Thursday, July 12, 2018

Watched: Sacred Games

Finally, a Netflix original in Hindi! Set in Mumbai and starring my great favorite Nawazuddin Siddiqui, what's not to like? 

Suffice it to say, the first episode didn't exactly hook me. The opening scene was gut-wrenching and I thought, oh no, it's just going to be a butcher's block all over. And I wasn't wrong, especially as the ending scene too had a liberal dose of someone's ghastly end. 

Still, the premise was interesting. Siddiqui is Ganesh Gaitonde, infamous Mumbai mob boss who calls a down-and-out cop called Sataj to warn that the city is on the verge of an apocalypse. In fact, 25 days later, everyone will die. The gangster casts himself as a kind of god-figure, throwing in a link to Sartaj's dead cop father as well. 

Sartaj jumps into the case. (Sartaj is played by Saif Ali Khan as a Sikh, looking chunky and grumpy.) Then there's the Indian secret intelligence bureau, which bears the hilarious acronym RAW, who are also involved. Hmm. Okay, I thought, I should definitely give this another go. After all, I've been dying to see some fresh content in Hindi. Plus, Sacred Games has a good bit of Marathi too! 

The second episode was much tighter than the first. They have got it right so far: the plot is intriguing, no-one hams, Mumbai is finely captured with some good cinematography, and the violence is not gratuitous. Good. I shall persevere, if only to make up for the disappointment that was Lust Stories. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Manic Monday/Whacky Wednesday

Well then. Manic Monday didn't give us any indication of what was to come, did it?

First up was one Roger Federer against perpetual underdog Kevin Andersen. Fed sleekly won the first and I went and got the vacuum out. My floors were dusty and I thought I'd multitask. The floors weren't that bad, which is why I checked in on the second set. All was in place. 

And then, slowly, Andersen began to make history. He tugged the third set away 7-5, and going one better, the fourth 6-4. At this point J sent me a one-word text: Gulp.

Indeed. They went onto a fifth which turned out to be highly nerve-wracking. No matter how polished the Great Fed was, Andersen simply kept coming back. What is he made of? I began to wonder. He looked so fatigued, his beanstalk legs hardly moving at times. The fifth simply wouldn't end. And when it did? 11-9, Andersen. The Great Vampire has finally been ousted from Wimbledon. It seems unbelievable. 

But that wasn't all. Next up were R. Nadal and J Delpotro. Continuing the fighting streak, Delpo clawed like a lion. Took the first set. Oh here we go again, and I was right. It was too much. There wasn't even any vacuuming to take my mind off. There was one ridiculous point in the fourth set which I think had 17 deuces. Jolly rum, as Bertie Wooster would have said. And Rafa, in his enthusiasm, overran and landed in the lap of a dapper old gent in the first row- who luckily didn't simply grab him and refuse to let go. (I'm not saying I would have done that. No, I wouldn't, hehe.)

Finally, finally, Rafa managed to beat down poor Delpo. In the end the Argentine collapsed and Rafa, jumping the net, enveloped him in a big old hug. So sweet they looked!

But this doesn't bode well: he must face a resurgent Djokovic in Friday's semi. This is only the quarter-final, and I feel like we've had as much emotion as we can handle. 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Book selection: A How To Guide

As usual, the non-fiction I've read so far this year has been a big hit. The ratio of fiction to non-fiction is about 3 or 4:1 right now, and perhaps I am slowly inching towards a change? We shall see.

I've been having success picking new books on the excellent Library Thing catalog, which obligingly shows 12 similar books the moment you add a book to your library. Then I read the reviews- invariably, if a book has glowing reviews, I'll read the one cantankerous git who didn't like it, and most of the time I end up agreeing with said git. 

I also go back to authors I've enjoyed and pick other books by them. If an author writes a blurb for a book I've enjoyed, I'll check those authors out. Then there a few book bloggers who review interesting books. Plus, there's always the old standby of simply going over the shelves in the library myself with a fine-tooth comb, scanning through reviews relentlessly until I find something. 

Of late, the LA Library has come out with a marvelous new app called Novelist. It's like a rabbit hole. You can pick novels by mixing genres- say, "speculative fiction" and "male protagonist" or "tense plot" and "character-driven." Usually on Friday nights, fueled by a tasty drink provided by my in-house bartender, I enter the rabbit hole. Before I know it, I've ordered seven books from the library and when they arrive the next week, I have very little idea what they are. Still, this system works wonderfully. 

The only downside is that after so many years of reading, there is the problem of satisfaction. It's becoming harder to find books to rave about. It's so acute that I can skim the first paragraph, the first line, and throw a book aside. A title can prove too much for me, and I'll shun the book. One time the name of the author turned me off. Don't be ridiculous, I scolded my inner crank, and waded into the novel. Alas, inner crank was correct. 

Sigh. So while it still remains the big joy of life, it also is a great challenge. 

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Anthony Bourdain is dead

And just like that, the familiar voice is silent. The beloved face is gone, the wonderful chef's hands and those wandering feet are still. 

The first few hours after I heard the news a little voice nagged that I shouldn't be feeling grief- I didn't even know the man. How absurd this is, I soon realized. The great gift- indeed, even the point, of the internet age is that our virtual selves are connected to others, and when this virtual self is as magnetic and towering as our Bourdain, then the miracle of friendship happens simultaneously, in its millions, around the world, regardless of barriers. 

Thus it was that Bourdain (we always called him that somehow, even though to everyone else he was Tony) popped into our living rooms every Sunday evening. All through our Bangalore years, J and I would laboriously download an episode of his show on our erratic and often-slow Wi-Fi. Then came the process of placing the laptop ideally so as to maximize the audio output quality. There was a lot of jerry-rigging in those days, but all the minor annoyances were worth it. We slowly built up our Bourdain library, and now we have almost everything he ever produced. 

I'd first started watching him I think in 2004. To my callow self, he was the ultimate in irreverent coolth. (His Iceland episode in particular brought me much joy and a few giggles.) But beneath that worldly exterior beat the heart of an innocent. He was always finding the simple beauty of a shared table, the joy of eating a pot of marvelous stew cooked by a grandma who spoke some foreign language. And there would flash that childlike smile, even if he'd made razor-sharp and not altogether complimentary observations not moments before. Not for him the blinkered, scripted lines of any other TV show host. No, our Bourdain was an original. J and I had planned a proposal for him to visit Bangalore- we would show him our Bangalore, and he would never be the same again. Ha. We never sent it. We thought we had time. 

And now, like a million others, we are in mourning. I am heartbroken that the demons finally took him. Made him hurl himself into that great howling darkness that awaits us all. 

Were you, as you said in your intro to No Reservations, hungry for more, Bourdain? 

Anthony Bourdain is dead. But the sun is shining, the jacarandas are out. Tomorrow is Sunday evening. And though he will never make anything anymore, eventually we will find a way to watch him again. 

Rest in peace, wonderful one. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Readings: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Of course a title with "Bookstore" in it was going to be an instant attraction. But, with customary skepticism, I refused to get too excited beforehand. Never mind that I had a feeling it was going to be a success just by looking at the author picture- the chap has such a smile that you would have to be a joyless, crusty old git not to like him immediately-I was determined to rate the book on its own merit. Suffice to say, I would have been okay working up a froth in advance. 

Lydia is the central figure here, a lonely and damaged bookseller. She is damaged for a damn good reason. Not to give anything away, but the crime she survived is so ghastly as to enter the realm of the truly hellish. Now, she is thirty and thinks she is safe in her hard-won peaceful bookstore with her group of lonely patrons who frequent the store. 

Then her peace shatters with the death of one of these patrons, a particularly heartbreaking, green-eyed youth named Joey. His death begins a slow-burn mystery, as he dies leaving clues for Lydia to unearth. The backstory emerges fold by fold, and before one realizes, one is reading like a fiend and it's already -er- midnight. Lydia and her boyfriend David, her lost childhood friend Raj Patel, her bookstore friend Plath and her father, Tomas, all stand out, clear and doomed and wrenching. In fact, Plath turned out to be a Very Interesting Lady, one I would love to have as a friend. And the eponymous bookstore is of course lovely as well, being so named because it used to be a light-bulb factory.

This is definitely not a feel-good book, as the title might hint. Instead it is rather heavy in its subject matter, but the writing is so deft that it transcends genre a little bit, and that is a good thing. The only thing that bothered me was that I didn't quite believe that one of the characters would have kept her silence and her sanity for SO LONG after what had transpired all those years ago. Not one, but two major frickin' disasters, and she continues to live out her life? What is she made of? 

But that is the story in Matthew Sullivan's hands, and I have no complaints really. Instead he has earned yet another fan, and I have placed this gem in the 2018 Favorites pile. 

Friday, May 18, 2018


This expression on Fabio Fognini's face says it all: SO CLOSE! In fact, he achieved a stupendous feat by wresting a set from the great Nadal during their clash at the Italian Open. What? The scoreline read: 6-4, Fognini. 

Well then. This could have been an upset for the ages. I can almost see it: Flaming Fognini Nixes Nadal or something perhaps more imaginative. But. His opponent- who's been known to win a few of these-  was having none of it. He flipped a switch in the second, furious with himself and proceeding to fry Fognini in some very hot oil. Score? 6-4, 6-1. Ouch. The third was much the same. 

After having been defeated by the exciting pretender to the throne Dominic Thiem in Madrid recently, Nadal looked recharged. In fact I think that defeat was almost needed, to shake things up, prevent the game from getting too one-dimensional. This match was extra-exciting because of Fognini's sizzling form, and the partisan crowd going all the way with flag-waving and chanting, making an electric atmosphere. 

Incidentally, noted hottie Fognini's outfit was also rather fetching. Red and black with skull and lightning bolt etc. In a stroke of inspiration from an excellent Italian memoir I've just read, I shall now name him Frecciarossa Fognini- it means "red arrow" and is a super-fast train in that country. How appropriate!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Green Place

The places we visit after many years have passed- is it happier when they stay the same or when they change? All things considered, this question has no real answer when the place is question was the site of one of the grand adventures of your life. That little charming place above doesn't look particularly adventurous though now does it. In fact, it's where I spent many peaceful afternoons reading, alone in crystal quiet. (For some reason I remember reading The Green Mile here. It took a week of visits.) Now, the simple gazebo has been gussied up, enlarged, and has an ornate 'violet window' on one side. 

But this doesn't mean anything in the end. It's perhaps more beautiful to some, now. For me, it remains the same. And I was happy to see it, in whatever form, after all these years of it existing solely in my head. 
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