Sunday, August 13, 2017

Baahubali - The movie that floored 'em all

I am so late to the party everyone must have forgotten when the party happened, and might, just might, believe this is something new that they weren't invited to. So, here goes.

Seeing a movie months after the whole world has seen, reviewed and raved about it is bad. Seeing said movie, a treatise on awesome graphics, on a laptop, is worse. Seeing such a movie immediately after reading an awesome, awesome book in a similar genre and raving about it (I am looking at you, Ponniyin Selvan), is truly the worst.

I have a Netflix login that I use extremely sparsely these days and, I put to good use little person's 3 hour nap yesterday to finally catch up on Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. Since you all would already have heard of sugar and spice and everything nice about the movie (and rightfully so (and that's how I aim to remain politically correct)), I will not dedicate this space to 5 lessons for managers, 8 lessons for start up founders, 10 lessons for CEOs and a 100K lessons for mothers (hey, I am in a mothering mode ok), all from Baahubali. You can just google up this stuff, Buzzfeed and the new Buzzfeed (LinkedIn) will throw up a million links that can make you throw up.

1. I think it was a bad, bad, bad idea to dedicate so much space, time and energy to the character of Amarendra Baahubali (Amar). He is too much of an embodiment of all things perfect and virtuous. And then, suddenly, when he dies and this Mahendra Baahubali (Mahi) comes back on screen (a figure we are well versed with even from movie 1), it just isn't enough. Who is this half baked dude who doesn't seem to have half the intelligence and presence as that hero, Amar? If Prabhas has done a great job of contrasting the two roles, he just goes a bit overboard. Amar, the king who never was, is so well etched in the mind that Mahi isn't able to hold a candle to the father. 

2. That brings me to the second point. I am wrong in contrasting acting skills of the same actor in different roles. Mahi just doesn't get enough screen time to remind us of who he is, how he changes after hearing about the secret of his birth. Just because the movie crew had to pack everything into one movie, it was truly a hurried end. Did anyone else feel that Baahubali 1 was better paced with saner story-telling than The Conclusion?

3. That lack of time ate into more than Mahi's character. The final battle deserved more than that. It definitely deserved at least 2 minutes of explaining how they were acquiring the manpower and weapons. No, Mahi's speech to the common folk around him - ‘we will fight with whatever tools we get our hands on’ - was far from convincing. Maybe, they should have shown a few oppressed smaller rulers siding with Mahi. Or, at least, one scene of Kattappa rallying his slave army with the explanation that Mahi is the king to whom they owe their allegiance (as announced by RajMata Sivagami before her death) would have been useful. He gives that explanation to Bhallala’s father, Bijjala, much later during the battle - too little, too late, and too hurried in tying the knots to be satisfactory. Some political strategy by Mahi would have made him shine as a true king rather than a mad prince acquiring the throne because his father deserved it before him (very similar to Game of Thrones’ Daenerys who doesn't waste any moment in reminding us how she is the last Targaryen and hence everyone needs to bend the knee).

3. Talking about strategy, one of the key battles in Baahubali 1 was the one where Bhallala and Amar, the princes of Mahismati, fight a long and bloody battle against the Kalakeyas, savages who are out to ruin the empire of Mahismati. In this battle, both princes use intelligent strategies to thwart the enemy, and it is this intelligence and planning, more than the blood and gore, that made me love the scenes. Contrast that to the final battle in The Conclusion. Mahi behaves childlike when his mother is imprisoned again, and Kattappa has to remind him to be his father’s son to win this battle. Then, Mahi does some outrageously silly things, like human boomerangs (I am STILL trying to reconcile to that visual abomination) in order to be victorious. Didn't we, the true fans of the Baahubali franchise, deserve better than this? A brilliant battle to end all battles, better even than the fight against the Kalakeyas in Baahubali 1 would have been the chocolate icing on an okayish vanilla cake. Rather, what we have is vanilla icing on an okayish vanilla cake. Sigh. By the way, did anyone else think that Bhallala was ‘brillianter’ than Mahi in those final scenes? Amar was the foe he deserved but he sadly ended up with Mahi.

4. While speaking battles, what was that random fight with the Kalakeyas that Amar had before he was evilly vanquished by Kattappa? Force fit much to remind us that Amar is a great warrior? Again, I would attribute this to lack of time and trying to crunch too many things into one movie.

5A. Finally, what might have worked very well (for me, not for all you raving fans out there) was a well paced first half extending into the whole movie, delving into further details on Kalakeyas and some such, with Amar saving the kingdom once again, and yet being evilly killed off in the end by Kattappa. In other words, the answer to that raging question of the past two years, “Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?” could have been provided by the end of the second movie, with some other yet-unsolved mystery cliff hanger towards the end. That way, a movie 3, The Real Conclusion, could have solved for the mystery from movie 2 and also spent more time on Mahi and his focus on winning back the kingdom, not only as the rightful heir, but also as someone who deserves it, thanks to his powerful arms + brilliant mind + virtuous self.

5B. Since I do understand there would have been budgetary limitations in getting the cast together again and also in re-creating scene after scene of epicness, not to underestimate the massive risk the movie makers were already taking with such a hugely budgeted movie (who knows how audiences would turn), I do have a short cut alternate solution. The makers should have shown the killing of Amar + the Mahi battle upfront and saved the rest of the nicer flashback for the end. That way, I could have retired with my fairy tale ending of Amarendra and Devasena a happy couple living and working with the common folk of the kingdom, while Baby Mahi is safely ensconced in Mommy Devasena's tummy from where he wouldn't be obliged to express his role or wreak any random havoc. 

6. I just have a huge doubt as I sign off here. Bijjala, a bitter man who nurtures and grows his son’s already poisonous mind, encouraging him as he embarks on one evil deed after another, is left alive and kicking at the end of the movie. Can we hope for a spin off where Bijjala will team up with Bhallala’s wife (who wasn't shown in the movie) along with any other progeny so far not shown (maybe a younger Bhallala?) to take revenge against Mahi and the new RajMata Devasena for burning Bhallala alive and usurping the throne?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ponniyin Selvan - A book I don't deserve

Ponniyin Selvan is a hard not to know novel if you are a Tamilian. If you aren't, you might still have heard about it in the past few years due to much publicised English translations and dramatic on-stage retellings. At 1,400+ pages, 5 full volumes and researched over a 3 year period across India and Sri Lanka, Ponniyin Selvan is famous Tamil author Kalki's most ambitious and fulfilling work, a magnum opus, historical fiction possibly at its very best from this part of the world. 
Over the years, people who have read the book have told me how it has haunted them. My mother and uncles are Ponniyin Selvan fanatics, using passages and lyrics from the book series while talking in normal terms, discussing and revelling in the beauty of tenth century Tamil Nadu. My mother claims that the protagonist of the book, Vallavaraiyan Vandiyathevan (VV) has a statue of his own under the famous Gemini flyover in Chennai. There is a statue of a man controlling a horse on that spot no doubt, but it isn't clear whether the then TN Government was inspired by VV in installing the statue or whether it was simply a statue signifying abolishment of horse racing in the state.
I have been afraid of picking this book up. The very thought of traversing all those pages in Tamil (mine own mother tongue) has had my knees bending in fear and hands shaking in nervousness. Anyway, early last month, I decided that, if Kalki had been ambitious enough to write such a novel, I sure can set my ambition a bit lower and at least achieve the goal of reading the novel. So, here I am, a month later, in front of you, my dear reader, having read, gotten absorbed and fallen absolutely and irrevocably in love with Ponniyin Selvan. It is perhaps a book I don't deserve, having denied myself the pleasure of this beauty for so many decades now, but that doesn't stop me from passing on some of my happiness to you. 

Premise
Ponniyin Selvan is set in tenth century, during a period when the Chola dynasty was at its peak and working towards eventual magnificence 100 years down the line. It recounts incidents across an 8 month period when Sundara Chola was reigning over a large part of modern day Tamil Nadu (extending from Chennai to Thanjavur and beyond), and covering a bit of Eezham (Sri Lanka) too. While the book primarily revolves around Sundara Chola, his sons Aditya Karikalan and Arulmozhi Varman, and the drama and politics surrounding the succession to Sundara Chola's title, it does extensively reference the immediate past generations (starting with Vijayalaya Chola) and also the early Chola period (referencing the famous Manu Needhi Cholan and Sibi Chakravarty). The early Chola stories strive to establish the fairness and justness with which the Cholas ruled, a key theme that keeps recurring across the novel's mainstay incidents too. The book also acts as a setting stage for Raja Raja Cholan, one of the most famous kings from the Chola dynasty, attributed with having built the Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple and expanding the Chola dynasty to as far as Malaysia. VV, the protagonist, works for the elder Chola prince, Aditya Karikala but eventually establishes friendly relationships with the younger Chola prince, Arulmozhi Varman (who later goes on to become Raja Raja Cholan), and also gets romantically linked with their sister Kundavai (a) Ilaiya Piratti. 

I am no one to review this book, but I am going to use this space to share my observations, rationalising why this book attracts such fandom and fanaticism even today. 

1) Deeply descriptive narrative
Only some authors have the power to narrate so beautifully that you are transported to the setting of the book. In this case, this is no mean feat given the setting is tenth century Chola dynasty, resplendent with palaces and princesses, secret passageways and heaps and heaps of gold coins, warfare on horse backs and from elephants. Kalki does more than justice to this. When he describes the sea and the cyclone, I am in the middle of all of it, about to fall into the sea and die. When he describes the royal court and the women's quarters, I am right there, observing the king in his glory, the princes and princesses in their royal couches and thrones. The description is so real and vivid that I lived inside the book rather than the book living by my side, this past one month.

2) Strong characterisations
While I am a book snob who thinks no movie / series can do justice to the book, the only truth, curiosity has always got the better of me in wondering how a book would translate into the visual medium. However, even when reading this book, I knew it wouldn't be possible to visualise this. Kalki has spent reams and reams of papers in developing his characters, and this is not just through anecdotes of their heroic deeds. Their deepest thoughts are vividly described to establish the greys in their minds, the motives for their actions, and their real emotions at results of their and others' actions. Ponniyin selvan, as the younger prince ArulmozhiVarman, is an embodiment of all things virtuous - truthful, brave, down to earth, loved by the masses and classes equally. VV, the protagonist, is an attractive young man, loyal to his king and princes, street smart when the need arises, confused in matters of women, as human as all of us. The antagonists are also not fully antagonists, they have their reasons to be who they are, they sometimes want to be nice people who are imprisoned by circumstances. How will anyone be able to visualise so much of one's flitting thoughts in a movie without doing major injustice to the book and its characters? 

3) Women of substance
The Chola kingdom, like most other kingdoms across the world then, was male dominated. The king was God, armies were full of men etc. However, that did not stop the women from playing significant roles in politics and state craft, acting as key influencers of the men in their lives (husbands, sons, fathers). In that regard, Kundavai, Sundara Chola's daughter, does play a very important role. We also get a glimpse into how much she cares for the Chola dynasty and its victories. More than once in the book, important male characters mention how Kundavai would have been the obvious, rightful and most deserving king in succession to Sundara Chola if she had only been born male. While Kundavai influences the story positively, Nandini is the chief antagonist, and brings about many of the twists, turns and pitfalls to the Chola dynasty. Again, this is a character rich in intelligence, though she uses it differently, under the guise of a pitiable woman in need of help, manipulating men who fall for her beauty. Diametrically opposite to these two women (who already are diametrically opposite to each other) is Poonguzhali, the boat woman. She is the princess of the sea (as nicknamed by Ponniyin Selvan) who is a muscular beauty, and saves the prince and VV on more than one occasion from natural calamities and evil conspirators alike.

4) Real, flawed warriors
Men are macho, men are brave, and male warriors fight and kill, is what popular fiction has us believe, be it the written or visual medium. However, Kalki focuses on reiterating how warriors are real. Many are the instances when these warriors cry, when they realise they have not adhered to the dharma of their work, when they realise they have inadvertently caused mishaps, when people close to them die. There are instances where the elder prince, Aditya Karikalan, rues over how he handled an enemy after combat, how the victory doesn't taste sweet anymore. This realism makes the book that much more endearing.

5) Flavourful and enjoyable story telling
This is no boring treatise on history, no mundane collection of passages extolling virtuous men and smart women, describing an era long dead. The book is a beautiful amalgamation of drama, humour, action and romance in parts. Especially, the skirmishes between Vaishnavites and Shaivites (centuries old and still ongoing) are interesting, educative and humorous. Azhvarkadian Nambi, a staunch Vaishnavite, that being a facade to his spy-job, someone we aren't clear of as to who he works for till 50% of the story gets done with, makes these sequences so much more fun. While friendship is explored deeply (both the younger prince and VV put their lives on the line to save each other more than once), duty to the kingdom seems to be foremost, as evidenced by the actions of Sundara Chola, Kundavai and all other characters loyal to the kingdom. 
The author speaks to the reader as if he is an on-stage narrator speaking to a theatre full of audience. For instance, after talking about a particularly disgusting lie that one of the antagonists tell one of the princes, Kalki spends a fair amount of real estate starting with, “I know that you, my reader, would be disgusted with this lie. But, you must understand how this person’s mind was working at that moment and what all they had gone through since birth to have been pushed to this extent,” and goes on to explain, with rationale, why this happened. It is as if the author anticipates the reader’s every reaction and is readily waiting at the turn with the antidote.

I agree with all those good people who warned me before hand. Not only did this book haunt me while I read it, it will continue to haunt me for many more years to come, as it has so many fanatics before me. What a shame Kalki died soon after publishing this wonderful contribution to Tamil literature and history! He never got to know what this book of his did to its readers, what kind of reverence people speak with when talking about this book even today!

Friday, June 02, 2017

House of Cards: Season 5, Episode 1 - Homecoming of terror

Alert: If you haven't watched the previous seasons of HoC, this review will contain spoilers that you may want to avoid.

"Watch out for each other and watch each other, to keep us all safe and sound," says Claire Underwood in a chilling message addressing the nation. Thus begins the first episode of season 5, aptly titled 'Homecoming of Terror'.

The Underwoods' problems are far from over, even though a full year has gone by between Seasons 4 and 5. To recap, by the end of Season 4, Tom Hammerschmidt writes a Herald article detailing Frank Underwood's murky journey from being Congressional Whip to becoming POTUS, radicalised domestic terrorists execute an American citizen on national television and Conway steadily gains ground in an election that seems almost over for the Underwoods. 

The Season 5 pilot is off to a promising start, befitting of its title, with Frank turning up the rhetoric in the House, for war against terror. It is quite a scene out there, as Frank derails the House agenda in order to push his own, much reminiscent of the Frank from seasons past, only louder, larger and more dramatic than ever before.

However, the episode does sag in between. Claire defends Frank about the Herald article in what seems to be a very defensive interview, while Hannah, the perfect wife and mother of that promising Republican candidate goofs up even though it turns out favourable for Conway. As Tom Yates puts the viewer to sleep with some unnecessary appearances and boring dialogues in his sleepy voice, Macallan and LeAnn have a heart to heart that leads nowhere. For a few minutes, it feels like the director owed one each to all the characters and hence had to figure out a dialogue or two for each of them. Except, except, for that one meeting on policy decision between Cathy Durant and the POTUS, which seems to have been picked straight off the real world.

As we get into the last 15 minutes of the episode, the set-up gets craftier and more intricate. Terror can be manufactured on home ground, especially when it is the necessary condition to regain and hold on to immeasurable power. Some of these scenes towards the end are unreal, and send a shiver down the spine, of how possible and probable it is to create stories that can be fed to people in order to dial up the fear in their hearts. 

While there seems very little chance of a second innings for the POTUS, the stage is set for the Underwoods to fight this battle like none other they have fought before, using the considerable resources at their disposal. As Claire and Frank sign off, the viewer knows that this is going to be one riveting season of twists and turns, and perhaps, it isn't yet time for the deck of cards to come crashing down.

Overall, it is an episode worth watching, of a season worth the year long wait!

Frank Underwood is coming to India with the television premiere of House Of Cards Season 5 on Saturday, 3rd June, 5 PM onwards, only on Zee Café! For more details, check out the Zee Cafe Facebook page here.

#HOConZCafe

Thursday, May 18, 2017

I don't want to cry

The past few days have been terrible, terribly scary. Memories of the past have been gushing into my active mind from the passive storage at the back. After the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, I have been scared of bomb threats and potential terrorist attacks - I remember spending all of last year's long weekend during Republic Day holed up at home fearing a potential bomb blast, also informing V that I had a "bad feeling" about this. He gave me strange looks, and thankfully, didn't commit me to an institution. And, of course, contrary to my very smart intuition, nothing happened. 
To cut a long story short, I have been paranoid the past few days about going online. Are you asking me why? Have you been living under a rock? Else, there is no way you didn't hear about the WannaCry RansomWare attack. No matter - I give you here a few quick tips to avoid such cyber threats in the long run. Thank me later.
  1. Don't open bank accounts. Even if you do, don't keep money in said bank accounts. Keep everything as cash in your house locker. And keep the keys of that locker under your mattress. And keep the mattress in the loft. Also, move the loft to the top of the Himalayas. 
  2. Burn all your credit cards. Wait. Don't. Just keep applying for new credit cards every month for your online transactions. Since you don't have a bank account or money in the bank account (from Step 1 above), there is no way you can pay your credit card bills. So, it's cool. 
  3. Don't open Facebook or Twitter profiles. Or open them, but give details of your next door neighbour. Oops. This is 2017. You perhaps don't even know if a door exists next door. And, you don't want to find out because you are trying to minimize human interactions, hence the need for Facebook. Don't worry - Just open a profile under Justin Bieber's name. However, be careful not to list "lip sync" as an area of expertise. People will figure out that your profile is fake.
  4. I know what you are thinking, but you should be off Tinder too. That's difficult right. Actually, I will give you an easier way. Just throw away your million rupees smart phone. Hmmm... get it. Tough to throw away a million rupees. Change the settings to flight mode and use it as a camera cum mp3 player. You can click that corner near the curtain with precision using that 20mp camera while listening to some soul stirring sufi music on decibel high. But, but. That ain't enough. Take a big cutting plier and hack away that wire connecting the broadband. 
  5. That leads to our next complication. What happens to that Jio Prime connection you took in the hope of some more free 4G? Forget it man. Let Ambani enjoy some money.
  6. Did you upload that photo of the corner of your house under Justin Bieber's name on Facebook? Now, the thieves are on their way to siphon off all your money in hard cash. However, little do they know that you have stowed the loft containing the mattress under which the key to the locker exists, away atop the Himalayas.


Feeling safe already? Don't. Google maps has marked you, mapped you and is watching you, and there is no way that footprint is going away. The thieves might still come over in the hope of getting your kidneys. And, I can think of no smart way to save you from that.

So Long!

P.S. All in good humour only, so don't hold me responsible if you decide to implement any of the above steps and start suffering from SMWA (Social Media Withdrawal Anxiety).


Monday, May 01, 2017

Z for Zipping up

It's done. And I am a day late in wrapping it up, spilling the challenge over to May. However, as things stand, I am amazed I even got this far. So, firstly, pat on self's back. Followed by a few bullets on takeaways from the challenge.

  • Friends matter. Friends who care about a blogging challenge that the general populace might find silly matter even more. However, friends who care so much about your challenge that they remember it more than you do, pushing you to deliver every day, matter much much more. Thanks Ramya, for the encouragement and push. I am so terrified of you now that I will zip up and refrain from mentioning any such challenge to you ever again!
  • Thanks to everyone on my Facebook friend list who diligently followed the blog from A to Z, 'like'd when the posts were nice, commented when they were better than nice and chided me when I wrote utter crap. Your views and reactions kept me going as much as Ramya's pokes did.
  • I hate to admit this, but it was a difficult challenge. And, I was supremely stupid to even attempt it this year. Which meant I churned out a lot of posts in which my heart wasn't. It has been a satisfying challenge in that I managed to complete it (credits to mom for sharing the load so beautifully), but in terms of quality... nada.
  • And, the quality question brings me to the most important takeaway. I believe that my best writings are ones where I am most honest. There are testimonies to that in the past. But, it has been difficult for me to be open and honest in writing this month, save for this one post. Given the new entrant in our life, my days are filled with Little Person (LP), and hence fodder for the posts are restricted to LP rather than the whole wide world of work, working and the works. But, my heart hasn't been in it. Writing about LP feels like a violation of LP's privacy, and has stopped me from writing honestly. That feels quite disheartening, to say the least. Maybe, a personal diary is the way to go, to open the faucet and let out all those emotions that are dying to join this world of words.
  • I think I will take this challenge up next year too, it does add meaning in a strange sense to my life. Perhaps, I will try my hand at a particular theme so that the randomness is reduced and I have more discipline in writing something useful.

P. S. This post is the twenty sixth and last in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

Y for Yeman

A conversation between me and my Mind Voice (MV)

MV: OMG! You are going to die.
Me: Huh? What happened?
MV: You just consumed poison.
Me: Wha..? When?
MV: Just now. You will replace that Mukesh fellow who comes as a warning before every movie in the cinemas.
Me: Hello! I don't have the habit of consuming tobacco or any of its ancillaries. What drivel are you driving towards?
MV: Tobacco only leads to cancer. And cancer has a cure. What you ate will lead to Yeman* knocking on your doors soonish.
Me: Dude! The only thing I had this morning was bread, with butter by the side. Are you referring to the butter? And what the hell is DBGOA?
MV: Not just any bread. You had white bread! The only evil in this world, yeah it is worse even than terrorism. You will Die By Guilt of Association, mark my words.

* Yeman is Tam for Yama

P. S. This post is the twenty fifth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

Friday, April 28, 2017

X for X-mas

As a kid, I had a silly fascination for Christmas. There were all things right about it - twinkling stars, red and white costumes, cakes and chocolates. Conveniently for my parents, I was not gullible enough to believe in Santa Claus. Every year, I would want to celebrate Christmas, which really didn't mean anything more than installing a star outside our house. But, there was considerable effort involved in that as dad had to get a special bulb for it, fix the wiring and then tie the star out on the porch. Every evening, I would switch on the light religiously at 6 pm and admire the star against different backgrounds of the evening ranging from twilight to night, before retiring to bed, my contribution to Christmas celebration complete. Mom had the more difficult job of explaining to people why a TamBrahm family had a star hanging outside the front door, giving company to the mango leaves thoran atop the door. She did manage the situation with elan, offering a simple explanation - "Because Kavitha likes it". 

After New Year, the star and the bulb would be brought down and carefully packed, rendered to safe custody till next Christmas. Oh, wait, wait. The bulb would have another use in the September-October season. Do you remember that doll festival I spoke about here? The bulb would be installed to give company to the dolls as night lamp (yeah, the dolls sleep better with a night lamp on) during the Navratri celebrations. Quite a secular bulb, that one. 

I didn't just have a fascination for Christmas but I liked going to the Church as well in those days. My parents contributed their bit by worshipping at the Church and the Mosque as well along with the zillion temples already on their list. Perhaps, they believed that appeasing all gods was a smarter way to keep the family safe and happy than being partial to one or one set of Gods. Looking back, I can attribute my love for the Church only to the fact that it was clean and silent, unlike many of the temples I was subjected to. I had no view on the religion itself, but I had a couple of large pictures of Mother Mary and Jesus hanging in my room because they looked beautiful.

I did of course harbour the idea of a Christmas tree at home, but that was shot down with the "Don't push it too much" look from my mother. A few years back, I ended up traveling to Australia during Christmas and had my fill of photographs with big, small, wide, narrow and all-kinds-of Christmas trees as backdrop, to satiate my forever dream of a Christmas tree. But, the travel also left me with a lesson learnt hard: Don't travel to Australia during Christmas. Almost all restaurants, cafes and eateries are shut from Christmas to New Year, as the people who run those places take off to celebrate the holidays.

P. S. This post is the twenty fourth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

W for Words

Words,
Potent like poison,
Can bite, seep through, make a mark, spread like wild fire.

Words,
Empty like air,
Can swoosh through people without so much as a tremor.

Words,
When used right,
Convince, confuse, jolt entire worlds.

Words,
When used as fillers,
Get ignored like the ad in a YouTube video.

Words,
Action following them,
Are difficult to combat, let alone ignore.

Words,
All words and no actions,
Are difficult to digest, let alone revel in.

Words, words,
Short, long, simple, complex,
Meaningful, nonsensical, deep, shallow,
Not just a bunch of letters but
A whole load of emotions and attitudes.

P. S. This post is the twenty third in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

V for Views

I am a sucker for interesting views of cities and towns I visit. From atop observatories and castles and hills, cities look like lego sets, with toy houses, little specks of people and moving wagons in the backdrop of sun and the clouds. From other places, it is fascinating to catch the fast pace of the city, from ferries and trains and coastlines.

These are some of my favourites:

Prague: A quaint little town with red rooftops and a greenish castle amidst it from atop Petrin hill's observatory tower



Sydney: The view from inside the Sydney Opera House onto the Bay





Ljubljana: A quaint little village, idyllic in every sense of the word, as viewed from the Predjama castle





Hong Kong: New Year's Eve, from the Star Ferry, onto Hong Kong CBD




Bosnia and Herzegovina: While traveling by bus from Split to Dubrovnik in Croatia, the roads pass through a small patch of Bosnia in between (with passport check points included)


Dubai: The very famed musical fountain inside the Dubai Mall, where one can lose many hours without spending any money



Macau: A busy street filled with holiday shoppers on New Year's



Udaipur: The entire City Palace, as viewed from Lake Pichola



Mumbai: My most fav, Mumbai during monsoons



Mumbai: Gateway of India, viewed from the top floors of the Taj Mahal hotel



P. S. This post is the twenty second in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

U for Useless

I am a great fit for Bombay. I have major OCD that extends beyond just arranging things in order and putting 'em in their place. I hate clutter, am always on the lookout for throwing away items that are not useful. V is the polar opposite. He can never really make up his mind about whether to keep or discard anything, which means we have piles and piles of stuff that may-potentially-be-partially-perhaps-useful some day, things I think should walk out on their own into the garbage bin across the road right this minute. 

We had an incident once that made me realise how real the struggle is. This was Prague in 2015. We had trekked too much (by my standards) up a smallish hill and the sole of one of my shoes gave away. We managed to come down, hunt up a shoe shop before closing time (do you know they start closing at 8pm :O) and found a brilliant pair as replacement. I immediately wore the replacement, packed the old ones into the new box and tossed the box into the garbage bin nearby. V was flabbergasted. "How could you throw it away?" he asked me, as if I had thrown away an autograph from A R Rahman and not a worn out pair of shoes which it would make little sense to transport all the way back from Prague to India only to... throw it out. I tell you, between us, the struggle is real.

Anyway, despite my OCD and occasional arm twisting of V (figuratively), I still end up with a lot of the following. Hence, my life has become one long decluttering exercise.
  • Papers - Bills, credit card receipts, toll bills, the works. Half the reason these stay is because I have conserved my consulting mentality in the hope that someone is going to reimburse these bills some day. The other half is because V keeps them in his wallet and keeps the wallet out of my sight. You may ask why something in his wallet bothers me. Just that, sometimes (most times), his wallet bulges so much that he stuffs them in his jeans pocket, puts the said pair of jeans to wash, and makes sure all my clothes come out glittering in damp credit card receipt paper. 
  • Old apparel - Worn out shoes, dresses that have become too small are all stashed away in the far corner of the many lofts in this house in the hope that... in the hope that what?!
  • E-commerce boxes - This one is my contribution and I am not proud of it. I ordered a small packet of decorations from Amazon, it got delivered in a large carton fit to hold 20 Maggi packets, and I retained the carton in the hope that it will come handy some day. That's not the only time I have done it. I hate you, e-commerce!
  • Obsolete tech products - I have two old kindles, one old tablet, a dead laptop and a phone that no one is willing to exchange for the phones I vie for. And, I have no clue what to do with those. Those are times I know our civilisation is in decline, we will all drown in molten tech hardware someday.
This post has given me new hope. Once this blogging challenge is over, I am going to bounce back to clearing out the junk lying around here. It is too difficult to declutter and de-junk our minds, but surely it must be much easier to declutter the space we live in. No?

P. S. This post is the twenty first in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

Monday, April 24, 2017

T for Tiger

Following this, little person and I are ready with our next story, again translated from Tamil in which language I narrate the story.

Veer the tiger was in a contemplative mode. He was not able to focus on anything - walking, running, hunting, eating, sleeping. Nothing. This hiccup was killing him. He had always hiccupped a lot but with time it was getting worse and he did not know what to do.

Getting up resolutely, he decided it was time to ask someone for advice. Off he went, in search of Bully Bull, who, he heard was a pro at health tips. 'Hic... Hic... Hic...' he said as he walked towards Bully's hang-out area in the jungle. Frustrated with his 'Hic'ing, he led out a low groan "roaaaaa..... hmmmm....hic... hic... arr". Hearing this menacing sound, Bully Bull, who was up until then happily lolling about in the shade of a large tree, got up and jumped into the wilder parts of the jungle in an attempt to escape from Veer. As Veer slowly reached Bully's spot, he realised that Bully had left. Too tired to follow him, he meandered slowly, unmindful of where he was going.

With time, he came upon the Deer settlement. Perhaps, Dancer Deer would be able to help, Veer thought to himself as he made a beeline. Sensing a predator in the vicinity, all the deer fled off the settlement, leaving Veer alone. "Hic... Hic... why is no one around to help me? Hic... Hic... Roa....groa....nnn", Veer moaned dejectedly. 

That's when he heard a voice from up above. "Hey Veer. What's up?" said Wise Monkey swinging from one tree branch to another. "Hey Monkey... Hic... Give me a solution for my hiccup issue," said Veer hurriedly before the onslaught of another set of hiccups. 

Wise Monkey: Hmm. Ok. Let me ask you a question. Answer me honestly
Veer: Ok... Hic Hic.
Wise Monkey: How do you eat your food?
Veer: Hic... What question... Hic... is this? With my mouth only... Hic Hic Hic...
Wise Monkey: Uff! Not like that. Tell me the process.
Veer: I snatch my prey, stuff it into my mouth Hic Hic Hic... and gobble it up! Roarrrrrr
Wise Monkey (closing his ears): Ok Ok. Listen to me. You should always chew your food well before swallowing it. That's how you can avoid hiccups.
Veer: Oh! Hic Hic Hic. Ok let me try this solution. If it doesn't help, I will come in search of you and... Roarrrr.. Hic hic... roarrrrr
Wise Monkey: Haha sure

And then, Wise Monkey swung away from tree to tree till he was far away from sight. Veer resolved to chew his food well and eat next time he caught his prey and went humming in between his hiccups, dreaming about his next prey.

P. S. This post is the twentieth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

S for Serials

I was born and brought up in Chennai, with the typical English as first language and Tamil as second language, education. I didn't see the need for knowing Hindi then, and neither did my parents. In fact, there was absolutely no discussion or confusion about what my second language should be in primary school (we had 2 options - Tamil and Hindi). The reasoning was simple - mom and dad refused to enrol me in for a subject they wouldn't be able to help with at home. But, that didn't stop us from listening to Hindi music and going for Hindi movies. The former is still manageable but imagine three pure-bred Tams sitting in the cinema hall watching a Hindi movie set in deep rustic Uttar Pradesh. Actually, don't imagine. Just think about how we didn't even have Wiki to read up the story later on. We still managed to enjoy the movies because we most often than not went for the sake of them songs. Those were the days! Anyway, I digress.

I did struggle though. I liked (still like) humming songs, and my idol A R Rahman was becoming big in Bollywood. Which means I had to, had to, hum Hindi songs. And, become the butt of all jokes in school because of those mean girls in the other sections who had Hindi as their second language, and also looked North Indian (white, you know; if you don't, read this). So, I was always on the lookout for learning Hindi words, in bits and pieces. 

And, I got the perfect tool for that in that '90s Doordarshan world, when Tamil DD didn't even have serials of its own. We used to get serials dubbed from Hindi, titles included. Which means Junoon became Pidivatham (adamancy), Imtihaan became Sodhanai (challenge), Dard became Anbai Thedi (in search of affection), Shanti stayed Shanti and Tu Tu Main Main became... I don't remember. I still don't know whether those Hindi titles really match in meaning to their Tamil counterparts, but they are still stuck to memory.

The serials themselves were not noteworthy, and if I remember right, many of them were never taken to completion. Not that my parents let me see any of them, except for those snatches in between after dinner time when I had furnished sufficient evidence of completing my homework and revisions. However, I did insist that I would watch "Dekh Bhai Dekh", which I think aired every Thursday from 9.30 pm to 10 pm. That's when DD would decide to throw a bummer. Half the time, the tamil version wouldn't get telecast, leaving me alone with the Hindi version. Which meant I spent half an hour watching Shekhar Suman prancing up and down an elaborate joint family set, while Farida Jalal would put in guest appearances on and off with some wisecracks (I think so, because the serial would have that silly laughter track running when someone said something funny).

Sundays were a different deal though. There was Shaktimaan and Jungle Book on TV and I was "allowed" a couple of hours after getting up in front of the idiot box. Do you know who my first crush was? It was Captain Vyom, of the Captain Vyom fame. Did you click through and figure out who that is? Had my head in the right place even then, didn't I? Why don't they make such gorgeous looking serial heroes anymore on Indian television?!

P. S. This post is the nineteenth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

R for Remarks

Why are you studying that course? You won't get married.
Why are you still studying? You won't get married.
Why are you in such a high paying job? You won't get married.
Why don't you do housework? You won't get married.
Why do you argue so much? You won't stay married.
Why aren't you married yet? You aren't the marrying type.
Why are you marrying that guy? You aren't the marrying type.
Why do you work after marriage? Quit your job.
Why don't you cook? You are married now.
Why do you travel so much? You are married now. 
Why don't you have a baby yet? Quit your job.
Why don't you have a baby yet? You aren't the baby rearing type.
Why do you still work? You have a baby now.
Why don't you breast feed your baby? You aren't the breast feeding type.
Why don't you augment with formula? Your baby is tiny, you aren't the baby rearing type.
Why don't you have a second child? You aren't the baby rearing type.
Why do you still work? Your kid won't grow up well, you aren't the kid rearing type.
Why are you divorced? You were never the marrying type.
Why are you marrying again? You will never be the marrying type.
Why are you traveling solo? You aren't the family type.
Why do you live alone? You aren't the family type.
Why do you need a big house? You are a widow now.
Why are you a widow? Because you are a sinner and this is your punishment.
Why do you have no son? Because you are a sinner and this is your punishment.
Why do you work so much? You won't stay married.
Why do you work so much? You aren't the baby rearing type.

Types and typecasts, comments and more comments, judgments and more judgments - It takes a special something thick skin to navigate this world and its ugly remarks all through life, from birth to death.

P. S. This post is the eighteenth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

Q for Qing

I have been nursing this crazy idea of learning Mandarin for a few years now. Idea because, doing business with China is becoming an increasingly important factor in wealth amassment. Crazy because, I have this theory that knowing the common language is an important factor in doing business or for that matter, doing anything better. 

So, breakthrough happened a couple of years back when good friend K also evinced interest in learning Mandarin, and we enrolled for a basic spoken Mandarin course with the most famous institute in Mumbai. It was a 2 hour session every Sunday for 12 weeks. 

My fighter alter ego kicked in, and I am proud to report that I attended all but one class (which I missed because of a holiday I had planned much before enrolling for classes). I am also proud to report that I did my homework every week before the class, which meant that Saturday nights were spent practising mā, má, mǎ, mà and ma (having five different meanings ranging from mother to horse). Surely, that's not how V would have liked to spend Saturday nights, but, hey, variety is everything.

Overall, those were a great three months, and reminded me of how I have always enjoyed being a student, learning something new and wanting to show off what I have learnt. More importantly, the class was composed of a motley group of people across age groups and professions (starting from 18 years all the way upto 60) which was refreshing, for I have been in classrooms and offices interacting with mirror images of myself for over 25 years now.

The age group is of note here. The 18 year olds were obviously the biggest fighters in the class, and the fighting tapered down with the increasing age. I was definitely behind the real students on the fight meter, but much ahead of the rest of the class. Eventually, Judgment Day arrived and emotions ranged from "Please, let me pass" to "I am going to top this one" as we answered our test papers. Since this was Mandarin 101 and our teacher was a native speaker from Guangzhou, we just had to hang around for 10-15 mins while she corrected our answer sheets and distributed the same. I liked the number I saw on my sheet, kept it down and looked around to sighs of relief from my friends (yes, made a few out there) who had also become eligible to get their certificates that evening. Meanwhile, you remember that friend I had enrolled with? - He came over grinning saying he had got some 85 and what did I get? (We are friends from B-school so exchanging marks is a die-hard habit). I told him and I heard a 'hush' from behind - It was one of the 18 year olds. She had got 88, had already seen her fellow 18 year old's paper which had a 92, and now she was in for a shock - she wasn't second in class but third, because I had got a 94.

At that point, I really felt sorry for having disappointed this kid. But, hey, come on! You cannot always underestimate someone because they are older and more prone to memory loss and Alzheimer's, can you?

Q for Qing because it is realllllly hard to find a word starting with Q, and Mandarin is a unique language where q is pronounced ch (qing is pronounced ching that is). Also, qing means 'please' in Mandarin, for the benefit of the knowledge-thirsty ones.

P. S. This post is the seventeenth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.