Saturday, February 02, 2019

What to wear or not to wear

I came across a tweet today from a person who calls themselves a corporate leadership coach – a photo of someone in their pyjamas at breakfast in a ‘business’ hotel, with a narrative of how there are etiquettes on what to wear to breakfast at a business hotel, in the business lounge where there are numerous others having breakfast meetings in their business suits. Someone else responded to it with how a woman comes in pyjamas to the lake where they go for a run, and they feel like having a chat with them about the attire.

Got me thinking.

I was born and brought up in super conservative and traditional Chennai. But, somehow, for all the rules and discipline my parents enforced upon me, they never really thought much about what was appropriate for me to wear. I myself was not (still am not) super comfortable with my body, large made as I was (am), so I ended up dressing in clothes that covered me up, if not in the traditional sense. That is to say, I didn’t own even a single 'pavadai thavani', but I did own a lot of nice long skirts and pretty tops, even super cool long dresses.

So, this was early adolescence, and I was on a roll as far as the Veena playing was concerned. My teacher believed I was going to go places* (hey, it’s ok to brag sometimes) and my parents (who thought the world of my teacher, easily the best Veena teacher in town) lapped up her words instantly. Chennai being Chennai had multitudes of music competitions across the city, and my parents would take me to contest in them, whenever I could. Which wasn’t too many times, because, it had to be a Sunday, no tests / exams the next day, daughter shouldn’t be looking ill else it will tire her out etc etc. So, some limited competitions I attended. And always in dresses I liked to wear. Which would inevitably be my ‘lucky’ dress, the one I wore when I won the first prize in a competition for the first time. Anyway, this one time, I think it was in a competition conducted by the Tambras Foundation, the organizers had a problem with my attire. “Why isn’t she in traditional wear? How can we let her go up in this?”, they said. Incidentally, I was wearing a salwar suit that day (my lucky dress having gone through significant wear and tear). Dress codes hadn't been mentioned in the rules and regulations, so after a bit of back and forth dialogue, I eventually played in the competition. But, I didn’t win. I have wondered forever whether it was because all the others were in traditional wear while I wasn’t.

It was a strange moment for me, this whole dressing-up-in-a-certain-way-for-a-certain-thing thing. My parents had never told me that. They had only told me to practice well and perform on stage, they had never told me there was a costume code. They, of course, didn’t know. Anyway, that incident made me mighty defiant, and to this date, I have tried not to wear something traditional when am doing something traditional, like playing the Veena (whether playing the Veena is just a traditional affair is fodder for another post). Today, when I look back, I have more clarity about why I was and am in the right. I had gone to play the Veena, and I went dressed in something that would give me comfort, so I could give ‘playing Veena’ my best shot. I wasn’t there to give my best shot at role playing a traditional sweet looking girl posing for a photo op with the Veena in hand.

Coming back to the tweets I read today, I would apply the same logic. The person who came for breakfast didn’t come for a business meeting. He/she was just having breakfast. So what if it’s a business hotel. As long as the hotel didn’t enforce any strict rules on what to wear to the spaces outside the rooms, it didn’t matter. If people were getting distracted from their breakfast meetings to look at the person wearing pyjamas and clicking a pic to post to Twitter (which is a bigger and graver mistake than wearing pyjamas to breakfast in a business lounge), I would wonder how focused these attendees were on their own meetings. And as to the person jogging by the lake, if we could only focus on our running and jogging, we wouldn’t really notice or bother even if the rest of the world is taking a naked sunbath by the lake. Jogging in a public space is no private moment, so our dressing sensibilities cannot be imposed upon others.

*Cheap insert: I have resumed Veena playing after a long time. You can listen to some Filmi music on my Youtube channel

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Marie Kondo and the joy of pre-love

There is a lot of noise on social media about this Marie Kondo Netflix series on tidying up and sparkling joy. I haven’t watched it yet. To be honest, I got so bored of Bandersnatch that I haven’t logged into Netflix in a while now. It sparks joy in my mind to avoid that app these days.

Anyway, I do not generally agree with this philosophy of saying goodbye to things we love. Or people we love, for that matter. I hoard what I love, and I throw away what I don’t. In fact, I am such a ruthless thrower-awayer of things that I wonder if I love anything at all. Except books. And, I hear that Kondo has suggested we throw away books too. So, I don’t like her. Throwing her away from my mind now.

All this talk about love for objects, and joy in tidying up, sparks a completely different thread of angst in me. Do you know what’s fashionable these days? Pre-loving and pre-caring for things. Darn it, this phrase ‘second-hand’ has been made obsolete and very second-class, no one uses it anymore. Except for with used cars. Yet to hear someone say “My pre-loved car is up for grabs.”

I mean, even grammatically, ‘pre-loved’ doesn’t seem to make much sense. What does ‘pre-loved’ mean? That I don’t love it anymore? That it is pre- my love and I will love it once I sell it to you? That it was created before love came into existence?

And you know where it is used the most? With baby stuff. People are always selling their kids’ pre-loved toys and pre-loved furniture and pre-loved car seats. Now, I have my share of baby stuff. As soon as our kid turned 6 months, V and I promptly landed up at the baby store to purchase bed, high chair, and stroller, without any view of where we will hold it in our very Bombay apartment. While my baby is super special to me and I consider her a very unique being, she is exactly the same as 90% of the babies in this world (the other 10% I am told are raised by parents who read books like ‘How to talk so little kids will listen’). So, coming back to my baby, she is very predictable – doesn’t use any of these new-fangled things mama and papa got her with much love, and a significant pocket outlay.

So, I look at these things with anything but love. That stroller, especially that stroller. It’s this white elephant in the drawing room, only grey in color. I would willingly throw it out with the bathwater (without the baby), especially at the next person who utters the phrase ‘pre-love’. The only thing stopping me is that significant pocket outlay. I am told kids use the stroller when they are 4-5 years old and too lazy to walk, especially on holidays outside India. Maybe, I will wait till then, while building a lot of angst up every time I see that stroller next to my much-loved bookrack.

By the time I internalize the concept of sunk cost and opportunity cost at space wastage, it might become my pre-hated item. That’s at least a differentiated value proposition for a sale, for whatever it is worth.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Of weddings and offices

Ten years ago, when I started my career, Kamala Mills (Lower Parel, Mumbai) was the haven of the office goer. Because, that’s where you landed up if you wanted a paycheck. It had two gates, one front and one back, with a long line of taxis at both, none of them willing to go anywhere. There was a JaiHind restaurant (Udipi? Café?) outside one of the gates, and that’s all the food we could get, if we wanted to avoid the unpalatable food at the teeny tiny office cafeteria. Those days, Kamala Mills also had a large tract of wasteland within, withering away in the Mumbai sun and floating away in the excessive rains, that transformed into a dusty parking lot for the brave that drove to work. In that era, I knew no one who drove to work in Bombay. Except two. Who we would hound on bad monsoon days to drop us wherever we could be dropped, gearing up to swim the rest of the distance homewards.
Anyway, all this preamble is for naught, only to serve as a reminiscence of the struggles of a newbie in Bombay. But, that parking lot at Kamala Mills? That one has significance. That’s where the land owner’s son or daughter got married one fine weekend. In an age devoid of Instagram and instant rumors, we made do with hearsay, tabloid stories, and our own curiosity to come up with what was cookin’ at the wedding. SRK danced, said someone. Katrina did too, piqued another. The wedding cost 25 crores, exclaimed a third. We spoke about those unknown people for at least 2-3 lunches and tea breaks at work.
What will we do for small talk if not for ostentatious weddings, I thought.
Cut to 2018. Kamala Mills no longer has that decrepit parking lot; neither does it have those sad cafeterias. Not too many people walk in there to draw paychecks any longer, for it has transformed into the safe haven of pubs and bars and discs, all highly flammable, that people walk into, to see their paychecks go up in smoke (literally, sometimes). The action has all shifted. To other office buildings in Lower Parel, but much to the concrete jungle of BKC (in Bandra and somewhat in Kurla).
I need to go back a bit again, you know. When you have spent a good 10+ years criss-crossing a city, especially as a consultant with clients all the way from Nariman Point to Ghansoli (which is technically not even in Bombay), there is a lot of reminiscence that is (un)avoidable. BKC used to be a place perennially under construction. Buildings were coming up everywhere, but there was only concrete waste to see, no food to eat, and general desert-land around. The only good thing was, no traffic from home, so I didn’t complain. BKC today has developed by leaps and bounds, if lot of buildings means lot of development. However, it still seems to be perennially under construction (of the metro rail variety), also full of traffic. Only silver lining – endless, copious amounts of food everywhere.
What is the point, you may ask. The Kamala Mills of 10 years ago and the BKC of today meet at an interesting junction, quite counter-intuitive to the commercial connection they have. Weddings. The grandiose variant nonetheless. Come to think of it, it’s quite poetic setting wedding ceremonies in the middle of commercial establishments. There is nothing more commercial than a well-spent-upon wedding after all.
I had the good fortune of witnessing the Isha Ambani reception prep from my BKC office, atop a multi-storey building. It looked garish even from afar, but that’s only the jealous woman in me talking. Also, this time, unlike 10 years back, we were able to track to the “tiniest diamond stone in the bride’s Sangeet lehenga” level of detail on the wedding prep, thanks to Instagram and the ever dependable ToI. It made for small talk for a month before and a month after, and may do for several months beyond too. SRK served food, so did Big B. Salman Khan was the side dancer to Anant Ambani’s main dance. Beyonce performed at the pre-wedding ceremony, while ARR at the reception.
I can go on and on. But, really, let me save that for the small talk if and when you, the reader and I, the writer, get to meet each other. For now, I hope they have finally been able to clear the debris from the reception venue. I want to take my kid to that ‘public garden’* for once before she grows up and wants to go instead to the pubs of Kamala Mills.

* Is that even a public garden or have I got it wrong? The public are forever barred from going inside because of some event prep or another.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

It's a ten

There is a nip in the air this morning, almost imperceptible, laughable even to anyone who is accustomed to the traditional season of winter (wear). But, for me, it is a trigger to memories from a weather long ago at a place far away. Bangalore of the mid-late 2000s was pleasure, full of greenery, and cool winds, particularly cold inside the hallowed portals of IIMB. Those days, the temperature used to drop a degree or two once you set foot inside campus.
I first walked into the campus in early 2006 to attend my group discussions and personal interviews. Filled with nothing short of awe, I passed my hands over those grey stone walls, walked tentatively across podiums and courtyards, and attended the interviews with trepidation. It’s been over twelve years since then, ten since I graduated from campus.
Ten years out of campus is a lot of learning, as clichéd as it sounds. Student life is a sheltered one, idyllic even, despite the pressures of coursework and tests and grades and placements. Ten years ago, it was even more idyllic because we were one of the last batches to pay dirt cheap fees for a 2-year course in that eminent institution. All we had to do was turn up at class, participate with some inputs and solutions to business problems we half understood and didn’t relate to, cram for tests, complete group projects, and design our resumes. The goals weren’t many, in fact the goal was only one, to get placed on Day 0. Identification of personal strengths and interest areas, evaluating role fitment, considering company culture – none of these were priorities. At pre-placement talks, all of us would wait for that slide titled “Compensation & Benefits” because, nothing else mattered. No wonder then that most B-school graduates quit their jobs within the first year or two of joining.
Ten years out of campus also means a lot of forgetting. We do tend to forget that those 2-years were hardly idyllic. It was a lot of pressure, from within and outside. The first few months were heartbreaking, because relative grading hardly made friends, mostly only people looking for benefits. Summer placements killed whatever friendships remained, because come on, Not Day 0, then not my friend. And that’s why it is important to cherish the friendships that survived that time, in fact thrived through the past ten years. What miracle is that? Who are these people who have wanted to be friends with me all these years? No benefits here. No support in group studies or placement prep, but they are still around, and will be around for the 25th year reunion.
Ten years do pass by in a flash. So much happens. People move countries, change careers, get married, have kids, get divorced, get married again. But, people at the core never change. Those I remember as the fun ones who can hold happy conversations about the world at large still remain the same. And the others… they too remain. The same. Those of us who would get around and make fun of everything and everyone also remain, the same.
Ten years out of campus, most importantly, just raises more questions than answers. We planted a tree in memory of a dead batchmate. Yes, one of us died. Within just ten years. No one called for silence as the tree was planted, we just went silent. Perhaps, we were all thinking the same thing. What is life? Is it just a tree at the end?

P.S. Thanks M, for making me write on the blog. It was for fear of losing your readership mostly, that I wrote this. Also, because I wanted to write. What’s a ten-year reunion if not a blog post?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 - Our year in review

This year, we learnt that we don't need TV.
As long as we have internet TV. With subtitles. That can be watched on mute. On TV, laptop, tablet and phone seamlessly. How did new parents in the previous generations manage to take a break without all this? Perhaps, they slept.

This year, we learnt that we don't need sleep.
At least, that's what we tell ourselves. As we rub our eyes through the day ploughing through work, trying to get back home for a night of sleeplessness.

This year, we learnt about science.
Empirically. Over a period of ten months. Survival of the fittest, evolution, how humans grow as they grow. No Desmond Morris could have explained it this well.

This year, we learnt that only two things matter.
Scratch it. Three. Nopes. Four. Feed, pee, poop, and sleep. And were immensely gratified even if two of the four happened in a given day.

This year, we learnt productivity.
Prioritisation, efficiency, focusing on the things that matter. All the management and philosophical jargon came alive in front of our eyes, and made so much sense for a change. 

This year, we learnt to entertain.
A one person audience. With stories and singing, dancing and laughing. Who might, as an outside chance, give us a grudging smile in return. Or at the minimum stop crying. And felt very rewarded.

This year, we learnt to execute our longest and most difficult project yet.
We failed miserably. We succeeded immensely. Failed. Succeeded. Mostly succeeded I think. We get smiles, laughter, babbles, hugs, even kisses sometimes. Surely, that's success.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Game of Thrones - The James Bond series of TV

(Obligatory spoiler alert)

I read Game of Thrones, the book by George R. R. Martin (GRRM), back in 2010. Cersei Lannister's famous "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." to Ned Stark is an all time favourite quote of mine. But, sadly, the book isn't. I hate it as I love it, I hate GRRM for having made my life hell by killing Ned Stark off. It was with a sad heart that I ended the first book in the 'A Song of Ice And Fire' (ASOIAF) series. What a beautiful book, how beautifully grey, how so unforgiving of the good men, how so unforgiving of the bad men, how so unforgiving of humans in general, how so unforgiving of any living being in general, I would argue with my friends who were hell bent on finishing the series. As to me, I somehow finished Clash of Kings (ASOIAF #2), but Storm of Swords (ASOIAF #3) was just too much for me. I stopped after a few pages, something I hardly do to any book, let alone a series I hate as much as I love, and went right off to Wikipedia to catch up on the story. Reading about the Red Wedding even on Wiki was too much for my tender heart and many are the nights I have spent brooding over the losses of the Stark family, because of Ned Stark, that honourable fool. 
I was never a TV series person, so when HBO made GoT into a TV series (that all my friends again raved about), it took me many years and some serious encouragement from Internet memes to get to the series. 
To be honest, I have enjoyed the TV series - even after they started making their own story up as Mr. GRIM (sorry GRRM) is terribly behind schedule on the books. It is great TV, and when characters you like die on TV, they don't really die. Remember, they still are alive in the books since you haven't got around to reading those parts yet (reading about deaths on Wiki doesn't count). The dragons look amazing, Dany turns out in great costumes, Cersei walks about with her lovely sneer as if she was born with it, Tyrion gives out punch dialogues,  Jaime has grown up to be more of a man and handsome as ever, and Jon Snow... ummm.... well... Jon Snow looks good, nothing more, nothing less. And, after actually visiting Dubrovnik (where the King's Landing scenes are filmed), it is kind of exciting to keep seeing the place on screen again and again.
But, of late, the book snob has been waking up and kicking around, feeling really sorry for the book fans who have been subjected to this tripe on TV. 

  1. Did the last few episodes of the last season (S7) feel like "Mission Impossible" and "James Bond" in one to you? They certainly did, to me. The only solace is, for a change, we have a lady rescuing all the menfolk after they take stupid decisions and get stuck in the middle of nowhere. That feels empowering. 
  2. The whole idea behind ASOIAF is the grey - who you think is right isn't always right, who you think is a villain isn't always a villain. There are times you start empathising with the guy who threw a 7 year old kid off the walls of the window for having witnessed his incest. And, that's not because he looks good or because he has suddenly turned over a new leaf and performed some good deeds on screen. It's because you learn to empathise more with the character. For a book to be able to do that is where its victory lies. And, I can't blame TV, it is difficult to bring these nuances out on screen in detail. Then we will need billions in budget and many decades of screening, and TV fans might not even be interested in such attention to detail.
  3. A good book ties up its loose ends, not in a hurry, as if it is a budget package tossed through India post, but like a beautiful present wrapped up in the choicest of gilded gift paper, hand delivered by the most professional of handsome people. That's what GRIM does. Which is his boon and bane. Which is why he is lagging so terribly behind, much to the wrath of his now-lost-hope fans. And the TV series is on the other end. "Oh, the Night King needs a dragon. Let's do these a, b, c nonsensical things and he will have a dragon", seems to be the name of the game.
  4. I can understand that TV comes with certain liberties, like racing timelines, whirring ravens, flying peoples across continents etc. but it does irk me that enough focus hasn't been given to the detailing of the costumes. Why is Jon Snow wearing heavy winter clothing down South in King's Landing? Is it because he is strapped for cash, because sister (cousin) Sansa used up all the money to procure rice and grains for the long winter?
  5. And, that whole pandering to the audience is driving me nuts. It is almost like every week's story is written after looking up a few internet memes, fan theories and fan fantasies about who should be having sex with one another. GoT started off, true to its mastermind GRIM, a series where anyone can get killed anytime. Now, it is a series full of James Bonds who don't get killed, only the sidekicks get killed as some collateral damage under dragon fire. 
HBO, you are almost tempting me to get back to the books. The only thing stopping me now is, there is a >90% chance that GRIM will kill himself off (due to old age) before he finishes the books and he might leave some specific instruction to steam roll the drafts left behind, like Terry Pratchett did. And, then, where will I be? 
This keeps me happy, seeing mindless TV, looking up random memes, speaking in GoT code words and irking the non-GoT world, and not getting emotionally invested in the characters and their lives. 
Will the makers of the series ensure the Night King kills off all the living peoples in Westeros by end of S8, if, for nothing else, but to stay true to GRIM's grim outlook towards life?

Exclusive breastfeeding - a special bond of forever

You were a scrawny little monkey when you came to me the first time. Your eyes weren't fully open, your fingers were tightly closed, your neck was inexistent, your head required full time support, and your entire body was invisible, having been wrapped in a thick blue swaddle cloth. When the nurse gave you to me, I didn't know what I was supposed to do, to you, with you, and of you. And, I was terribly scared that I would crush you by holding you too tight, or I would let you slip away if I held you too loose. Would my breath on your face disturb you, would my lips on your head fluster you?

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

5 things we can learn from babies

My baby is a 5.5 month old firecracker, like every other 5.5 month old fire cracker baby, I am sure. On most days, I pride myself on having been able to raise a baby for 5.5. months. Surely, I must be a great fount of knowledge by now, ready to spread awareness and give gyaan to every mom to be and new mom on the face of Earth. Ha Ha. Not really. But, I must agree, there is a thing or two my baby has taught me, life lessons really, which every adult would do well to remember, if not be able to implement.

You can read the entire article here

Baahubali - The movie that floored 'em all

I am so late to the party everyone must have forgotten when the party happened, and might, just might, believe this is something new that they weren't invited to. So, here goes.

Seeing a movie months after the whole world has seen, reviewed and raved about it is bad. Seeing said movie, a treatise on awesome graphics, on a laptop, is worse. Seeing such a movie immediately after reading an awesome, awesome book in a similar genre and raving about it (I am looking at you, Ponniyin Selvan), is truly the worst.

I have a Netflix login that I use extremely sparsely these days and, I put to good use little person's 3 hour nap yesterday to finally catch up on Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. Since you all would already have heard of sugar and spice and everything nice about the movie (and rightfully so (and that's how I aim to remain politically correct)), I will not dedicate this space to 5 lessons for managers, 8 lessons for start up founders, 10 lessons for CEOs and a 100K lessons for mothers (hey, I am in a mothering mode ok), all from Baahubali. You can just google up this stuff, Buzzfeed and the new Buzzfeed (LinkedIn) will throw up a million links that can make you throw up.

1. I think it was a bad, bad, bad idea to dedicate so much space, time and energy to the character of Amarendra Baahubali (Amar). He is too much of an embodiment of all things perfect and virtuous. And then, suddenly, when he dies and this Mahendra Baahubali (Mahi) comes back on screen (a figure we are well versed with even from movie 1), it just isn't enough. Who is this half baked dude who doesn't seem to have half the intelligence and presence as that hero, Amar? If Prabhas has done a great job of contrasting the two roles, he just goes a bit overboard. Amar, the king who never was, is so well etched in the mind that Mahi isn't able to hold a candle to the father. 

2. That brings me to the second point. I am wrong in contrasting acting skills of the same actor in different roles. Mahi just doesn't get enough screen time to remind us of who he is, how he changes after hearing about the secret of his birth. Just because the movie crew had to pack everything into one movie, it was truly a hurried end. Did anyone else feel that Baahubali 1 was better paced with saner story-telling than The Conclusion?

3. That lack of time ate into more than Mahi's character. The final battle deserved more than that. It definitely deserved at least 2 minutes of explaining how they were acquiring the manpower and weapons. No, Mahi's speech to the common folk around him - ‘we will fight with whatever tools we get our hands on’ - was far from convincing. Maybe, they should have shown a few oppressed smaller rulers siding with Mahi. Or, at least, one scene of Kattappa rallying his slave army with the explanation that Mahi is the king to whom they owe their allegiance (as announced by RajMata Sivagami before her death) would have been useful. He gives that explanation to Bhallala’s father, Bijjala, much later during the battle - too little, too late, and too hurried in tying the knots to be satisfactory. Some political strategy by Mahi would have made him shine as a true king rather than a mad prince acquiring the throne because his father deserved it before him (very similar to Game of Thrones’ Daenerys who doesn't waste any moment in reminding us how she is the last Targaryen and hence everyone needs to bend the knee).

3. Talking about strategy, one of the key battles in Baahubali 1 was the one where Bhallala and Amar, the princes of Mahismati, fight a long and bloody battle against the Kalakeyas, savages who are out to ruin the empire of Mahismati. In this battle, both princes use intelligent strategies to thwart the enemy, and it is this intelligence and planning, more than the blood and gore, that made me love the scenes. Contrast that to the final battle in The Conclusion. Mahi behaves childlike when his mother is imprisoned again, and Kattappa has to remind him to be his father’s son to win this battle. Then, Mahi does some outrageously silly things, like human boomerangs (I am STILL trying to reconcile to that visual abomination) in order to be victorious. Didn't we, the true fans of the Baahubali franchise, deserve better than this? A brilliant battle to end all battles, better even than the fight against the Kalakeyas in Baahubali 1 would have been the chocolate icing on an okayish vanilla cake. Rather, what we have is vanilla icing on an okayish vanilla cake. Sigh. By the way, did anyone else think that Bhallala was ‘brillianter’ than Mahi in those final scenes? Amar was the foe he deserved but he sadly ended up with Mahi.

4. While speaking battles, what was that random fight with the Kalakeyas that Amar had before he was evilly vanquished by Kattappa? Force fit much to remind us that Amar is a great warrior? Again, I would attribute this to lack of time and trying to crunch too many things into one movie.

5A. Finally, what might have worked very well (for me, not for all you raving fans out there) was a well paced first half extending into the whole movie, delving into further details on Kalakeyas and some such, with Amar saving the kingdom once again, and yet being evilly killed off in the end by Kattappa. In other words, the answer to that raging question of the past two years, “Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?” could have been provided by the end of the second movie, with some other yet-unsolved mystery cliff hanger towards the end. That way, a movie 3, The Real Conclusion, could have solved for the mystery from movie 2 and also spent more time on Mahi and his focus on winning back the kingdom, not only as the rightful heir, but also as someone who deserves it, thanks to his powerful arms + brilliant mind + virtuous self.

5B. Since I do understand there would have been budgetary limitations in getting the cast together again and also in re-creating scene after scene of epicness, not to underestimate the massive risk the movie makers were already taking with such a hugely budgeted movie (who knows how audiences would turn), I do have a short cut alternate solution. The makers should have shown the killing of Amar + the Mahi battle upfront and saved the rest of the nicer flashback for the end. That way, I could have retired with my fairy tale ending of Amarendra and Devasena a happy couple living and working with the common folk of the kingdom, while Baby Mahi is safely ensconced in Mommy Devasena's tummy from where he wouldn't be obliged to express his role or wreak any random havoc. 

6. I just have a huge doubt as I sign off here. Bijjala, a bitter man who nurtures and grows his son’s already poisonous mind, encouraging him as he embarks on one evil deed after another, is left alive and kicking at the end of the movie. Can we hope for a spin off where Bijjala will team up with Bhallala’s wife (who wasn't shown in the movie) along with any other progeny so far not shown (maybe a younger Bhallala?) to take revenge against Mahi and the new RajMata Devasena for burning Bhallala alive and usurping the throne?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ponniyin Selvan - A book I don't deserve

Ponniyin Selvan is a hard not to know novel if you are a Tamilian. If you aren't, you might still have heard about it in the past few years due to much publicised English translations and dramatic on-stage retellings. At 1,400+ pages, 5 full volumes and researched over a 3 year period across India and Sri Lanka, Ponniyin Selvan is famous Tamil author Kalki's most ambitious and fulfilling work, a magnum opus, historical fiction possibly at its very best from this part of the world. 
Over the years, people who have read the book have told me how it has haunted them. My mother and uncles are Ponniyin Selvan fanatics, using passages and lyrics from the book series while talking in normal terms, discussing and revelling in the beauty of tenth century Tamil Nadu. My mother claims that the protagonist of the book, Vallavaraiyan Vandiyathevan (VV) has a statue of his own under the famous Gemini flyover in Chennai. There is a statue of a man controlling a horse on that spot no doubt, but it isn't clear whether the then TN Government was inspired by VV in installing the statue or whether it was simply a statue signifying abolishment of horse racing in the state.
I have been afraid of picking this book up. The very thought of traversing all those pages in Tamil (mine own mother tongue) has had my knees bending in fear and hands shaking in nervousness. Anyway, early last month, I decided that, if Kalki had been ambitious enough to write such a novel, I sure can set my ambition a bit lower and at least achieve the goal of reading the novel. So, here I am, a month later, in front of you, my dear reader, having read, gotten absorbed and fallen absolutely and irrevocably in love with Ponniyin Selvan. It is perhaps a book I don't deserve, having denied myself the pleasure of this beauty for so many decades now, but that doesn't stop me from passing on some of my happiness to you. 

Ponniyin Selvan is set in tenth century, during a period when the Chola dynasty was at its peak and working towards eventual magnificence 100 years down the line. It recounts incidents across an 8 month period when Sundara Chola was reigning over a large part of modern day Tamil Nadu (extending from Chennai to Thanjavur and beyond), and covering a bit of Eezham (Sri Lanka) too. While the book primarily revolves around Sundara Chola, his sons Aditya Karikalan and Arulmozhi Varman, and the drama and politics surrounding the succession to Sundara Chola's title, it does extensively reference the immediate past generations (starting with Vijayalaya Chola) and also the early Chola period (referencing the famous Manu Needhi Cholan and Sibi Chakravarty). The early Chola stories strive to establish the fairness and justness with which the Cholas ruled, a key theme that keeps recurring across the novel's mainstay incidents too. The book also acts as a setting stage for Raja Raja Cholan, one of the most famous kings from the Chola dynasty, attributed with having built the Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple and expanding the Chola dynasty to as far as Malaysia. VV, the protagonist, works for the elder Chola prince, Aditya Karikala but eventually establishes friendly relationships with the younger Chola prince, Arulmozhi Varman (who later goes on to become Raja Raja Cholan), and also gets romantically linked with their sister Kundavai (a) Ilaiya Piratti. 

I am no one to review this book, but I am going to use this space to share my observations, rationalising why this book attracts such fandom and fanaticism even today. 

1) Deeply descriptive narrative
Only some authors have the power to narrate so beautifully that you are transported to the setting of the book. In this case, this is no mean feat given the setting is tenth century Chola dynasty, resplendent with palaces and princesses, secret passageways and heaps and heaps of gold coins, warfare on horse backs and from elephants. Kalki does more than justice to this. When he describes the sea and the cyclone, I am in the middle of all of it, about to fall into the sea and die. When he describes the royal court and the women's quarters, I am right there, observing the king in his glory, the princes and princesses in their royal couches and thrones. The description is so real and vivid that I lived inside the book rather than the book living by my side, this past one month.

2) Strong characterisations
While I am a book snob who thinks no movie / series can do justice to the book, the only truth, curiosity has always got the better of me in wondering how a book would translate into the visual medium. However, even when reading this book, I knew it wouldn't be possible to visualise this. Kalki has spent reams and reams of papers in developing his characters, and this is not just through anecdotes of their heroic deeds. Their deepest thoughts are vividly described to establish the greys in their minds, the motives for their actions, and their real emotions at results of their and others' actions. Ponniyin selvan, as the younger prince ArulmozhiVarman, is an embodiment of all things virtuous - truthful, brave, down to earth, loved by the masses and classes equally. VV, the protagonist, is an attractive young man, loyal to his king and princes, street smart when the need arises, confused in matters of women, as human as all of us. The antagonists are also not fully antagonists, they have their reasons to be who they are, they sometimes want to be nice people who are imprisoned by circumstances. How will anyone be able to visualise so much of one's flitting thoughts in a movie without doing major injustice to the book and its characters? 

3) Women of substance
The Chola kingdom, like most other kingdoms across the world then, was male dominated. The king was God, armies were full of men etc. However, that did not stop the women from playing significant roles in politics and state craft, acting as key influencers of the men in their lives (husbands, sons, fathers). In that regard, Kundavai, Sundara Chola's daughter, does play a very important role. We also get a glimpse into how much she cares for the Chola dynasty and its victories. More than once in the book, important male characters mention how Kundavai would have been the obvious, rightful and most deserving king in succession to Sundara Chola if she had only been born male. While Kundavai influences the story positively, Nandini is the chief antagonist, and brings about many of the twists, turns and pitfalls to the Chola dynasty. Again, this is a character rich in intelligence, though she uses it differently, under the guise of a pitiable woman in need of help, manipulating men who fall for her beauty. Diametrically opposite to these two women (who already are diametrically opposite to each other) is Poonguzhali, the boat woman. She is the princess of the sea (as nicknamed by Ponniyin Selvan) who is a muscular beauty, and saves the prince and VV on more than one occasion from natural calamities and evil conspirators alike.

4) Real, flawed warriors
Men are macho, men are brave, and male warriors fight and kill, is what popular fiction has us believe, be it the written or visual medium. However, Kalki focuses on reiterating how warriors are real. Many are the instances when these warriors cry, when they realise they have not adhered to the dharma of their work, when they realise they have inadvertently caused mishaps, when people close to them die. There are instances where the elder prince, Aditya Karikalan, rues over how he handled an enemy after combat, how the victory doesn't taste sweet anymore. This realism makes the book that much more endearing.

5) Flavourful and enjoyable story telling
This is no boring treatise on history, no mundane collection of passages extolling virtuous men and smart women, describing an era long dead. The book is a beautiful amalgamation of drama, humour, action and romance in parts. Especially, the skirmishes between Vaishnavites and Shaivites (centuries old and still ongoing) are interesting, educative and humorous. Azhvarkadian Nambi, a staunch Vaishnavite, that being a facade to his spy-job, someone we aren't clear of as to who he works for till 50% of the story gets done with, makes these sequences so much more fun. While friendship is explored deeply (both the younger prince and VV put their lives on the line to save each other more than once), duty to the kingdom seems to be foremost, as evidenced by the actions of Sundara Chola, Kundavai and all other characters loyal to the kingdom. 
The author speaks to the reader as if he is an on-stage narrator speaking to a theatre full of audience. For instance, after talking about a particularly disgusting lie that one of the antagonists tell one of the princes, Kalki spends a fair amount of real estate starting with, “I know that you, my reader, would be disgusted with this lie. But, you must understand how this person’s mind was working at that moment and what all they had gone through since birth to have been pushed to this extent,” and goes on to explain, with rationale, why this happened. It is as if the author anticipates the reader’s every reaction and is readily waiting at the turn with the antidote.

I agree with all those good people who warned me before hand. Not only did this book haunt me while I read it, it will continue to haunt me for many more years to come, as it has so many fanatics before me. What a shame Kalki died soon after publishing this wonderful contribution to Tamil literature and history! He never got to know what this book of his did to its readers, what kind of reverence people speak with when talking about this book even today!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Sprinting In A Hurry: The New Parents' Guide To Growth Spurts

It was 2 am. The ragging session had been going on for over 5 hours now. I couldn't understand what exactly was wrong. My 10 day old Very Little Person (VLP) was just not able to sleep, and worse still, she was obsessed with marching on. Left, right, left, right went the nipples into her tiny mouth. How could such a little baby feed for so long, we wondered. Perhaps, I had run out of milk, we worried. Perhaps, she wasn't able to suck because of a tongue-tie, we feared. Meanwhile, my breasts got sore and painful, and I was teary eyed while my husband was looking up every online forum possible to identify a possible explanation to this strange and pretty 'unpretty' phenomenon.

You can read the entire article here.

Friday, June 02, 2017

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 1 - Homecoming of terror

Alert: If you haven't watched the previous seasons of HoC, this review will contain spoilers that you may want to avoid.

"Watch out for each other and watch each other, to keep us all safe and sound," says Claire Underwood in a chilling message addressing the nation. Thus begins the first episode of season 5, aptly titled 'Homecoming of Terror'.

The Underwoods' problems are far from over, even though a full year has gone by between Seasons 4 and 5. To recap, by the end of Season 4, Tom Hammerschmidt writes a Herald article detailing Frank Underwood's murky journey from being Congressional Whip to becoming POTUS, radicalised domestic terrorists execute an American citizen on national television and Conway steadily gains ground in an election that seems almost over for the Underwoods. 

The Season 5 pilot is off to a promising start, befitting of its title, with Frank turning up the rhetoric in the House, for war against terror. It is quite a scene out there, as Frank derails the House agenda in order to push his own, much reminiscent of the Frank from seasons past, only louder, larger and more dramatic than ever before.

However, the episode does sag in between. Claire defends Frank about the Herald article in what seems to be a very defensive interview, while Hannah, the perfect wife and mother of that promising Republican candidate goofs up even though it turns out favourable for Conway. As Tom Yates puts the viewer to sleep with some unnecessary appearances and boring dialogues in his sleepy voice, Macallan and LeAnn have a heart to heart that leads nowhere. For a few minutes, it feels like the director owed one each to all the characters and hence had to figure out a dialogue or two for each of them. Except, except, for that one meeting on policy decision between Cathy Durant and the POTUS, which seems to have been picked straight off the real world.

As we get into the last 15 minutes of the episode, the set-up gets craftier and more intricate. Terror can be manufactured on home ground, especially when it is the necessary condition to regain and hold on to immeasurable power. Some of these scenes towards the end are unreal, and send a shiver down the spine, of how possible and probable it is to create stories that can be fed to people in order to dial up the fear in their hearts. 

While there seems very little chance of a second innings for the POTUS, the stage is set for the Underwoods to fight this battle like none other they have fought before, using the considerable resources at their disposal. As Claire and Frank sign off, the viewer knows that this is going to be one riveting season of twists and turns, and perhaps, it isn't yet time for the deck of cards to come crashing down.

Overall, it is an episode worth watching, of a season worth the year long wait!

Frank Underwood is coming to India with the television premiere of House Of Cards Season 5 on Saturday, 3rd June, 5 PM onwards, only on Zee Café! For more details, check out the Zee Cafe Facebook page here.