Sunday, December 20, 2009

The fragrance of Rajnigandha....

I bought a VCD of the Hindi film Rajnigandha a couple of weeks ago. This film, directed by Basu Chatterji, was released when I had just entered my teens. We were living in Alwar, Rajasthan at that time. I never got to see the film but it certainly made an impact on me. The beautiful songs, the stunning beauty of Vidya Sinha, the charming boy-next-door hero Amol Palekar along with the artistic looking Dinesh Thakur all added to the beauty of this film.

The film is based on a story Yehi Sach Hai by Mannu Bhandari. It is about the dilemma a young woman faces when she meets an ex-boyfriend and old memories get revived. She is caught between two men who are head over heels in love with her.

The Bengali gentleman Salil Choudhary was the music director of this film. He had also composed the music for the National Award winning Malayalam film Chemmeen. The song Kai Baar Yun Hi Dekha Hai ... sung by Mukesh encapsulates the dilemma so well. It talks of the mind transgressing the boundary line which the mind itself had drawn and flirting with danger. It has been sung so beautifully by Mukesh I am not surprised that it won a national award. I must admit that I have listened to this song time and again. The words towards the end are "Kisko meet banaoon, kiski preet bhulaoon?" ("Whom should I make my beloved? Whose love should I forget?" )

Rajnigandha had won the 1974 Filmfare award for the best film. Try to see it if you haven't already seen it.

Writer Mannu Bhandari. [Pic courtesy]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Awaiting Kerala Cafe

Malayalam cinema has been dead for a long time - notwithstanding the fact that Adoor G is still alive. After all Dada Falke award is nothing more than an invitation to one's own funeral!

Kerala Cafe - is the new Malayalam incarnation of Dekalog by a Krzysztof Piesiewicz ingénue - Renjith. Instead of a project house/apartment complex, the general setting is a cafe in a railway station. A sneak peek here.

I haven't seen the movie yet. But it has managed to spark a bit of anticipation. I have always thought of malayalam directors as capable but weighed down by the pulls of market and bizarre perceptions of neurotic distributors and prejudiced producers. Bringing ten of them with individual plots together relieved them of the pressure of carrying a two hour enterprise to the far end of box office. From what I've seen from the promos, it promises quite a bit. The compositions appeared tight and rhythm taut with an unmistakable thread of a theme. After a long time, the actors looked really the part!

Looking forward to watch it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Globalisation and IWE...

The effects of globalisation on IWE (Indian Writing in English)?

"As the Indian novel in English, assisted by India's rising profile in global affairs, finds an audience wherever English is spoken, it often seems to sacrifice the particularities of Indian experience for a watered-down idiom that can speak to readers across the globe.." - Chandrahas Chaudhury writes about the Indian writer in English no longer being seen as someone who panders to the tastes of the West. But at what cost?

Click here to access the full article.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

apropos Dalrymple

Take off from a review of malayalam colonial era movie, Pazhassi Raja - a royal nemesis of East India Company from the erstwhile kingdom of Kottayam.

...18th century Kottayam, a royal house otherwise renowned for producing Sanskritists and Kathakali playwrights. On the map, it’s approximately where William Dalrymple was doing his research at approximately the same time. Why, if he had wandered on to the sets of this multi-culti Company-era epic, there surely would have been a walk-on part for a cherubic Scotsman. And by offering to impale himself on a quivering Kurichiya (tribal) spear, he could have atoned for the sins of his ancestors at one stroke and spared himself the rigours of ethnography!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Sad Inevitability of War

Pakistani battle tanks destroyed by the Indian Army, displayed as war trophies in Mhow. I wonder how many men died in these two tanks. A google search showed me that the Pakistanis have also displayed destroyed Indian battle tanks as war trophies.

India and Pakistan fought a bitter war in April - Sept 1965. Both sides lost around 7000 men totally. Both sides claim to have won the war.Many independent analysts claim that the cease fire saved Pakistan as it did not have enough resources to sustain a long war. It also taught them a lesson that India could not be defeated so easily. Similarly India also learnt that defeating Pakistan was not a cake walk. The stalemate continued till 1971 when India defeated Pakistan and liberated Bangladesh.

I was a pre-schooler in 1965. But I remember my father, who was then posted in the Army HQ at New Delhi, and his colleagues talking about the war. As a matter of fact it was impssible to not know that a war was on considering one lived in a defence colony like Dhaula Kuan. I also remember how our windows were blackened for safety from attacking aircraft at night time. Luckily no enemy aircraft reached Delhi. In an ideal world there would be no wars - something which is impossible in real life. Like the Jews and the Arabs India and Pakistan will always remain at loggerheads. Their common history has gifted them confrontation. Only, today both have nuclear arms.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

No Indian Writer in this year's Booker Shortlist

I had never thought that this would happen. But it has. There is no Indian writer in the shortlist this year. Was there an Indian in the long list? Not sure. As a matter of fact there is no South Asian writer shortlisted this year. Ah well, maybe we will be back with a bang next year.

Click here to read Neel Mukherjee's brief views on each of the shortlisted books this year (The Hindu Literary Review Oct 4, 2009).

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Twittering Gandhi

The greatness of Gandhi is that he proposed there are ways to liberate the victim and oppressor without vanquishing the other.

Don't you think?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mahatma Gandhi, Aijaz Khan, General Bob and Bhagat Singh

If there is a Nobel Prize for fooling others the 2009 prize must go to Aijaz Khan the 29 year old techie from Mumbai. He morphed his face onto a photograph of Gandhi and Jinnah by substituting his face instead of Jinnah's. And all this on the front page of The Times of India dated Friday July 12 1945. The caption he put below the picture is priceless: "Congress President Mahatma Gandhi and the president of the Azad Hind Party Aijaz Khan" It also says: "Mumbai: Congress President Mahatma Gandhi and the president of the Azad Hind Party Aijaz Khan together in the rally at Mumbai Azad Maidan. And after the rally they went to meet General Bob to discuss about the arrest of Bhagat." (emphasis mine) Phew!!! And this many years after Bhagat Singh had
been hanged to death by the British. And General Bob of all people!!!! Oh God, it pains when I laugh too much!!!

Using this photograph he was able to con many people to the tune of Rs. 50 Lakhs. He convinced them that he would be investing the money they gave in government schemes and they stood to double their money.

It is unbelievable that nobody questioned him.
Read more about this believe it or not case by clicking here.

Source: Amit Varma's blog India Uncut.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Two Great Losses to Hindustani And Carnatic Music

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (April 14, 1922 – June 18, 2009)

D K Pattammal (28 March 1919 – 16 July 2009)

Friday, July 03, 2009

A Visit To Kerala

A few days in Kerala, June 2009.

Photograph taken from a moving train.

More such shots as well as some taken while walking around - click here.

My short story Visiting God's Own Country published in the Mumbai newspaper DNA's Sunday Jun 28 supplement (11 months after it was selected for publication). Read by clicking here. Bouquets and brickbats expected.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Madhavikkutty RIP

The charm of growing up in the Kerala of eighties, besides the balmy summer vacations and monsoons were the voices of a few writers. They spoke on the pages of Mathrubhumi magazine which the newspaper boy threw every week at the gate.

That was a long time ago.

Basheer was gone. Vijayan left a while ago. Now its Kamala Das's turn.

Madhavikkutty, as she is known to her malayalam readers, tormented them in more ways than they could've bargained for. She was loved when she was not hated.

The charm too is gone!

P.S: An article on Madhavikkutty, written a while ago.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Movie Memorabilia...

Thanks to some of the recent movies, much of the talk of late has been around memory and its functioning. So I thought that I'll just jot down a few points about memory to help understand both memory as such and the movies better.

Firstly memory is a function of the mind. It is multidimensional and dependent on time space and matter. Since these dimensions are always in a constant flux, memory becomes a complex dynamic process rather than a quantifiable constant. It can be best imagined as a constantly changing graph or a curve (something akin a screensaver) inside a cube whose co-ordinates are time, space and matter along the three axes.As we all know, everyday we form and lose a lot of memory. 

This is basically governed by three sub-processes: 

a. Encoding – information input in terms of sensations.
b. Storage – processing this information and its maintenance over a period of time.
c. Retrieval – accessing and using this information in the future.

Based on these fundamental functions the mind constructs its own reality of the world, subject on what it chooses to remember and what it doesn't. Therefore we all remember and recall things differently, though we undergo the same experience. (Say the taste of a particular dessert.)

Types of Memory: Memory is a formless, shapeless fluid entity but for the purpose of convenience it is broadly classified into Short Term and Long Term Memories.

Short Term Memory is measured in terms of seconds. eg Remembering what attire the actor wore in the previous shot in a movie, or recalling the last sentence of the book you are reading. It is the most active of all the memory processes which means it is almost always switched 'on' throughout the consciousness. However, since the resources of the Short Term Memory are finite, the information within is quickly lost as it is replaced by newer information. Imagine an overflowing bath.(One can remember what we had lunch yesterday but not a week before). Therefore, Short Term Memory is just a conduit through which more complex, central, Longer Term Memory processes operate.

Long Term Memory is measurable in days, months, years. Imaginably it is far more complicated and stable. Again, it is broadly divided into :Declarative Memory and Non-Declarative Memory. 

As already mentioned memory is a continual process, hence these divisions are merely arbitrary. There is considerable overlap in the actual process of storing and recalling.

Non Declarative Memory is a collective term for all the memory processes that involves non conscious learning. This includes skills, intuitions and abilities. Again the three main sub-groups here include -

1. Procedural Memory - is the memory of perceptual skills and procedures. eg: Driving a car. One does not need to be aware of the elements and the sequence involved in driving a car (like ignition, gears, accelerator etc ) one simply can remember to drive a car!! (often misused word - automatically). The same applies to playing instruments, swimming etc.

2. Conditioned Memory - is based on Pavlovian theory where the mind 'learns' a certain aspect of the memory from experience. For instance accents- an Englishman who has moved to Australia will develop the ozzie twang 'without any active effort because it is just natural to pick up an accent'.And since conditioned memory is learnt, it can also be unlearnt- so if he goes back to England he might lose his twang without any effort.

3. Priming: Here the mind becomes increasingly efficient in identifying set patterns of memories through past experience. Say, recognising a particular singer on a radio or the voice of a friend on a telephone etc.

Next category is the Declarative Memory: This is the lay man's understanding of memory ie the memory involved in remembering and recalling information – facts, figures, events etc.Broadly subdivided into two groups Episodic Memory and Semantic Memory:

Episodic Memory is the most spatial and conscious of all the memory processes. Basically it is the memory of the events based on episodes - like - What did you do this Weekend? It is personal and hence open to be biased and interpreted. It also includes other shared memories like – US Elections, Cold war etc. 

Some other notable subtypes here include a. Autobiographical memory: Significant events that happened in your life: Like where did you meet your wife? (a la Harry met Sally) In earlier days, the answers were charming- Salsa class, A local pub down the road, a protest march or even in the middle of a world war, but these days it seems mostly, well, a club or online. Facebook ?

Some other forms of Episodic Memory act as a bridge between personal/autobiographical events and more impersonal shared episodic events. These memories are called b. Flashbulb memories. eg a generation before it used be.. What were you doing when JFK was shot? Or even going back another generation – Where were you during the blitz ? But in our generation, it seems - Where the hell were you doing when Salma Hayek had a malfunction LOL :-P ? No ! just kidding; where were you when The Twin Towers collapsed?
Me? Well right in front of television!

The other type of Declarative Memory is the standard Semantic Memory which is the memory of information. Say, what is the capital of Russia? Or spell the name of the current Iranian president. (Ha ha! buggers, I'm sure you'll get it wrong, so look it up)

That's a basic overview of the memory and types. Let's consider a day to day event and see how the various types of memories work together:Your friend Adam calls you saying that he is in town on a business visit. You recognise his voice immediately (priming). You exchange pleasantries and recall that it had been a while since you last saw each other a few months back in a party (episodic). You suggest meeting up for lunch in a local pub. You drive there (procedural) without worrying about the directions as you have been there many times before (conditioning). During the lunch, he tells you in detail the football match he had been to (autobiographical).So a quick few minutes in a routine life involves a complex interplay of many types of memory functions.

Finally, a quick word about forgetting: As said before, memory entails encoding, storage and retrieval. If there is an impairment in any one of these functions, forgetting is hastened. Often the impairment is a result of an injury to the part of the brain involved with that specific function. Such forgetting or if you are into Greek Amnesia, is divided into three subtypes again:

Retrograde – you can't remember anything that happened before the event. Episodic memories may be lost but usually the more fundamental Non Declarative Memory is preserved.

Post Traumatic - After a trauma/injury there is usually a time period where the person is fuzzy about things. She might not remember for a while but eventually the memories 'come back'. This amnesia may extend from minutes to months, and very rarely even years.

Anterograde - In this condition there is impairment with the laying down of new layers of memory while the memories before the event are intact.


With that understanding I guess it's easier to figure out the complexities of both Memento and Bourne.

Jason Bourne had a trauma which basically resulted in two types of forgetfulness:

a. Post traumatic amnesia – He does not remember how he ended up on the boat in the Mediterranean, or how those Italian boatmen saved him. (Bourne Identity) This presumably only lasted a few days.

b. Retrograde amnesia – He lost his declarative autobiographical memory ie no identity, no retained past ( therefore not able to remember who he is/was, what he did etc) but his Non Declarative Memory as often in such cases, was intact. ( He could drive effortlessly, dismantle a sub-machine gun, remember his CIA training in espionage etc) . Further, his Semantic Memory was also intact. (He could remember that Berlin is the capital of Germany and Francs was the currency of France). 

But notably He did not suffer any anterograde memory loss – which is the ability to form new memories after the trauma is intact, so he was able to remember everything that happened after but nothing before the event.


Lenny's case in Memento is a bit complex. After the trauma he has:

a. Post Traumatic Amnesia: A small duration of time when he has lost all his memories following the trauma. As I have said before, it is fairly routine for someone to lose consciousness, and with that memory after a head injury. It usually takes a bit of time to orientate himself ( the usual.. Where am I ? ..question in Hollywood). The movie doesn't focus much on this amnesia and understandably so as it is not important.

b. Retrograde amnesia: Once Lenny is conscious he is shown not to suffer from any form Retrograde amnesia – so he is able remember in detail about himself, his wife, his life before the event etc ( Declarative episodic intact)

c. But Lenny's major problem is anterograde amnesia which makes him unable to lay down newer memories after the event. He is able to encode his life experiences as memories but he cant retrieve the memories, as they are stored unlinked to each other. Therefore Lenny's reality is broken down into discrete segments of experiences of 20 mins each, which he simply cant relate to each another. After every few minutes he is unable to remember the people around him or what they do. Unlike for us, where the world moves in forward time, for Lenny it moves in a circle. So being Lenny is like being trapped in a maelstrom without an end. But the viewer who is watching the movie moves in a linear time. It is here one can appreciate the genius of Nolan; the beauty of Memento is in its narration where it presents discrete fragmented perception of time ( for Lenny) in a linear time for the viewer. This is achieved by retro-narration ( story moves forwards to backwards), which I personally think is a marvel of a story telling. 


I hope that makes things clearer.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Election Masala

(1) Haathe boma, Mukhe Prem, Er naam CPI(M) "Bomb in hand, Love on lips, thy name is CPI (M)" - Trinamool Congress slogan in West Bengal.

(2) Professor Matuknath Choudhary is a candidate from Patna Saheb constituency. He has promised to set up "love parks" if he is elected. He had shot to fame a couple of years ago when he had eloped with a student of his. His partyss name is Prem Party. When last heard he hadn't yet been allotted the symbol of his choice - the heart.

(3) The Rashtriya Ahimsa Manch is fighting all 20 seats in Kerala. They are fighting "cruelty to animals, flesh-eating and consuming intoxicants," which, according to them, has become a way of life in Kerala.

- Source Outlook issue of 27 April 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Sting of Good Fiction?

I associate the magazine Tehelka with sting operations and investigative journalism. Journalist, Naipaul fan and Army brat (a rather afffectionate way of describing those who spent their childhoods in the Army thanks to their dads being in uniform) Tarun Tejpal is a writer of no mean repute himself and each issue of Tehelka has some good articles on literature and book reviews. That notwithstanding it was a pleasant surprise to see the Jan 10 issue of Tehelka. This year-end double issue has 15 short stories by Indian writers. This list includes 'seniors' like Ruskin Bond (born 1934) and 'juniors' like Amruta Patil (born 1979).

The stories have a common theme: Excess. In an introductory note Tejpal says, "The writers were given no other brief. Just the one word." I found this bit enlightening, "I once asked the great writer O.V. Vijayan what was it that literature did that gave it a showcase place in civilisation. He thought for a bit, and said, "It refines us. And that is a very big thing." In a time of bombarding information and facts, of crude posturing and increasing battlelines, this special issue of original fictions is then about that - that amorphous 'refining' thing."

The contributors in this year-end double issue include: Altaf Tyrewala, Manjula Padmanabhan, Mridula Koshy, Tishani Doshi, Rajorshi Chakraborti, Ruskin Bond, Amruta Patil, Sunetra Gupta, Vivek Narayanan, Ambarish Satwik, Sarnath Banerjee, Anjum Hasan, Sudeep Chakravarti, Kalpish Ratna and Rana Dasgupta.

Click here to get to this special issue in the Tehelka archives.

p.s. I have picked up 5 copies of the print edition at the princely sum of Rs. 20 per copy. The idea is to gift it to those friends in town who like good writing.