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?


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

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.

General ramblings


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.


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).


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.


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 😉


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

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.

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.

General ramblings

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Finally watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas after months of wanting. This movie was being aired at an independent theater, but I missed it then. AT&T U-Verse recording system came to my rescue.

You must be thinking: Oh, another movie dealing with WWII and Nazi Germany. Another movie that highlights the sufferings meted out against Jews. Another movie showing Hitler. At the risk of sounding cliched, the movie is a “different” take on WW-II. It tells the story of a Nazi family from the eyes of an eight year old whose father is stationed near one of the concentration camps. The boy, Bruno, thinks men in striped pajamas are farmers. He is upset over the way an old Jew who serves them food is treated by his father. He’s much surprised to learn that the vegetable tending man was actually a doctor by profession.

There’s so much of meaning to everything that happens in the movie: A kid’s conscience is so clear compared to that of an adult. How as parents, humans try to protect their kids from the harshness that surrounds us. Yet it is this unequal and filtered information that might sometimes harm the kids. A mother’s instinct is so strong. She realizes the danger that her children face. It’s hardly suitable for them to live only a couple of yards away from a concentration camp. And at the same time, the father thinks it is his duty to stand by his countrymen. The movie doesn’t delve much into the actual propaganda and atrocities surrounding the era. All of us very well know what happened. The father, who is referred to as a “brave soldier” by his son, learns a very important lesson in his life the hard way. The mom suffers.

So the crux of the movie is this: Bruno’s Jew friend who stays in a concentration camp comes to work at his place. He is busy cleaning silverware. Bruno offers him some food which the Jewish boy gladly accepts. One of the Nazi officers stationed in the house catches the two boys talking. He reprimands the Jew and asks Bruno if he knows the Jew. Bruno denies knowing the Jew. The Nazi officer takes the Jew boy away and punishes him. The Jew boy appears several scenes later with a purple eye. I thought he would have been dead. Anyway. Bruno is guilt ridden over the fact that he let his friend down. He wants to make up to him. See, it’s his clear conscience that brings his downfall. If Bruno were a 35 year old, he would have still been alive. The Jew boy tells Bruno that his father has been missing since the past couple of days. Bruno offers to help him find his dad. Both devise a plan to smuggle in Bruno into the concentration camp. Now you’ll wonder, why would Bruno agree to enter the forbidden area? This is where “unequal and filtered information” is to be blamed. A couple of days ago, Bruno sees a propaganda movie spearheaded by his dad that shows Jews living very comfortable lives beyond the bloodied fences. The documentary makes him believe the Jews have a cafe, play area and everyone is one, big happy family. When the time comes for him to join his Jew friend, he gladly agrees. In the mean time, Bruno’s mother learns what goes on in the concentration camp just a couple of yards  away from her house: the smoke emanating out is that of Jews being burned alive. Visibly distressed, she convinces her husband that they need to move their kids somewhere else. Before she can do this, her son manages to escape and join his Jew friend on the other side of the fence. A search follows. However it’s too late and the boys have been gassed. The new gas chambers promise to be more efficient and were masterminded by Bruno’s father. Cruel way of learning an important lesson, huh?

The movie is based on a book with the same title, written by John Boyne. I haven’t read the book. My biggest regret is the authenticity lost because of the main language. I wish the movie were in German with English subtitles. The direction and acting were all up to the mark. I did wonder a couple of times how a pair of eight year olds managed to escape the eyes of Nazis while they sat facing each other across the fence, exchanging thoughts and chocolates.

I remember visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC last December. It was a humbling experience. I got to walk through real coaches that were used to transport Jews to concentration camps. I saw the actual bunk “beds” in which they slept. There were striped uniforms, mountains of real shoes, and other personal items of the deceased on display. This June, there was a shooting outside the Museum. Neo-Nazis still live on this Earth.  Each one of us is a Nazi as long as we, as common people, don’t realize that everyone has a right to live.

Rating: 8/10


General ramblings

India: Oh Lovely Dawn

I stumbled across a whole bunch of old articles related to India on Time magazine’s website. Here‘s one about Indian independence and the political hue cry that surrounded it:

As the great day approached, Indians thanked their varied gods and rejoiced with special prayers, poems and songs. Poetess Sarojini Naidu set the theme in a radio message: “Oh lovely dawn of freedom that breaks in gold and purple over the ancient capital o . .!”

lessing with Ashes. Even such an agnostic as Jawaharlal Nehru, on the eve of becoming India’s first Prime Minister, fell into the religious spirit. From Tanjore in south India came two emissaries of Sri Amblavana Desigar, head of a sannyasi order of Hindu ascetics. Sri Amblavana thought that Nehru, as first Indian head of a really Indian Government ought, like ancient Hindu kings, to receive the symbol of power and authority from Hindu holy men.

With the emissaries came south India’s most famous player of the nagasaram, a special kind of Indian flute. Like other sannyasis, who abstain from hair-cutting and hair-combing, the two emissaries wore their long hair properly matted and wound round their heads. Their naked chests and foreheads were streaked with sacred ash, blessed by Sri Amblavana. In an ancient Ford, the evening of Aug. 14, they began their slow, solemn progress to Nehru’s house. Ahead walked the flutist, stopping every 100 yards or so to sit on the road and play his flute for about 15 minutes. Another escort bore a large silver platter. On it was the pithambaram (cloth of God), a costly silk fabric with patterns of golden thread.

When at last they reached Nehru’s house, the flutist played while the sannyasis awaited an invitation from Nehru.

Then they entered the house in dignity, fanned by two boys with special fans of deer hair. One sannyasi carried a scepter of gold, five feet long, two inches thick. He sprinkled Nehru with holy water from Tanjore and drew a streak in sacred ash across Nehru’s forehead. Then he wrapped Nehru in the pithambaram and handed him the golden scepter. He also gave Nehru some cooked rice which had been offered that very morning to the dancing god Nataraja in south India, then flown by plane to Delhi.

Later that evening Nehru, and other men who would be India’s new rulers on the morrow, went to the home of Rajendra Prasad, president of the Constituent Assembly. On his back lawn four plantain trees served as pillars for a temporary miniature temple. A roof of fresh green leaves sheltered a holy fire attended by a Brahman priest. There, while several thousand women chanted hymns, the ministers-to-be and constitution-makers passed in front of the priest, who sprinkled holy water on them. The oldest woman placed dots of red powder (for luck) on each man’s forehead.

Tryst with Destiny. Thus dedicated, India’s rulers turned to the secular business of the evening. At 11 o’clock they gathered in the Constituent Assembly Hall, ablaze with the colors of India’s new tricolor flag—orange, white and green. Nehru made an inspired speech: “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge. . . .At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”

And as the twelfth chime of midnight died out, a conch shell, traditional herald of the dawn, sounded raucously through the chamber. Members of the Constituent Assembly rose. Together they pledged themselves “at this solemn moment . . . to the service of India and her people. . . .” Nehru and Prasad struggled through the thousands of rejoicing Indians who had gathered outside to the Viceroy’s House (now called the Governor General’s House) where Viscount Mountbatten, who that day learned he would become an earl, awaited them. There, 32 minutes after Mountbatten had ceased to be a Viceroy,* Nehru and Prasad rather timidly, almost bashfully, told Mountbatten that India’s Constituent Assembly had assumed power and would like him to be Governor General.

The people made it their day. After dawn half a million thronged the green expanse of the Grand Vista and parkways near the Government buildings of New Delhi. Wherever Lord and Lady Mountbatten went that day, their open carriage, drawn by six bay horses, was beset by happy, cheering Indians who swept aside police lines. A Briton received a popular ovation rarely given even to an Indian leader. “Mountbattenji ki jai [Victory to Mountbatten],” they roared, adding the affectionate and respectful suffix “ji” usually reserved for popular Indian leaders.

Now & then Nehru (who sometimes shows the instincts of a traffic policeman) harangued the crowd to be more orderly. Once he espied a European girl caught up in the swirl. She was Pamela Mountbatten, the Governor General’s 18-year-old daughter. Nehru literally slugged his way through the crowd to rescue her, brought her to the platform.

In the Council House the Constituent Assembly heard Mountbatten take the oath as Governor General.†”Regard me as one of yourselves,” he told them, “devoted wholly to the furtherance of India’s interests.” Then he swore in the new Indian Government. Messages of congratulation from over the world were read. The most original was a greeting in verse from Chinese Ambassador Lo Chia-luen. It read:

India be free!

Won’t that be

A Himalayan dream?

How fantastic,

How absurd an idea,

That never occurred to me!

Freedom’s Architect. Mountbattenji drew the biggest applause of the day when he said: “At this historic moment let us not forget all that India owes to Mahatma Gandhi—the architect of her freedom through nonviolence. We miss his presence here today and would have him know how he is in our thoughts.”

The Mahatma, who more than any other one man had brought independence to India, was not in New Delhi on the day of days. He was in troubled Calcutta, mourning because India was still racked by communal hatred. (In the Punjab last week, even more than in Calcutta, communal warfare blazed. Nearly 300 were killed.)

Gandhiji had moved into a Moslem house in Calcutta’s Moslem quarter, which had been assailed by his fellow Hindus. He appealed to Hindus to keep peace. Angry young Hindu fanatics broke up a prayer meeting at his house. For the first time, Indians stoned Gandhi’s house. Gandhi spoke sadly to the crowd: “If you still prefer to use violence, remove me. It is —not me but my corpse that will be taken away from here.”

But on Independence Day even Calcutta’s violence turned to rejoicing. Moslems and Hindus danced together in the streets, were admitted to each others’ mosques and temples. Moslems crowded round Gandhi’s car to shake his hand, and sprinkled him with rosewater. For the disillusioned father of Indian independence, there might be some consolation in the rare cry he heard from Moslem lips: “Mahatma Gandhi Zindabad” (Long Live Gandhi).

*Inl London, the King-Emperor became plain George VI, King of Pakistan and of India (just as he is King of Canada and other dominions beyond the seas). Workmen took down the bronze plate in Whitehall, reading “India Office,” replaced it with a painted wooden sign reading “Commonwealth Relations Office.”

† Another colonial power, France, announced that the 203 square miles on India’s east coast which she still rules will be organized as the five free cities of Pondichery, Karikal, Chander-nagore, Mahe and Yanaon, with locally elected governments, within the French union.

General ramblings

Paris Je T’aime

A collection for 18 short movies, directed by 21 world class directors. Each movie is about 5-8 movies long. Making short movies is an art- having the ability to pack a punch in only a couple of minutes. So, Dev , if you are reading this post, please do take a note.

About nine short movies are par brilliance. About 5 are very good. About three to four are pure hogwash. Since the average duration is about 5-6 minutes, sitting through some BS is tolerable. I did take a break for a couple of minutes every now and then because the stories are quite intense and it’s too much to take at one go. The Wikipedia page of the movie has a couple of lines on each short movie. Some reviews around the internet say that it’s worth watching this collection because it gives you an opportunity to compare the direction style of one director versus another. Doing this is a very difficult task for me. Compartmentalizing the direction of great directors like The Coen Brothers, Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuoron, Gus Van Sant etc. is not easy. Each story is so different. It’s not disappointing to not see familiar sights like the Eiffel Tower, various Parisian museums etc. in every segment. Instead, each piece is set in a different part of Paris and elucidates a different angle of love, suffering, joy and longing.

Some of my favorites:

“Tueleries” by The Coen Brothers- Story of an American tourist in a subway station in Paris and how staring at a young couple for a couple of seconds lands him in trouble. If you have five minutes, you can watch the movie for free on Youtube:

Loin du 16e by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas- A young woman sings a soulful lullaby to her baby early in the morning at the daycare. She goes to her employer’s house. The employer’s baby is crying and she sings the same lullaby again, sans feelings and emotions. This video has no subtitles. Even then, it should be easy to understand because the emotions are well executed through a simple lullaby. The movie hardly has any dialogues.

Place de Victoires- I’m a big fan of Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe. I didn’t care much for Nobuhiro Sawa’s director. Juliette Binoche stars as a young mother grieving the loss of her young son. Her acting makes this movie worth a watch.

Tour Eiffel- Brilliant acting by mime artists. And the boy with the oversized backpack is really cute. One of the few segments that is very light hearted and makes you smile.

Faubourg Saint-Deni- Natalie Portman’s contribution to this wonderful series. She stars as a young actor who falls in love with a blind guy. The boy talks about their love and how it turns sour eventually.

14e arrondissement- Best ending a series can ever have. Directed by Alexander Payne, an American tourist narrates her tale about her love for Paris and her recent visit to the City of Love. The American-French accent is so lovable. If you’re short on time, just watch this one segment because it’s totally worth it.

Rating: 8/10