutt has been, I think, the most underrated actor of his generation. With the media liking their stars in neat trinities, the slightly off-beat actor never stood a chance. Still, a look at his filmography brings up some really good work – not just the celebrated Mother India, but the hunted daaku in Mujhe Jeene Do, the cuckolded army officer in Ye Raaste Hain Pyar Ke, rent by feudal rivalry in Reshma aur Shera... then there was Sujatha, the very funny Padosan and the romantic Mera Saaya. They did make movies outside the formula, then.

I remember sitting up late to catch Yaadein on Doordarshan and thinking the one-actor experiment a bit extreme, but that it wouldn’t have been a half bad film with a full cast. Wellesian angles, and an intriguing concept: man comes home to find his wife has left him; post-mortems the marriage. I’d like to see it again. Just to see how it grabs me now.

Mera Saaya. Dutt plays Thakur Rakesh Singh, much in love with his wife. He reluctantly leaves her to study abroad, but is suddenly summoned home with news of her illness. He arrives ventre à terre, only to have her die in his arms. As the film flits in and out of flashbacks, Sunil Dutt’s portrayal of grief in the film is easily the best I’ve seen in Hindi cinema. Aapke pehlu mein aakar rodiye… Madan Mohan weaves his magic, the curtains at Udaipur’s palace flutter, Dutt walks about, utterly desolate. We all wept.

Great actor. An honest, human man. RIP.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Vernon God Little

My cousin Gayathri read Vernon God Little recently and reviews it on her blog. Her reaction, she says, swung between loving and detesting it: “If I had tried to write about it as I was reading, you would have gotten one of those scathing reviews one day, and a wordy exultation the very next!"

I read Vernon God Little more than a year ago. My reactions were the same on many counts, except I knew I loved it when I put it down.
I had been asked to review it for local magazine Wow! Hyderabad, and I remember putting off reading it for as long as possible. There is in me a deep-seated tendency to escape distressing material in all forms (never watch World War movies if I can possibly help it), and besides, this book came heavily praised, which meant the laborious process of wiping the mindslate clean of all impressions before I began.
I managed, and the book – like the best kinds always do – grabbed me and sucked me in.

This review (or a part of it) appeared in Wow! Hyderabad, January 2004. It was one of those 250-worders, then shortened at the page layout desk to 150. Here's my chance to have the other 100-odd words read.

Vernon God Little
DBC Pierre

Vernon God Little by the pseudonymous DBC Pierre is an astounding debut novel. Not that accolades have been slow in coming: the dark horse nomination won the 2003 Man Booker Prize and has been called the next thing after Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

Vernon Little is a 16-year-old adolescent caught in a bizarre dysfunctional world, where he can do nothing right. The location is Martirio, central Texas, and Vernon’s best friend, Jesus Navarro, has murdered sixteen fellow students before turning the gun on himself. In a town that’s seeking a ‘skate-goat’, the finger points to Vernon. Fear of embarrassment, the burden of family secrets and a curious sense of loyalty ensure the teenager can’t or won’t declare his innocence. What happens next actually makes sense in the media-obsessed, self-serving world Pierre creates. The boy is hunted, betrayed and captured. He eventually reaches an ominous address: Death Row.

The first person narrative rings with the voice of the confused and rather immature youngster. Vernon is profane, sullen and cynical; he’s also unlucky, vulnerable and pathetic. He sees his life in terms of a television show complete with ‘fate tunes’, and sees his mother’s emotional blackmail of him vividly like a knife she stuck into him and twists every now and then. Vernon God Little is a tragic story that manages to be bitingly funny. It holds up the mirror to our times where media images replace our realities by dint of sheer volume. It depicts what Pierre calls the “the breadth of human suggestibility.” In all, Vernon Little is an antihero who’ll have you rooting for him.

Sheetal Vyas


(Update: I have been severely upbraided by my friend Nishat for putting up this post without sufficient warning about its contents. So, Potter fans, SPOILER ahead. Do not read if you're feeling nice and chipper.
Nishu, now forgive me. Besides, it may not be true!)

Update 2:
From ManchesterOnline: A spokeswoman for publishers Bloomsbury urged readers to take the speculation [ ] "with a pinch of salt". "There was a huge amount of speculation about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and it was wide off the mark." she said.

Not Dumbledore. Pleeeaaase.
You can't strip the boy of every single support he has! First his parents, then the godfather and now his mentor. What're you trying to do, Jo? Get Harry to kill himself before Voldemort can get to him?!

What triggers off panic? This report from The Sun via Guardian:

A Sun newspaper investigation into odd betting patterns at the market town of Bungay in Suffolk may have unearthed [a] secret a month early. And the future, it seems, is not looking bright for Albus Dumbledore.
According to reports in the Sun, the betting website Blue Square, which is running a book on the question of which character will be bumped off, has recently been inundated with punters wishing to place bets on the demise of the Hogwarts headmaster. But eyebrows were only raised when it transpired that most of the bets originated from Bungay - the town which is coincidentally home to the printers, Clays, who produced the previous five books in the Potter series.
A spokesperson for the internet betting told the Sun, "We have taken nearly £6,000 worth of bets on Dumbledore in the past seven days. All have been played in Bungay or nearby Beccles. A lot of punters have opened new accounts and placed a maximum bet of £50 each on what is an obscure market. That made us sit up and take note."
The site last week cut the odds on Dumbledore from 2:1 to 4:6, while Ladbroke's are now refusing to take bets any more bets on the death of Dumbledore, on the basis that some people have obviously read the book.

Whole thing here.

If she goes on like this, I' ll have to shut down all systems and make up my own versions. Damn.


I am monarch of all I survey;
My right there is none to dispute;
From the centre all round to the sea
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
-- William Cowper, The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Revenge of the Sith

So it’s over and done with. We come to the heart of the matter, the backstory falls into place and we have closure.

Revenge of the Sith is the best of the prequels, and I think, the only one that really needed telling. It’s self-conscious, as we might expect, and not quite as much fun as the last three. But in all, rather good, with the insidious and the inevitable corruption of young Skywalker. There are no let-outs, no doubt at all that it’s a choice he definitely makes, not something he’s boxed into. Interestingly, there’s a tiny pause at each point in the story where you can see the fork in the road. As when he discovers Chancellor Palpatine is the Sith Lord. The lightsaber is alight in his hand, the Chancellor is standing with his back to Anakin and stiffens in half-anticipation of an attack that never comes.
Or when he stops Master Mace Windu from killing the Chancellor. When the Master is the one killed instead, remorse to acceptance of his new allegiance is but a minute. He is seduced truly and surely by the dark, and crutch-excuses of needing to save his wife fall away as he attacks her in anger and leaves her fallen, forgotten as he battles his master.

Not much chemistry between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman; I remember being happier with the emotional depth of their feelings in The Attack of the Clones, which had little else, not even the promised attack. In another instance where the tale doesn't plumb required depths, Obi Wan sees security holographs of his pupil destroying younglings – it is a moment that he has been in denial about and yet knows in his deepest heart as inevitable. The narrative skims over with platitudes from Yoda and off we go to clash lightsabers again.

The construction of Darth Vader was fascinating as gleaming metal comes down to enclose broken man. That’ll teach you about face value.
And I loved Portman's clothes and her hair.

Finally, one nugget.
Anakin: “If you are not with me, you are my enemy.”
Obi Wan: “Only a Sith thinks in absolutes.”
Wooooo hoho.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Bhopal diary - I

12 days in Bhopal. It was more or less a reading holiday. Please, please let me list.
Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh, The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti’s autobiography Beloved Witch, one book on Kundalini, occasional morsels from an excellent glossary called Q is for Quantum, and I hardly need add, loads of candyfloss romances. Finished Dick Francis’ 10-lb Penalty on the train. Lovely.
Plus, I’d carried Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy for Shweta, and then unfairly started to read it in Bhopal after having sat on it for months in Hyderabad. So blackmailed her into letting me bring it back with me (cannot believe I got away with that, but I had power on my side. Supreme Kaji of All Disputes Within The Vyas Jurisdiction, ie, mater, unexpectedly added weight to my arguments and the sibling relented.)

It is to be the marriage of true minds we try for?

I was particularly pleased with Thrones, Dominations. Jill Paton Walsh finishes a half written manuscript by DLS and does it so well. Strewn with literary references, classy, smart and bless ‘em, romantic. If we ever wondered how the Wimsey-Vane marriage works out, we now know. And rejoice. And hope.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A rave and a rant

I love Indian Railways. Ok, not every journey is sheer joy but I have tremendous respect for these guys. It’s a mindboggling job and they do it, for the most part, adequately if not well.

Consider this: It’s the largest railway system under single management. It is the largest employer in the world: about 16 lakh people owe it their roti kapda. A system so colossal, it needs its own budget. IR makes possible about 4 billion passenger journeys a year, unofficially that figure should up considerably as anyone who’s set foot in a train in peak season knows, there a lot of ‘unreserveds’ taking their chances. 7,068 stations and a fleet of 7000 trains for passengers and 4000 for goods.

I’m equally amazed by the reservation system. It redefines complex. Volume: over 600,000 seat and berth reservations a day. Complications: 7 passenger train categories, 72 types of coaches, 7 classes of ‘reservable’ accommodation, over 40 quotas, and around 80 types of concessional fares. Plus, fares depend not only on the distance ('chargeable distances' being different from the actual distances travelled), but also accommodation type and transit time.
You can book your railway ticket from any part of the country, sixty days in advance. And from the day of booking to the date of travel, your ticket has a unique identification: the famous PNR number. No matter how complicated your travel plans, if you want to check your status at any booking interface, all you need is that 10-digit number. Amazing.

Why I’m talking about this is I’m irritated with people who incessantly complain about the system, who are critical as a policy. I’m not denying there are irritants, and by all means assert yourself, demand that towel that an AC ticket entitles you to, but surely you must see what these guys are dealing with.
The chai wallah walks up and down trains doing several kilometers everyday, blocked at every third step by bulging luggage, lounging passengers, acrobatic children and namazis. I don’t know how much he gets paid, but I can tell you it isn’t enough. It’s a bloody 44 degrees out there and if you haul your butt out you will know at once that the AC is working. There are at least 30 people on this coach alone who don’t have reservations, but who still need water and endless chais. No, the attendant does not have any more towels. Stop harassing the man, for heaven’s sake, and deal with it. No, the water is not cold, simply because the pantry does not have air conditioning. Oh, but you’re bored? Chalo, let’s play ‘is desh ka kuch nahin ho sakta.’

Not quite a propos but we got talking about this yesterday, Navin and I, and he says that the Railways is running a loss not because of ticketless travel as might be assumed but because of the pensioners it supports. About 40% of the expenditure, Navin says, goes to maintaining retirees and their medical bills. Phew! I confess my first thought was, hey, that’s my money!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Back and grouchy with it

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa says, ‘Supreme wisdom or Vijnana is to see all beings permeated by the spirit of God.’ Loving God and hating his bandhe is a contradiction. In short, love everyone.

Like the noisy, whining brats on the train yesterday; their parents who unapologetically inflicted two hyperactive ticketless boys on the rest of us, hogged the berths and left us with cramped legs and headaches; the other woman who simply wouldn’t wouldn’t shut up about the inadequate AC, the pathetic service from the railways, and the fraudulent nature of soup dispensing pantry wallahs who wouldn’t return the two-rupee change.

Even those? Am not quite there with the vijnana, I don’t think. I'll go with Charles Schulz: I love mankind. It's the people I can't stand.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Am going off on summer holiday - be back in a week or three to tell you endless tales. Remember Lord Bromford going on about crops and trees in Jamaica? Like that only. Ta.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Up there among things I hate to do

Overseeing or even being in the house when there’s carpentry or electrical stuff going on. The wires, the wood scraps, the noise, the dust, the intrusion… ugh. Being consulted on the right shade, the right angle… saying something because 'I don't know' sounds too lame the fifth time and then having my random opinions stay on the walls for years. Yikes, let me out of here.

My mother hates all of it too, but see, there’s this aspect to her character – an inability to shirk responsibility; her strength, her trap. Me, I like cop outs and I know how to use them.