Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fasten Your Seat Belts, And Save Your Work

I thought I had seen every possible version of the take off and landing instructions dished out by cabin crew, until I heard the Go Air captain today, gently reminding passengers to "take care to save their work" before shutting off the laptop in preparation for landing!

Truly, an airline that stays with the times!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

India This Weekend

And while I caught up on some cool and not-so-cool movies this weekend, here's what India's been up to:

An aam aadmi launched the aam aadmi party - taking special efforts to mention that only one family member can work on the party's committees at one time, unlike another national party which clearly believes more the merrier, and finds family members very handy! The AAP will do every thing through true democracy - like in the good old days, when might was right. Existing members will be responsible for curating new members, at village, college and city level. Decisions will also be taken by majority vote. Everything thinks taxes are too high - go ahead, take a vote, and abolish them! My boss once told me, democracy doesn't always work. Obviously, he wasn't an aam aadmi.

The grand old men of another party of the janata engaged in what they do best! Oppose. The only problem? They oppose themselves and their own strategies and their own decisions. And the holy name wasn't enough for one grand old man to keep his job - after all, unlike the promise of the aam aadmi party, the party of the janata doesn't allow you to hit and run! So if you don't like the Goodkari of the party, don't depend on the shotgun!

Meanwhile, one wise man will rue his decision to ask for something he always wanted. Because sometimes, when you ask shiddat se, the puri kayanat gets together to give you want you want. And then, you realize, you didn't really want it after all! Now a gambhir player is praying for a mirable, but will the God oblige? Seems unlikely! He does want to play jab tak hai jaan, but he's already out, you see? Now, maybe, all that can save us is the son of sardar!

Movie Review: Life Of Pi (3D)

I read Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, over 7 years ago. I had picked up the book at the Crossword store outside the iMax Dome in Mumbai, and couldn't lay it down until I had finished it.

The book has three parts - part one sets the stage, part two gets interesting with it's fantasy world, but it's really the tiny part three - just the last 5% of the book - that is worth all the effort. It will take a lot of thinking, and a very open mind, but then the possibilities, the implications, simply blow you away.

Piscine Molitor Patel, named after a French swimming pool, is a 16 year old boy in Pondicherry, where his father owns a zoo. His parents decide to emigrate to Canada, along with the animals for sale, when tragedy strikes. A huge storm strikes their freighter, and when the waves have settled down, Pi Patel finds himself on a lifeboat along with a hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker.

Ang Lee adapts the Life of Pi beautifully, doing with amazing lighting, visual and 3D effects what Yann did with words. As Pi and Richard Parker struggle for survival, they are pushed into a grand adventure and a spiritual voyage so beautiful, you almost wish they would never be found. Flying fishes, floating carnivorous islands with a million meercats, beautiful glowing creatures of the dark seas, the deadly storms - earth never looked so beautiful!

Is that all for real, or just a tale? The book (and the movie) leaves you thinking, for a very long time after it is over.

Suraj Sharma pulls off a magnificent performance as Pi, showing a range of emotions from anger to ecstasy, from fear to bravado, from the elation of hope to the crushing sense of defeat. The tiger is magnificent, a masterpiece of SFX. Irfan as the elder Pi is also good. Tabu has a small role too. But it is really the beauty of nature exquisitely created and captured by Ang Lee that will blow you away, and keep you begging for more.

This is one 3D movie that is absolutely nice on the eyes - unlike Avataar, which mesmerized with it's fantasy world, but beat the exhausted and over worked eyes into a deep sleep.
Word of caution for parents - the scene immediately after the storm, when Pi gets on the life boat with the animals, and the hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan, has the potential to seriously disturb kids. It might make sense to protect them and make them look away during that scene.   Overall, the Life Of Pi is a wonderful visual epic, not to be missed!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Expendables 2

Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a few others. Non stop action including blowing off a chopper by throwing a motorbike at it - stuff that will make Rajni feel proud. That's Expendables 2 for you.

CID and Talaash

As I kid, I was thrilled when the Hardy boys joined forces with Nancy Drew to solve some tough cases together. I didn't know at the time that both were characters created by the same author, and anyway, who cared? It just seemed so cool!

Later, I always thought it would be cool for TV serials to get "mixed up" - you know, have characters from one serial to come and be part of another!

Interestingly, a few months back, when Sony was launching a new soap, they did a beautiful job of introducing the lead character in the new serial through an episode of CID.

And now, you have Aamir Khan as his character from Talaash joining forces with the CID :)

How cool is that!!

Movie Review: Twilight Saga - Breaking Dawn Part 2

After the birth of their half mortal half immortal (yes, whatever that means) daughter Renesmee, the Cullens have just started enjoying being together, when they get the bad news. The Volturi are coming after them for sheltering a "human" child.

They must gather the support of other vampire families in order to convince the Volturi that Renesmee is not a threat to their existence, and that they have broken no vampire law.

The movie begins with Bella just starting to understand her vampire traits... and it's a pretty interesting phase. But it quickly turns boring, with endless dialogues and no action, until the last 15-20 mins when the Cullens and their friends, and the wolves face off against the Volturi. The action at the end is uniquely different, and well executed, and worth the wait.

Bella looked much better when she was human, and while she doesn't look as sick and terrible as in the last movie, Bella fans would do well to get a DVD of "On The Road" instead. Unless of course, you prefer watching her taking down the "bad" vampires.

Edward is white as ever, Alice pretty as ever, and the wolf stinks just as much. Dakota also looks just as stunningly deadly. The head Volturi is devilishly evil, and has some great moments towards the end of the movie.
Overall, not a bad watch. Not such a bad way to wrap up, after all!

Movie Review: Son Of Sardar

When Jassi Randhawa (Ajay) returns to his village in Punjab, from London, to take care of some ancestral property matters, he ends up in the home of his family's sworn enemies, whose patriarch Billu (Sanjay Dutt) has vowed not to marry his sweetheart of 25 years (Juhi), until he kills the last remaining member of the Randhawa family. One of his younger brothers has also sworn not to eat ice cream, the other has vowed himself away from cold drinks - and that should give you some idea of where this movie is headed.

Jassi is saved for the moment, because he is Billu's guest, and Billu treats guests like God. But he knows, as soon as he steps out of the house, his fate is sealed.

Jassi has also fallen in love with the youngest daughter of the family, Sukh (Sonakshi).

Will Jassi finally get booted out of the Billu family house, or will he win his love, and that of her family?

Forget competing with SRK's JTHJ, SOS should pat itself on the back for still managing to attract a handful of spectators on a Friday night, in spite of being such a loud, amateurish, outlandish, nonsensical "entertainer". Ek tu sardar, ek mai sardar, baaki sab bekaar - you get to hear this gem half a dozen times. There is a long scene about cow dung, there is another about blowing up a childhood passport photo to see if it matches the guy when he has grown up.

Salman has a short and sweet cameo after a very uninspiring and boring opening credits scene, but then imprints himself on Ajay and Sonakshi so that you have to tolerate Salman-inspired "steps" in the following song sequences. You have to laugh at scenes that include Ajay bouncing thugs on the floor like tennis balls. Yes, one scene in the train with a coconut, and another couple with Ajay trying desperately to stay in the Billu home are funny, but that's like enduring a long tiring, journey to enjoy a tapari chai on the highway!

Except for a few scenes where his comic timing comes to the fore, Ajay is boring. Sonakshi looks as good as always, and acts like she just came out of Dabang and Rowdy straight into SOS. Juhi as the punjaban tries too hard, and makes too many faces, looking neither cute nor smart. Sanjay Dutt is OK. Some of the supporting cast (notably Mukul Dev as one of the brothers) is much better.

The sound track has a couple of mildly interesting songs, but most of it is repetitive noise.

And after you have endured almost three hours of extra loud Sardars and lame jokes, the worst is yet to come - the silliest dance step, if you could call it that, in Salman Khan's very special Po Po song.

The name does seem to make sense though. SOS: Save Our Souls!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Turning Pitches

So India managed to bowl out England quickly on the 5th day, and didn't have too many mishaps chasing the small deficit, to wrap the 1st test in Ahmedabad. Pujara's double century and Ojha's bowling were the definite stars of the victory, and Sehwag's century too will give him a lot of confidence.

On to Mumbai now.

Dhoni has been complaining of lack of support from curators in creating turners, and why not! When in India, the team definitely should be able to exploit local conditions and our strengths - do we get the same leeway when we visit England and Australia and have to face deadly bouncing pitches in biting cold winds? I fail to understand why people say that India needs to be able to win in all conditions (and then expect those conditions to be bouncy wickets only!). Doesn't the same argument apply to England and Australia when they visit the subcontinent? Shouldn't they be able to win in all conditions too?

Anyway, looking forward to a turner in Mumbai, a 2-0 and eventually, a 4-0!

Movie Review: Moneyball

Based on a true story, Moneyball is a movie that rivals Jerry Maguire in the sports drama genre. Brad Pitt puts in a stunning performance as Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Forced to rebuild his team on a very tight budget, Beane hires the services of a young economist from Yale, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), using statistical models to identify and recruit bargain players that the scouts ignore as untouchable, but all of whom have the critical ability to get on base, score runs, and win games. The model threatens to upset age old baseball traditions and methods, and puts Beane in the line of fire of the loyalists, who accuse him of destroying the game with his atrocious game plan.

Will Billy's gamble pay off? With the Oakland As losing 14 games in a row at the start of the season, this seems very unlikely. But is a turn around waiting to happen? Or will this be Billy's biggest mistake?

Great dialogues and amazing characters make this 2 hour long movie seem very short indeed! A must-see for sports lovers, and for anyone who appreciates good drama.

Movie Review: Dark Shadows

A vampire, Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, tied up and buried underground for 200 years by his jilted lover (Eva Green as Angelique), is set free and returns to his ancestral home, Collinwood, where

he realizes his ancestors need his desperate help to survive.

An obvious attempt to build on the Twilight franchise, Dark Shadows will confuse you - is it drama, horror or a spoof? Difficult to say really.

Very avoidable, unless you cannot resist Depp or Eva Green.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Last Journey

Over 20 lakh people have turned up for Balasaheb's final journey... and with the funeral expected to be around 5 pm, it won't be surprising if the crowds swell beyond 30 lakhs.

And while the "fear" of the Shiv Sena could have been blamed for shops and roads shutting down, there is no way you can use that to explain this crowd. This is a spontaneous outpuring of love and respect for a leader who inspired awe and inspiration for millions of Maharashtrians.

In such a situation, one should also applaud the Mumbai Police, and the Shiv Sena cadres for the amazing discipline and order on the roads - and by no stretch of imagination, can you say this is not a nightmarish situation. In some sense, if this day passes off the same way it has gone off until now, this would be a redeeming moment for the Shiv Sena, an expression of discipline in strength, the way forward for this great city and the great state of Maharashtra.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Balasaheb Is No More

Shiv Sena Supremo and Maharashtra's much-loved leader Balasaheb Thackeray passed away at his residence Matoshree at 3:30 pm today, his doctors announced to the media assembled outside his residence, at around 5:00 pm. He was 86, and for the last few weeks, had been weak and ailing.

It's an end of an era for Maharashtra, and one hopes Raj and Uddhav can come together and strengthen the two Senas, channelizing the huge reserves of strength they possess for the growth and development of the Marathi Manoos and the wonderful state of Maharashtra. That would be a fitting tribute to this great leader.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Goa Is Crying Out For Help

The stench of rotting garbage. Plastics chocking the fields and rivulets, and littering the landscape as far as eye can see. Bumper to bumper traffic trying to get in and out of the city. Small dusty village roads clogged with thousands of MUVs and SUVs and mini buses and taxis, ferrying frustrated tourists to the once dreamy beaches of Goa. Unregulated, ugly concrete structures in fast disappearing open spaces. And a huge drop in fish production in the over-exploited seas.

The Manohar Parrikar goverment is barely into its first year, and the waves of problems ailing this once-beautiful land threatens to overwhelm it. With the Supreme Court banning all mining activity in the state, greens have breathed a sigh of relief, but the government now finds itself in a huge bind, a problem far larger than it anticipated. While the attempt to regularize mining and bring in environment friendly practices was laudable, with the complete ban in place, the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Goans is at stake, and the state's coffers are empyting quickly. Unless some balance is achieved and mining resumes, there is a real danger of the state going bankrupt and unable to bear the cost of the much-needed infrastructure development and well being of the people.

All is not lost. Wide eyed tourists, both local and foreign (although it is generally the lowest category of spenders, not the high fliers!), still stream in, adding valuable moolah to the state's economy. Goa is still a preferred destination for investment in property, and in some sense, the big builders and the deep pocketed NRIs and Indians ensure some semblance of beauty and balance in the eye sores of the concrete jungle, especially in the beach belt.

Parrikar has also constituted a high powered committee to look after the garbage problem, and given it a lot of executive powers - and this should have a lot of impact state wide. His clean image is also very critical to the well being of this state, and while a lot remains to be done to root out corruption, there is definitely a lot of hope for the average Goan. I have heard of plans to run bus loops, construct multi level parking structures and much-needed bridges, and widen roads to the extent possible. All of these will go a long way in the rejuvenation of the state.

Here are some other measures I believe can help address many of Goa's problems, and have a long term positive impact on the economy and quality of life:

1) Use a carrot and/or stick policy (whichever method works better for the government in terms of ease and practicality in implementation) to encourage/enforce discipline in garbage disposal in the beach belt. Different measures could include a tax for garbage disposal to establishments/panchayats that do not achieve a certain level of garbage segregation and recycling, vermiculture and so on. If tax is negative way to enforce, then provide grants to establishments for creating effective recycling and vermiculture facilities. Publicly reward panchayats and/or hotels that do good - create an annual award with significant pride and money associated with it.

2) Levy pollution/garbage tax for vehicles entering Goa. I am not aware if there are any legal restrictions here, but if Mahabaleshwar can impose the tax, I am sure Goa can too. Use this revenue to create better infrastructure in the beach belt. I do not think the tax will work towards restricting vehicles from entering the state, but even if that does, that will only be good news for the local travel and cab industry. So maybe it can be pretty high too!

3) Think about converting the Calangute-Baga belt into a restricted vehicle zone. Deploy luxury low-floor buses on the route, ensuring tourists are not inconvenienced, and yet, the whole area becomes a buzzing marketplace and walking zone, ensuring a lot more revenues and business to establishments all over the belt, while reducing polution and increasing the fun factor for tourists across  much larger area (and not just Titos lane!). There are enough large areas where multi storey parking lots can be constructed - Calangute football ground, Baga exhibition ground opposite Brittos and so on.

4) Use public participation - a website which can be used by the public to report garbage dumping, bad roads, and so on. Do not make punishment the crux of such a system, but alleviation. When people look at it as a way to get rid of garbage, they will definitely participate in the exercise, being the eyes and ears of the administration. Focus on beautification, not on fines.

5) Make it compulsory for large projects to spend a percentage of the total construction spend on public beautification - adopt a traffic island, repair a road, build a pretty fence, put up a sculpture - whatever. The government can  also provide grants to inviduals below a certain economic level to beautify/paint their homes, as long as they stick to certain architectural guidelines. Enforce these strictly.

Goa is endowed with a beautiful land, and beautiful people. All it takes is a little discipline, and I am sure we can take our state to a whole new level.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Movie Review: Jab Tak Hai Jaan

It was a pairing that taught us how to love back in the 90s. The King of Romance and the undisputable Badshah of Bollywood. The sweet croonings, the pataoing of families, the outstretched hands, even the hamming... DDLJ was the first movie I saw on a "date", almost two decades ago. And while time stops for no one, some things, like a beautiful bottle of wine, just get a lot better!

Add the reigning Queen of Bollywood to that mix, and you have a beautiful movie you will remember, jab tak hai jaan!

First, the story.

Major Samar Anand, a fearless officer with the Indian Army's Bomb Squad flirts with death every day of his life. The handsome stubble and the aviators glisten with sweat as Samar defuses yet another deadly bomb in the beautiful valley of Kashmir, and then heads off on his bike for some time with himself.
Enter Akira (Anushka Sharma), a sexy twenty-one year old filmmaker, dying to work with the Discovery Channel. Her good fortune lands her in the safe arms of Major Samar, as her dare to dive in the freezing waters of the lake turns deadly. In the jacket he leaves her with, she finds a diary, and is transported a decade back, into the life of a 25 year old Samar in London.

Samar loves Meera (Katrina Kaif), a girl who finds Indians brown and boring, and dreams of marrying an adventurous gora. She gets engaged to one, a handsome dude who owns a supermarket empire, but fate has other plans for her. Unable to resist Samar, who teaches her to drop her guard and find her inner self, she crosses the line she's drawn for herself, and for once, finds true happiness in his loving embrace. But when Samar is almost killed in a bike accident, Meera blames herself for it, and makes a deal with Jesus - bring him back to life, and in return, I will give up the one who's most precious to me.

Angry at Meera and at her Jesus, Samar decides to take them on and joins the army - I will embrace death every day, he promises - until Jesus takes me away from you, breaking your faith, or you come to me, breaking your promise.

Akira embeds herself in Samar's squad for her documentary, and the Gen "sex before love" girl falls head over heels, madly, truly and deeply in love with the generation older old fashioned Samar. And after a decade of dancing with death, Samar finally has a smile on his face, the childish innocence of super girl Akira winning him over.

In London to support her documentary submission at the Discovery Channel, fate plays another cruel game with Samar. Another serious accident lands him in hospital, with retrograde amnesia, back in time just before his first accident, and unable to remember anything after that. Akira seeks out Meera, knowing she is the only hope he has of ever regaining his lost memory.

Will Samar get back his lost years? Will Akira be successful in her love? And what about Meera? Were they ever meant to be?

Jab Tak Hai Jaan may have its faults - the retrograde amnesia and all that - but for anyone who's fallen in love, for anyone who's looking to fall in love, there can be no better way to learn what it means. Pure, undying, unaduterated love.

Now, for the performances.

Shah Rukh Khan has always been the Badshah of romance, no one can do it better than him. With Samar Anand, SRK brings yet another unforgetable Raj Malhotra alive. The cheeky jokes, a hint of a tear in his eyes, the arms-outstretched pose – irresistible, vintage Khan. And in keeping with the times, Samar's love is soft, restrained, mature. There are two scenes that stood out for me - both showing him struggle with his anger and passion, directed at the person he loves more than his own life.

Katrina Kaif as Meera is awesome, the perfect pairing opposite the King Khan. The undisputed glamour queen of Bollywood lights the screen on fire every time she's on it, and dishes out an out of the world dance sequence with Shah Rukh, an item number that sets a new benchmark, so far beyond the Sheelas and Munnis. And for those who hold her looks against her and think she cannot act, check out the scene in which she meets her mom and the scene in which she prays for Samar's life. She's always been one of my favourite actresses, and with SRK, she takes herself to a whole new level. Anushka Sharma is sexy and sweet, and very natural in her role as the bubbly Akira, although definitely second fiddle to Kat, and pretty much type cast in the roles she has come to be identified with.

Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh are cute, and add a beautiful segment to the film, although Anupam Kher as Meera’s dad doesn’t really have much to do.

London, Kashmir and Ladakh come to life in mesmerizing scenes, their pristine beauty adds to the wonderfully dreamy world of SRK, Meera and Akira. AR Rahman's score is not his best yet, but the songs have a way of growing on you - like all SRK movies, these are also sure to evoke stirring emotions in you, every time you hear the haunting melodies. ‘Challa’, ‘Ishq Shava’ and ‘Saans Mein’ are delightful, but unlikely to scorch the charts.

At just around three hours, some folks might find the movie a tad long, but for true blue romantics, it just doesn't seem long enough. SRK fans need no excuse to swoon over him, but if you have ever been in love, this is a must-see movie. Go watch it, and let the magic of the Yash Chopra, the King Khan and the Queen of Bollywood make life seem beautiful, and innocent, at least for a little while.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph (3D)

Wreck-It Ralph is the villain in an old-school low-res video arcade game, the grainy pixellated sort that wowed us in our childhood along with others like pacman. While he demolishes an apartment building, the hero of the game, Fix-It Felix Jr uses a magic hammer to repair the damages and always gets the hero's medal. Tired of being the bad guy for 30 years, Ralph decides enough is enough! Invading other games in search of the hero's medal, Ralph fights a war in the high-def world of Heroes Duty, and then into the chocolaty and pink world of Sugar Rush. Here he meets the super-cute and very naughty, sharp-witted girl named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who, like himself, is an outcast because she’s a ‘glitch’.

The two share a very special bond, while pursuing a similar goal - one wants his medal and glory, the other wants to prove herself a worthy racer in Sugar Rush.
The movie is refreshing, with a very original and visually stimulating story line, invoking nostalgia in video game geeks, and entertaining thoroughly with it's characters and humour. One note on the 3D: while there were hardly any "pop out of screen" effects, the brightness of the scenes ensures it doesn't really strain the eyes.

Worth a watch!

ps: We watched while comfortably ensconsed PVR's super sexy fully reclining sofas. It was meant as a backup - if we didn't dig the movie, we could also catch up on some well-needed shut-eye. But the movie didn't disappoint :)

Friday, November 09, 2012

IAC - What's The Game Plan?

IAC is live on TV - their expose #4. After Vadra, Gadkari and RIL, I was eager to see what was next on his hit list. It's been 20 mins now - and Arvind has been showing off a list of 700 names with accounts in HSBCs Geneva branch. Amounts like 100 Cr for the Ambanis. Is that even significant for businessmen like Mukesh and Anil whose net worth is in the billions? Kokila Ben was mentioned as one with an account but no balance! Then why is he mentioning her? He says three of the people on the list were raided - so what is the problem? He says the Ambanis and Naresh Goyal have paid tax on the amount - yet he demands a raid on them, to find out whether they were involved in Hawala. Arvind, do you have proof of their involvement or are you shooting darts? What exactly is the point?

Now he wants all industrialists and businessmen to submit detailed accounts to figure out IF they have been involved in hawala! Really, is this an accusation based on any proof of wrongdoing, or are they guilty until proved innocent?

Ok, now the main grouse he has is against HSBC. He wants top HSBC officials to be immediately arrested under prevention of money laundering and for waging war against the country! He wants HSBC to share with the government all details of all accounts of all Indians and that these be made public. When a reporter asked him, wouldn't this hurt the genuine people with hard earned money, he says there are many other banks and people should withdraw money and put in other banks. He thinks people should be ready to make that balidaan.

Oh yes, he also informs you that it is easier to open an account in HSBC than in SBI.

And now he has requested all 32000 employees of HSBC in India to resign for Bharat Mata's sake.
So after politicians, businessmen and banks, what next? Education Institutes? Will we see a real case being filed?

A few months back, India saw huge hope in the anti-corruption movement. Now one wonders - are we entering a phase where the mainstream media and social media will be used as a weapon to humiliate and accuse people, and leaders and businessmen will be guilty until proved innocent?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Movie Review: 6 Bullets

When martial arts fighter Andrew's teen daughter is kidnapped by Moldovan child traffickers, he turns to a ruthless ex-mercenary Samson for help to get her back. Samson (Van Damme), along with Andrew (the handsome Joe Flanigan) and his brave wife, must fight not just the deadly gangs, but also his own ghosts, in a race against time to rescue her against all odds.

Some good hand to hand combat, and some upsetting moments when Andrew realises his daughter is missing, make this a decent action flick. But nothing extra-ordinary really.

Old Guard, New Guard

While China looks set to welcome a whole bunch of new comers into the ruling council, America gets another 4 year long date with Obama, 4 more years to "do what we can"! Indians meanwhile are wondering what the choices are - with both the ruling and the primary opposition neck to neck in the race to outdo each other with corruption scandals.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The World From Above

If you love travel and exploring new places, then try catching “The World From Above” on Discovery HD. Amazing program that takes you flying over some of the most amazing places on earth, the camera picking out beautiful man-made structures and nature alike, the commentary providing just necessary details while allowing you to take in the beautiful sights.

It was Denmark today; the immaculately tended gardens, the imposing and beautiful castles, the yellow houses with red roofs, so beautifully maintained, the virgin coastline, the azure blue waters. Beautiful bridges. Legoland. A tiny sliver of sand, separating the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, thinning into just a couple of meters, and finally giving way to the confluence of the two seas, at the northernmost tip of mainland Europe. Tractor-pulled buses on the sand. A world so beautiful… development may have its price, but these are problems that can definitely be overcome.

Lessons From The Mahabharata

Been reading a fascinating "illustrated retelling" of the Mahabharata, by Devdutt Pattanaik.

The Mahabharat is a compilation of lots of stories by multiple rishis and sages through the centuries, a sort of Wikipedia around the ever-evolving Vedic way of life, although the first version was narrated by Vyas. The more and more you read it, you get a feeling that most of the Mahabharata is a guide on the follies and mistakes of humans, when Vedic laws are misinterpreted or misused. The most striking of this, of course, is Kunti's order to Arjun to share Draupadi among his brothers, but there are many other examples too - tales of extreme and unjust violence, racist attitudes, and scheming and plotting - and unlike popular belief, not just by the Kauravs, but also by the Pandavas. The Gita, as an embedded sermon by Krishna to Arjuna, is almost the soothing balm, the guide on how to live life. It's almost as if the Mahabharat sets the context, explaining to the reader the ills and evils that rule our lives, and then the Gita, at the point at which it is delivered, ensures the lesson hits hard.

As Devdutt puts it,

The Mahabharat is an ancient Hindu epic where,
a daughter is a prize in an Archery contest
a teacher demands half a kingdom as tuition fee
a mother asks his sons to share a wife
a family is divided over inheritance
a king gambles away his kingdom
a queen is forced to serve as a maid
a war is fought where all rules are broken
the victors loe their children
a forest is destroyed for a new city
... (and lots more)
until wisdom prevails

It's fascinating how almost every story points to good people doing bad things. As the Pandavas live their 13 years of exile, they meet gods and sages who teach them the folly of their actions - and through deeds later on, the Pandavas show how they have learnt from their expereinces and become better men.

Another fasctinating aspect of the Mahabharat are the stories of divine intervention and unbelievable acts, but when you think about it, can actually represent truth told as an exaggerated story, pointing to very advanced knowledge of science and techniques, presented in a manner that would be palatable to the not-so-smart common man.

Stories of a king sending his seed to his faraway queen through a parrot, or invoking the gods to give children to his queen, could very well point to knowledge and practice of artificial insemination. Similarly, stories of Kauravas being "incubated" in pots of ghee using pieces of an iron ball that came from their mother, clearly show that these weren't all natural babies! Is it unimaginable that they were incubated in test tubes?

More later...

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Sandy's Devastation

A couple of days have already gone by, but the US East Coast is still reeling from Sandy's devatating impact. While NYC has started limping back to some semblance of normalcy, with subways and trains starting to get back on the tracks, many parts of NJ, for example, are still without power and phones, and some estimates are that it could take as much as till Wed-Thurs for these to be restored!

Meanwhile, apparently the storm's surface speeds were measured using ISRO's satellites, after the NASA satellite used for the purpose stopped functioning a couple of years back... Interesting!

Samsung Disappoints

So my Samsung saga is coming to a clase now... after weeks of fighting, pleading, begging and threatening, we finally have a new refrigerator - a Hitachi. The poor Samsung has been taken away - wonder what fate awaits it. Even though we loved it, it just wasn't working well enough! Samsung thoroughly disappointed, not just with the quality of the fridge, but more so with the pathetic service. Dozens of calls to the dealer, the service center, even the "executive management team", as the site promised... the impact, zilch. Interestingly, when they came to take away the fridge, they even had the guts to ask me to pay for the Octroi! Simply unbelievable!

Now I eagerly await the refund - and given how totally exhausted I am from this business, I guess even if they refuse to pay up, I will simply smile and let them be.

Small price to pay for good riddance!

Movie Review: Skyfall

If not for the absolutely adrenalin-pumping action in the first 15 min, you would be hard-pressed to believe Skyfall is a Bond movie. You barely settle in your seat when the action rushes you, but alas, it's just the beginning, and there it ends. Almost.

There are no complex plots, no nuclear attacks. Instead a disgruntled MI6 agent, out to wreak havoc on his ex-employer, exposing MI6 and NATO agents across the globe, leading to the murder of 3 of them. With the ever-faithful Bond, back from hibernation and trying to get back to prime (he flunks every exam he takes on his comeback), trying to save M by barricading her away in his childhood home.

The movie opens with Bond chasing the bad guy, a super scene involving an old Land Rover chasing an Audi through crowded streets, an unbelievable bike chase sequence on roof tops, and a nerve-racking action sequence involving Bond driving an earthmover on top of a train.

As the movie meanders along, the quick witted dialogues make you smile, and some breathtaking vistas from London's quaint buildings to Macau's fantasy world, from Shanghai's gleaming skyscrapers to the Scottish moors, engage your attention. But there are no cool gadgets - were you expecting an exploding pen, asks Bond's new barely adolescent Q - instead, Bond and M fashion a very back-to-basics and almost Rajnikantish attack on the bad guys in an isolated Scottish manor, with old bulbs, nails, Bond's beautiful old Aston Martin and sticks of dynamite. Until it explodes into a fiery inferno, this is another scene that is beautifully shot and executed, the chopper's advance on the desolate mansion invoking some real menace. The hand to hand combat in Shanghai, against the backdrop of moving Neon signs is also amazing.

Daniel Craig works very well as the ageing Bond, as always. Judi Dench has an unusually long role in what will be her last Bond movie. As the bad guy Silva, Javier Bardem is amazing, his opening sequence develops word by word into a stunning entry. Both the girls Naome Harris (the MI6 agent) and Berenice Marlohe (the tortured sex worker) impress in their brief appearances.
But when the movie ends, Bond promising the new M that he is ready for action, you almost wish this was was the beginning of the movie, with lots more to come. If you are not really a Bond fan, you might want to check out the first 15 min, then move on to whatever else catches your fancy! As an action movie, Skyfall is like it's Bond - not really back to prime.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Book Review: The Krishna Key

If you liked Angels and Demons, do check out The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi. After Amish, here's another Indian author who's done a great job of blending mythology and contemporary, facts and fiction, with simple yet polished writing that will immediately appeal to Indian as well as Western readers. 

After Saini, a history professor, and his PhD student Priya, are falsely implicated and arrested for the murder of another researcher and Saini's friend, they find themselves in the throes of an adrenalin pumping race to decipher the mystery of the Krishna Key, while staying away from the clutches of the law, and the gleaming steel blades of an assassin.

Ashwin uses a very interesting track - Krishna's life in his own words - running parallel to the main story set in contemporary India, to add richness and a sense of mystique to the narrative. Extensively borrowing from recent history, geography, modern science, astronomy, metallurgy, mathematics, the Vedas, Greek philosophers, the Mahabharat, half-truths and conspiracy theories, Ashwin weaves a fascinating web of intrigue, where the line between truth and fiction is very, very blurred! Read the book with open on a laptop close by; you will find it fascinating to go beyond the lines - and see how sometimes, truth is really stranger than fiction!

One thing these books and authors have awakened in me - a deep sense of intrigue and curiosity about the Vedas, The Upanishad's and the depth of ancient Hindu wisdom. History was never so exciting!