I don’t know why this film is so beautiful. It’s a simple enough story of star crossed lovers, with the cross being the odd idea of Brad Pitt’s character being born old and then progressively getting younger. Maybe it’s because the story is so lyrically told, a simple narration through the reading-a-diary device, and yet each stage in the backwards/forwards (depending how you look at it) profression is perfectly told with just the right timing and attention to little details that make even minor characters noticeable. Maybe it’s because Brad Pitt is so breathtakingly beautiful and Cate Blanchett so awe-inspiringly stunning that it brings back the bisexual dilemma. Maybe it’s because of the little aphorisms about love and life that side characters drop. Maybe it’s because the old are portrayed in a way that makes you love them, liver spots and wrinkles and all. Maybe it’s really the unusual premise of the film, of what it would be like if we started out with our body failing and our mind’s alive and ended the other way round, would we be wiser for having been born old. Maybe all we want is to hear the same old love stories again.
The first casualty of quitting has been my wardrobe. The other day I glanced at myself in the mirror in the loo and someone out of the 80s looked back at me – baggy green jumper from the graveyard region of the closet, unfashionable non-skinny jeans, high half-ponytail.
I better get it together next week or I’m going to be remembered as a frump.
[Under the firm tutelage of Master Chef V.]
Did I mention that I don’t cook? Biryani, broth or all that nurturing stuff… I don’t do that. Unless you mean eating it. Or pouring it out of a can and stirring hot water into it.
I like doing things I’m good at. And so far cooking is not one of them. Also, I have this niggling suspicion that if I start cooking there will be no end to it and I’ll get no credit for it like millions of (foolish) women before me. So I did the smart thing, wrung my hands, swallowed accusations of incompetence and the ocassional embarassment in front of the in-laws, sat back and relaxed.
The only time I worry about not being able to cook is when I start thinking about having children. Which has never been a problem for the past 28 years because it wasn’t a thought that crossed my mind too often. Now, though, that’s changing. And I refuse to raise my spawn on instant noodles because I’ve actually met a couple of people who were and it’s not pretty. Also, although I rebelled against veggies and still do, I secretly believe they’re good for you.
Anyway, now V’s a wounded soldier and I have to rise to the ocassion. Actually I wouldn’t have had to but it’s Chinese New Year too and the shops where we get cheap cooked food quite possibly will be shut. So I *gasp* volunteered to cook.
I even bought chicken. Till now, I’ve been pretty sure that non-veg cooking is not for me. Hypocriticial I know but while I can’t stop eating meat, I really don’t like handling raw meat. Too close to the truth and all that.
Till the very last minute I didn’t actually think I’d be doing it. But then V started dictating instructions to me and I started writing them down to his amusement. Leave nothing to chance, is my rule of the thumb when confronted with anything culinary.
Then I started chopping. I’d never admit it outside of this blog but I actually like doing routine stuff like this. Where you don’t have to think about anything else but the knife going chop chop chop. Except if you dream too much you might end up nicking your fingers which is why I’m not ideal for stuff like this. But I managed to get through with all my extremities intact. And I discovered if you chop an onion in half and put it in the fridge for a couple of minutes before chopping it, your eyes don’t tear up.
Also, you can just chuck the chopped stuff in the blender if you don’t want to cut too fine.
Next, I started dumping things in the cooker. Here’s when it got stressful. V hobbled into the kitchen and started shouting “quick quick stir it. it’s burning”. We had a mini fight and I nearly toppled the malasa jars but then I got it under control and chucked the chicken in. I had bought chicken legs only so it wasn’t too gory though when I valiantly tried to separate some fatty parts, I didn’t get very far. My other failing is salt. I’m really wary about throwing salt in for fear of yucky over-salted food. But I tend to err on the side of caution.
Then, basically, you just close the cooker and stand around reading a magazine and after it starts spouting steam turn it off and stir the mixture. Stirring is fun. Which child doesn’t like stirring?
And there you have it. Yummy chicken in half an hour. If The Bride can cook, so can you.
Maybe because of the conflict in Gaza there seem to be a lot of programmes on religious extremism on the news channels. Many of them focus on Islamic fundamentalism but they address militant expressions in other religions as well.
I have tended to maintain that it is poverty, discrimination, deprivation that fuels fanaticism. That if people weren’t unhappy for some other reason they would not clutch onto the extremes of religion to give their life meaning. Especially those that chose certain death in the pursuit of religious ideals.
However, one of the documentaries suggested something that got me thinking. That every religion contains the seeds of going to extreme lengths, if not violence, for a cause. That the glorification of self-sacrifice can take on the ugly shades we see today in suicide bombers.
There was footage of Palestinian parents laughing at the funeral of their matyr sons because in dying for their religion they were clearing a path for the whole family into religion. There were Indonesian men signing up to fight in Gaza. There was a Palestinian mum brandishing a gun while bidding her son, off on a suicide mission, a smiling goodbye.
But worse, there was a cleric on a radio programme in Australia telling a moderate member of his community that he didn’t share any values with the country he was living in and that his sacred mission was for everyone to convert to his religion. This made me so mad.
Earlier my reaction was to nod sympathetically. But now I’m just pissed off. If you have nothing in common with a country, why stay there. Go to the thousands of other places on earth which share your view. But no, I suppose in the grand tradition of people who are sure their way is the only way, he wants to stay on and brow beat everyone into his point of view.
There was a programme on Indonesia which showed how liberal politicians were scared to oppose the small number of hardline religious groups and so draconian laws were passed, which curtailed the freedom of women. One thing people kept repeating is that these are a small number of fanatics and the vast population is still liberal. But as one guy pointed out, it only takes five fanatics to blow up a hotel.
The fanatics get their way because they are rowdy and violent. I began to wonder – as the fanatics take up arms is it time for the liberals to arm themselves too? But then would that make us Bush clones? And would humanity be plunged into an endless cycle of violence?
The liberal view is that we must one at the level of discourse and ideas. I dunno. We can keep talking but is anybody listening? Or are we just talking to people just like us
V had surgery. The series of accidents of his youth are bearing fruit and last year, his ankle gave way and could handle no more than walking on flat surfaces. So on Friday we checked into a hot…uh hospital to get it operated on. (This was planned. It was not a spur of the moment thing).
Anyway, from the reception itself – which featured couches, potted plants and marble floors, it was easy to get confused about where one was. Actually, even the drive there was idyllic. The hospital is situated in some corner of The Peak, with “stunning views of the South China sea” the brochure told us. Yes, they had a brochure.
If the elevator hadn’t been so wide and the staff didn’t have white coats on, we never would have guessed. Especially once we were shown to our room. The only evidence of being in a hospital was the bed which was adjustable and connectable to hospital-type equipment and the railings in the bathroom. Otherwise, the furniture was wood and upholstered in warm tones, there was a TV and DVD player and WiFi (damn I didn’t take the laptop), Crabtree and Evelyn shower stuff and a ginormous balcony with the promised stunning view. Oh, and there was a menu with a huge choice of very reasonably priced Western and Chinese meals.
There are some doubts about whether Obama can live up to the promise he has come to represent over the past year. There are those who point out that he is already fudging on some of his election promises. Others say his speeches are politician-speak and his actions might not match them.
I say this:
The very fact that Obama, as a black man, has taken the most powerful office in the world is enough. It is, in itself, enough. This very achievement says to non-white people around the world that if you really really want to, you can.
It is also a testament to America’s democracy, that so many of us have come to mock, that not just a black man, but a man whose father is an immigrant and who has a Muslim middle name, could be elected to their highest office. For all the ethnocentrism they’ve been accused of, the American people did this.
Maybe it is true that politicians will be politicians and that their speeches are rhetoric. But Obama inspires. He made people in America and across the world believe in change. In an increasingly cynical and disenchanted world, it’s been a long time since a politician has inspired. Even if Obama himself doesn’t bring the change, he caused millions of people to want that change and that, too, is enough.
And finally, he’s hot. That’s always good.
I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting… I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.
– Franny and Zooey
Suddenly there seem to be a rash of novels that are the antithesis of India Shining. Many of them are set in Bombay. It probably started with Shantaram, the written version of Slumdog Millionaire (which I haven’t watched yet so just going by reports) because it was written by a foreigner but captured so eloquently all that many of us that live/d in and love the city were unable to articulate. Then there was Maximum City. And now Sacred Games.
One of the critics on the overleaf of Sacred Games says Vikram Chandra tried to achieve the Great Indian Novel. Actually, I read somewhere that another Vikram – Seth – won the Booker for A Suitable Boy for achieving this. When I first read A Suitable Boy, though I enjoyed it, I wondered why it was eligable for so great a prize. There were no stylistic innovations there, even though it was awesome in scale. Later, on reading Two Lives and understanding a bit of went into producing that novel, the depth of research to produce that breadth of reach, I concede that the size itself is a feat. But, the novel on the whole seemed to me a little trite, a little like something a foreigner would appreciate.
Sacred Games gets it right. The writing is uplifting even as it captures the very grotty underbelly of Mumbai life that is so much the essence of Bombay. Amidst its chaotic sprawl, there is almost perfect symmetry in the oldest of devices – the good cop set against the gangster. It’s axis turns on all manner of grey, holding it up to the light so that we see it’s multifaceted hues. And then there’s the realism, the exploration of the real streets and the unreal – at one earthy and dirty – wheeling and dealing that make the city tick. It serves up the glamour of the shady that affects every citizen of Mumbai. And best of all, it’s a potboiler. There’s a mystery running through it’s heart and it’s a very current mystery, touching on terrorist plots and the complicity of good in bad.
* * *
I really do wonder on what basis they hand out these awards. There is no doubt that The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga is a great read and a topical one though could it be possible that there was no better writing this year anywhere in the world? Again, it turns the India Shining proposition on its head, offering the other side of the story but not undermining the poor by making them the whining, powerless masses. It cocks a snook at the glorification of Indian democracy and by addressing the premier of China, allies the two countries. It is a bildungsroman but what makes it a little different is the voice.
It’s a good book for the complacent wealthy to meditate on while they order their servants around (in the nicest way possible of course), hand out largesse of 1 rs coins to beggars etc. There is always a ruthlessness in the making of fortunes, noone ever got rich out of being good unless they were already somewhat rich to start with, and morality can sometimes be the cage that the rich use to keep the poor from making that essential leap.
The difference between Laxmangarh and Bangalore, the novel’s protagonist says, is that here, if a man wants to be good, he can be good. “In Laxmangarh he doesn’t even have this choice. That is the difference between this India and that India: the choice.”
This book has added to my sense that morality is a luxury of our situation – something like Matthew Arnold’s “sweetness and light” – and that for all the feel-good factor of being a democracy, for the vast majority of people, there really isn’t much difference between us and China except that they have ten ring roads.
Of watching bloody children being carried into hospitals in Gaza every day. And I wonder – does anyone really believe that by wreaking havoc and killing civilians, people will stop feeling the anger and the hate that makes them want to take revenge? Is this fighting terrorism or fuelling it?
Of there being no resolution yet in Zimbabwe. How did one of the richest countries in Africa come to this? How did a good man, who fought one form of oppression, become the oppressor?
Of Putin turning the gas on and off in Europe.
I have decided that I should wait three days from when I first arrive in Bombay to do first-impression posts on it. That’s how long it takes me to acclimatize, to shrug off the vestiges of firangi-ness that have encloaked me and to see the city as it should be seen, with the whole history of my engagement with it flooding through my veins.
For the first three days that I’m in Bombay, I wrinkly my nose and grumble about the dust and the rubble and shabbiness and smallness of places I thought were vast and grand and that no longer seem so. Then, the discomfort ebbs and I revel in all those things I’ve craved for the whole year, which I think essentially is just familiarity.
The air in Bombay smells unique – it has an acrid quality at night when the pollution of the day settles which is not unpleasant to those who’ve grown up with it and to cherish it because it signifies the quiet of night. But the city is most charming at dawn, when the fresh quota of smoke and sweat has not hit, and the metropolis is yawning itself awake. You can actually hear cocks crowing even in the heart of the urban sprawl, milk men clatter by on bikes, reed-thin people strip down their underwear and douse themselves in public and little bakeries parcel out pav.
This year, I didn’t venture into town though I sorely wanted to see the Taj (in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t do the cliches thing and go there and gawk) and I wanted to roam around the most beautiful buildings in the town area. Instead, I stayed in my part of town and walked everywhere, rediscovering it’s beauty, peering at cottages behind crumbling walls, smirking at pretty young things and handing out ten rupee notes to beggars who have been on my street since I was a child. I took photographs. I fell in love again.
Yes, things have changed. But I don’t agree with Bowen Arrow. It’s still the same too.