My Travel Map

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just another day in paradise...

Evening, to be precise. Here's a gist of what unfolded on that fateful day.

Tuesday, 17th November 2009, 6:00 PM – Thinking of getting out of office early today. Not much work anyway. The match is boring as well. Sri Lankans batting like the asuras and raavanas combined together.

6:10 PM – Happen to look outside. Startled. The world outside the windowpane is pretty much pitch black in complexion. Like a scene straight out of Armageddon or Apocalypto or whatever those doomsday movies are called.

(Oh by the way, its not supposed to be pitch black, let along even a hint of black before 7 PM here)

6:30 PM – Take a long peek at the situation outside. Pondering how to manage getting home amidst this cataclysm. Need to go for a hair cut urgently. Have a wedding to attend next weekend, and I don’t want to look my best, lest I impress any nubile and impressionable young ladies down there.

6:40 PM – I am informed that someone is coming to get me and has a spare umbrella. Bless her. As you might have guessed by now, I don’t have an umbrella with me. I stopped carrying those contraptions long back, after I had magnanimously donated quite a few of those to the general unassuming public within a short frame of time, during my adolescence. I also don’t carry water bottles to school. Rather, I didn’t. Long story. Suffice to say, I am pretty much resistant to the worst of water today.

7:00 PM – Reach the subway (MRT). Bid adieu to my gracious saviour and board a train back home. The hair-cutting saloon is on the way from the MRT to my home. Its called Sri Kandi. Reminds of a rather delicious Maharashtrian dessert. Anyway, they charge only $8 per haircut and the ambience is rather like one you would find back in my hometown. Only air-conditioned. No massage to top it off, though. But the cheapest and best I could find.

7:15 PM – Hey how’s that possible? I walk out of the underground station and on to an implausibly dry sidewalk. No hint of rain. No stormy winds. Am I in the same city or what? Barely 10kms from where I boarded but the world is showing no signs of ending here! It’s all pretty balmy out here. Rather.

7:40 PM – Haircut is done and a satisfied customer walks out, having again unknowingly and magnanimously donated his newly borrowed blue umbrella to the unassuming Sri Kandan gentlemen. However, God smiles on those who do good deeds and such must be the traits of my previously described gracious saviour. So, my barber uncle (I hope I don’t have to call him hairdresser uncle) comes running out after me and completes the cycle of Good Karma. Thank God, I think – at least, my record with umbrellas stays intact.

7:45 PM – Walking through a football field on one side and an unused school building on the other – which defines the footpath leading into the estate where I live – I come across a rat scurrying for cover. Probably initially attracted by my Ganesha belly but later intimidated by my rather stuck-up and indifferent presence, the rat tries to escape into the football field through a wire mesh fence at least 4 times and fails. On the fifth try, he succeeds, obviously. Dumb rat, I think. But wait, this is the first time I’ve seen a rat in Singapore, I believe. Is this an omen?

7:50 PM – Trudging up the steps to my apartment block on Braddell Hill (yes, its rather hilly, by Singaporean standards - must be at least 10 meters above sea level), I again wonder why there is no hint of rain or storm or even any breeze. It’s just eerily quiet. And calm.

8:00 PM – I’m the first to reach home today. As I settle down on the couch in our living room, again the absence of a breeze is discernible. Usually, the cross ventilation in our 19th floor setup can lead to an unnecessarily windy scenario if both windows are open. Today, the silence is palpable. A baby lizard leaps off the window grille on to my thumb, as I open yet another shutter.

8: 10 PM – I can hear a dog howling rather loudly in a neighbouring building. Very unusual – even the dogs and the babies are well behaved in Singapore. Suddenly, even the koels aorund here start cooing. Out of nowhere, on a still November evening.

8:30 PM – Where is all this leading? Why are things so unnaturally calm and quiet? Not even a leaf is moving here, when just 10 km away, I valiantly escaped a storm that was supposedly about to wreak havoc in the Central Business District. Why are the animals behaving so oddly? Why so many firsts in one single evening?

And then it hits me. We are in the eye of a storm. A huge one is brewing. It’s on its way. A twister or tornado or something. A shiver of anticipation goes down my spine. This is going to be a lifetime experience. One I can surely write about. Tell my grandchildren. The works.

9:00 PM – Finish a good dinner of French Toast and Maggi Hot ‘n’ Sour Tomato Chill Sauce (“Its Different”) to help me prepare for the eventuality that is fast approaching.

9:10 PM – The sky is weirdly white. Not even red. Just a whitish orangish grayish haze. I know it’s coming. I message some of my friends about the impending catastrophe, warning them to stay clear of open spaces.

9:20 PM – The streaks of lightning are more noticeable now. My eyes are hooked on the sky with feverish anticipation. I know we can’t be in the eye for much longer.

9:30 PM – We must be almost there. I can visualize myself being branded a hero for having predicted this, and saved so many lives. Getting a Red & White bravery award or maybe the Marlboro Man award or some tobacco company award will be a breeze now.

9:40 PM – Are we there yet?

9:50 PM - Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

10:00 PM – NO we are not. Unfortunately, nothing happens. All my romanticizing comes to naught. It’s just another boring Singapore evening - and windless at that.

Nothing to shout about. Sighhh.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

R E S P E C T

We have all seen able men. We have all seen brave men. Or have we? I, for one, have not had to look very far. As my dad turns 60 today, let me take this opportunity to salute him and the other dads of his generation – who have given much but not taken much in return. Who have opted for stability, and never bothered about all the so-called “options” in life. And in turn, opened up all the options for the next generation – us – to choose from.

While it may seem facile to thank our parents, I will again take this opportunity. So, thanks, Baba, for being the perfect gentleman always and inspiring us to emulate your integrity and humility. Thanks for taking the pains to find the perfect ilish maach every time I came home and for inculcating the love of eating – well, almost anything. (There’s always time to compliment Ma’s cooking, of course). Thanks for writing some of the best English and Bengali I have come across in my life and letting us know that the languages will stay with us, equations will come and go. (Which also means thanks for ghostwriting so many homework essays during my school days).

Thanks for watching so many World Cups and Wimbledons with us and braving Ma’s protests in doing the same. Thanks for teaching us to drive, swim and ride a bike – especially the latter! And thanks for believing in us and not bothering about our exams and results too much, unless we got 60 odd in Mathematics. And finally, among countless other things, thanks for getting our priorities right and putting our hearts in the right place. So cheers and here’s hoping you enjoy the next phase of your life to the fullest as well! Happy 60th Birthday, Baba!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dev D - Bring it on!!!

Warning: I have never written a movie review before, so this may not be too inspiring a masterpiece. Also, this is not expected to be a literary marvel, nor an idealistic viewpoint and definitely not humorous. Basically, I am not that gifted.

So why did I choose Dev D for this rite of initiation? Well – while critical reviews of this film tended to border on either extreme – the Indian movie-going public seems to have agreed with me finally, giving Bollywood its second hit of the year and reinstating some hope in me as to the maturity of the audience. The hope, which I had lost, when movies like Parzania, Amir, A Wednesday, Mumbai Meri Jaan floated into oblivion without any public recognition. Of course, the movie I’m going to talk about is not in the same league as the above movies but I had not expected even this dose of realism to work. Especially when it was contending with history. Considering that Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Devdas remains possibly one of the greatest tales of unrequited love ever told in Indian cinema and remade well over 10 times in various languages, it takes some courage to pull it off again. And I salute that bravado.

After director Anurag Kashyap’s last attempt “No Smoking” – a dark, ponderous and seemingly unfathomable disaster – my expectation meter was set rather low when I walked into the theatre. But all for the better. What Kashyap excels in here is the characterization of the lead (and even not-so-lead) players. All of them evolve from the unidimensionality etched in our memories – here there is nothing in black or white. Kashyap shows us varying shades of grey and darkness - even in the humble Sikh cab driver. Lest the audience feels good about themselves, Chanda (Chandramukhi, played by newcomer Kalki Koechlin) reminds us that when people labeled her a whore (reference to the DPS RKPuram MMS scandal), they forgot that those who watched and shared the MMS were probably more perverted than those who made them. Indeed, towards the end – when Kashyap’s filmmaking threatens to paint a world so real and so black that no light seems to filter in – I tell my friend sitting beside me that Kashyap would’ve wasted a brilliant effort if he ended it there. But he didn’t. Thankfully.

I assume everyone is familiar with the basic story so I won’t waste any time on that. I’ll just dwell on what struck me as interesting and brave filmmaking. Apart from the clever camerawork and the three guitar playing–tap dancing-drink-induced dream sequence over-lookers, that is.

What impressed me most was how the contradictions in the main characters are superbly brought out. So while rich spoilt kid Dev amuses himself by asking for compromising photos of his childhood sweetheart Paro (played by Mahi Gill – isn’t there an award for best casting director or something?) over the Internet, he has difficulty in coming to terms with her obvious sexuality when she comes onto him and accuses her of infidelity. Paro, unlike her predecessors, doesn’t grovel or plead with Dev, either. Though she may know that Dev has some inherent goodness, she obviously knows that he doesn’t really care for her either. No lighting of the eternal lamps here. And while the married Paro will still wash Dev’s clothes and give him a bath and even let him touch her, she desists from taking off her clothes or kissing him. And she doesn’t look back when Dev, in a fit of misguided machismo, pushes her out. Well done, Paro. And take that, all ye fluffy birds. And go kill yourself, Chanda’s altruistic father, for not supporting your little girl when she most needed you.

Diehard romantics and followers of Devdas’ eternal love theory should definitely give this movie a miss – as Kashyap threatens to shatter that myth. For even Dev here realizes in a final frenzy of introspection that all those fluffy notions of “love” were nothing more than probably a physical attraction. Just the concept of realizing your one true eternal love shouldn’t be that important at all, in the greater scheme of things. If it were so important, then he probably shouldn’t have let Paro get married. Or pine afterwards. Or justify that utterly irresponsible drink- smoke pot- drink- sleep on foreign whore’s bed- drink- screw up- call Paro- drink- call home for money- drink some more routine. This is where previous renditions of the story have fallen short. For they have tended to glorify the “losing your love, drinking to forget” part by casting superstars like Shahrukh in the part of Devdas, and chosen to overlook many of the evident shortcomings in the male protagonist.

Some of the dialogues and situations are worth a mention as well– a far cry from Shahrukh’s hammy “babuji ne kaha paro ko chod do, paro ne kaha sharaab chod do, maa ne kaha haveli chod do…” types. So we have Dev’s father telling him that his stay in London has changed his Punjabi taste – from whisky to vodka, chicken to fish and well-nourished women to stick-thin apparitions. Or Chanda telling Dev that calling her a randy is more appropriate than a “commercial sex worker”. Or Chunni wickedly asking Dev relay chalta hai na before embarking on a vodka-whisky-white rum-black rum- no gin spree. All priceless moments.

Overall, I guess the heady dose of realism that Anurag Kashyap injects into this movie is why it ticks for me. And the non-tacky dialogue. And the clever use of songs and innovative background scores. And Abhay Deol. The actor seems to turn whatever he touches into gold. I had long decided to watch any and every movie that features him and the rewards have been good – from Socha Na Tha to Ahista Ahista, Honeymoon Travels, Manorama 6 Feet Under, Ek Chalis ki Last Local, and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye – not one movie has disappointed me. Maybe it’s his choice and maybe it’s his luck. But the charm seems to be working for now. Go see Dev D, if you have not.