Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ustad Sultan Khan- His Sarangi Lives On....

Jagjit Singh. Bhupen Hazarika. Ustad Sultan Khan. These three were the unparalleled jewels who embellished the world of Indian Music and enhanced its glory. Each one of them belonged to a vastly different genre of Indian music, each one of them now no longer there to regale our souls with their powerful voices. At times like silk, and times haunting- I still cannot believe that we have lost these three precious voices in such quick succession, with barely any time to even recuperate in between.

While Jagjit Singh was popular among the masses because of the commercial success he could garner, the latter two are relatively lesser known names. Bhupen Hazarika, still, has had a marked presence on the musical scene in the north-east, but Ustad Sultan Khan's fame had remained confined to the dilettantes classical music- not so popular among the youth, till a long time. I myself was introduced to his magical voice rather late in life, when I had acquired enough respect and awe for Hindustani Classical Music. It was with the release of the endearingly melodious 'Piya Basanti' that his voice gained stupendous recognition among the young music listeners. Piya Basanti, with its soft musical curves, remains a top favorite till date.

Padmabhushan Ustad Sultan Khan first gained fame through his extraordinary mastery over the Sarangi, one of the most difficult traditional Indian string instruments, which he learnt under the tutelage of his father Gulab Khan. If you have not heard the notes of his Sarangi, trust me, you are missing out on one of the simplest pleasures of life. Besides being a glorious sarangi player, he is also a prolific singer. In fact, of all his works, what I hold favorite is his first vocal album, titled Sabras. In each song of that album, you can get a taste of the bewitching notes of his Sarangi, combined with the wondrous rustic beauty of his voice, set to either folk or classical tunes. 'Nadi Re Kinaare' is my pick from them all.

A still from Leja Leja, from the album Ustad And The Divas
He sang only a limited number of film songs. His most famous is perhaps 'Albela Sajan' from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, a age old classical melody which gained effortless commercial success. 'Jhin-min-jheeni' from Maqbool also owes a mellifluous sufi section in the song to Ustad ji's voice. Collaborating with the young voice of Shreya Ghoshal, he churned out one of the most celebrated non-film songs, 'Leja leja', which I find myself humming very often while doing my daily chores. He is one of those artists I have followed with a pious fervour. Like was the case with Jagjit Singh, an attempt to imitate his songs to the last little harkat has been a source of immense musical learning for me.

One of the most-read articles on my blog is Kate Nahi Raat Mori, a post which extols the eponymous song set to his very voice. If there had to be just one song I could recommend to someone oblivious to the charms of Ustad ji's voice, it would be this one. A lot many people landed on the earlier post while searching for its lyrics, as my blog stats later revealed. I'll end this post with the lyrics of the same song, which continuously reverberated in the background as I wrote this post. Praying for his soul.

Kate nahi raat mori, 
Piya Tore Kaaran, kaaran.

Kaare-kaare baadal chaaye,
Dekh dekh ji lalchaaye,
Kaise aaoon paas tihaare,
Bhool gaye more saajan.

Bheega bheega mausam aaya,
Piya ka sandesa laaya,
Manwa ko chain na aawe,
Tarse hai mori raina.

In the colors of his land. Ustad Sultan Khan belonged to Jodhpur, and was cremated there yesterday.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Impromptu Rendezvous- School Remains The Best!

The kind of happiness an impromptu re-union can give you, its quite unique. We leave our academic abodes- schools and colleges- with loud promises keeping in touch, being integrally involved in each others lives, and always being there, with due emotional emphasis. But by now, all of us have been through and known, that even the most genuine of such commitments are often not able to stand the test of circumstances. We move on. We carry few faces firmly forward with us, but leave a lot many more behind. Often, the people we leave behind are the ones with whom we perhaps shared more intimate association while still in their obvious company. There remains a guilt, but there remains a helplessness.

And this is where the concept of reunions catches steam from. Reunions sound ultra grand- sound like a homecoming of sort; but the more they are planned and ranted on about, the more they fall flat on expectations. When invited to reconnect with people whom you shared your pens, pencils, notes, and your very heart with in one era, you can sometimes feel awkward by the pace with which things and people have moved on. You yourself, of course, being no exception. But when reunions are random and unplanned and impromptu and fixed over sleepy calls at the break of dawn, suddenly the excitement associated with them increases manifold. And then, who land up in your company are friends, who really want to be there with you enough to jump out from bed half dizzy and head towards an old hang out without a second thought. Despite it being a Sunday, they shift, alter, delay or cancel plans to experience that coveted tryst with memories.

And yes, though my ramblings might seem exaggerated at points, they do total justice to each emotion I felt during the course of the day. I studied in Laxman Public School, an institution which remains irreplaceable to my existence and to which I will proudly remain associated till even one known face exists in its precincts. What made one of my routine trips to the school even more special today was the coming together of the best of my friends, after an eon, with all the ease of the good old days. Teachers, building, classrooms- everything/everyone was greeted with the familiar mischief, familiar loudness, and familiar warmth. The day was great, and was made better with the lightness of everyone’s demeanour.

We saw a few changes. We don’t know for good or bad. We ended up criticizing them. Alterations, good/bad, associated with things which have a sentimental value are not always welcome. Traditions are sometimes best left untouched. We also found ourselves a little grown up. We began by indulging in the usual fun-banter about teachers, but ended up apologizing to a few for our unpleasant acts committed while we were too young  and adamant to realize it.

After a great time, albeit reluctantly, we parted ways. This time too, loud promises were made of keeping in touch, being involved, and being available. I am not thinking about that. I am just happy that today was. 

Thank you all, friends and teachers, for making LPS such an awesome experience for me. We might not always be in touch, but our common roots are enough to ensure that we remain connected at some level, always. 

Anjali ma'am. Not just a teacher, but a friend and mentor for life. She stood by me when I felt lonely and dark, and made me learn things which cannot be found in any text books.

With Tyagi Sir and Tyagi Ma'am-the best Chemistry teachers ever! I owe all my boards marks to their strict and disciplined, yet fun teaching.

The 12-A2 gang, collecting outside the school gate. From left to right- Piyush, Nishtha, Tarun, Myself and Mayank

Seema ma'am- junior school math teacher. She was the only one who could make me do math. Later, I only deteriorated.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho- An Attempted Review

"He has no idea what he is doing. He is walking towards Absolute Limitless Evil, capable of anything.Hamid assumes that Igor is just another adult and that he can confront him either with physical force or with logical argument. What he doesn't know is that Absolute Evil has the heart of a child and takes no responsibility for his actions and is convinced that it's right. And when it doesn't get what it wants, its not afraid of using all possible means to satisfy its desires". - The Winner Stands Alone, Paulo Coelho.

For me, the word macabre and love can never go together. But when it comes to Paulo Coelho's writings, you can obviously expect the unexpected. Before I picked up The Winner Stands Alone (TWSA), my experience with Coelho was moderately sweet. I had read three of his works- The Alchemist, Eleven Minutes and Veronica Decides To Die- and each one them, which I read separated by huge spaces in time, enthralled me at some level. So, while I could not exactly call myself and ardent fan of the author, I was definitely one who trusted him for writing good, out-of-the-box stuff.

Things changed a little with TWSA. It is his twelfth book, and like the earlier ones, touches on a something arcanely sublime, which is way above an ordinary person's realm of imagination and understanding. This, exactly, is what Coelho is famous for doing. TWSA pivots around one protagonist, although in totality, there are five names which shape and aid the development, pace and culmination of this book. 

Igor Malev, is not just the protagonist, but the very subject of this book. He is an extremely successful Russian telecom giant, who visits Cannes Film Festival with a single thing on his mind- to win back his wife Ewa. Ewa, who was once the motivation and the very reason for his existence is now married to a couturier, Hamid Hussein- a man as successful as Igor, but a powerful contradiction in character to him. Igor never recovers from the loss of his wife, and after two years of separation, decides to win her back. He calls himself to be on a 'mission of love', a mission that requires sacrifices- murders. Set against the backdrop of glitz and glamour of the world's most famous film festival, what then ensues is a tale of 'extraordinary violence' (as the book cover puts it), lasting just under 24 hours, revealing the evil which hides in each human soul and busting the myths associated with the world of celebrities.

TWSA is one of Coelho's most criticized books, as I learnt later. The reason for that, as I can guess, are many. For me, however, the prime reason for finding it an unsatisfactory read, was the profound sense of darkness which as an engrossed reader, TWSA filled me up with. The portrayal of the world of glamour, no doubt realistic, is very depressing. It is depicted as an arena in which under the glimmer of stars, what exists is deep darkness, an abyss of depression from which no return is possible. Gabriela, an aspiring and aging actress, and Jasmine, a young and wise model are the characters who are used to convey this aspect of the story, though in a very repetitive fashion. The narrative of the story keeps shifting between all the five characters (and also a few more), and which though essential to the fabric of the story, hinders the lucidity of the storyline at places. The development of the characters, besides that of Igor and perhaps Hamid Hussein, leaves a lot to be desired. The worst bit for me was the contemplative end of the novel. I like stories which end in light, and even though TWSA does not end in total darkness, it gives me nothing positive to carry in my heart.

What I would keep due credit to Coelho for, though, is his hero- Igor Malev. Yes, he is a character I hated, but that is what this character was intended for- to be unabashedly hated by some and to be justified by others. Both categories of people were not expected to like this character, even if they empathized with him at some points. He was a mirror for all the evil thoughts we allow and justify within ourselves. Igor displays what is known as the Lucifer Effect, a kind of psychological condition, in which an otherwise normal individual develops a mindset where he crosses the dividing line between good and evil, and engages in evil action thoroughly justified in his brain. A good revelation of the psyche of the serial killers can be provided by reading this book; though a tale of love I still refuse to believe this book is. Igor's appentence for Ewa is understandable, but his ways and means and thoughts and actions are capable of powerfully unnerving the young believers in love like me.

Reading 'The Winner Stands Alone' on my way to Jaipur.
I've had long, passionate discussions on this novel with three of my friends; Coelho does stimulate your brain that much for sure. So I might go on presenting my opinion of this book in a tiring, dilatory tone. However, succinctly put, it is not a book for all types of readers. Even for Paulo Coelho admirers, may be this is one book you can skip.Love might not have been the central theme of this book, but it is depicted as the underlying motivation for all things evil. I would give it only about 2 stars on five, and maintain, that for me, macabre and love can never go together.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anant And Saurabh- A Very Serious Interview

They are known as "Radio Ke Virus". For me, they were my daily addictions en route to college. I have been listening to them since I don't know when. So, some five years back, when the year 2006 was about to close, I got an opportunity to interview the two of them, for a very special edition of Times Of India-NIE. I could choose anyone- writers, politicians, socialites, artists- but the fifteen year old girl in me preferred to make arrangements for an interview with the masters of mad talk- Anant and Saurabh. While TOI promised to facilitate conversations with the management of Radio Mirchi for this particular interview, what I distinctly remember is the wonderful treatment, and insanely prompt replies I got from both- Anant-Saurabh, and the people I had to go through in order to reach them.

This interview, edited, was published in TOI-NIE edition dated 8th February, 2007. I found it again while rummaging through some old mails, precisely in the hope of re-igniting some lost nostalgia. Now that I read it again, a lot of it does not seem all that hilarious as it did when I was small. My teachers were proud I pulled this through. For me, the achievement was that an interview with these two adorable-crazy-awesome chatterboxes was the closest I have ever gotten to anyone I have ever claimed being a fan of. And till date, they both are the most amazing RJs I miss listening to, given my habit of sleeping late, getting up later. The are the craziest partners on air, but also gave me my daily doze of local updates, along with unconventional, humorous, and sometimes serious opinions. Recently, when they won an award for their programme on Human Trafficking at an international forum, I felt a personal pride, and promised myself to search for this interview again. Forgot. Here it is now! I did this as a fifteen year old, and from the perspective of a school student. Most questions hence are about school life.
(Their full names- Saurabh Bhramar and Anant Jha)

A pic I received from Radio Mirchi 6 years back to be published along with the interview

They are hilarious, they are famous, they are the cool dudes of the city & they come with a statutory warning- “Kuchh bhi karna, par in ko mat sun-na.” No peanuts for guessing, they are ANANT and SAURABH, the RJs whose voice acts as the morning alarm for most of the ardent radio listeners of Delhi. The Dilliwalas are absolutely in love with their antics, which help start their day on a bright note. While the listeners almost guffaw in response to the hilarious conversation between the two of them, Saumya Kulshrestha, a student of LPS, thought of taking a very serious interview of the two of them. The interview follows.....


Q:1) We as school students would like to know that how important is school life in shaping a person’s future?
A:1)We believe that school life is very important in determining one’s future as you get to know the subjects that you hate and wouldn’t want to work in any of those fields. The things which a student learns between classes and in their interaction with other students is more useful than what they learn from the textbooks.

Q:2) Tell us what aspect of school life charmed you the most?
A:2)Summer and winter vacations. All companies should also follow the same routine.

Q:3) Was RJ-ing  always a dream or you stumbled upon it?
A:3)Totally stumbled upon it. If somebody could pay us to talk, it couldn’t be that bad.

Q:4) Radio or rather FM is an important mode of dissemination of substance based information. How far do you agree with the statement?
A:4)We totally agree with the statement although we can’t agree on what it means. Wasn’t “dissemination” a biological term???

Q:5) You usually play new songs on your show. If you were to present a show fully dedicated to old classics, what kind of songs would come out of your song box?
A:5)We would love to play songs by Britney Knowles, Beyonce Spears, Shakira Bano, Materazzi and Mohd. Barfi. We love their songs.

Q:6) We & all your listeners are complete fan of your antics. Tell us are you as hilarious in your real life too? How do your kith and kins react to your funny comments spoken out on a citywide forum?
A:6)We are very serious people and take everything in life very seriously, if people don’t take us seriously then there is something wrong with them. Our kith and kin (body parts???) think that we work in a call centre.

Q:7) Is witty conversation between you premeditated or spontaneous?
A:7)We meditate before we speak so I guess it is premeditated and since we don’t know what we are saying, all of it is spontaneous.

Q:8) If you were given a chance to direct a movie tomorrow, what would be the subject & who would be the leading people of the movie?
A:8)It would be a film based on wildlife in the film industry narrated from the perspective of a couch. According to our cinematic adviser, Guru Rai Bahadur Mahesh Butt sahib it would be Angelina Jolie as the couch, and the man with animal instincts, Shoaib Akhtar as the wildlife.

Q:9) A VJ or a television anchor gets a lot of importance because they are recognized by the general public by their face. Do you feel being an RJ somewhere deprives you of that fame & glamour?
A:9)No. we have the perfect faces for radio. Not doing television has been a conscious choice but eventually when we stop talking we will be doing silent films.

RAPID FIRE- one sentence answers please (as brief as possible)

Q:1) Your take on these technical terms from various subjects, probably taught to you also in school.
a)      Catenation (Chemistry): When the entire nation is run over & governed by cats it is known as cat-e-nation.
b)      Disaster Management (Geography): People who make disasters happen on a large scale.
c)     Polynomial (Maths): A polynomial is an equation that has more than two variables and lots of answers.

d)      Capital Punishment (Civics): When a student is given the arduous task of learning the name of every country’s capital in the world it is known as capital punishment.
e)      Oxidation (Chemistry): When humans start dating oxen!!!

Q:2) What if not an RJ?  
Ladies tailor at Lajpat Nagar.

Q:3) Three words that define an RJ.
Licensed to talk.

Q:4) Indian bolly stars who have the maximum potential to be an RJ(except Preity Zinta & Vidya Balan).
Tusshar Kapoor in Golmaal and Rani Mukherjee in Black.

Q:5) Best thing about each other.
We love dating each other’s girlfriends and spending their money.

Anant and Saurabh- with their award at the New York Festival

PS- Sincere thanks to Kriti Arora and Sonam Sharma for all their help with this. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Glutton's Journals- Ajmer

A food aficionado on prowl
I belong to a family of food crazy people. Not only my immediate family, but even near and distant kinfolk- all of us obsess about food with an almost religious fervour. A section of us have a chef residing within them, which tries to churn out mouth-watering delicacies for other people's benefit; and another section of us are the unabashed eaters, the perfect heterotrophs, who live off the cooking of other people. I obviously belong to the latter category, as explained explicitly in Mageirocophobia. I hate cooking, but I can't eat bland food, and so, what ensues each night at my home is a long and tiresome discussion, where I reject half the dishes my mother wants to cook. I give her my list of demands, which, mind you, are not easy to meet.

More than home, we (myself and fellow heterotrophs) love exploring newer places which offer interesting answers to our quest of satiating the glutton inside us. From grand and opulent eateries to nondescript, unnoticeable crevices in dingy streets oozing the aroma of unmistakably delicious food, I have had my experiences everywhere. Few of the food experiments did backfire, leading to a sore stomach or a persistent bad taste on my tongue, but many experiences yielded the kind of food whose very thought makes me salivate.

Two such distinct food experiences I had on my recent trip to Ajmer. The first fanned my appetite, the second one provided the happy climax to a perfect meal.

KARARI RUMALI @ Havmor Restaurant, Vega-The Mall, Soochna Kendra Chauraha, Ajmer.

First look of the Karari Rumali, with mint dip hiding under its shadow

Karari Rumali is the first item listed on the menu of the Starters available at this restaurant. The taste comes later, what this dish immediately scores on is the visual appeal it creates. We eat first from our eyes, then nose, then mouth- that is how the saying goes, isn't it? Enormous in size, bigger than perhaps the conventional size of rumali rotis, its crispness enters your ears as the whole family sitting around it breaks off little chunks, and savours them with an brilliantly prepared mint dip. In a restaurant filled to the brim, you can see many similar preparations being gaily eaten away at other tables. For me, it was a good starter. Crisp and light, with no strong flavors, and the sprinkling of the a yummy concoction of tangy spices on top- it tickles your tummy just enough to make way for the heavy main course soon to come. I could associate its texture and flavors closest to a Rajasthani khakra, though the sophistication of its taste surpasses that of a traditional khakra by miles.

DOODH (milk) @ Bhootiya Halwaai, Alwar Gate, Ajmer
Finding favour with a decent crowd, even post eleven at night- Bhootiya Halwaai

After a sumptuous, filling meal, our car drove down a desolate road, with no trace of life whatsoever. At the far end, I could see some light, some human forms, and then a shop with the eeriest name possible- Bhootiya Halwaai. Weird. And even as I got excited, I learned that there is only an embarrassingly tiny legend behind that marvelously intriguing name of this shop. The shop, it is said, serves such amazing thickly boiled milk, that even spirits (bhoots) can't resist its lull and aroma. In some unearthly incidents, it was discovered that all the left over milk mysteriously disappeared from the shop each night, and this was deemed to be the doing of bhoots, and not some hungry/thirsty thief. I don't know about the spirits, but I loved the milk which was served in mitti-ke-kulhad, little earthen cups, which people smash against the ground after consuming its contents. Sweet, boiled, thick milk is one of the most traditional after-dinner-before-bed preparations finding favour with Indians since ages, and I am glad I preferred it to a boring ice-cream for ending my meal. Bhootiya Halwaai knows perfectly how to please his customers, and the lurking spirits too.

These two are the first entries in my food journal. A lot more might just follow. After all, I live to eat, and proudly so. It kind of shows too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Julia Child! I seek your blessings...

"Khaana banana aur bana paana do alag-alag baatein hai"
A micro second after my cousin commented this, with his sharp, gloating, humor filled eyes set firmly on me, about half a dozen people seated in my living room split into laughter bouts loud enough to drown any other sound which competed for attention. Cause was the usual discussion over my non-existent culinary abilities. This discussion invariably starts with me politely offering my aunt a cup of coffee (or tea in some other cases), made by me, with appropriate disclaimers of a potential taste hazard being put promptly in place. My polite offer is always accompanied by a humble, almost begging request, to gulp down my coffee like a medicine just in case the taste is too atrocious, and surpasses even the bitterness of coffee beans at choking one's taste buds. So while my aunt displays her grace at sipping my coffee with a smile, which (deceivingly) conveys that I did a good job with putting milk, sugar and coffee together, some other guests are not always so gracious. If ever I prevaricate over questions of cooking, I am reminded of my 'gender' with an almost irritating promptness, as if I am dumb enough to not have realized my feminine attributes and obligations in the past 21 years of my existence. But 21 years, this is where the problem lies. I am almost marriageable now, though the auspicious nuptials will not knock on my door for at least half a decade more (they better don't!). In this half a decade (audaciously assumed), I have to not just learn cooking for survival, but have to master the culinary art with high grades. What will otherwise be the decisive accessory on my marital resume?

As I ponder over this, I almost get those visions in my head, straight out of loser bollywood movies, where the very first glimpse a hero casts on his would-be is as she heads in his direction, with her eyes demurely lowered, carrying a huge tray of snacks and tea in her hands (Pick up any Rajshri movie for example). Even before their eyes meet, the aroma of delicacies, I am sure, wafts in the air, and a quarter of the decision about accepting or rejecting the girl is taken then and there. (The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, have they not been teaching this to us since time immemorial?) This, given that traditionally, it is a girl who is supposed to have cooked up half a dozen snacks- or is at least boasted to have done so. Even in the not so traditional families, it is the girl who is supposed to serve her would-be/could-be in-laws even if it is admitted that her culinary abilities suck. This is what took place with a close friend of mine, whose nuptials are soon to take place. This, however, is a scarier vision. My clumsiness, especially when it comes to food, is world famous. Ask my cousin why I always get my sub packed, and he will tell you in between loud guffaws that it is because I can create quite a scene while attempting to savour it, even while I am careful at my best.

The worst sufferer of my clumsiness has been my own self. Some three years back, I decided I wanted to dabble in the domain of cooking, beginning my culinary journey with my then-favorite Chinese cuisine. I made Chilly Paneer in gravy, and added that ominous essential ingredient, cornflour in a little excess- I like my gravies thick. However, before I could safely transfer the extremely hot dish onto the dining table, I fumbled, stumbled, and the piping hot gravy splashed right onto my arms and shoulders. The extra cornflour proved to be extra fatal. as it stuck to my skin like burnt, molten plastic, and had to be pulled out along with some skin in a triangular patch which is still discernible on my right arm if carefully checked. My culinary adventure came to a screeching halt. And since then, Chinese has been sacrificed as my favorite in favour of the cheese-rich Italian cuisine.

My bharta did not look as perfect. Sigh.
Why the musings today? That is because today is the second time I attempted to cook the good, old baingan ka bharta , and today is only second time in my existence that I burnt it. I am consistent, amn't I? Just as I was smiling about how simple the recipe seems, I faulted on the technique. If not for my mother, I would have idiotically continued watching Bodyguard, as the bharta simmered away to its eventual demise; as it morphed into black mass of in-edibility. Now that I think of it, Bodyguard is not even a movie worth sacrificing a yummy bharta for. Good news, my mother saved it. Bad news, I had to carry sheepishness in my heart to sleep.

So, while food is what I live for, cooking certainly is dreadful for me. The rebel in me often fought against the imposed learning of this supposed art. I vouched for keeping a servant as I honed my other skills. However, in today's age influenced by the MasterChef India Series, where martial arts instructors, corporate trainers, office errand boys, painters and anchor persons are asserting their skill in cooking professionally competitive delicacies, to claim ignorance in this basic art in nothing short of a crime. For now, I am thinking of becoming my mother's permanent kitchen assistant. The earlier rebel inside my is consumed with envy as I see my 6 year younger sister chop and cook with more expertise than me, and have those culinary discussions with my mother in which I feel like an alien. For now, I think I will take advantage of my short break, and take small steps towards accomplishing what is not short of a herculean task for me. So I will be my mother's unerring kitchen assistant. It would help me more than it helps her. 

Sigh. The compulsions. Ugh! 
The only silver lining is a vision..I lay down a an exquisite dinner table, with a dozen guests seated, ogling with their eyes at the perfectly garnished dishes I lay down with a smug smile on my face, knowing just by the wafts of the subtle aromas that I what I have cooked will be eulogized by the dinner guests till days later.... Dreams.....!

How about an inspiration to begin my foray into cooking with? Chef Vikas Khanna, the latest talk of the town just seems about perfect! Any bribe which includes his mention will certainly make me the best cook on the planet!

PS- Mageirocophobia translates as the fear of cooking. It ain't all that acute, but it does describe the dread in my heart to some good extent.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keep The Change- A Review

So desperate was I for a doze of fiction in the busy exam season of my life, that the first book I lay my hands on, I finished it in less than a day.

I did not read the whole book in one day; part of it had been read earlier by me. Keep The Change, authored by Nirupama Subramanian, is a book I started reading in the breaks during my brief stint as a Derivatives Trader. In its initial pages, it did not arouse enough interest, and so was comfortably abandoned to give way to the more bulky text books I needed to mug up for my CS(M) exams. Once they got over, it was only natural that I returned to this book. And now it seemed more entertaining, for I found myself flowing with the story-line.

Keep The Change is a book I would classify under the mundane chick-lits, with nothing really new or exciting to offer. It tells the tale of a Chennai born, conservative, unmarried and ambitious B.Damayanthi, whom fate leads among the demanding corporate realms of Mumbai from the stagnating accountant's job she held back home in Chennai. Employed now at FirstGlobal, a leading bank, it is quite simple to predict the kind of turns her life would take. Enough of new age literature has been written delineating the insides of the corporate world; and there is nothing novel this book presents. Interspersed into the demanding, hectic, unrewarding and unpredictable office life of Damayanthi is of course, the essential ingredient of love, which she craves for, sorry, lusts after. She stumbles, both in office and her supposed love life, and learns her lessons. And when she does, the story ends. Simple as that.

Damayanthi Balachandran is sent to live her new life in the Mumbai milieu with cautioning parting words of her mother, concerned with her marriage more than anything else in the world- "Be good. Don't do anything silly." To her (supposedly correct) judgement, Damayanthi translates these words as "Stay away from sex and alcohol." The plot then unfolds to show how she deals with a size-zero flatmate, Sonya Sood, who is completely anti-thetical to her her own self; a friend, Jimmy, at work place who looks after her and often imparts arcane words of wisdom; a senior, CG, whom she wishes to impress and attempts to understand and re-understand; a typical, parasitic office senior, Harish, who sucks of her work and leads her to depression; and the hot and immensely desirable Rahul, whom she clearly lusts after, but checks herself in time.

Typical. Predictable. Mix all those characters together, think of a story, and you might as well have created the same one as Nirupama Subramanian does.

The author is herself a South Indian, who had a brief stint at a bank. So the setting of her narrative was quite obvious. The story, as made quite evident by now, was nothing spectacular. So, what kept me hooked onto it till the end? The first reason, is of course, the desperation of wanting to read and the guilt I develop over unfinished books.The second reason was the mode of writing which Ms. Subramanian employed. The whole book is written in the form of the protagonist's journals, which I know is not a strikingly new technique, but it added a layer to the story line. Her, Damayanthi's journals are written in as her letters to an imaginary friend, Victoria, with whom she manages to have a two way conversation. This two way conversation is sustained on the imaginary persona of Victoria, which Damayanthi creates as an image of everything she aspired to be. I know I have attempted such relatable weirdness in life, so it felt kind of good.

The third reason is the language of the book. It is easy, contemporary and witty. Humorous too, and effortlessly at that. At the end of reading, I was left with a many pithy one liners which I would love to employ in appropriate situations. The author is immensely successful in creating Damayanthi's character as any other woman you might see slogging away in the corporate world, with an apposite peek into her psyche as and when necessary. Her inner self is an important character in the story, called the Little Voice. Besides her and her inner self, the development of other characters is just under satisfactory, as it leaves a lot of scope for a reader's own judgements and imagination to aid their picturization. May be that is how the author intended for things to be.

The fourth reason was Damayanthi herself. She came across as a loveable and familiar 26 year old, who is trying to find the stability in her existence, as she juggles between the stereotyped orthodox notions and regulations of her home, and the forward, dynamic, sharply competitive and challenging life of the corporate world. This is a situation which would give a sense of deja vu to many.

I would give it 2.75 stars, as 2.5 seems too less and 3 too much. And this, on a scale of only chick-lit literature, if I can call it literature at all. Read it like you would watch a movie. If at all you do.

What I would preserve from the book are the following lines, along with the context they emerged in

"Regret is a more miserable bedfellow than guilt"

"I am still trying to understand my non standard deviation from the desired behavior and do a variance analysis of the factors that can lead to an above average specimen of the male species to call a girl at the end of the bell curve."

"There is no direct cause and effect relationship between many things that happen in this world. Things just happen and we try to rationalize them afterwards, to make some sense of this random existence."

So, I finally finished the book I was gifted two years ago on my birthday.
Now onto
1. The Winner Stands Alone, by Paolo Coelho
2. Kadambari, by Banabhatta.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Blind Wish

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred. 
(- Lord Tennyson, 
The Charge of the Light Brigade)

In this blog post, I have nothing original to write, but a personal inspiration to present. The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock, is one of the best movies I have ever seen. I caught the first show of this movie with my little sweetheart, Aavika, and I can only thank her for endorsing this movie when I had a dozen others to choose from. The plot runs around the relationship shared by a white mother and an adopted black son, who has not so pleasant a history to cherish as on his memory-scape. A keen essence of the movie is how in the most unlikely of relationships can one locate an identity for oneself. Personally, the valuable lesson I learnt was that when we extend our hand to someone, we when offer help, or support to those in need, it is not them we should expect to feeling grateful. It is us, who should feel grateful, for having been capable and privileged enough to help. In the pragmatic world, often a lot of us forget this thing.

Another very, very dear thing this movie left with me is an essay. Little, but worthy. The protagonist of this movie writes this essay, extremely critical for his grades, the base of which he chooses as the poem an excerpt from which is quoted at the beginning of this post. The Charge Of The Light Brigade is an oft quoted, classic poem written by Lord Tennyson themed on the Battle of Balaclava, which took place during the Crimean War of around the 1850s. The extrapolation of the poem is a thought invoking one, and made me think and think deep. Even those who claim to be genius at pansophy could not have extracted and applied the meaning of a poem on a theme as anachronistic and difficult as a war to the common life of an ordinary youngster who has battles to fight everyday and a world beyond his reach to understand. And yes, an extrapolation glazed in the beauty of simple words of a below average, struggling student. I made use of the pause button to note it whole down; that is how twisted I can be at times. But with due selfishness, I am glad I did. Here it is.

"Courage is a hard thing to figure. You can have courage based on a dumb idea or a mistake, but you are not supposed to question adults or your coach or your teachers, because they make the rules. May be they know best, but may be they don't. It all depends on who you are and where you come from. Didn't at least one of the 600 guys think of giving up and joining with the other side? I mean, Valley of Death, that's pretty salty stuff. Thats why courage is tricky. Should you always do what others tell you to do? Sometimes, you might not even know why you are doing something. I mean, any fool can have courage. But honor, that's the real reason you either do something or you don't. Its who you are and may be who you want to be. If you die trying for something important then you have both honor and courage and that's pretty good. I think that's what the poet was saying, that you should hope for courage and try for honor. And may be even pray that the people telling you what to do have some too. "

In the most basic of ways, this piece elevates my spirits when I am on the verge of giving up on dreams and wishes the realization of which seems to be an arduous uphill task. If the dream seems difficult, its realization will be worth it. It is easy to take the easy path, isn't it? I mean, I did many times settle down on the easy course and allowed the comfort of that route to shape my future. My problem is with uncertainty. It is a condition I can't handle. Often I feel pressured when the conduct I observe and the decision I follow come imposed from above and are not a product of my thoughts and discernment. But my dreams have flowered in that very framework. And now, they are my dreams. They seem difficult, but that just about makes them worth it. I am still not comfortable with uncertainty, (which now for me with last a mammoth 3 months) but then, who is? We just develop strength and faith to deal with it, and diligence to overcome it.

So while the passage above me teaches about courage, an interesting caveat it adds is about honor. Dreams, goals, aims, are a universal phenomenon. But at times they are relentlessly pursued. Foolishly pursued. I mean, any fool can have courage. We can aim for the stars, but may be sometimes its important to bear in mind that humanly, it possible to go only as far as the moon.

I appeared for my last Civil Services (Mains) Exam on Wednesday, and now I have simply no idea what to do with life. About that I will ponder later. For now I could do with thanking a few close ones
1. Dad, for the cups prompt cups of lemon tea served night and day.
2. Ma, for being the best Sanskrit teacher in the world. 
3. Maitreyi and RLA college libraries, for supplying books which have vanished from everywhere else.
4. Vijaya Ma'am and Dr. Sales, for showing the first streaks of confidence in me.
5. Twishmay Shankar and Anup Bishnoi- for telling stories that helped me draft perfect essays.
6.Pallak Jagga and Mayank Saroha for staying connected and sending ceaseless confidence boosting wishes.
7. Cheistha Kochhar, for not just answering random, esoteric, perplexing questions all along, but for also being an inspiration for perfection.
I do not know the news I will hear in February, but all you people, are enormously special. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Oh Ridiculous Love!

No. I am not at all attempting to shed my image as a cheesy, hopeless romantic. Nor am I trying to opulently put on display some new found sagacity in matters of the heart, arrived at by some personal bitter experience. I am only amused at something I read. And in the present context of everything happening around me, I find it worth recording on my blog.

What is happening in my life is irrelevant. But largely, suffice to say that love-lorn hearts (including my own) are strewn around me; most with an ache- the others brimming with (transitory) bliss. In this transitional phase in life, transitioning towards maturity, we, inter alia, grow from being a student to a professional, from being carefree to being responsible, from being a dependent to an independent...and alongside, with a presumptuousness we form philosophical perspectives on various aspects of life. One of these perspectives, inevitably, is about love. The grandiloquence of it, or the mere futility of it.

Though my beliefs ascribe to the former category, there was a King in erstwhile times, approximately around the seventh century A.D., who immortalized himself in a single line, perspicuously displaying his disapproval of any heart that ever loved- "Dhik tam cha, taam cha, madanam cha, imaam cha, maam cha." In particular, he displays his disapprobation toward those who are attracted towards others, disregarding and being unfaithful towards their own beloved ones. Story says that Bhartihari, a distinguished scholar and poet, besides being a King, composed a verse after discovering the infidelity of his wife, which approximates in English as-
"She, of whom I think ceaselessly, is indifferent to me, 
She yearns after another man, who himself is attached to a third one,
While some other woman pines away for me,
Fie on that woman, on him, on the God of love, on my wife, and myself!"
(यां चिन्तया सततं मयि सा विरक्ता
साप्यनमिच्छति जनं स जनोन्यसक्तः
अस्मत्कृते च परितुष्यन्ति काचिदन्या
धिक् तां च तं च मदनं च इमां च मां च )
 What the poet alludes to in the above verse is a time tested consternation; I call it time tested because what the poet experienced in his mature years, a lot of my friends are experiencing in their yet young times. The extrapolation of the above line approximates to the poet's feeling that true love in this world in rare. Man tries to locate his happiness in that of his loved ones, and when he discovers them to be unfaithful, he turns wholly averse to the very concept of love. Sounds familiar? It does to me! When people question me (and sometimes when I question myself) about the idealistic nature which we attribute to a feeling as subjective and formless as love, at times I have no answer but just a smile which seeks to convey an incorrigible belief in the truth of this feeling. Sometimes that smile is to check within myself if the belief/faith is still there. May be according to the poet above, true love can exist only if it satisfies a condition of double coincidence of desires; which are not as rare in the present world as would be in a barter economy. May  be I hold consonance with this thought. But may be I don't.

I only seek to shy away questions of how and why which tirelessly attempt to generalize the wonder that love is. Unfortunate is the fact is that that people start generalizing the notions of love only after they think they've been scathed by it. So, a lot of times, they don't generalize, but demonize it- curse whom they once loved, curse the feeling itself. I know things get harsh and hard sometimes, but they are always meant to. This one thought should never be lost sight of. There stands no example of an enduring tale of love which has not been tested amid the worst of circumstances. It stand tall if it survived the test, and it crumbled if it could not. The fact also is that it crumbles only to give way to something more worthy in its place. 

This might sound like an overtly optimistic thinking; but I do not know a better way of living. I, from whatever I have learnt in life, will always avoid generalizing love. I usually believe in love stories which propagate the love is forever doctrine, in the most convincing way; but have also caught myself sometimes philosophizing about it having an organic character - something that lives, breathes and has a life span. The eternity is then justified as something sublime, which ends with the people in love, but ends for sure. Love sometimes is a strength, the other times the biggest weakness of a person. A firm believer in love is only once in a lifetime dogma, I have often urged, and encouraged people to move on; and have even witnessed perfectly successful love stories emanate out of the second or even the third tryst of love for some people. Holding on and letting go are both contradicting essentials for knowing and experiencing love. There is a lot which is ideal about love, nothing that can be idealized about it. Our best bet is to live it while it lasts. To hold on till we can. To be happy, and spread the smiles. Thereafter, if ill omens do manifest, faith will lead you on. And if it does not, you should know that you have to let go. Love is a feeling to make your life beautiful and worth living; not to turn it into a grotesque painting with all the wrong colors at all the wrong places. And if the latter is what you feel has happened with you, did you not know that the artist capable of redrawing the painting resides very much within you?

PS- If you read through till here, and you liked even a little of what you read, and you are a person in love, and you are slow-and-not-so-expressive, take this at the perfect opportunity of letting someone know, in may be a little sentence that he/she is special to you. Trust me, it might mean the world to someone. Even if it is just a friend, sometimes you simply need let people know.