Friday, October 26, 2007

A journey to the unknown

I am going on a trip to North India starting today. We(me, Tony k Thayil and Nived Gopalan) will be back on 8th Nov 2007.

Tour plan:
Bangalore to Delhi, Delhi to Srinagar by flight.
Srinagar to Kargil and Dras and onwards to Ladak by bus.
Ladak(Leh) to Delhi by flight.
Delhi to Jodhpur by bus.
Jodhpur to Agra by bus.
Agra to Bangalore by Train.

It has been quite some time since I have got this excited about anything. This brings back memories of my childhood when I used to get extremely excited about "long" trips . Back then, the definition for "long" was about 120-150km....:) Which was the distance from Kollam to Kanjirapilly/Angamally.

I can still remember how I would keep on asking Amma "when will we go?" "when will we go?" till she lost her patience, then I would just switch over to Appa, till he lost his patience. And on the night before such trips to native, I would dream a lot about our journey.

Yesterday I did not dream anything, maybe because I was bone tired after work, but the magic of the moment is still very much there!

I am nearly shivering with excitement!!!!!

We have decided to go for some rural sight seeing, which can be pretty injurious to health....:) Certain parts of the trip are dangerous, so please add me in your prayers*

*The only condition for those praying would be that one prayer is totally unacceptable i.e "Give this idiot some good sense!!!"

Friday, October 19, 2007

Deja vu

Cricket is a funny game. On Wednesday (15, Oct 2007) it was proved yet again. This game put me back into the memory lane, back to a game played about 11 years ago in Bangalore between the same two teams.

The match was a goner from the very beginning. Australians as is their wont ruled the roost and then some. The Indian top order had crumbled in a depressingly familiar way, but the surprise came from the tail. The magic for the day was provided by Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble.

As the wickets took a tumble, I clearly remember going deeper and deeper into depression. It was a time in my life when I firmly believed in God and Saints. Entreaties to the higher beings went up by the dozen but the result was one wicket after another falling in disgrace before a disciplined Australian attack. Even though nobody accepts it, I have a heart of gold, and to see India lose so pathetically to these damned Australians was too much for me. I watched as much as I dared to watch but as more and more batsmen started walking back to the pavilion, I couldn’t face it anymore and went quietly to bed.

I would read about the match tomorrow, I decided. To read about defeat is far better than watching it live. For once, I cursed the KSEB guys for not cutting the power. They had no issues about cutting it when India was winning, bloody Pakis!!! I was dreaming of some innovative ways to destroy the electricity office when Appa called out “da, we are fighting, come watch it!”

I was out of bed like a spring and reached the living room just in time to see Srinath hook one for a four! Ah! The ecstasy I felt! The crowd was in uproar, we (bro including) were jumping up and down in wild excitement and Amma was cussing us for making all that noise. But with Appa jumping along with us, who was she to tell anything eh?

Each ball had a story of its own, each moment was etched deep into memory, and each shot pierced through the very fabric of the mighty Australian ego. The goliath was about to fall, but doubt lurked deep within me. What if we lost just one more wicket? It was goodbye then. The very air was electric with tension. I was clenching my hand so tightly that it hurt. But Srinath made sure that on his home ground he would walk back with his head held high! A six and four later we were right on victory lane and in the end won it easily with an over to spare and then some.

What I did not know at that time (or care!) was that 11 years down the lane, the same boy would be doing the same sort of hand clenching. The heroes were again two bowlers. It was again the 9th wicket partnership that did the trick and in the end we had more over’s to spare than last time. The previous episode was sweeter though, they had won a berth in the final due to that win and the celebrations were understandably riotous. This time around, it was just a face saver and maybe a few people will keep their positions due to this one. But in the end who cares… We beat the Aussies in our last game and that is what matters!

But I really hope that I wont have to wait another 11 years to watch the next one!

Monday, October 15, 2007

The little world of Don Camillo, By Giovanni Gaureschi – A eulogy

I am not quite sure how old I was when I first read this book by Giovanni Gaureschi. Most probably, I was in the 6th - 8th standard of my development (read destructive) stage. But I clearly remember the emotion the book evoked in me, the first time I set my eyes on it.

The cover was black and dusty. It did not look attractive at all. I was not impressed. This seemed to be one of those “Appa-Amma” level books which were way beyond my understanding. Till date, I am not quite sure why I went ahead and opened the book against my gut feeling. But after reading it, I found out that I had some real lousy gut feelings. The book itself belonged to some public library. Nobody in the family knows till date how that book got there, but nobody is complaining either!

This extremely simple and humorous story takes place in a sleepy Italian town, by the side of river po. It deals with the relation ship between a priest, Don Camillo, the town’s communist mayor, Peppone and Christ on the cross who has decided to intervene directly in most matters, lest things get out of control. The protagonists are at loggerheads most of the time and at fisticuffs the rest of the time, except Christ of course, since he is nailed on the cross!

The story hits you like a ton of bricks. The plot is so fresh, the ideas so innocent and the presentation so simple that one cant help imagining the whole story in 3-D! I like Harry Porter books, my respect for the author however is for her ability to write a novel that can be read and understood by people of all ages. Giovanni Gaureschi is a master of this art. The ideas put forward in this book are the experience of a lifetime and really deep stuff but written with such simplicity that even me, the 11-12 year old kid could understand them beautifully.

I have desperately wanted to read other works of this author for a long time, but since this was an out of print edition and an old book I had very little hope of ever finding the next in the series. But with the advent of Google, it was just a matter of a few clicks!

A review I found on the net about this book is pasted below
Giovanni Guareschi--is best remembered for his series of humorous stories about the on-going conflict between the Catholic priest and Communist mayor of a small village in Italy's Po River Valley in the years just following the Second World War. Don Camillo, the big cleric with fists of steel and heart of gold, converses frequently (and colorfully) with the Lord, Who continually challenges him to take the higher path in his dealings with his Marxist adversary, Peppone. The feisty priest, alas, isn't quite able to confine his methods to the purely spiritual ... but neither is Peppone always able to toe his Party's line, so that the two find themselves seeing disconcertingly eye-to-eye at times.”

As a kid growing up in communist Kerala, I was able to relate to the story even better. During those days, I never bothered to read the author’s note or the publisher’s note of any book. All this changed the day I started reading this book. The Author’s foreword is so impossibly humorous, that I sometimes wonder whether the story is as good as the foreword! Even with my super-weak memory I can still remember portions of his foreword to this day.

This is a story that can teach you about the power of simple humor, about that very un-common sense called common sense. About that most rare facet called attitude. About courage, about morals and a lot more* and all of this comes packed in about a hundred page book with kid size font. Truly worth its weight in gold!

I am not very sure about the book’s popularity in India, but the author was a very famous man in Italy and France and they even had movies/shows based on the book. I have found a few videos of the same on youtube but all of them in French/Italian….:(

Currently the English version of the book is out of print, but a listing is given in Shelfari and I have found copies of it in Amazon. I am aiming to buy the whole collection! They are pretty expensive, but what good is a job and adult hood if you can’t realize even your simple childhood dreams!**

*Not that I incorporated any in my life!
**Especially when it is your brother who does the ordering and paying...:D

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The blue escape

It was the dark ages of cultural morality. The land of Kamasutra had suddenly become as conducive to kinky stuff as the Taliban had to music. It was, as they say time to take things in your “own hands”! Young men rearing at the leash for the weekly dose of wet saris, were deprived by some psycho at DD. Yours truly was at that time in the tenth standard and really feeling let down.

But then, where there is a demand, there is a supply. Video shops had mushroomed right across the state during this time period due to DD going slow on the wet stuff and Star and Sun finding their very airwaves censored. The shops had the stuff alright. But the only problem was the inherent risk attached with taking “nice” movies from them. What if the shop owner was a psycho and told my parents? Taking the risk and living in peace would not go hand in hand...:(

Fortunately for me, I had one advantage….. Actually I had many
1) I lived near my school.
2) My friends were equally desperate to be immoral.
3) Both my parents were working
4) I had a VCR.
5) My brother who had suddenly become all studious used to come late after all the combined studies at his friend’s place.

It was no wonder then that some of my more enterprising buddies suggested to me that they will take the risk of renting the tapes, while I should just provide them with the infrastructure required.

Anwar may have been really small in stature, but he was waaaay beyond us in “maturity”. Having born with a keen business mind, he decided to run the operations. He would run the risk of taking the tapes and supplying them. The risk was two fold, he had to take them and bring them to school where any of those teacher-loving jackasses could act traitor. The viewers, who ran the minimal risks, would be the payees for the tape. Except for me of course, since I ran some significant risks along with Anwar.

Since my mother came back at 5:45, we would organize a show at my place between 4 and 5:30. In a very short time the whole operation became a grand success. Each day, I had dozens of guys begging me to be invited. But invitations were strictly for my closest buddies. Shiraz, Anoop, Zachariah etc. Things were going on smoothly and if I had the least bit of business sense in me, I could have actually made a profit on it too! But like always, I (yeah you guessed it!) screwed it up…:(

It was one of those evenings when attendance was higher than normal. In fact I am sure that there were more people at my house than there was in the class. The tape was running, guys watching it with their eyes bulging, tongue hanging and a lot more happening when the calling bell rings. An electric shock went right through my spine. It was just 5:20, so why was my mother so early? Showing a presence of mind far ahead of my age, I stopped the video, gave some books to the guys (as if in mock combined study) and opened the door…. only to see Ashokan, our milk vendor standing at the door. Breathing a sigh of relief I took the milk in and gave back the vessel.

The show was right back on track when almost immediately the calling bell sounded again. “Must be Ashokan again, maybe he wants some money”. I stopped the video (I had set up our VCR so that when it was stopped the T.V came on automatically) and opened the door again. Only to see the smiling face of my mother (I have gone on record once about mother’s smiles, I felt much the same again). She brushed right past me into the living room. I was so shocked that I could hardly move. I made some drooling noises that sounded like “why are you so early?”, “Oh! My God!” etc and followed her in a state of moronic stupor.

In the living room she was surprised to find so many of my friends, all of them looking at her as if she was the walking dead. They may have been my closest buddies, but at the time of reckoning, all those supremely ungrateful wimps ran helter skelter. So much for friendship and all that bull shit. The only people left standing were me and Anwar. In fact I didn’t count as “people” right then the mummy effect had mummified me.

Amma looked at me and asked, “What is happening? entha parungunne?” why are you acting so shifty? I said “nothing”. “No, you have done something, I am sure!” It was not a question but a statement of facts. I had to give it to her, this mother mine, she had intuition(God’s biggest crime against man!!!) by the ton! After the “statement” she gave me one more appraising look and went into her room. Anwar told me that he will stay on for some more time for “immoral support” but I shooed him away. This was anyway the last day in my life, why should I take him down with me, was my line of thinking.

Anwar left. The tape was still in the VCR and I had to take it out before Amma found out the details. Right now, she only knew I did something wrong but not exactly what I did. And believe me if you knew my mother you wouldn’t want her to know either!!

Fortunately, she had closed the door when she went into the room. I went up to the VCR and ejected the tape, just as it came out, my brother walked in. Thinking “idivettu ettavanae patti kadicha pole” I pushed it right back in. There was one problem though. When a tape is pushed in to my VCR, it would start playing automatically, pressing the stop button was useless! The moment it started playing, I looked at my brother with a dead-man look, only to see that he had gone into the kitchen! I stopped it, said a “praise the lord” and was about to eject it when he comes right back and starts watching the T.V program.

To many people the complex theories of relativity put forward by Einstein would be beyond their understanding. I myself was in that group till this moment in my life. Those five minutes that my brother watched T.V is all the time I took to understand the full import of relativity. Those were easily the longest five minutes in my whole life.

He then got up and went for a re-fill. This was my chance! I had to get it out before he came back! I ran forward ejected the tape and the moment it was in my hand, both Antony and Amma walked into the room. People often wonder how I am able to deal with stress and tension so easily. Well, if they had my kind of childhood they wouldn’t be asking that question! Saying a deep prayer and trusting everything in the hands of our lord, I took the tape, turned around, walked casually back to the table where we used to put our tapes and placed them there. It was all done so naturally, that both of them did not notice anything. And if the Oscar committee saw my performance, Tom Hanks would have lost his statuette that year.

My baptism by fire was over. I stood up a mature man. It was time for some historic decisions to be made. The most significant two of them being that from now on, the table with the tapes would be moved near to the T.V and installing a peephole for our door.

I still remember that day with a shiver along my spine*, but I never truly understood what I had escaped till I went for a cousin’s marriage. The marriage reception was held in a posh hall in Ernakulam. After the cake cutting, it was time for the speeches. The first of which was delivered by another cousin who was a bosom buddy of the one getting married. He had the crowd in splits with all the funny things these guys had managed to do during their childhood. Everything was interesting, but one anecdote stood out from the rest.

The cousin getting married had once rented a blue film from a shop near his house and failed to return it even after a week. In the end the shop owner came to his house and asked his father for the tape. For months later, his father called him "blue". And now, right on his wedding day, in front of a thousand strong crowd, the story was out again. Boy! I really had escaped some major humiliation.

*I was so shocked by this incident that it took me a full seven days to get normal and air the next "show"!!!

Monday, October 1, 2007

What happened to good old Malayalam movies?

A good movie is the communion of many factors. Its success lies in its ability to enthrall all people or at least most people with its varied charms. To “enthrall” guys like me, it is pretty easy. We are suckers for good old sex and violence, the more the better!

For long now, Malayalam movies have had neither. Gone are the innocent hippie days of the seventies when a Malayalam movie simply meant the collection of 3 stunts and 4 rapes. The actors changed between films and sometimes they didn’t. Films were not made for winning awards or scoring a point. They were just meant to entertain and believe me, they did!

Things were so simple back then in those golden days of Malayalam cinema. It was truly a mass entertainer. You did not need to have a degree in psychology or a PhD in philosophy to watch a movie. All people, right from the humblest rickshaw puller to the snootiest estate owner were entertained by the same genre.

Then came the eighties and already there was a dip in standards. I guess it had something to do with the “sick young men” doing rounds at that time. Every hero/heroine/kid had to die of cancer or some other God forsaken disease. But then films like Layanam and actresses like Silk Smitha more than made up for these minor shortcomings. During this era, Malayalam movies started winning national awards on a nearly yearly basis. A sure sign of impending decadence!

Come nineties and the spiraling downward trend was truly visible. This decade proved beyond doubt that “family” films were there to stay! And into this pathetic era, I was born. Actually, I was born in the eighties but as far as films go, I am a child of the nineties! Doordarshan which was very much a “peepul’s” channel, with Friday night hotties and wet Saris suddenly found out about morality. Unfortunately for me, this new found morality came at the crucial time when I was desperately trying to be immoral!

I don’t want to sound arrogant, but it is said that most states do what Kerala did about 20 years late. It is no wonder then that Kannada, Tamil and Telugu movies have discovered the unfailing formula for the perfect movie now. Way to go guys!! Keep it up and don’t follow us hopeless mallus anymore, you just found nirvana, believe me.

The final blow to “funny” Malayalam movies came when directors changed their modus operandi for star selection. Earlier the criterion was simple, actresses just needed to be teeth achingly beautiful, that was it! But along came the “Kala Prathibas” and this happy situation was repealed.

They were “good” girls from decent families who were exceptionally talented and had won state awards for their acting skills at school. They were the last nail in our coffin. These sophisticated women just refused to show skin!! Gone were the days of Sheela, Seema and Jaya Barathi with their in-your-face cleavage and king size posteriors.

Malayalam films had touched an all time low! Instead of judging by cleavage they actually started judging heroines based on their artistic talents… can you believe it!! If Ripley’s “Believe it or not” heard of this, it would be up for the picking as the most unbelievable thing ever in the movie industry.

But what irks me most is the step motherly treatment that these heroines give ONLY to Malayalam films. Many a heroine who has shifted to Tamil/other languages has gone in for the good old skin route. But the moment they hear “Malayalam” these same heroines get all conservative and nun-ish. I ask you, don’t Malayalees too have feelings?? Is this fair?

But, if truth be said, I really do not bemoan the hippie films of the 70’s. They had no real substance. On a more artistic level it was the death of Pathmarajan that was a huge blow for viewers. He was one man who could direct films with such panache that I get goose bumps each time I remember them. The genius of that man lay in the fact that none of his movies were vulgar. He had the ability to take sensual shots and still make it a family film. The scenes would be a cent percent natural, in touch with the story line and absolutely mouth watering in its execution.

Did I leave out something… yeah, sure I did. I left out Shakeela! But even though I am a true Malaylee, I simply cannot understand the rage she created with her Minnara Pookal and the rest. I still don’t know what the Malayalee saw in that movie or the rest of the sleaze that came after its release. I mean, wake up guys, those were the crappiest movies ever made in Mollywood. After serious thought into the matter I have come to the conclusion that most guys, like me, in the hope that there was a new “awakening” watched them to make sure for themselves. It was a waste of my father’s hard earned money is all I can say for myself!

These days, like many other Malayalees, I still live in the hope of seeing another Pathmarajan.