Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bring it on pop

It may have been good or bad but it was familiar. As I watch 2008 fading in my rearview mirror, I feel like I am waving an old friend goodbye. Lots may happen in my life but not 2008. It's gone and will never come back. Time is a shrew you can't tame and this year I feel its passage more than ever. And now as I read my balance sheet for 2008, I am glad I am alive and so is everyone I love. I know I have been luckier than many and I am grateful for it. So here's to your health and happiness in 2009. Bring it on Father Time.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Art doesn't come easy

For some reason, Norman Maclean's words in A River Runs Through It, comes to me this morning. And I quote: All good things, trout as well as eternal salvation, come by grace and grace comes by art and art is not easy.
No sir, it doesn't come easy at all. Neither do words.

The inscrutable Japs

I know a smattering of Japanese, like I know a bit of German. If you have ever read Commando Comics, you would too. Achtung, Nicht Schiessen ... that's two German words for you and Aieeeeeee ... that's Japanese. Seriously.
The Japs, they are a fascinating race ... and so inscrutable and unique. I mean who would make an art of deforming plants or talk to electronic pets. You have to see Takeshi Kitano's Brother to understand a little more about how obsessively disciplined the Japanese are about everything, including violence and Jap Karma. Don't watch it if you don't have a stomach for graphic violence and you will not learn any Japanese because it is in English. Banzai, that's Japanese and it doesn't mean growing orange trees in flower pots ok.

Paradise city

Mumbai's scars are still raw. Was in the city for a day, the first time I have gone back since the attack. Everything seems normal till you bring it up with friends, cabbies, waiters, just about anyone. It's like stoking simmering ember, the rage and the tears well up again.
Went to watch some old friends in concert at Not Just Jazz By the Bay, just about spitting distance from the Trident. The band played Paradise City for Mumbai and I could see people with tears in their eyes. The song never made more sense to me and it never seemed clearer that it's going to take time to mend Mumbai's broken heart.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's torn at the shoulder

Famous Blue Raincoat plays in my head today. It is a Cohenesque day ... magical and melancholic in equal measure. There is something about this twilight stage which we call the end of the year. Never is the passage of time more stark than when a year calls it a night. It's a time to forgive, forget, hope, pray and Cohen. Famous Blue Raincoat plays in my head ...

What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I am glad you stood in my way ...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Top coppy

"Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?"
Ever since I watched Clint Eastwood growl those words, I have been sold on the badge and bullets genre. There is something about a good cop movie ... here are my favourite cops in no particular order.

Bud White: This was before he won an Oscar for wearing a short skirt in Gladiator. Russell Crowe as the brooding Bud White who doesn't always play by the book. White has a beef with creeps who abuse women and doesn't quite shy away from using violence to counter violence. LA Confidential is about good cops and bad cops against a setting of debauchery and stardust in tinsel town and Bud White is the toughest knuckle on the mean streets.

Frank Serpico: Sydney Lumet's masterpiece on corruption in the NYPD is one of the greatest cop movies ever. Al Pacino is Francisco Serpico, the ramrod straight cop, who exposes the corrupt underbelly of the force. The entire department turns against Serpico, leaving him hanging on to his life and sanity. Pacino, in one of his greatest roles, was described by a critic as "tiny terror".

Harry Callahan: "Go ahead, make my day," growls Harry Callahan, legs akimbo, hands ready to whip out that .44 magnum. Clint Eastwood, walked straight out of the Spaghetti Westerns and into the sewers of San Francisco as Dirty Harry, the original urban cowboy. Harry is an equal-opportunity bigot, a cop who bends the law to enforce it. Eastwood is rivetting as the narrow-eyed, tough talking gun-slinger.

Frank Bullitt: The uber cool Steve McQueen is Lt.Frank Bullitt in the most iconic cop movie of all. Set in 60s San Francisco, Bullitt has McQueen assigned to protect a Mafia squeal on whom the mob has taken out a hit. The movie features one of the greatest car chases ever and as the laconic Frank Bullitt, McQueen delivers a sparkling, alpha male presence.

Donnie Brasco: Johnny Depp was never more slicker than playing Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco the undercover cop who infiltrates the Bonano mob in Brooklyn. Depp is pitted against Pacino who plays Lefty Ruggiero a small time hood who is Brasco's entry into the mob. It's tough to outshine Pacino in a mob movie, but Depp does it effortlessly with plenty to spare.

Will have a worst cop movie list sometime ... stay tuned.

Friday, December 19, 2008

At the altar of dreams

The culvert where the road curves before going its merry way still stands. For you it's a block of concrete, for me it's the altar where a million dreams were laid out ... some fulfilled, some long shattered.
We spent many a teenage evening around it, wondering where life would take us. Would we be rich, would we find love, would we die trying. We were many, all in different stages of existential confusion. We smoked, argued, fought, won and lost our way to adulthood. The culvert stood mute witness to some boys turning men and some just bobbing with the tide. As I drive away from my childhood, I see a bunch of young boys settle down on the culvert, laughing, ribbing, dreaming. I watch them in my rearview mirror, new dreams being set on cold concrete.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Third eye blink

I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind

Since life began in the Garden of Eden, man has been writing about the mystic beauty of the human eye. From Cleopatra to Bette Davis and across the high seas to Waheeda Rehman, those eyes have inspired hypnotic verse.
If two eyes didn't inspire enough, there is a third. In Hindu and Buddhist mythology, the enlightened ones had a divine third eye. Buddha has a third eye or the Urna, a symbol of wisdom; Shiva's third is the eye of destruction, when it opens it is apocalypse.
Interestingly, in Greek mythology, the third eye has a glint of evil. Cyclops, uneducated creature with an extra eye in the forehead, is a mean beast of immense strength and a flaky temper. You would have met some of his family in the LOTR flicks.
Conceding that mythology is as much fantasy as reality, it is still fascinating how cultures as diverse as Chinese and Greek, have references to the mythical third eye. Apparently, as late as the 60s, the flower children could connect with their third eye through a magic potion brewed out of the Beatles, LSD and good old fashioned whiskey. Don't try it at home.

Angels and demons

"If you kill off all my demons ... my angels might die too."

How frigging true Tennessee ...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Railroad freeze

Trans Siberian is a sinister rail movie, much like Hitchcock's Murder on the Orient Express but not quite the same vintage. However, this is not about the movie. There is a leg on the Trans Siberian Railway which connects Ulan Ude in Russia to the Chinese city of Jining. This leg is actually covered by the Trans Mongolian Railway and it cuts through some of the coldest and most desolate parts of the world.
Since the rail gauge in Russia is 1520 mm and the one in China is 1200 mm, the wheels of the rail carriages have to be physically changed at the border. Each carriage has to be physically hauled up and the wheels changed. It takes hours for this to be done while the passengers wait frozen in time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bullish on the Ox year

It's crawling towards that time of the year when you set your chin firmly and resolve to be less of an idiot next year. I usually fail hopelessly but I am not the type who gives up.

Here's my "get better or claim refund" agenda for 09. Terms and conditions apply.

Not hurl my remote control at the TV set when I see Arnab Goswami, Barkha Butt, Aishwariya Rai and other annoying people. For one, it doesn't hit them -- and TV sets -- I discovered, break when you throw things at it.

Not laugh at people who wear wigs. It's rude I realise and it must be tough to shampoo.

Also not laugh at fat people who jog on the streets. With practice they might get fast enough to catch you and paste you. Not safe.

Pick up one posh habit. Like become a posh environmentalist ... drink green tea, listen to some organic music that sounds like monkey mating calls.

Get rid of one bad habit ... like calling Karan Johar gay. They don't want him either, I am told.

And finally to find and take up one cause I genuinely believe in. I am thinking of the right to not pay tax if the Government can't ensure that I am safe in my own country.

Keep you posted.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sing it aloud Bobby

Bob Dylan's Someday Baby is No. 37 on Rolling Stones' Best singles of 2008 list. The alternate version of the track from Modern Times has climbed steadily to find a perch among the top 50 of the year. For the record, Modern Times, the album, had raced to No.1 on release in 2006.
And my point is?
My point is Dylan is just about a year younger than God. He has been America's rasping voice of unrest since 1959 and some. And he continues to write and sing about changing times and continues to teach people quarter his age a thing or two about writing music. There ain't no songwriter like Dylan and if there is one, I haven't heard him ... or her.
Don't hang up that harmonica Bob, coz the times they are a changing still and we need someone to sing it out to us.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lonely shade of grey

It's business as usual for the London weather Gods. It's cold and blustery and bleak here. The mood on the street is a dark shade of grey as well. Huddled outside the pubs, in the tubes, at the water cooler, the R word is being spoken in hushed tones. Recession is the flavour of the Christmas season.
The iconic Woolworth chain has gone bust, thirty thousand Woolies jobs are at risk. Unemployment is at its lowest, the Pound has lost ground against the Euro disrupting European holiday plans. Londoners are hoping for a better 2009 much like the rest of the world. Does winter turn into spring or summer? Right now, they will take anything but the cold and lonely winter.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The right to die

I watched it on Sky, the controversial and highly disturbing documentary on assisted suicide. Craig Ewart decided the pain was too much after a long and unsuccessful battle with motor neuron disease. The ailment left him dependent on his family for things most of us don't even notice like eating and breathing.
Craig didn't want to live and it is illegal to take your own life in the UK, even for the lifeless. So Craig persuaded his family to cross over to Switzerland where the Dignitas Clinic has been helping terminally ill people like Craig end their misery. A lethal dose of barbiturates, which Craig had to consume himself (with help, of course), and it was all over.
The jury is still out on the right of terminally ill patients to take their own lives. Debbie Prudy, who is in a hopeless stage of multiple sclerosis, is waging a public battle with the Director of Public Prosecutions in the UK. She wants to end her life at the Dignitas clinic but doesn't want her husband prosecuted because it is a crime in the UK to aid or abet suicide. Her Cuban husband Oman Poente knows it is a criminal offence but is willing to sacrifice his life to ease his wife's pain. It's all too sad.
The tragedy is multiple sclerosis has not just claimed Prudy, it has claimed her husband's life too. More important, it's not a choice between life and death, it's a choice between death and suffering ... and death. Euthanasia is an individual's right to freedom from a life of misery. I believe it is as sacred as the right to live happily.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Us and Them

Who knows which is which ... and who is who ...

What use of securing your home with the sturdiest lock if the thief is hiding inside. Mighty Caesar could not have been felled without Brutus ... the Mumbai massacre couldn't have happened without inside help.
Securing this country needs more than guns and bullet proof vests. A country is about its people and we are not a united lot. Over the past few days, I have heard educated, worldly wise people whispering how "they" should be sent back to Pakistan. That's a whisper tied to a powder keg, waiting for someone to light a fuse.
Terrorism feeds off poverty and ignorance much more than it does on blind faith. The more we alienate minorities in our country, more hands we line up to carry guns. We need to educate and embrace. We need to make them believe they are us. It's just a small minority who are sitting on a malnourished fence uncertain of which side they belong. We need to reach out and help them.
And by we, I mean, people who still have the ability to reason.

PS: Listen son, said the man with the gun..There's room for you inside.

Calling Alanis - Part II

My friend Deena, no relation to Alanis, has got me thinking of irony again. So, isn't it ironic then Alanis that the martyr cops of the Mumbai mayhem get Rs 5,00,000 only as compensation for firing bullets at terrrorists and stopping a few with their bodies. Vilasrao "tour operator" Deshmukh has pegged the value of their lives at 5 measly lakhs. But that's not the point Deena was trying to make. A multiplicity of State Governments fell over each other to put together Rs 2 crore to reward Abhinav Bhindra for shooting at concentric circles that couldn't fire back. Tour operatorji himself cut Bindra a cheque for a cool 10 lakhs. Oh no sir, I am not grudging Bindra his money. All I am saying to my friends Alanis and Deena ... it's so ironic no.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Isn't it ironic

Isn't it ironic Alanis that in one of the earliest cradles of civilisation man is now intent on ending civilisation in the name of God. The good Pakistanis and the bad ones, good Indians and the bad ones, we all came from the dirt of the Indus valley. Chances are we will mingle in the dust of chordite if we do not see reason soon enough. Isn't it ironic Alanis that we slept through our history lessons. Who has ever won a war for God or man?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Play on ye piper

Needed a distraction from the macabre happenings in Mumbai so went along to watch The Piper and the Princess in concert. On a chilly Bangalore night, Ian Anderson took me to a better place coaxing a mix of Celtic, folk, rock and fusion music from that magical pipe.
It was just heavenly to be at peace with the world and its people. I realised more than ever, how music can save our mortal souls. As Anderson and Anoushka launched an interplay of Western folk strains and Indian classical ragas, it was easy to believe why Louis Armstrong said it is a wonderful world.
It's by no means the best concert I have seen but it will perhaps remain the most meaningful. It's all up to us really, to be good or evil. For two hours, under a twinkling winter sky, I regained my faith in the inherent goodness of people. God bless you Ian Anderson, play on ye piper.

PS: Friends of mine managed to smuggle into the concert bottles of alcohol and packets of cigarettes without raising a sweat. The nation is on high security alert indeed.

Idiot-boxed out

I am idiot-boxed out. I don't have the will or the strength to sit through Messrs. Barkha, Arnab and Hysteria company. I am horrified at their ability to get distracted by every little sideshow of the tragedy. Our TV channels have been pouncing on every quote, misquote or in the case of the Thackerays no quote.
They have lost all sense of perspective or focus in a frenzied effort to squeeze this tragedy of every ounce of sensationalism. Do we really care if Ramgopal Varma was sitting in Deshmukh's car or his lap? Do we really care what some half-wit BJP leader feels about urbane protestors? What we want to know is what is being done to bring the pupeteers of this ghastly crime to book and what is being done to protect us from future attacks. That will do for now Barkha; you can blow out the candle, thank you.