Saturday, May 26, 2018

Familial mysteries

The corridor just outside the room I slept in extended about 40 metres to my parents bedroom. The shuttered rooms abutting it on either side added another hurdle in the nightly all ghost steeplechase from my room to theirs. I feared the locks on one of the several doors would be rendered inconsequential and door would creak open behind me. Looking back, details on how the lock opened (melting away or using a magic key controlled by the supernatural or a clean break in the metal) was never important and neither was what I expected to come out of the room. 

The door opening was one of the easier challenges. The more serious one was avoiding running into the apparitions that walked the corridor. They followed strictly time bound mathematically determined paths and I simply had to wait at the mouth of where my room joined the corridor. At some point the distance between me and my parents room was clear and I would make a run for it because of course one of the doors could open up behind me. The apparitions I saw seldom repeated so I’m not sure if the path they followed was circular or if our house just lay on a nighttime ghoul highway. 

Over summer holidays we would go to my grandparents house which unlike the house we lived in was in the centre of town. But the nighttime sojourn would repeat here as well even though I didn’t sleep alone. The run here would be from my room to the fridge in the dining room along a more complicated path. I would need to run 20 or do meters to the end if the atrium and take a right and run another 10 meters to the fridge all the while opening doors carefully so that I didn’t wake up my cousins or their parents. There were no unpopulated rooms along the corridors but I still needed to be mindful of the apparitions. I don’t remember now if I saw them there so even if I did they must have been a more docile variety. 

Having run across the corridors I would now be at the fridge. Door open the non air conditioned summer midnight sucked the air from the fridge with such ferocity that the compressor motor would start to whine. I would stand in the cool yellow light gulping water or coke straight from the bottle. All the while I would be torn about looking at the wall-hanging just above the fridge. The curious within would want me to look up to see if it had changed. The sensible would want me to keep the bottle back and quietly retreat, my eyes focussed downwards.  

In the week that my last grandparent died I went back to the house. The fridge was still on. It wasn’t the one from my childhood and it had one of those sensor systems that shut down the compressor when you had the door open. So no more whining from the motor to tell me when it was time to keep the bottle inside and go back to bed. Taking my time I ended up looking at the artwork. 

The framed photo is a merge of a close-up and a full body-shot with the closeup done in sepia. The body-shot is of a wind blown woman in the dark of the night wearing a sleeveless dress that goes just below her knees. The photo loses focus around her feet so we don’t know if she is barefoot or what surface it is. Her hair fall below her shoulders and the tips are waving in the wind. She’s turned away from the camera and so we can’t see her face which is in the dark. Just below the body-shot is the closeup. It’s a symmetric face with features that are too perfect to be attractive. The hair is parted in the middle and straight but the detail again fades just below the shoulders so we can’t compare to the body-shot. We don’t know if these are the same women but across the high cheekbones and slender cheeks there roles down one solitary tear. It’s been going undisturbed for some time. There’s a long trail where it’s started below the eye and it’s now reached the cheek just behind which would be her first premolar. The eyes stare straight at the camera. They’re full of anger and foreboding but also fear. She’s about to do something and we can’t say what it is. We don’t know which world she is in and if that world has a passageway to where we are. Is she scorned in love? Did the couple go to a party where she ran into her lover’s paramour such that it was impossible to ignore? Was she killed and only now realises she is dead? 

The only answer we do have is the certainty that she will accomplish because she is in the right. Is it because no story I’ve ever read or heard ends in a wronged woman failing to get her way. The vengeful Durga in a dress. 

It’s the only piece of art that survives my grandparents. There’s other pieces in the drawing room but like the replica of the Taj Mahal those are the standard issue non-risqué collectibles for the Indian middle class of their era. 

This print however was chosen. Against odds, against tradition (there is some cleavage). Hanging above the fridge it looked at us while we thirstily drank water on those summer nights or sat down for meals on the family table. Against the muted protests of children and grand children it held its place. The frigidaires below it came and went. The seating arrangements for meals changed as children grew up and left and grandchildren arrived. Countless generations of Asian house geckos hibernated behind the frame in those cruel winters. But the print kept its place. 

In her final months my grandmother had stopped talking. And I was indifferent. There was nothing I needed to ask her that I didn’t know. She was an ordinary mother to ordinary children who had ordinary children of their own. The family had ordinary fights. Didn’t we all know enough about ordinary lives? Hadn’t Proust, Knausgaard and Naipaul written in enough detail about lives like hers? 

Behind the sheen of her rule abiding and tax paying did she wait for someone to come ask her why she liked that photo? Was bringing up the print a test for her to find a kindred spirit to whom she could bare all without risking judgement? I wonder if I’d looked past the marble elephants in the atrium at the framed print above the fridge while she was still able to talk what secrets I might have found. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Adventures in Cwmfforest

I'm talking to the Taxi Driver at Abergavveny station. He looks like a fatter version of Robert de Niro. This trip could be fun. 

"I need to get to this place close to Brecon bunkhouse. I have no idea how to pronounce this though." I say and hand him my phone. 

"That's google." He says. Taking time to pronounce the ohs. "Its not really a word, is it?" He adds and smiles at me like he understands. Its kind of like the smile me mum gives me while she's wondering how I'll make it in the real world. 

Before I can be taken aback by how retarded he needs to be to assume an English speaking Indian in the UK with a smartphone would not know about google my politeness kicks in. I tell him I mean the word below google. 

"Oh, that's Cwmfforest." He says not being helpful at all. 

"Cumforest? " 

" No. Cwmfforest." 

"Cummforest?" I emphasize the mmmm and don't even try to not laugh. If I don't know about google its surely excusable I don't know about cum. 

After a long silent ride the taxi driver tells me is only 10 minutes to the fforest. Thing is I'm not a bad guy. So I need to accept this olive branch. I already have a few jokes ready for taxi drivers. Like is it solipsistic in here, or is it just me? Or when the meter is about to hit 30 tell them I have treskaidecaphobia. And then wait for them to correct me. But I decide to be more sociable. So I ask him something I've been meaning to ask a taxi driver all along. If they really eat the taxi driver burger at GBK. So I ask him 

"Have you been to the Gourmet burger kitchen? "

"Why would you do that?" 

This is turning out to be like a first date but thankfully we are already in cumforest. (Which sadly is not like my usual first dates).

The Real Purpose

I might as well come to the real purpose of my trip. This is under appreciated but a man needs to be ready for anything. Over time I've realised a lot of people look to me for support and guidance. And I'd like to be there for them. Especially in case of an alien-zombie attack. This might sound far fetched and it really is. However, I took the pains to scavenge and map out cummfforrest for its alien-zombie attack survivability and so I'll detail it below.

Life might be fun right now but an Alien Zombie attack is never far away

First thing you need in case of a AZ attack is a man or woman who can maintain clarity of thought in those troubling times. And I met old Mike who runs the stable and bnb in Cwmfforest. Mike is the guy who'll have no issues calling a spade a spade when zombie shit hits the proverbial alien fan. He's not the guy who'll squirm because the zombie was some time ago a neighbour or friend. He'll give you a loaded shotgun and say, " go after them son. Today we celebrate our independence day." That might sound bullshit right now but that's what you need to hear heading into that darkness. Clarity.

The second thing you need is a transport medium that has a good field of view and ability to go over rough terrain. This is where Mike is also your man.

At the right angle his tractor's front end loader is a comfortable seat with amazing armor protection and view.

The right angle for the front end loader

Clear view on both sides to be able to use your shotgun
Quiet Happiness in the loader. One that can only come from knowing you can handle any Alien Zombie attack

Of course there might be no fuel left which implies no mechanical transport. In which case food and water are going to be in tight supply too. But Mike has horses. Which solves two of the problems. What's left is fresh water and Wales has enough of that. Get to a high enough vantage point to locate water and locate those Alien-Zombies to track out a path.

Although this is a good photo, its the wrong way to scope for fresh water. Both horse and rider are looking in the same direction, leaving the off side open to an AZ attack

Both sides covered. Good job, warrior.

Having sorted out my hideout and way to supplies, I was  a rested man. But not for long. I realized Alien-Zombiness can spread quickly to animals as well.

Wales has 4 sheep for every human being. If the AZness spreads, they could be your worst enemy.

Also cows. Worst known Zombies. They so slow you'd never know when they've turned Zombie.

Also your own horse could be a Zombie. Which is fine.

Just ensure, there is someone else in front. Also try to be really light on your horse, so he doesn't know you're on it. (he's a Zombie, so by definition not very clever.) Let me know if that doesn't work. LOLS.

Lastly always make time for a beautiful sunset. It'll make fighting Zombies worth living for.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Howrah Station: A Paean (/n. pay-n)

Howrah Station is the second last stop on the way to Salvation, AR. Your space ship will stop momentarily although intolerably for what seems to be nothing more than "a spot of time voyeurism, old chap". Time moves on, water flows under the bridge (to be covered later), you move from stalking one ex to the next on facebook, but Howrah station stays unchanged, unmoved. Uncompromising, sordid it looks on from under its piss stained walls mocking at development and your break neck speed. Millions of inconsequential folk routinely use it to get somewhere but it has nowhere to go. No friday night parties, no walk of shame the next day. (if this is making you think about sex, you maybe need this: A friend in Howrah )

Whatever, don't know where that was going. Right outside gate number 5 of the station, however, is an old lady who has been selling weed for the last few decades. (an obvious digression is to discuss the economics of selling lame drugs in India, which is pretty much a job for a lifer with none of the upside or sexiness that selling drugs in the west entails, but that's for later. It's too early in a blog post to digress. In para number 2.)
The weed surprisingly is not that old. Often one finds, weeded fiends queuing along ticket counters, making those thick crooked human lines. He has no ticket to buy but inquiries to make while the inquiry counter sits deserted, alone. The inquiries seldom add up to much but like most human conversation are regressive at best. "where does this train go?", "what train", "this train that I'm the engine of" and he walks away alone mimicking the engine and the only limb of a train that knows not where it goes while others in the queue look on.

Howrah also has a sandwich shop. As an ode to the Bengal famine that swept this land in the 1940s, the sandwiches are mostly insufficient and unappetizing and named more for who makes them rather than what they contain. The chicken sandwich for instance is made by a chicken that was once destined for the slaughterhouse, but grew out of the meat machine hierarchy owing to its perceived culinary skills. Coming back to the sandwich, however, these are disappointing even after a bad case of the munchies.

The station comes replete with its own suspension bridge. The suspension here referring to the disbelief one feels at the sheer mass of people crossing it in a mulling about I have nowhere to go way. That bridge is proof humanity overtook nature in a way that was never intended. The river was put fat and wide between the station and the city to prevent mass droves of I.F. from crossing over to the other side. And one has his doubts resurface. Did I pay the old woman too much for this weed? It doesn't seem to be working.


Thursday, May 01, 2014

How to write a Caravan Cover Story (in 10 easy steps)

Caravan. Noun. a vehicle equipped for living in, typically towed by a car and used for holidays. OR a group of people, especially traders or pilgrims, travelling together across a desert in Asia or North Africa.

What does either of those two meanings have to do with a "Journal of Politics and Culture" one might ask?

Good question. Understanding that is part one of what it takes to be a Caravan Cover Story (CCS) Writer. The allure of the unanswer-ed/able question. Ask a question that floats in the Cosmic Universe of soft-headedness and distracts the reader momentarily from wanting to scratch that wart between his balls.

Anyhow, you too can be a successful CSS writer by following the 10 easy steps below and see your name at the end of an article followed by an italicized eulogy -

[You have skipped the article to see if this is in fact Chetan Bhagat, only to be disappointed/shocked]
"CSS Writer : Has been facing the glass ceiling in his own publishing firm for the past 10 years and has now decided to pen an extremely long article for Caravan, which due to reasons unknown his own firm chose not to print.

Step 1: Take a super zoomed in photo with your friend's SLR, preferably with the protagonist not looking at you but sideways or into the distance (Sunset?!), especially prefer low angle shots.

Step 2: Start off with an incident that seems perfectly normal like meeting people for lunch but make the items eaten sound exotic, change chicken to chicken a la onionesque, dal to lentil soup, roti to naan bread. Make yourself and the protagonist sound like men of taste. The reader now feels honored to be sharing part of your tasteful existence.

Step 3:  Make a few impossible to verify claims at the outset of the article, like Manoj is the fastest atheist rickshaw puller in the town of Muradabad. Italicize Muradabad.  Also add conditioners like arguably, maybe and supposedly to snatch away any possibility of a factual debate.

Step 4: Make historical references to incidents that happened a long time before the median reader's age. These might have nothing to do with the CCS but are good nevertheless. Who doesn't like a useless tidbit of History.

Step 5: Make it long. Very long.

Step 6: Use a long list of characters in each article. Use names interchangeably. Call Manoj by his first name and last name in different sentences. Confuse the reader, make him feel he is too dumb to understand the article. Make him concede defeat and share the article on facebook before he can read all of it.

Step 7: Go back to the protagonists childhood, discuss how his friends from school remember him (which of course is unbiased, because, hey!, who is jealous of a friend Caravan is doing is a cover story on).

Step 8: Throw in some lines that appeal to the by now beaten out brain pulp of the reader, like, Manoj thought the sky was bluer but he was happy. That night he called himself the Blue King.

Step 9: End with a  vague statement that means nothing, is open ended and makes the reader wonder (but in one particular direction) so he thinks he arrived at the conclusion himself but surprisingly so did everyone else.

Step 10: Manoj now knew the reason  the large hadron collider was not built in Wasseypur. Sorry Wasseypur.


Sunday, March 09, 2014

A Prayer for Rain

Bhopal was always going to be a difficult movie to make. Greats like Oliver Stone have tried (and it seems so far) given up.

The body count is known. What happened that night in Bhopal is known. The after effects and the legal battle and it's results are known. The pittance paid as compensation is known.

What makes it a tricky movie to make however is on the assignability of blame. Did the Indian workers cut corners without complicity from senior management in the States. Or was it in effect sabotage as carbide claims? Or as my MBA friends would like to tell me was it something as lame as poor communication?

The movie acknowledges that confusion but also seems ambiguous in the adoption of its decided stance ( which I assume is to not claim it knows who is to blame).

There is a certain confusion in the representation of how seemingly senior level management decisions are taken by junior functionaries. One scene has the operations chief (my guess as destinations aren't made very clear) decide to turn off the freon pump that could have been used on the fateful night to freeze off the methyl isocyanate to save costs.

This seems unlikely to have happened without management knowledge and rather a lack of  management knowledge would render the action pointless for the operations chief.

Apart from this major flaw the movie does have some great moments of brilliance. The effect of the bridal mare running through a deserted dimly road with birds dropping from the sky is haunting in its beauty.

It is a very human story with several glimpses, acknowledgements and understanding of human fallibility. The visionary CEO who falls for his own faith in himself and trusts others from humble backgrounds like his to do as well with limited resources as he did. The clever greaser ( played by the co author David Brooks himself) who believes that if certain precautionary procedures can be waived using money then they weren't important anyways. The rickshaw puller who makes employee incharge of safety in a matter of days and still needs someone else telling him that doesn't bode well for safety overall.

The acting could be bettered. Rajpal Yadav tries to shake off his comic stereotype and succeeds to some extent, but Kal Penn's Indian accent is a bit too labored. Martin Sheen comes off as almost likable, but then he also managed that when he killed my childhood hero Col. Kurtz.

Is it a movie worthy of the Bhopal tragedy? No. But I doubt a movie can be.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The actor and the role

Was watching this documentary on Egypt's revolution last night and thought I saw someone familiar.

Aida El Kashef who plays Aliya in Ship of Theseus (below) is apparently a revolutionary of some significance back home. 

There's of course a certain quirkiness that Aida brings to her role in SoT, a certain rebelliousness which is hard to miss. Very well crafted role or conversely excellent choice of actor. Going over interviews it seems like the script came before the actress in this case. How much of the script and role changed with her being part of the project is hard to deduce but I would think it would be significant. Aliya is not a helpless handicapped in the movie but a rather strong and unreasonable sort who is quite clear in expressing her disdain of her partner's (and I believe, the audience's) patron-ization. 

Which made me wonder how that strength of character (which is as much as I can make out from her outwardly characteristics) helps or impedes a real life revolutionary. A very hard analytic look on their (Aida, Khalid Abdalla (kite runner) & friends) revolution does seem to have achieved only precious little and is somewhat of a let-down compared to what transpired after having successfully deposed a despot who ruled for 30 years. Compared to all the ideals, the application really does suck balls. From accepting victory way too early to giving up before really having a constitution, errors of planning and strategy abound in the revolution.

And that's what makes me wonder, in a movie as in life, where does uncompromising get you? In other words, can you be the actor for every role or would you much rather make engineer every role for your act?

Saturday, June 16, 2012


It has been 25 years of the GIF (this article best read with this in the background). The article questions if there'll ever be a Mona-Lisa among GIFs. Now, in my humble layman art admirer opinion a GIF could be a Mona Lisa in one of two ways, by being as great as the Mona Lisa is (in a purely technical art-form way) or by being perceived to be as great as is the Mona Lisa (in other words, popular).

The Mona Lisa, technically, is admired for being the first to allow for an imaginary landscape behind the subject and in its use of an aerial perspective, essentially viewing things from afar.The GIF, at least the first one, would be similar in its break from standard practice and its technological advancement. Like the Mona Lisa, the GIF has mostly been an expression of the mediocre, in terms of beauty and not ideas, also like the song you've probably been listening to. Lastly, and this might also be the least, the GIF has a penchant for losing details through overcompression just like the excessive cleaning made the Mona Lisa lose her eyebrows.

Coming to popularity, I'm not sure if in another 300 years, GIFs could be jostling for space inside the Louvre, but if they do, this one could probably make the grade.