Those three words
Are said too much
They’re not enough

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

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A visit to Calcutta is incomplete without a pitstop at the Moori* wala. The roadside vendor skillfully tosses snack together in less than a minute. After silently pleading to my stomach to not hate me for this, I gulp down the moori. Next up is Puchka wala (aka Pani puri, Golgappa).

*Moori is the Bengali word for Puffed Rice

General ramblings

Roadside delicacy

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General ramblings

He was forbidden access; the past refused to admit him. It only reminded him that this arbitrary place, where he’d landed and made his life, was not his. Like Bela, it had accepted him, while at the same time keeping a distance. Among its people, its trees, its particular geography he had studied and grown to love, he was still a visitor. Perhaps the worst form of visitor: one who had refused to leave.

– The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri.

The book’s theme is very similar to her previous works – Bengali immigrant family, struggles encountered while making a life in the US, memories and long lost relations back home in Calcutta. Overall, a storyline that leaves one very dispirited. Somehow, there are nuggets in all her works I can relate to; perhaps one of the main reasons why I continue to read her books, although they are nowhere as great as the first one, “The Interpreter of Maladies”. For example, the quote above.

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General ramblings

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We were north bound today, on an early morning, 6.20 am Trenitalia train from Rome Termini to Florence Santa Maria Novella station. Because of my experience with Indian railways, I was mildly worried about Termini being unsafe at this time of the day. Gladly, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The station was extremely welcoming, no pickpocketers, or leery men, or annoying hawkers (my guess is Bangladeshi); the latter have been hounding us ever since we’ve landed here and from last night, here’s the choicest dialogue: “Apna aadmi hai – aapke liye Roses”.

We reach Florence at 7.57 am, about 6 mins behind schedule. It was chilly outside; made me realize how much my tolerance towards the cold had reduced, ever since I moved to TX about three years ago. On the pavement opposite the Taxi stand, quickly spotted a Bata shoe shop. Earlier notions of Bata being an “Indian” brand were quickly put to rest. As I edit this post towards the end of the day, must add here that I plan to pay it a quick visit tomorrow morning, since I badly need some sole inserts for my moderately-fashionable-feet-killing boots.

While at the Taxi stand, managed to converse with the taxi driver using sign language and pointing at the Hotel name on my iPhone – my Italian is limited to ‘grazie’ and ‘prego’ on Day 3.

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Stopped by a small eatery, right outside the Florence Cathedral. The eatery proudly displayed its 4.5 stars awarded by the critics at TripAdvisor. That should have been my warning sign to turn around and leave, but hunger got better of me. Cappuccino and food in general costs twice for sit down service versus stand up. We decide to sit down, since we have some free time and also, I refuse to eat standing up. The server responds to my “Thank you” with a dismissive “Nothing!”. Thank yous are repeated several times just to hear him say “Nothing!”. The cappuccino is served in a bright pink porcelain glass; coffee disappears in less than 5 gulps, because it’s so amazing. The bruschetta, disappears in less than 5 bites too, not because it’s good, but because it’s puny for the price I paid (1 tiny slide with uncooked tomatoes, abundance of table salt served on a slice of bread, for 5 euros).

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Florence has an amazing small town feel. Streets are still deserted at 9 am. Winding cobblestoned streets greet us, where even tiny cars manage get stuck. Natives don’t speak much English – I kind of like this, because I associate this with the feeling of being “abroad”. At the end of my first day here, I can somewhat declare that I prefer this type of Italy more to Rome, which although I enjoyed a lot, reminded me of New York. I love New York, but I cannot tolerate the craziness for more than a couple of days. Similarly, I loved Rome for the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain and the lovely piazzas, but if I were to do this all over again, I would spend twice as much time as I’d planned to, in Florence.

There isn’t a whole lot different that I can add to what’s already been written about the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia. There is so much to learn, to see and just the general atmosphere of being surrounded by some of the most famous, original pieces of sculptures and paintings produced by legends, such as, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael, Bartolomeo or Caravaggio, will unwillingly force you into a renewed relationship with art.

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You might think I’ve gone crazy, but let me just say that I loved and admired the Florence Cathedral and its magnificent dome so much more than the excitement I could muster for St. Peter’s Basilica. Yeah, Basilica has La Pieta and is the Holy Grail for Roman Catholics, but the widely beautiful orange Dome, the Gothic architecture of the outer walls and the fact that a normal person like me has the full liberty to walk around the Cathedral and admire it up close from all angles, is just one more reason why I prefer Florence over Rome already.

Oh, and that fact that my posts about Rome are still in draft stages, while this post, on Florence has already been published 😉

Florence

Aside
General ramblings, Independence, India, Movies, Politics

Khamosh Pani

Silent Water (Khamosh Pani in Hindi) handles a very sensitive period in history surrounding the hanging of Pakistani PM, Mr. Bhutton & the rise of the martial laws, under General Zia. The change in the political air of the country and it’s effect on the lives of ordinary Muslims of Pakistan has been portrayed through a middle aged Sikh woman and her not-a-kid-not-yet-an-adult son, who gets swayed in the jihadi direction, all due to radical Islamic influential talks and the in-born need to be powerful.

The movie provides a rare, visual glimpse of the miseries surrounding Sikh families who were forced to move to India during the Partition in 1947. It speaks about the apathies faced by women, who, among other things, were most often mercilessly killed by their male family members, when preservation of family “pride” was deemed more important. The ones who survived faced a life of abduction and rape. We are treated to views of village lanes, Gurdwara, run-down fortresses and Masjids in a small, quaint village of the country. Sikhs from India who travel to the village for a religious tour as a result of an India Pakistan agreement try to re-live their past days, and find old connections, in a miserable attempt to still feel at home. Even though the environment is politically charged, folks who moved into the village during the Partition and folks who moved out, still manage to maintain outwardly humane relations…void of any common thread.

Just when I thought I’d seen all that the director had to show me, the movie spins out into a new direction, when one of the Sikh travelers from India, goes around old shops in the village by lanes, desperately trying to find his sister who got left behind during the Partition.

Kiron Kher has done a phenomenal job, playing the role of a woman, who has nothing in her except for a young son & flashes of her past life. Seeing her in such an under-played role is a welcome treat. It is a far cry from her loud performances in most of the commercial Bollywood movies.

There is a scene towards the end of the movie, which shows the son sitting at the end of the river, staring at on old, battered suitcase laden with personal belongings, being carried away by the river currents. His old flame stands on top of the hill, watching both float away- the lover that she knew as well as her old life. Three decades later, the same boy emerges as a powerful, Jihadi leader. His old lover, now an independent, hard working woman, watches him ruefully on a street side TV set. Top marks to the cinematographer for sealing the emotions so beautifully.

The movie is about a important piece of history, changes in the lives of ordinary people, choices painstakingly taken by women, sacrifices done at the behest of the society and the shame faced at the hands of one’s child.

Link to the movie on Google Videos: Link. I found this movie in the section “Your recommendations” on Netflix. At times like these and at all other times, I love Netflix so much.

Rating: 9/10

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General ramblings

Coetzee and Adiga

I read two novels recently- Summertime by JM Coetzee (my favorite author, by the way) and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Summertime is a 2009 Booker Prize Finalist. I chanced upon the novel while perusing through the New Arrivals section at Barnes & Noble. I sat on a plush couch for more than 2 hours and read 100 odd pages. I had a feeling that the store associates will probably kick me out for reading the book for free. Of course, nothing of that sort happens in the US. India, yes. Anyway, I went to the Saint Louis County Library the next day and got a copy of the novel and spent the next couple of hours absorbing each word. Coetzee manages to transpire me to a state of bliss every time. My first book by Coetzee was _Disgrace_- early 2000, probably. Summertime is semi biographical and the third installment of the series; the other two, Boyhood and Youth, I haven’t read. Coetzee comes across as a detached and an intellectual person in the novel. Someone who is not capable of loving anyone. Someone who is very personal. The book is set in 70s for the most part- a time in his life when he had just returned to South Africa from the States, when he was still struggling to find a foothold as a writer. He projects himself as a single man in the novel. In real life, he was married with two kids. (Got to know after doing a quick Wiki check). The book doesn’t disappoint me one bit. Again,this might be because I read a Coetzee novel after a gap of 5-6 years.

The White Tiger was an interesting read. Unfortunately, it didn’t teach me anything about India that I don’t already know- how corrupt the entire system is, how drivers employed by middle class families back home hoodwink their masters, how poor their families are etc. Adiga’s execution is brilliant though. There is a twist in the story and that is what sets this novel apart from many others. Did it deserve to win the Booker? I don’t know. In a match between Summertime and The White Tiger, Summertime wins hands down for me. Of course, Coetzee (two time Booker winner, Nobel Prize in Lit.) versus Adiga (one time Booker winner, budding author) is not a fair race. I guess I’m just mad at the Booker committee for only shortlisting Summertime. I can see why they did that- they do not want to give the general public the impression that they are biased towards one author. They probably want to give new writers a chance. But shouldn’t the slate be wiped clean every year? Shouldn’t each book be judged entirely on its own merit and not on the merit of the author? Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful to the Booker Committee for introducing me to great pieces of Literature. I do wish that the ultimate winners were a little more worthy though. I think Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things was a very well deserved Booker Prize Winner. The White Tiger is not. The book is witty and entertaining even though it is not a literary masterpiece. Something is lacking though. It leaves much to be desired. I have Adiga’s latest work, Between the Assassinations lying on my bookshelf. I will return to him after reading something else.

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General ramblings

To Information “Over-loaders”

It’s OK.The world understands. It’s so busy with information overload that it won’t notice. Not that you’re forgettable, but your connections will be there when you come back.Really. Take care of yourself first.

Source: Couldn’t Tweet Today? Don’t Beat Yourself Up Over it, NY Times, 02/04/2010

You’re welcome.

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