Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tender indifference to ice creams and humanity

Let me make a confession. I do not love ice creams. Please note that I am not saying "I do not like ice creams", for I do like them. I know intimately the feeling of looking forward to eating an ice cream. I enter buffet halls with a general plan to concentrate on the desserts. For many an achievement that is major to me but will sound laughably insignificant to the rest of the World, I have asked myself , "Adarsh, you deserve to celebrate! How about an ice cream?" My visits to Malaikottai in Trichy are planned such that I always end up at the inimitable Michaels, where you get dead-cheap and yummy ice-creams. I prefer them with chocolaty flavors, and cornetto is my favorite. Lately, I have come to realize the deliciousness of the humble butterscotch too.  Yet I do not love them. I have often said no to an ice cream when people around me enjoy one. It comes from the general lack of temptation that I have for food items. It is also due to my permanent cold. Cold for me is what style is for superstar Rajnikant : "kudave porandhadu, ennaikum pogadhu" (roughly : it was born with me, and it will never leave me). My mother loves ice creams, and she often tries to tempt me by offering a little from her own cup. "Come on, just taste it", she says. I usually refuse. After all, a single tiny spoon of ice cold dessert can aggravate your suffering as much as a large scoop. If I had to eat a single spoon, I argue with her, I would rather eat the whole of it.

Talking about celebrations, I am happy to announce that I am back home from a country where I have spent most of my last year, and which has taught me a lot. In this tiny country whose existence was unknown to most people until recently (roughly coinciding with my entry there. I did warn you about my superpower), I have learnt a lot, and I have unlearnt a lot. I have changed so much, and yet I remain the same. I have no doubt that this year I spent away from my home country would be among the most significant times of my life.

I was born in what is considered as the upper class in most Indian places. I read about racism and prejudice only in books. I would nod my head, make "tcchhh tcchhh" noises, and carry on. In his wonderful novel The Stranger, Albert Camus describes the way the World treats a single human being : with "tender indifference". That's exactly what I had for other people around me. You can make all the right noises, but you don't know racism until you experience it. I have, and I thank this country for it. Claiming that I have encountered racism is probably an exaggeration. Racism is something extremely subtle, and I can confidently claim that we have all been racists at some point of time. Should I even make a big deal of it? I think I must, because what I experienced seems systematic, and I would have experienced more of it if I had been as unfortunate as a lot of others around me.

While on the topic of fortune, I have left a country that showed me how fortunate I have been in my life. Life has been unfairly fair to me. It is so unfair for so many people who do not get a chance at proper education, who end up in such places and put up with exploitation because things back home are much, much worse. I also learnt that speaking good English is not a necessity to communicate well in English. Men of various languages meet everyday and carry out complex tasks with an extremely basic knowledge of English. "Good ah?" is a question, and "good" is the appropriate reply. "Problem" is the question as well as the answer based on the intonation. And most importantly, I learnt the power of money. Money can make a desert land fertile. Nothing is impossible with money. Money can also make one indifferent to suffering of others. Tenderly indifferent.

Yet, I chose to run away from all these to a place that would make me feel better. Is my home any better? A lot of people have argued with me that it is not. There is racism in India, though I am on the right side of the it. There is corruption. There are evil people. There are people who are not evil, but who occasionally "bend" a law or two. There are narrow minded people, and there are violent people. The rich decide the policies, and the poor rarely have voice. And I might run away to another place once again if I get the opportunity. But, my personal feeling is that none of this is systematic. There is a possibility, however tiny, that all this will change. Our country is a little less evil than the country I left. If both countries, probably like all other countries, are evil, why should I choose one over the other? Especially if I can make more money in the latter? Because, I have come to realize that there are times when a single spoon of ice cream is not the same as a whole scoop of it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Guest Post Series - Recos from a bored Engineering student

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

There is/used-to-be (and hopefully, will-be) an informal movie fest at Chennai, where a group of people meet together once every month and watch movies of a selected genre all through a Saturday night. A terrace would be lent for a night by some kind soul (the fest is temporarily suspended due to scarcity of kind and able souls), and we would adorn it with rented beds on the floor, lie down, set up rented projectors and speakers, and try staying awake all night with movies selected by the "curator" of the day for company. Accidentally, I happened to meet a friend at the venue the very first time I attended the meet (it was his first time too), and we decided that we would frequent the Chennai Roof Top Film Festival (Chennai RTFF) as often as possible.

The challenge at such an event is not to fall asleep. My friend and I were confident that it would not be a big issue at our second meet, since the theme was "Sports movies". We found our curator to be a young college going boy : Pavithran, and our expectations for an action-packed night became higher. Pavithran started the night with a nice 1961 movie called The Hustler. However, my eyelids had trouble staying apart after watching the more-than-two-hour-long, dialogue-based (excellent dialogues though), black-and-white movie where the sport in question is snooker. After a terrible (personal opinion) sleep-inducing paranormal drama called the Field of Dreams based on the unfamiliar Baseball, I lost my cool (especially after this guy shrugged at the end of the movie with a "You are all speechless, right?"). My friend struggled to contain my heckling when I learnt that the third movie was based on a real story about a Golf tournament. Thankfully The Greatest Game Ever Played turned out to be gripping and immensely enjoyable.

I randomly met Pavithran once again at a movie screenwriting workshop. He didn't recognize me, so I had to introduce myself. Over the two-day workshop, we found that we were largely in agreement about, among other things,  the usefulness of the sessions by the knowledgeable movie academic and director K.Hariharan (a keen and a brilliant mind), and the uselessness of the sessions by Kamal Hassan (other than the brag potential, which I have now exhausted). I would have a lot of online conversations with Pavithran later on, debating on various insignificant issues. All this completely reversed my first opinion of him. Pavithran is well-read, and a crazy movie buff. He has interesting perspectives -- for example he believes there is no evil that cannot be redeemed, and thus capital punishment should be abolished. And most importantly, he has the increasingly rare quality of trying to understand the other person's opinion (read as : my opinion), and a readiness to reconsider his opening premise. Check out his reviews of Sudish Kamath's Good Night Good Morning and Prakash Raj's Dhoni. Don't be fooled by his humbleness : he is friends with many a celebrity. I stand corrected : he himself became a celebrity by starring in this briefly viral, and totally wild, YouTube video where his hair is literally set on fire.

Recos from a bored Engineering student

I used to think I was an excellent writer. I was among the several bitten by the “If Chetan Bhagat could write, so could I” bug. Until I saw how good the others were. I used to blog. I had grown lazy and stopped doing that too. It had been a very long time since I had put pen to paper to write anything. So when Adarsh (anna) asked me to do a guest post, I told him I’ll give it much thought and try to write something worthwhile. Its been 15+ days since he asked and I cant seem to find anything that would inspire me to write. Heck, I was wondering if I had forgotten how to write and went back to my blog to see the stuff I had written. It was embarrassing . I then decided I would do what I did best. Recommend movies & books that I loved and would like others to watch/read too. So here I bring you two of my favourite books and movies.

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

This book has a 2300 word 7 page long prologue. The specialty about it is that the entire prologue is a single sentence. No. You didn’t read it wrong. 2300 words make up one sentence. If there’s a better advertisement for a book I’ve not seen it yet. I consider it among the best works by an Indian author. The Book recreates the Bombay of the 1970s and is as mad as its prologue.

The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino

This Italian film, on the surface level is a film about nothing. Of course you might want to say that by deciding to be a film about nothing, it is something but, you get the idea. If you were to dig deeper into the film, it is a lot of things. It has a deep philosophy running about it. It is one of those films that is difficult to comprehend in just one viewing. I’ve seen it thrice and it continues to throw up new things that I didn’t notice in the earlier viewing. It is also a film that demands every bit of your attention and patience. A lot of your patience if I might say, like “The Tree of Life”.

Omar by Hany Abu-Assad

A film from Palestine , this suspense drama thriller packs in friendship , romance, trust or the lack of it, betrayal, rebellion, patriotism in a tight 90 minutes that has your pulse racing with an excellent pay-off in the climax. That the film is set in occupied Palestine contributes to the tension that forms an integral part of the film. Spilling out more would mean spoiling the movie for you, which I don’t intend to do.

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

No. I haven’t seen the movie version of the book yet. I hope you haven’t yet. Even if you have and disliked it for a sappy romance film, give the book a read. It’s a brilliantly done. This is what I think happened. John Green came up with an unusual , interesting idea for a book. He then decided its not viable commercially because he felt most would not grasp the “idea” and thereby make the book a critical success and a commercial failure. He then works on the idea and improves it. The improvements to the idea, are so well thought out, the book is now both a critical and commercial success. What did he do? Read the book and you would know.

Cheap Thrills by E.L.Katz

This English black comedy is about one mad night where two friends come together after a long time and indulge in several of activities (cheap thrills) that go from being funny to bizarre before reaching incredulous levels. Though on the surface level it would seem to be a film that offers cheap entertainment, it is much more than that. It offers some serious bleak commentary on the society at large. 

Blue is the warmest Colour by Abdellatif Kechiche

A French lesbian romance film that depicts teenage first love and the heart-break that follows it is excellently captured on screen. Though 180 minutes long, considering every second of the runtime contributes to the run time, you would never feel its length. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival last year (awarded by a jury that was headed by Steven Spielberg) It is considered amongst the best romance films to have come out last year. One of my personal favourites. 

If you’ve already watched/read the above movies/books and feel differently, do mention in the comments. If you do watch/read the movies/books after reading about them on this blog and love or hate it afterwards, do mention in the comments. Am always up for a discussion. 

Until next time then...

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