Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A satisfying repast…

It’s Friday evening and as a chilly fall day winds to a close, the party room at our apartment complex is abuzz with chatter of animated voices and the shrieks of kids playing. Amid the general din, wafting through the air is the unmistakable aromatic smell of spicy Indian food. Only the unseasonably nippy air outsides serves to remind us how faraway we are from our moorings. For its potluck time and almost everyone from our onsite team has gathered together. To the uninitiated the idea of a potluck is simple enough; everyone comes to the party with their own dish they have chosen earlier using a draw. The result is that everyone gets to taste an assortment of dishes; for the dishes themselves are as varied as regions of India we all come from. The simple but wholesome vegetarian fare of the north and west of our country contrast with the spicy dishes of the south and the savory desserts of the east serve as a perfect denouement to our gastronomical journey across India.

Of course with so many people around can a session of freewheeling conversation (or adda as we bongs call it) be far behind? Things start of slowly with appetizers like Dahi Vada and succulent Kebab’s paired with tangy chutney providing perfect food for thought. The pace is picked up when recent happenings in the Indian political landscape gets spiced up over a flavorful curry dish and that delectable biryani complements perfectly any esoteric discussion on the origin of the mathematical value of pi.

But of course it’s not just about the food; it’s a time to catch up with friends and family, to let your hair down after a frenzied week full of meetings and deadlines; its something we all look forward to. Adding to the fun (and the decibel level), are impromptu sessions of dumb-charades or antakshari or that occasional game of bingo.

As we pack up for the night the words of Shashi Tharoor ring true:

If America is famously a ‘melting-pot’, then to me India is a thali, a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different, and does not necessarily mix with the next, but they belong together on the same plate, and they complement each other in making the meal a satisfying repast

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Midsummer ruminations

Summer is here…
Summer is here at last and not a moment too soon. Warmer temperatures had earlier flirted with us, tempting us and offering a tantalizing glimpse of what lay ahead but come June we are well and truly into summer. The grass is green, the birds and chirping and the insects of all shapes and sizes are out to explore and enjoy the long summer evenings. The sullen whir of the air-conditioner or the ceiling fan is sometimes the only sound you hear on those occasions when its either too hot or ominous dark clouds threaten outside and you are forced to stay indoors.

Next on the list
Over the past few days I’ve been hunting around for my next read. Having finished two back to back adventure books (Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing and Between and Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston) I am looking for something with a slightly lesser dose of testosterone this time around. Fiction is out and so are fat (archaic term in the era of ebooks, I suppose) wiredrawn tomes. But truth be told, I stumbled upon something I think will be interesting one languid summer evening on the Amazon best books list. It’s titled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and it’s apparently a true story of a woman who died young but unknown to her family, after her death her cells were used in medical research that enabled scientists to make many path breaking advances like the Polio vaccine among several others. The breathless reviews were enough to add that book to my list of ‘To-Read’ books.

The Abbottabad connection
The city of Abbottabad was in the new recently for all the wrong reasons of course but in the deluge of news articles and TV shows the followed lay buried two interesting facts about the place. Firstly, the city was established by a Bengal Artillery officer named Major James Abbot who wanted to setup a hill station to rival Darjeeling in the east. He is also noted for writing a poem about the place titled ‘Abbottabad’ that has the dubious distinction of being called "one of the worst poems ever written" by the Guardian newspaper. Another little delicious little tidbit from the pages of history: Gandhi also visited Abbottabad twice during the freedom movement and even once wrote to Hitler from Abbottabad with a plea to make peace when Hitler was about to unleash his savagery on Poland. Gandhi ended his letter with the lines “Anyway I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you." One wonders what Gandhi would have written about the ogre in hiding.

Cricket aficionados might have heard about the inimitable Brian Johnston. He was a BBC presenter and a cricket commenter who is best known for some immortal lines he actually uttered during matches. Like when the West Indian, Michael Holding was bowling to batsman Peter Willey of England: “The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey” and on another occasion commented “There's Neil Harvey standing at leg slip with his legs wide apart, waiting for a tickle.”  

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May Musings

Fog of war
I had been glued to the TV set last Sunday night as the drama on the Bin Laden killing unfolded. As the week has progressed information has been slow to trickle out but to me the killing has raised some very disconcerting questions. Was the Pakistani Government sheltering Bin Laden? How come it did not know his whereabouts when he was hiding in a palatial mansion a stone’s throw away from a major military establishment? Did its intelligence agencies drop the ball as the Pakistani ambassador to the US suggested or was it complicit? Also to what extent did the US involve Pakistan in the operation? Was it a totally unilateral operation (hard to believe) or did the Pakistani authorities covertly help the effort and are keeping a lid on things for fear of a radical backlash? (some reports say power was cut off to the house before the raid which suggests some help from the local authorities). More questions than answers right now. And it begs the question: What is India doing to track down and hunt known terrorist who are hiding in Pakistan?
Comeback Man
As Sourav joined his new IPL team the reactions were predictable. Loyalties changes overnight. Someone commented “KKR be damned” while another screamed “Dada eats challenges for breakfast.”  There is no question about his leadership ability and his uncanny ability to rile the opposition up—but asking an aging 38 year old, badly out of match practice to jump into the frenzy of the IPL circus and come out firing is stretching credulity. Dada would have been much better off commentating or doing TV shows. He speaks well, looks good on TV and has a loyal female fan following. The title of one of the better written articles by Dileep Premachandran on him, that I was fortunate enough to read, aptly sums up the man: 'No one divides like Ganguly'. But he has always proven his detractors wrong so my rant against him, needless to say, is at my own risk!

 The Social Network
Twitter, Facebook, Four Square, et al this is the era of social networking. Whether sparking revolutions in Africa or being the first to report international incidents its power and reach is unmatched and probably not very well understood till date. Personally for me it’s been a couple of years since I jumped onto the bandwagon but I must say some of the initial charm has worn off. Spam, inane comments and mindless videos coupled with the inveighing and troll that seems to drown out the voice of sanity and reason have taken some of the sheen off. But on the upside, those occasional gems make it worthwhile; whether it’s that exquisite photo or a hilarious comment or that delectable blog.

Summer Training
Elections in Bengal have thrown up many interesting anecdotes about politician’s and their campaigning. One not-to-be missed story is about a couple of IIM Kolkata students doing their summer internship with Trinamool Congress and taking an active part in their campaign strategy. One wonders how they managed to trade their formal suits and snazzy power-point decks for the rustic, down to earth plebeian charms of a party on the verge of history. No better example of ‘What they don’t teach at IIM’, I guess.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Peoria Diary

Being Creative
You can feel it. The freshness I mean. New leaves, new grass, clear blue sky--everything seems invigorated and full of fresh energy. People talk about New Year resolutions but for me springtime should be when you should make promises. Every sunny day taunts you to step outside. Nowhere is the four seasons more contrasting and apparent than the American Midwest. Devoid of any natural beauty (the mountains are far away and so is the sea) you have to be imaginative when spending time outdoors in the Midwest. As for me, for now it’s just confined to short walks sprinkled with the occasional game of tennis. I need to be more creative than that I guess.

Following the cricket World Cup from this far away was a very different and enjoyable experience I must say. Within the confines of our living room the energy and excitement of the people in the stands was palpable thanks to the wonders of modern technology and a mostly ad free stream that we had access to. You could only imagine the excitement back home as India beat arch-rivals Pakistan and clashed with Sri Lanka in the finals. But once you stepped out (as I had to in the middle of the final match to run an errand) everything was eerily quite and normal. It made you realize that there is indeed a life beyond cricket. But I was lucky enough not to miss the coupe de grace when Dhoni lofted the hapless Sri Lankan bowler for a towering six. It made a statement in more ways than one and for me it was the defining image of this World Cup. Twenty eight years ago I can still recall being woken up in the middle of the night by my grandfather to a grainy black and white image of a beaming Kapil Dev holding aloft the Prudential Cup. The passage of time fails to dull some memories, I suppose.

Red Lights
One of the things to look forward to this summer is spending more time with my little one--all of four months old now (at the time of writing). She has changed our lives after she arrived and our day revolves around whatever schedule she decides. She appears to love her time outdoors and you can see the excitement light up her face when we start strapping her up, in preparation for heading out. And she loves her car ride as well--she is at her serene best when cruising at sixty miles per hour but every red light we stop at makes her cry and whine for she knows exactly when the car has stopped.

I must admit that the idea of this diary came from reading Outlook magazine. As an impressionable young man, my weekly devouring of Outlook would start in reverse, by scanning the diary on the last page—reading personal notes and experiences of eminent journalists, editors and politicians was a fascination bordering on obsession. The flashy page 3 snippets on the last page of India Today paled in comparison. These days of course the web has come to my rescue and I still catch up whenever time permits. My favorite diarist? Undoubtedly, Ruskin Bond. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lure of Vegas

On my third trip to Las Vegas (no I haven’t been going there to attend some convention or show and neither am I a compulsive gambler) I was tempted to ask myself as to why I keep coming back. What is it about this place that attracts me?

A facile argument would suggest its all about indulging your senses. The glittering lights and starry shows (sound and fury of an erupting volcano contrast with the soothing grace of a dancing fountain not to mention shows by Cirque du Soleil, Blueman group and stars like Elton John, Celine Dion, et al) dazzle your eyes, the tempting buzz and din of the casino floor entice you to risk all and the gluttonous buffet spread lets you feast like a King. And if you aren’t much into casinos you have the option to wander amidst the canals of Venice watching the romantic gondolas float by or sip coffee at a Parisian café Le Monde in hand or re-discover the ruins of ancient Egypt or revel in the grandeur of a Roman palazzo or closer home simply take a stroll on Brooklyn Bridge. And you experience all this in an area where half a century ago there was nothing but sand and rocks. The vicarious pleasure in seeing the high rollers on the blackjack tables in Bellagio gambling away till dawn with the crème de la crème of society cheering them and the high-life they lead add to the strange charm that Vegas has.

That leads on to my next thought; for it’s not just about pampering the senses-that’s too easy and tempting to suggest. The city of Vegas strikes a cord at a deeper level. It elevates us from our banal lives  with a sense of refinement by giving a tantalizing glimpse of the élan, the sophistication, the flamboyance, the elegance and flair of all the fine things that life has to offer, leaving us basking in the glow of a feel-good, heady joie de vivre feeling for days thereafter.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A weekend that counted!

It was with some trepidation that I went to watch The Kings Speech this past weekend. The critics had raved about it and it had been Oscar nominated, but I was wary for I wasn’t sure how I would like a drama about a King learning to speak better. Was it that simple a story? Accustomed to a diet of complicated, hard-to-follow movies with special effects to match it sounded so trivial, so blasé.

At the end of two absorbing hours I was right—to an extent. Yes in the end it was a simple story about a King coming of age but beyond the obvious it was so beautifully nuanced and it had such compelling performances by two very accomplished actors that my initial apprehensions seemed foolish. Laced with quintessentially dry British wit and humor and set amidst a backdrop of Europe on the brink of war it told a simple story with such elegance and subtlety that long after exiting the movie hall the scenes played out in my mind and I was able to marvel and soak in the increasingly rare treat of a simple story told well.

For example the use of a shilling in the movie had a powerful sense of symbolism just like the spinning top in Inception or the box of chocolates in Forest Gump. It traces the protagonist’s journey as he undergoes a transformation from a stuttering, diffident individual, prone to self-doubt to a man worthy to be a King. At every meeting between the two it underpins the emotion of the scene; initially it is a symbol of their tenuous relationship when Bertie (future King) remains unconvinced about Lionel’s (speech therapist) capabilities. Later when Bertie again approaches Lionel for help, Bertie shares intimate secrets about his past which cause him to stutter and Bertie hands over the coin to Lionel sealing their friendship. And finally before the most important speech of his career, Lionel hands over the shilling to the King as a good luck symbol and in return Lionel gets a sliver medal signaling that the transformation is complete.

The other interesting aspect of the film is how gradually Bertie overcomes his father’s legacy and emerges out of his shadow. His father is an unforgiving, over-bearing figure and often berates his son for failing to speak properly in public. But the effect is just the opposite; for when Bertie tries to speak, his mind echoes with his father voice and thus shamed he can’t stop stuttering. Even when his father dies he feels the pressure for he himself is not convinced that he can be the King. One of the most poignant scenes in the movie is when on the eve of his coronation, Bertie visits the place where the ceremony is supposed to take place and asks “Is this the scene of the crime?” On the surface this seems like a flippant remark but if you delve deeper it points to the inner turmoil that he is facing. Should he force himself to accept a responsibility (and thereby commit a crime) that he himself is not convinced about?

Another very interesting aspect of the movie is how quickly we are able to sympathize and identify with Bertie. He is a member of the most powerful royal family in the world that rules half the word. There is little in common between us and him. Yet in the opening scenes itself, we feel sorry for him when he fails to read the speech correctly in front of a big crowd. The long scene of awkward silence following his failed speech accentuates the effect of compassion. Later when his daughters ask him to tell a story he makes up some silly story showing himself to be a loving caring father; endearing him to us even more. And since we always yearn to change for the better, the tone of the movie is set and we cheer the King when he delivers his final speech.

Almost as an afterthought, later that evening I remembered that ironically enough my Facebook status over the weekend had said “Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless.” Well, needless to say, I stand corrected. It was a perfect climax to a weekend well spent with family and friends without doing anything pointless! 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Spring in the air

It’s mid February, and you can feel the change in the air. With winter letting go its tenuous grasp the temperatures are warming up and we no longer need to cover ourselves in layers of clothing before stepping outside. The merciless cold arctic wind that scythed through our bodies has disappeared to be replaced by a pleasant zephyr that blows in from the west infusing everyone with an unseen verve and energy. The snow that once draped everything in pristine whiteness is defiled and mutilated and in its place we have a patchy, mushy and grimy covering that melts slowly and pitifully drip by drip, inexorably yielding to that primordial force heralding in the change of season. Yet as with so many things in nature, nothing ever happens in vain. The snow bids adieu to reveal green tinged brown patches of grass emerging defiantly from under its folds, eager to burst forth in a splash of color. Long unseen and unheard birds chirp away on shriveled bare trees doubtlessly excited about the warmer climes ahead. White fluffy clouds flit across the blue sky and invigorated by the promise of longer days, the sun seems to shine even brighter than before.

Above all, its time for ourselves to let go the cynicism of winter and embrace the naiveté of Spring when one’s heart fills with the promise of endless possibilities. And it’s time to answer the call of blue skies and bright sunshine that implores us to step outside and rejuvenate ourselves in mind and spirit. 

PS: Fellow bloggers-hope the spirit of Spring will infuse you with some of its zeal and vitality. So far its been a long cold and hard winter with hardly a murmur being heard :-)