Friday, November 23, 2012

Empires of the Indus - Alice Albinia

Quite a fascinating book.

The author traces back the Indus from its delta, right up to its source. She literally travels upstream, on or beside the river, passing through 4 countries, and recounts fascinating snippets of history and geography of the river and its settlements. We go back and forth in time and space, as we she recounts how Karachi in 47 was brought to a standstill by the exodus of the 'depressed classes'. History gives way to geography and we move on to the politics of the dams, those temples whose utility is as hotly disputed as the real ones. We travel back further in time, back when the river was first mapped. And coming across the Sheedis,  trace back the origins of the people along the river. In the process, we  tread on genetics, language, the hugely diverse cultural and social contexts, across the two ends of the river, flowing all the way from polygamy to polyandry. How custom and cultures have changed over not just centuries, but over millennia.

Apart from factual bits of the book, which are thoroughly interesting and riveting  its the her lyrical use of language at regular interval, that I fell in love with. Consider the very first line of the preface, just this, and I was hooked:

In a land where it seldom rains, a river is as precious as gold. Water is potent, it trickles through human dreams, permeates lives, dictates agriculture, religion and warfare.

In a nutshell, its a must read!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Behind the beautiful forevers - Katherine Boo

Amazingly well written, I finished it within a day, it was that un-put-downable.

The book reads almost like a fictionalized narrative. From the opening page,s with its richly detailed description of a garbage picker in a slum hiding from the police, his family huddled next door, the stories of these people grip you. The woman aspiring to be the slum lord, the way out with politics and power. The garbage pickers fluctuating fortunes, the way out with sheer hard work and initiative. The background of every family's hope of education as a way out, and the reality of barely even a single graduate.

The thing with such stories, is that all too often , we have a neatly manufactured happy ending, which depending on the quality of writing, could either leave you dissatisfied, or with a warm fuzzy feeling of how hard work and/or education always pays. But somewhere , there's a nagging feeling that things don't always work out neatly like that. One has only to look around, and see that that they usually don't.

This book however, is a work of exhaustive research, years of spending time in Annawadi, hundreds of interviews, getting information out of a dusty leaky system, which is quite intent on burying it. What this also meant, was that there were no neat answers, no beautiful forevers, no happily ever afters. And that, is what makes it so depressing in the end.

However, depressing though I found it, its still a must read. If nothing else, then just as a jolt out to the increasingly smug attitude (i worked hard, i'm smart, and i'm entitled to the world giving me everything mentality) that a large number of upwardly mobile people seem to be succumbing to.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Skyfall - Sam Mendes

Not bad at all.

Considering that I usually find the bond flicks irritating or funny ( unintentionally), this one was almost like any other semi-action thriller type. Sure the plot is unrealistic, but then when was the last time a thriller had a realistic plot eh?

Not much to say about the story line. Some disc with names of undercover agents goes missing, and but of course the bad guy is always one step ahead, pointing neatly to the fact that its one MI's own. Bond is getting old and making mistakes, but he's sent chasing anyway. There aren't any gadgets, and no real Bond girls, the one dame he beds, does die on his watch, which I thought was pretty neat. The close ups are all not of navels and bosoms, but M's very real and very wrinkled face. ( ah when was the last time we saw movies with old women? real women? with substantive roles? ) I'm surprised the Bond fans didn't hate it, it really doesn't have any Bond masala.

As normal thrillers / action movies go, its just about average. As a bond movie, its perhaps the first that I could even tolerate !

Thursday, November 15, 2012

25 kms

Managed to complete it, yippie!

There was much last week dithering about whether to drop out or participate. Had been feeling rather low on energy in the past month, and had barely trained at all.

However, decided to go ahead on the last day, planning to walk or drop out if things got too bad. The first 10 kms were pretty much on track, the next 10 were more of a struggle, as the knee slowly gave out, which seems to be the usual pattern if I push it without enough practice.

It was the final 2.5 kms when I really gave up, felt completely down and out, and I didn't think I had anything left to run with. Not only were the legs rebelling by then, even my stomach had started growling, specially at the sight of the well stocked aid stations. Had pretty much decided to walk it, when a's pep talk egged me to some last ditch running, or shuffling would be a more accurate description. At any rate, couple of mins shy of three and a half hours, I  limped past the finish mats, necked the finishers medal, wolfed down a couple of bananas, and barely caught the last bus home.

For the first time, the post run experience was quite painful, stumbled home somehow and slept off the fever, and hobbled my way for the rest of the day. Luckily, things were mostly back to normal the next day, not too much worse.

I think it will be a long long time before I try to increase the distance past 25. For the next year, lets just see if I can better the various timings!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Luv Shuv Te Chicken Khurana- Sameer Sharma

Decent time pass.

A prodigal son returns home to rural Punjab, hoping to steal some money from the family to pay off his debts in London. However he finds, there's no money, but just a welcoming family, who open their hearts to him, glossing over how he ran off 10 years ago, and hasn't been in touch since. And woven somewhere in the tale, is the missing recipe of the chicken his grandfather used to make, which might just be a key to a way out.

It is of course, a paen to the good Indian joint family, and the good rural life, where things are not always perfect, but they always seem to work out somehow, unlike in nuclear families and urban lives, where things can often teeter dangerously out of control. As a philosophy of course I don't think things are so simple, and my personal preference has always been for urban nuclear spaces, even with their associated problems. One can of course suspend belief and enjoy the idyllic view of the loving joint family and rural bliss, as a form of escapism.

Worth a watch, most of the movie spins effortlessly, and is reasonably enjoyable, barring a few jarring scenes, mostly in the second half. Some humour helps as well. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Harishchandrachi Factory - Paresh Mokashi

Cute little movie, I quite liked it.

Sort of a biopic on Dadasaheb Phalke. What did it take to start making movies in India at a time when most people didn't even know what a movie was? When taking a still photo was rumoured to suck out the life of a person? What did it take in terms of money, commitment, sacrifices, and just the sheer ability to take pride and joy in a venture?

Its got a simple and nice feel to it, and a general positive outlook. Overall definitely worth a watch.