Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Holding grudges...slightly

While watching the morning news I sometimes surf channels. Today on some channel I came across a talk-show host discussing some woman's flirting techniques, one among them being the hair-flip. 

Very interesting, this. The little ways men and women have to signal attraction to one another. For some reason these common signals have never been easy for me to master. It's all been pretty much verbal for me, rather than such physical subtleties as the hair-flip. 

However. There was that one memorable occasion, a decade ago now. There was this certain gentleman who had casually breezed into the scene and totally thrown my 100% accurate that-guy-likes-you radar out of whack. I liked him. And now I had no real idea if he liked me! Zounds! It was simply too confounding. 

So one evening I arrived early at a certain restaurant for our date, already nervous. By the time he arrived, I was a veritable wreck. I babbled on for several minutes. And then, horror of horrors, I asked him, I actually asked him, "How does my hair look?" (It was a marginally new hairstyle, undetectable to all but myself.) 

To his credit, he manfully answered with a perfectly acceptable compliment. But for me, it was dreadful. I excused myself and ran to the restroom. There I proceeded to give myself a lacerating mental thrashing. I've lost much of the transcript, mercifully, because the tongue-lashing was extreme in its severity. You see, I was convinced that an intelligent specimen such as this gent here was certain to lose esteem for me based on my having asked such a patently daft question. 

Thankfully he did no such thing. Today, a decade later, I brought it up again. I even asked him rather timidly, "Did I do the hair-flip?" 

"No, " he replied, laughing. "You're not a hair-flipper."

Good. Even if he had confounded my radar, he didn't turn me into the totally opposite version of myself. Still, he did make me into a blithering idiot for that one evening, though. 

Maybe I should forgive him already.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Blues and purples

Skirball Center auditorium
Summertime has been quite a pleasing round of concerts, festivals, beaches and garden parties. Of the concerts, there's one that stands out as memorable. 

Performed in the delightful amphitheater of our local Skirball Center, this was by a group of blues musicians from Alabama, Louisiana and various other states. It's rare for me to watch live blues, regretfully. I hope this changes soon. 

This particular group was made up of a very sassy older bunch, and the moment we saw them walking to the stage, we just knew it was going to be something special. It was that rare magic that happens when you see true talent in a perfect setting. (And I mean perfect! Summer's evening; the jacarandas are still blooming this year and a purple blossom or two would plop down on my head every once in a while.)

The blues has been a longtime favorite genre of music. It's easy to see its appeal: Heartbreak and longing are pretty universal, even if the performing artists have nothing in common with the audience. One of the musicians, who casually announced that he is totally blind, turned out to be the star of the show, although each one had his turn. It was very moving to witness such talent pouring out of the stage, and the sweat, and the laughter and that great electric joy that bound them together with one another and with us. 

The blues will never die. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Cease and desist

There are two pieces of a diverse problem to which I have come up with a solution. 

One, I've been noticing recently how aggressive many of our local drivers are. In fact honking is quite common around here; folks are in a hurry you see, and if you drive sedately you'll be at the receiving end of the honk-version of a severe tongue-lashing. Might even get the finger.

Now this is astonishing. I come from a country that has the dubious honor of having some of the worst traffic in the entire world. So while dense, the traffic here does nothing to faze me. And I still simply cannot understand the entitled, spoiled approach of these road-brats here. 

The second part is: men, in India, who stare at female drivers. Yep, it still happens. There was this one (young, attractive, female) colleague of mine who use to give me a ride everyday. While we were getting out of the office campus, the stares! A woman driving this whacking big SUV, that too with ease! With confidence! Whattay sight! And so went the thinking, clearly. 

So now to the final solution. Aggro-L.A.-drivers are to be sent to Bangalore for a full week of traffic hell. And gaping-Bangalore-boys-who-will-never-grow-up are to be sent to L.A. to witness hundreds, nay, thousands of women driving confidently enough to give them a quick lesson in growing up. (There is still the pestilential Indian habit of ceaseless honking, but that is as yet unsolvable.)

End result? Both parties will return to their home grounds chastened. The former will shut up and the latter will cease to gape. Much happiness will ensue.

Brilliance, I say. The only thing that stumps me is what to call this fantastic exchange program of mine.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Clothes maketh the woman

Style blogger site
Sometimes it feels like half the women one sees out and about in L.A. are models, actresses, or style bloggers. This is quite a delight, because I like fashion and love observing people and the way they present themselves. (Sorely lacking though are similarly delightful men, but that is a sad and separate topic.) And while I find it ludicrous to totter around in life-threatening heels on the cracked pavements of this city, that doesn't stop me from admiring said heels on someone else.

Also, while this is all very wonderful, I confess I do miss seeing Indian clothes out and about. I can always just design my own Indian-inspired things, I suppose...what fun if I actually had the energy to be a good shopper! While I lived in India I did attempt this. But even on those rare occasions when I did shop for fabric, those diabolical Bangalore tailors would always thwart me: My patterns and ideas were simply too outlandish for them, clearly. The experience ultimately became so stressful that I gave up the very idea of designing my own clothes and submitted to store-bought conformity. Sigh. 

And neither did the good lord see fit to grant me the motor skills to sew my own. What's a girl to do? So I go about in plain t-shirts of various colors with some unmemorable shorts or jeans. (Friend, who himself goes about solely in gray t-shirts and jeans, is going to be delighted to hear this.) One or two occasions per week when I go out to interact with other humans, I try to break out of this Steve Jobs-esque sense of style and actually put together an outfit. 

I wonder if the days of regular going out, human interaction etc. etc., are nearing. I hope my advanced plain t-shirt skills will not get the better of me then.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Filmi Friday

So should Hindi movies be categorized here as 'foreign films'? How ridiculous. Still, anything not from Hollywood might be classified as such, logically. So I'll just sit on the fence for this one until I come up with a clever, alliterative category name. Filmi Friday might just have to do it, though. 

Parched: Director Leena Yadav's story of friendship and freedom set amidst the deserts of rural Gujarat was interesting. Mainly because it's a story of women, and this was a great delight in the usually testosterone-heavy world of Hindi cinema. Parched tells us about the lives of four friends. There are plenty of charming, un-self conscious vignettes of everyday life that resonated for me. (Why are so many other Indian filmmakers immune to the little things?)  And then there's the grand, over-arching theme of aching for freedom-- and doing something to obtain it, even if through a combination of circumstance and choice. The film feels glorious in its saturated colors, the abandonment felt in the company of female friends, and the ultimate bid for freedom that is an affirmation of life itself. 

Let me also take a moment here to talk about the moments of intimacy portrayed. Wait, bare breasts? In a Hindi movie, that too without the context of a slavering male performing a 'rape scene'? An actual moment of human need, told without the need for a conclusion or an apology? For this alone I am stunned. 

All in all, a quartet of memorable roles. Hitherto unknown to me were Surveen Chawla as the unapologetic showgirl Bijli and the reluctant child-bride Janaki portrayed by Lehar Khan. This kind of cinema gives me hope for more such stories coming out of that impossibly intriguing country of mine. 


Ungli: I'm a bit of a latecomer here, since this Renzil D'Silva-directed movie is actually from 2014. Still, the premise is attractive: ordinary Indian citizens rising up to set straight the rot of corruption and apathy that besets much of the country's political and bureaucratic system. 

Told with the belief that many Indians hold, "They understand only one language," the story moves quickly with four young people taking it upon themselves to pull daring, dangerous and eye-opening pranks on certain of the corrupt officials or public servants in Mumbai. They come to be known as the Ungli gang...brilliant, since 'ungli' means 'finger' in Hindi. Well-publicized by the gang themselves, the stunts or capers, for lack of a better word, have the advantage of resonating so deeply with most Indians that this alone is satisfaction for watching the film. Never mind that this 'corruption' or whatever one calls it, is being perpetuated by us, against us. We are the enemy, yet we must rise up. 

The two nascent romances seemed rather perfunctory in the larger scheme of things, though. A more skilled weaving of character arcs and backstories might have helped with this angle, failing which we didn't need the romances at all. Then Kangana Ranaut's role felt a bit underwhelming. Indeed, besides Randeep Hooda as the leader of the Ungli gang, no one really stood out for me. Sanjay Dutt is the main policeman character mercifully playing his own age here and even letting his gray hair show, a positively courageous choice, I thought. 

Overall, Ungli is interesting. If only it had gone through a few further rounds of bashing in the editing room, it might have come out a more finely-polished end product. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Our Last Tango

What a sad title for a thing of such beauty. This 2015 documentary details the lives of tango's most famous Argentine couple, Maria Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes; their personal relationship and their contributions to the art of tango. 

Rooting around in the impossible matrix of Netflix and its too-helpful 'suggestions' last night, I stumbled across this title and pushed play immediately. I'm glad I did. 

Buenos Aires in the 1930s is beautifully captured, and the two young protagonists (now in their eighties) are re-enacted by superbly suitable young things. There is heartbreak and tragedy to come, but I did not get to the end. Twenty-five minutes in, I realized somewhat sheepishly that J would love to watch this too, so I chastely decided to re-watch the whole thing together with him.

The other thing was that I watched entirely without subtitles. The leading lady, an arresting, enigmatic 80-year-old, talks in the most delightful measured tones. As a result, I needed no subtitles. And I felt transported into another world. 

I can't wait to watch it through to its conclusion. If there is a place and time I would like to indulge me in some soul-travel, it would probably be to Buenos Aires in the 1930s, as a tango dancer. 

I can see my apartment now, it has those very tall windows and the long-dreamed of balcony. With an orange tree in a planter. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

To be or not to be

One among the latest bit of newsbites has been the beach incident somewhere in France: Two armed cops are asking a woman to take off bits of clothing, i.e., her 'burkini.'

This is pretty alarming. The image of a woman on the beach being made to take off pieces of clothing is disturbing enough, but there's the whole 'religious freedom' can of worms lurking underneath. I'm fully supportive of the idea of being free to practice religion according to your own interpretation, so this incident in particular does seem a bit extreme if only because of the powerful imagery. On the other hand, I'm also sensitive to certain Islamic principles being totally out of whack with the French idea of secularism, so I can see the reasoning behind this move, security being the topmost. 

There are hundreds of points to be made for either side: There are pictures of habit-clad nuns splashing happily on a beach too, to prove a point. Might not they be hiding explosives under all that fabric? 

And for the body-positivity movement, I'm not sure on what side this incident belongs. Should the body-shamers be outraged? But isn't the whole 'cover your body cover your hair' ideology an ancient form of body-shaming itself? 

It's the clash of civilizations, yet again. What a bore. I'm lucky enough to be pretty unaffected by religious strictures, so yes, I'm aware that I may sound arrogant. But I'm glad I'm an atheist.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Readings

There need to be certain additions to the English language. One, a term is needed for that slight feeling of being lost when one finishes a book and is in need of another. In fact, there should be two terms. One when the preceding book has been satisfying, and one for when the preceding book has been just average or below. 

Having just finished Michael Crichton's Travels, I'm in need of the latter term. So I turned up at my local library branch with a deathly determination. Now this branch has been honestly termed a 'small' branch, so I was prepared to not find a great trove of treasures. But I was still determined to dig through the offerings until I found something up to scratch. 

I rely mostly on my trusty reading site to provide me with reviews and I use it to gauge whether I would like a new book or not. Results have been more or less accurate, but with a slight touch of uncertainty that gives the whole endeavor a sense of adventure.

This resulting trio of picks has been rather predictable, though. An Irish village, a monster expert, a strong-minded girl fighting against circumstance? Hmmm. On top of which: Upon inspecting the bunch, J pronounced without a trace of doubt when I dithered about which to read first, "You should read the monster one first." Rather a disturbing firmness of opinion, there.

Still, monsters it is, clearly. Onward!

Books pictured:
An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancy
Divergent by Veronica Roth

Friday, August 19, 2016

Foreign movie Friday: Palmeras en la Nieve (Palm Trees in the Snow)

This 2015 Spanish film stars Adriana Ugarte, whom I loved in the tv series "El Tiempo Entre Costuras". Here though, she doesn't have a substantial role as the narrative catalyst Clarence de Rabaltue, but the movie itself was memorable. 

Told in a mixture of past and present, it's a story of undying but forbidden love. This in a time of colonial occupation by Spain in what is now Equatorial Guinea, in the mid-1950s. This is when a young Spanish man, Killian, arrives on the island of Bioko to work alongside his father and brother, Jacobo, on a cocoa plantation. 

Right away, we know that this Jacobo is a bit of bad news. He toys with the feelings of Julia, a family friend, and is quite a macho ass in general. Meanwhile, Killian finds himself experiencing a life-changing (and mutual) attraction to  Bisila, a young nurse in the plantation hospital.

There's quite a lot going on because all this is a flashback. Killian's niece Clarence (she's named after a volcano!) has arrived 40 years later on the island, in pursuit of the woman and child who she discovers were being paid monthly allowances by her family. The story unfolds through letters, photos, and the recollections of the now-old Bisila.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

El Cantante

Salsa music has the odd effect of bringing back memories of India.

This improbable geographical reversal has been brought about by our having taken salsa lessons for a few years in Bangalore. Run, equally improbably, by a young Cuban-American who had married an Indian, the classes were exceptional in their intensity and the dedication of our teacher. 

Once every week there would be a motley crew at his studio, eagerly awaiting the lesson in our attempts at...what? For me it stemmed from a long, long fascination with salsa. For others, it was a means to meet people. For still others, it was a way to honor the desire of a partner and thus a grim-but-enjoyable boot camp in the otherwise unthinkable art of dancing.

It somehow helped that the teacher would sometimes throw out casual insults in perfectly-accented Hindi. "Bakwaas!" he'd bark at a particularly egregious right-turn. He was militant about not turning the fans on at a high speed, despite being walloped by the pre-monsoon heat pouring in through the windows. And we loved him. The more he demanded excellence, the more we sweated. For an hour or two each week, all of us transformed into something better than we might have been during the other days of the week. For here, failure was not disaster. Failure was the reason to keep coming back into this other-world of conga, clave, inside-turns, Eddie Palmieri and Celia Cruz, and that voice saying over and over, "From the top! One, two three, five six seven..."

Now, something seems missing when salsa plays in my house every afternoon. It's an embarrassment of riches, this music. And yet, a certain dimension is lost because we left our teacher behind.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Travels

While at University in Florida, there was a sort of running joke among certain of us. If there was a party at an American house scheduled to start at 8, the fun wouldn't actually begin until 10 or 1030: that is, when the Brazilians and the Indians showed up. 

Representatives of both these great nations were quite proud to carry forward this heady image of their motherlands, as I recall. There were similar jokes about the Germans, the French, and so on. Let it not be said that any  nation was spared of its jolly stereotypes. Besides being avid party-enliveners, we Indians were known as incorrigible brains (and then there was me) and as being foodies to the hilt (besides me, of course). The food had to be spicy, predictably; there was that Chinese restaurant where the owner would shout to the kitchen as soon as we arrived "Spicy-hot-sauce-extra-bottle- Indian-table, PLEASE!"

My point in all these random recollections is that it was the first time I got to examine national identities, as it were. A good bunch of nations were represented in healthy numbers. I had friends from countries I couldn't have located precisely on the map before I met them, and the vast majority identified extremely proudly with a particular nationality. So were many of my Indian friends so deeply Indian, whereas I felt like an outsider looking in. 

Lest it be concluded that I am somehow not Indian, far from it. It's just that the older I get the more I realize that I am an outsider in most spheres. Being a bit of an oddball is never restricted by nationality. 

I have the same outside view of people of faith. I almost long to have that certainty, that unshakable sense of belonging to a church or a mosque. Or that sense of real, bone-deep pride in being from the country you are. 

My tumbleweed soul is altogether too insubstantial for all this rooted-ness. Yet today, India's independence day, I find myself thinking of my motherland.Will I ever live there again? 

Los Angeles is not my last stop. Maybe the world really can be an oyster for some us. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Where are you, Molly?

Reading Michael Crichton's Travels brings back memories. The first section of the book is from his student days at Harvard. He tells of his frustrations with the system, the disappointments caused by the way doctors viewed cases, and his own indecision whether to continue with medical school at all. Some of the portraits are haunting, presenting that particular underworld of the hospital as its own universe with the patients being at the top looking down, but mostly not looking down at all. 

Once upon a time I was a patient at a major hospital in Bombay, and I was the kind who did look down, so to speak. That humming world of doctors, nurses and attendants, their strangely technical language and of course that mostly thankless job they did...it was all fascinating. 

I remember in particular a nurse named Molly. She was in charge one night when I had to take a dose of pills at midnight. I can still see her sitting at her table at the head of the ward, everything in ghostly white light, even her uniform glowing under that ersatz moonlight. Molly had an especially nice smile, and she would flash it all across the ward at regular intervals. Everyone liked her. 

When it came time for me to take the pills, Molly came over to help me. This pill-taking was quite a task, I remember, but she had the patience of an angel; rather, the patience of a nurse. She brought me extra water and patted my back. She told me to breathe. When I finally downed the last pill, she stroked my hair and laid me with such gentleness back on the bed that I got tears in my eyes. 

She saw them. She held my hand for a long minute and very softly, breathed a short prayer. Then she smiled and went back to her station. 

That moment between us has stayed with me for more than a decade. I wonder how many others have some such memory of Molly. Where is she now?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Readings: Slade House

Slade House by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is an author I've read twice before, with polarized results. I loved The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, while I quite disliked Cloud Atlas, innovative and genre-bending though it was. So I was fully in the middle, expectations-wise, before getting into Slade House. 

So what did I think? I am somewhere between strongly like and love. Slade House (what a marvelous cover!) is a quick but creepy dive into what has surely been a powerful theme in human existence for its entirety: the quest for immortality. Here, the twins Jonah and Norah Grayer take this quest to supernaturally frightening levels, surfacing once every nine years to lure victims into their net via the eponymous old manor that somehow eludes both maps and physical bearings. Only a select few gain entry through its improbably tiny iron door set into an insignificant corner of Slade Alley. 

Each chapter is a separate but interlinked story, told from the viewpoint of a doomed victim. After the first two chapters, the pattern is established in that one knows the final fate of these unfortunates, but each voice is so distinct that it is indeed the same story told completely differently. I must admit that I wasn't enthralled by the first chapter, maybe because of my own bias against very young male protagonists, but I'm glad I stuck around.

When the backstory emerges in chapter 4 is when things get really riveting. You sniff the beginnings of an ending, and I am willing to wager that most readers would not have put the book down from here on out. I did not. Without giving anything away, let me just say that the ending hints at more to come: One particular inhabitant of Slade House is not ready to give up the quest for immortality just yet.

Despite being a psychological-fantastical-metaphysical mashup of literary genres, the narrative has some some real-world objects appearing as recurring totems in all chapters: The grandfather clock with no hours, but with only a cryptic saying etched on its face, the disturbing portraits lining the corridor, the jeweled fox-head hairpin, the pale door, and even a 'moon-grey' cat. Slade House is creepy alright, almost with the feel of a genteel, manor-styled horror club from which escape is physically and metaphysically impossible.

Tightly laced with a sort of venomous urgency, Mitchell's century-jumping tale of soul-hunting is slim enough for some to read in a single sitting. Slim but with curves in all the right places, I might add. (How haunting is the line, "My soul is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen" as the last line of a story?) I'm told that Slade House is in fact linked with Mitchell's earlier offering The Bone Clocks, but since I didn't read that I'm in no position to say whether that would have enhanced this reading. Suffice to say that I'm pleased enough with Slade House as it appears here. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lilac or lavender?

There was this funny image that went around on social media a while ago. It showed a long strip of colors in the center, like a collection of paint chips, and on either side stood a man and a woman. The man had labeled each grouping of colors: Red. Blue. Green. Pink.

The woman had other ideas. Her side read,' Crimson, scarlet, ruby, apple, brick,lipstick.' Then on the blues, 'sky, navy, azure, peacock, sapphire.' And so it went, in admirable detail down the entire length of the colors.

As if to prove that some things out of the vast ocean of random stuff that float past us everyday on the Internet are indeed true, J complimented me on my manicure today. "Nice blue nails!" he said enthusiastically.

"Thank you" I said, but felt compelled to point out kindly, "they're actually green." Then followed a somewhat pointless debate, at the end of which J conceded that they might have a hint of green -  at certain angles.

It's true indeed. Once when I'd posted a picture of a Thailand beach, rambling on about the fantastical shades of green, one male friend commented timidly, "That's not blue?" adding humbly at the end, "Forgive me, I'm a man."

If only all debates between the sexes were so good-natured.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Watched: A Good Woman

Adapted from an Oscar Wilde play with some liberal changes in time and setting, this 2004 lite-drama is pretty enjoyable in that it is gorgeous and witty. 

Helen Hunt is the stylish gold-digger Mrs. Erlynne who lands in Italy's Amalfi coast in 1930 to party along with the rest of a small group of rich types. But since she describes herself as 'poor and infamous' she resorts to some unsavory methods to grab the cash needed to keep her in comfort (and enviable dresses) for the length of her stay. 

Then, Meg Windermere (Johansson) is the wife of one Robert and the newly-weds are very much in love. The arrival of Mrs. Erlynne, however, stirs the waters and generates much gossip and twittering among the others of this set of idle rich. The dialog was superbly witty and charming, but this is where I became aware of just how much Oscar Wilde's one-liners have been flogged for more than a century: every time a character spouted one such incisive remark, it seemed like they were repeating borrowed lines in an attempt to sound funny. Of course that wasn't the case. Still, I wished it was the first time I was hearing the lines, because at times it felt like these people spoke almost exclusively in Wildean witticisms. 

Leaving that niggle aside, the movie is quite beautiful: it's set in 1930s Amalfi with skilled cinematography to show off the dramatic cliffs, sumptuous villas and a very nice yacht. As the story progresses around the unrest caused by Mrs. Erlynne's growing closeness to the self-deprecating Tuppy, one of the friends, there is also unresolved conflict between the young Meg and her husband. For all appearances he seems to be cheating on her, also with Mrs. Erlynne. Plus there's the young rake Lord Darlington, who pursues Meg and tries to manipulate her to his own advantage. 

In the midst of all this, I was paying a lot of attention to the clothes. They were exquisite! There is one dress in particular that has a significance in the unfolding events, a slinky, low-cut backless shimmering gown worn by both Meg and Mrs. Erlynne. In fact all the outfits are lovely. (I wish I was born in that era just for the clothes.)

The ending has a nice twist to tie things up neatly, as I was hoping since it was a Wilde story. I've been watching a lot of movies with wide-open endings and this one didn't have that. In fact the little twist requires the viewer to figure it out, and if you don't think about it because you're busy looking at the dresses, you may miss it. 

Tom Wilkinson as the endearingly self-aware realist, Tuppy, was a charmer. Scarlett Johansson, while pretty and naive, didn't have much of a range here: the expression in her eyes didn't change throughout the film. And Helen Hunt was fine, even if she did get the job of speaking almost exclusively in impossibly wise aphorisms.

A Good Woman is frothy, bubbly and pretty, like a good glass of the Champagne that everyone in this golden Amalfi summer quaffs so liberally. I'd even watch it again in a few years, it's a great way to spend an afternoon.

Monday, August 08, 2016

The argumentative Indian

It may be the Olympics that got me thinking about patriotism. I like the Olympics for the obvious attractions of watching the world's best athletes perform at their peak, make records, overcome odds, etc., etc. It seems to be the only arena on a worldwide level that lacks obvious cynicism.

But watching the parade of nations at the opening ceremony, I cannot honestly say I was particularly eager to watch any one country. Sure, I waited until India arrived. And I was enthused for the U.S. contingent as well. However, Espana had me going too. (Nadal was the flag bearer!) So was I elated to see Jamaica. And for some absurd reason, Cameroon. 

What does this rather random observation mean? I think the older I get, the more I realize I am not particularly patriotic in the flag-waving sense. Sure, I am happy for India to do well at the Olympics. I want our all our space missions to go flawlessly. I hope for the better distribution of wealth, less ransacking of our natural resources, more education. I want the best for India. 

But as for pride, I don't know. I have never been able to identify myself as a 'proud' Indian. I did nothing to bring about my Indianness. Am I proud of our ancient heritage? Sure. But, and I am treading a fine line here, often I find that national pride presupposes just a sight hint of chauvinism. Indeed, one of our patriotic songs "Saare jahaan se accha" literally translates to "Our country is the best in the world." A beautiful song, but this line vaguely unsettled me when I first heard it as a child. Besides, the song actually talks about India when it included Burma, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

Maybe I am missing the point as usual. To me the whole world is wonderful. I cannot equate patriotism with anything more than being comfortable with the nationality you were born into, with the recognition that we're all cut from the same cloth and the concept of nations is essentially just another form of identity. 

Those ancient Indians though, were on to something when they said "vasudhaiva kutumbakam" i.e. the whole world is a family. Now that, I can get on board with. There should be a flag for the likes of me, rather like the wonderful Refugee contingent that we saw this time in Rio.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Then and now

Passing by the bright turquoise, sun-splashed wall of a nearby burger place the other day, J said, "Thirty years ago, you might have seen me and my friends right there, riding our bikes and buying records." The burger place was a record store back then. And so there are many places around here that resound with memories of J's heady summer childhood days. His high school, the beach where dad took them so often, dad's old house where someone else now lives, and places like this record store which were such an important part of J's teenage years.

It gives this city a strange old-new feeling. I have been here but a few seasons and yet for J it is part of his memories, and that too of a time in his life when he first forged his own path. Now here we are, rebels both still in some sense of the word, seeing the city through our two pairs of very different eyes.

And so I have begun seeing ghost images of J, very young and blond, at certain places that have been around since his youth. Will I see us as we are now, if we come back here when we are both old?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Mr. Luck and the very good drink

One of the great joys of traveling to a country for the first time has always been finding strange fruits and drinks. For some reason, these interest me more than the actual food. I always rush off to the nearest supermarket in order to see what the locals like in the produce and drinks aisles. 

So Hong Kong was bound to be a wonderland. We stumbled upon one such marvelous store located in a steep little alley. The store itself was a bit dim and full of narrow aisles stocked with all manner of dark bottles labeled only in Cantonese. Just as we were preparing to leave, too intimidated to ask about what these bottles were, we came across a section of drinks. Ah! English!

I pounced on one that said a lot of things in Cantonese but one significant thing in English: "Smoked Plum Juice." What a siren song that was. The moment I got back out on the street, I had a good long gulp. What a revelation! I'd never tasted anything like it. It was not sweet, not salty, but fully smoky. There's no other way to describe that unusual warm and full feel as you drink. I immediately took a picture and sent it off to Friend (Hong Kong has free, fast WiFi almost everywhere) who was suitably intrigued. 

These days, certain parties are being uncooperative and I cannot for the moment travel to foreign shores. So to ease our itching feet, J and I went back to the Chinese market we like to haunt at times like this. And what did I find, but a drink very similar to my beloved Hong Kong elixir!

It's even more smoky than the original. In fact it has a heady, almost alcoholic kick. Now I regret buying only one dainty bottle. (It's called, charmingly, Mr. Luck).

The fact that this post has been entirely about a random foreign soft drink indicates that I should hurry up and get out some more. Out of the country, that is. Wanderlust is a terrible mistress.

Friday, August 05, 2016

French movie Friday: Paulette

This little-known 2012 comedy is a somewhat darkly humorous tale of second chances and redemption, told through the changed life of the eponymous Paulette. She is elderly, almost-bankrupt, widowed, and desperately clinging on to her small apartment in the shady outskirts of Paris. She's also casually mean and breathtakingly racist - in a way that can quite accurately be described as "Trump-esque" these days. (Immigrants are to be treated poorly and blamed for the misfortunes of the motherland.)

Anyhow, Paulette did once upon a time have a successful life running a restaurant with her long-dead husband. The restaurant was 'taken over' by certain of the immigrants because of the excessive drinking of this spouse, Francis -  more blame-gaming by Paulette there. Still, she does take advantage of her canny business skills when, by chance, she gets in the middle of a drug deal gone wrong. Paulette grabs the opportunity due to pride and desperation, and this is where you start to empathize with her just a tiny bit even though she is such a resounding meanie. When life gives her lemons, she grabs them and er...turns them into cannabis.

Thus do her fortunes change. And as she makes more and more money because of her strangely scrupulous dealings with the local drug-lords, she sheds more and more of her meanness. The script does not look at these changes through a rosy lens, though; the proceedings are realistic in that they do portray real emotion and people with their flaws laid bare. The drug-lords, though, were hilarious in a sort of block-headed, fumbling way when it came to dealing with "junkie grandma."

Soon her girlfriends are roped into the dealing too, and they meet with thumping success. Paulette's cop son-in-law meanwhile (much disparaged for his blackness) has no clue that his ma-in-law is a secret drug-dealer star. Ultimately though, Paulette and the gang get their just desserts.

But she does have one more trick up her sleeve. The ending was a bit of a surprise, and a cheeky one at that; another example of Paulette's ability to take an opportunity and run with it.

Funny in a sort of cynical way (Paulette's black Catholic priest is particularly so), Paulette is peppered with wry hope and a proclivity for redemption and forgiveness. I did enjoy it though the last third of the movie dragged just a wee bit.

Overall rating: 6.5/10
Director: Jerome Enrico

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Anything else?

It's beginning to look a lot like pizza night around here. Never been a big fan of the thing, however, once in a way a whacking big wedge doesn't go down too badly. It always brings up memories, though, of our former home and the wondrous experience of getting take out. 

Here, the takeout guy comes almost as soon as you've hung up after ordering. They do not ask for directions. They remember your favorites. If there's any change or unavailability in the menu at all, they tell you in advance. 

In our glory days in Bangalore, getting takeout dinners was almost always a bit of an adventure, mainly because we would decide only at the last minute. There was this one particular place that did the most wonderful, pillowy naan and the only tikka (barbecue) things that weren't doused in artificial color. But, to offset this, one had to navigate through their somewhat difficult staff. 

If you called them, the phone would ring for eternity. Finally, the slouch at the counter would deign to pick up. You could hear his sigh, before he managed "hello?" There would be a dead silence as you went through your order. Finally, defeated, one would have to ask, "are you there? Have you got all that?"

Another sigh would come crashing across the line. "Yes," he would concede, and in the same tone of infinite exhaustion, "anything else you want?"

That's why we stopped telephoning them altogether. J preferred to make the 6-minute trek to the actual place and collect the food himself. I would send him off on this errand, waiting to hear of the mood of the day prevailing there. I was never disappointed. 

Still, the food was always incredibly good. No one makes naan like their toothless old cook. I want to call them tonight: it will be early morning there, so I can only imagine the level of energy when they do answer.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Sound advice for the living

Watching the ads for medical treatments here is quite a revelation. I watch the news on television every morning, a somewhat fearful exercise because of the inordinate violence and traffic tragedies that are the norm. The commercials offer an almost-welcome break from the madness. Unless, that is, they are peddling medicine. Then it becomes an altogether different story.

Say you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Here's this new drug, it's marvelous! After singing its praises, the plummy voice then goes on to musically recite the list of side-effects you may expect. "____ has been known to cause breathing difficulties, headaches, nausea, mood disorders, digestive problems, dizziness, stroke, and paralysis." 

So the message in fact is, "take your pick, weaklings. You want to carry on with your arthritis? Or will you choose from this list of side effects and make your life better?"

This seems so contrary to the very science of medicine that I am still deeply unsettled by every one of these commercials. I haven't even mentioned that in some of them, "death" is listed as one of the potential consequences of ingesting the blessed drug. 

Unfortunately, J and I have had the unnerving experience of realizing that they are in fact not exaggerating. Someone we loved elected to take one such new drug. It gave him a year of relatively healthy life. And then, one by one, it started going down the laundry-list of side effects, ending with the most definitive: death. 

All this makes me weary if I think about it. So I have decided to follow my own advice to everyone living in this country: Don't get sick. 

Monday, August 01, 2016

Brazil, past and future

The Olympics are almost upon us, and yet the news here has been rife with how worrying the overall situation in Rio still seems to be. There are pictures of non-functional toilets, and horrifyingly, a bloated corpse in water that will be used to sail. Fears of the Zika virus are topmost. 

Brazil has always been a fascinating place. I would, many years ago, come across articles in the NY Times' Travel section that presented glimpses of its diversity and joie de vivre; I was particularly entranced by the music and the vast unknown of the Amazon. The Brazilian friends I made at University were a class apart in the art of knowing how to enjoy life and gave me a real appreciation for the beauty of Portuguese, especially when sung. A few years later I planned to travel to Rio. Alas, for some unknown reasons, I ran into visa problems and never made it. 

That failed trip remains in my memories almost like a phantom limb. And somehow I am unperturbed by the persistent 'negative' image of the country that has emerged from the news here; indeed the news anywhere seems to delight in the seamier side of anything and anyplace. When I finally visit, it will be the fulfilling of a long-held dream. More so since I don't care particularly about the Zika virus, it will not faze me to see polluted water bodies, and as for crime, I will exercise common sense in avoiding obviously unsafe parts of town. 

Also, in my eyes, in some ways Brazil and India seem like shadow sisters. Vast ethnic diversity, a history of colonialism and exploitation, untold natural resources, rich musical heritage and an intensely exciting food scene are just some of the similarities. But also present is the struggle to 'keep up' with the times. Technology and urbanization are galloping along and the upper classes, while slim in number, have risen to enjoy the modern life and leave behind the unseen under-privileged to simmer in long-smoldering hostility.

As I watch the opening ceremony on television, I'll be rooting for Brazil. 
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