Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Eat, drink, and be merry

I used to often wonder, on reading articles about various foods and if they are good for you or bad, what one was actually supposed to do. Should you eat more of that particular food after reading glowing reports on its anti-oxidant properties? Suppose you do. A few months later, you are bound to see another article that informs you that after all, this miracle food is just an ordinary food and that it does no good in particular.
This trend is very prevalent in the U.S.; with the Americans already being a nation obsessed with food, imagine the confusion these articles and news pieces wreck. Last week, there was a report out on low-fat diets and how they may do nothing to reduce the risks of cancer and heart disease. (I love the use of the word “may” in these instances. Nothing is ever for certain in the world of cautionary literature about foods and links to human diseases.)
Finally, one Harriet Brown has seen fit to write, in the New York Times, an article of her own which puts forward this astonishing view: “instead of wringing our hands over fat grams and calories, let's resolve to enjoy whatever food we eat.” She goes on to quote a study which proves that the body extracts nutrients much more efficiently from foods we enjoy, provided that these foods already have an intrinsic nutritional value.
Eh? You mean we should stop making complex matrices of ideal foods, bad foods, carbohydrates, and ‘good’ cholesterol, and just eat sensibly the foods we actually like?But at least, it may (!) have put to rest the minds of countless Americans who have been chomping through their hateful and, ultimately unsuccessful, diets. And since it is certainly not only in the US where people force-feed themselves items like boiled cauliflower in attempts to lose weight, we should all just use our common sense in this matter and come out happier.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Have you been irritaped?

Caught an advertisement on TV yesterday: a man is playing with a baby, who is chortling in high glee. Suddenly the Dad decides to take a picture of the baby with his mobile phone-camera. Instantly, the kid’s expression changes. He gets this stern look in his eye and, seizing the offending gadget, chucks it on the floor. Father is appropriately sheepish at having been thus chastised by the no-nonsense infant who has been playing so peaceably until now.
The message at the end of this clip? Do not take pictures on your phone without permission.
At last! Someone has thought of spreading this very relevant message. I congratulate Hutch for coming out with this gem. Their ads are all world-class, but this latest series is worthy of praise not only for the excellent execution but the very message itself.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Do I look like a frickin' quail?

Ok, I couldn’t resist this. Did you hear the story about U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney shooting his buddy in the face?
So what happened was this. Cheney and buddies take off on a quail-shooting gig. Cheney takes aim. But wait! His buddy somehow gets in the way and Cheney doesn’t see him. Result? The 78 year-old buddy (who was wearing the mandatory bright orange hunter’s vest, by the way) is peppered with birdshot in the face and neck. The medical posse that accompanies the veep and his cronies, as you can imagine, swooped down and took the old gent off to the hospital.
What?
This incident could have happened to anyone who thinks shooting wingless birds is a fun thing to do, I suppose. But since it happened to Mr. Vice President of the You are Either With us or Against us States, it just seems, well, ironic.
Jay Leno tore into Cheney, as was natural. Sample Leno’s gem: “I think Cheney is starting to lose it. After he shot the guy he screamed, ‘Anyone else want to call domestic wire tapping illegal?”’
As did Dave Letterman, who smirked, “Good news, ladies and gentlemen, we have finally located weapons of mass destruction: It’s Dick Cheney.”
I rest my case. My sympathies, Mr. Cheney. Next time, look out for the old guys wearing the orange vests.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Rang de Basanti

Warning: Plot spoilers follow.Saw the much-awaited Rang de Basanti a couple of days back; enjoyed it. The first half is particularly fresh and appealing. The director has to be congratulated for capturing the chemistry among all the lead characters and keeping the pace going with all the tomfoolery that they indulge in.
Sue is a British filmmaker who wants to recreate the events from her grandfather’s diary, which was written while he served in India. She comes to Delhi looking for the perfect actors to play her characters. However, many hilarious and failed attempts later, she turns to our carefree young Delhi University posse to step in. This posse consists of DJ, Sukhi, Aslam, Karan and Sonia. They are later joined by Laxman, a political worker with a fundamentalist Hindu mindset but filled with patriotic fervor and idealism.
Once they start playing the roles of Chandrashekhar Azad and other revolutionaries of the Indian freedom struggle, the youngsters gradually find that their cynicism and apathy have started to erode. The death of their friend IAF Flt. Lt. Ajay Rathod, Sonia’s fiancé, due to alleged cheap parts used in his MiG as part of a shady defense deal, is the catalyst that turns all their lives upside down.
This is when the movie takes a turn for the serious, with the youths plotting their own drastic way of calling attention to the rot and corruption in current Indian politics by staging a dramatic assassination. Finding that this too, has somehow come to naught in the hypocritical political climate, they then decide to turn themselves over to the law, but not before trying to ensure that their message gets across. This they achieve by taking over the All India Radio station, guns and all, and speaking to the nation, live.
The juxtaposition of the present with the doings of the freedom fighters in Sue's grandfather's diary adds depth and context to the youngsters' motivation, with sepia overtones and powerful recreations of the freedom struggle. The dream sequence with the Defence Minister in place of General Dyer in Jalianwala Bagh, in particular, stands out.
Events follow each other at a breakneck pace, with Sue being left out of it all. Presumably, this is to ensure that she stays out of trouble, etc., but still, wouldn’t the rest of them at least have wanted to let her know what was going on? It is then revealed that Karan, the son of the wheeler-dealer who is partly responsible for the ghotala in the buying of faulty MiG parts, has killed his father, Rajnath Singhania. Eh? I had difficulty digesting this.
And how did the audience know that Singhania was Karan’s father? This was not announced until later by DJ. ?)

Before the end credits, a somber note about the number of MiG pilots killed is flashed across the screen, but I would have appreciated a more in-depth look at these numbers. What are we supposed to infer from a statement saying 206 MiG pilots were killed in crashes in X number of years? How many were killed in wars? What conclusions were drawn after each of these crashes? If you are basing your film on this premise, then at least let the audience know a little more about it.
Still, despite these quibbles, it is certainly a film to watch. A great break from clichéd offerings about dosti and pyaar, or worse, the new genre of risqué (please) comedies.
Aamir Khan, despite his crow’s feet, does a fine job as DJ. The rest of the cast is excellent, with great turns by Waheeda Rehman, Kiron Kher and Om Puri. The toothy Madhavan as Ajay Rathod is appropriately dashing.The other youngsters are all great, and the characters are well-written and appealing. A.R. Rehman also does a wonderful job with the music. Watch Rang de Basanti, it’s a well-made film you will in all likelihood, enjoy.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Disclaimer

For those of you out there who are wrinkling their brow and wondering what brought about what looks like a serious case of verbal diarrhoea on this blog, fear not, it's not as bad as it seems. The following are just a few pieces that I've written over a period of time. (One of them is from three years ago).
I only put them up now as it kept giving me an error message about something called the 404 everytime I tried to post. Much gnashing of teeth later, all seems well with this page and hence this rash of postings. Bear with me, won't you.

Rules

A few precepts that have held me in good stead and which I intend to continue following, as a matter of principle:

Always make faces at the cc-cameras in ATM’s

Read when you are stuck in traffic. In this city, you will be reading libraries of books within a month

Take pictures of your dog

Research your dream travel destinations on the Internet, however improbable

Help your Dad with the crossword clues, especially with the words you know he will spell wrong

Start a collection, doesn’t matter of what

Make up your own names for the constellations

Have mint with everything!

Whale song

I was sitting in a doctor’s office a couple of Saturdays ago when I saw on TV an incredible sight: a huge, bottlenosed whale had actually strayed into the Thames, and was struggling desperately to stay alive. It was first reported by a man who spotted it and thought he was hallucinating at first. The appearance of the whale in the middle of London really is a mystery; no one could come up with a plausible explanation for this strange occurrence.
It was a sad sight. The huge animal was obviously in completely alien territory and had become injured in the narrow channel of water. Besides, it must have been totally disoriented and desperate to find the rest of its pod. A rescue plan was initiated and the papers reported optimism about the whale being returned to the North Atlantic, from where it had strayed; but it was not to be. The whale died in the middle of the rescue operation, whilst it was being hoisted out of the Thames.
I’ve always been fascinated by whales and felt terrible when I first saw the story on TV. The rest of the lost whale’s pod must have been looking for it; as far as I know, they have fairly intricate social connections. I certainly hope that this is not the beginning of a terrible trend, whereby, due to some yet-unknown selfish action of humans, whales are being forced out of their natural territory, losing their way and straying into the river.

Merlin Hats and Technicolor Sunsets

Sometimes I think that all people in the world can be categorized into two groups in terms of preferences, no matter what the subject. For instance: tea or coffee, cats or dogs, Asterix or Tintin, Windows or Apple, Freecell or Solitaire…so you get the idea.
Still, when it comes to choosing between beach and mountain, I must admit I am a little thrown. A few years ago, living in Florida, the nearest beach was always a drive away, and this might have helped tip the balance in favor of ‘beach’. There was this gorgeous place called St. George’s Island that was a favorite retreat for all of us in college.
It was about two hours away, a scenic drive once you got out of the city. At one point, you could see a bridge, curving over the glittering sunlit ocean; at night, this bridge sparkled and twinkled like the gateway to a magic kingdom. The beach itself was stunning, with firm white sand and gorgeous blue-green water.
So once my roommate and I had two visitors, who had driven down all the way from Boston where they studied. Far from being tired or zombie-like after their marathon cross-country drive, these two were fresh and smiley like the proverbial daisies. In fact, I remember them turning up at our door late at night, each wearing a blue or red velvet Merlin hat decorated with silver stars (they had won these at some local fair en-route to our place) and greeting us thus upon arrival, they made it seem like the most natural social ritual in the world.
To prove the point that they were going about this trip king-size despite having the regulation graduate-student shoestring budget, these two had rented a convertible: a nice-looking golden Chevy Sebring. The roommate and self were grandly shown this magnificent piece of machinery while we threw together a spur of the moment trip to St. George’s.
The drive was fantastic. Then the roommate and I quickly discovered that it’s probably a bad idea to sit in the back in a convertible with the top down, especially when the drivers were as exuberant as these two and kept getting lost. Still, the detours were interesting enough and the beach, when we finally arrived, was right in the middle of a Technicolor sunset.
Our two Boston-weary friends couldn’t get enough of it. We had the wine and fruits we had brought along, and then what do you know? For some reason there was a fireworks display on the beach. Fireworks on the beach at sunset, with wine and fruits! The four of us doubted that life could get any better.
As it turned out, it didn’t. Soon afterwards, the roommate and I moved to Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., respectively. One of the two Merlin-hat wearing, convertible driving mavericks went on to Kentucky (!) and the other, I believe, is still in Boston. But say the words St. George’s Island, and I am sure the grins on all our faces will be exactly the same.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Alias Grace

A book that I have just gotten my teeth out of is Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. This is an author that you just can't take lightly, and chances are you will either love her works or hate them. I hated her Bodily Harm, but loved Blind Assasin.
Alias Grace recreates the story of Grace Marks, a house-maid who was accused of murder in the 19th century along with an accomplice. The base story is true though the author has invented details which weren't available to her during research. The intriguing part of the story is the question of Grace's innocence or guilt, and public opinion in her day was very much in favor of the latter.
The book employs Atwood's preferred means of newspaper reports and letters, besides the first person, for narration. This gives a touching personal feel to the story-telling by Grace, and the imagery is, as usual, haunting and very vivid. An interesting approach is the use of dreams to convey hidden meanings and add texture to the already intense and engrossing story.
There is also a fascinating foray into the approach towards psychiatric ailments in those days, Grace being confined to an asylum for some time. The young Dr. Simon Jordan is attempting to analyse her psyche and see if he can draw fresh conclusions about her sanity or lack thereof; much of the book is the story told him by Grace towards this end.
The characters of Mary Whitney, who leaves you wondering even after the story ends, and Rachel Humphreys the landlady touched me in particular, maybe they are such an indictment of the position women found themselves in those days; however, also because that position is not terribly different from today, a good 150 years later.
Margaret Atwood is at her best in this book. Cerebral, but with the intensity and imagination that has to be read to be experienced. The humor is mordant, wherever present. Alias Grace is, overall, a fine snapshot of the 19th century in one way, but also because of the compelling story, an engrossing read even in this day and age.
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