Monsoons hit Kerala

As a nation that depends on the Monsoons for most of its water requirements, the onset of the Monsoons are a much awaited event and its progress is tracked with religious fervor in India. This year amidst conflicting predictions from the Indian Meteorological Department and Skymet; and anxiety over El Nino effecting the volume of rainfall, the monsoons arrived in Kerala, the first coastline it hits, a few days earlier than its traditional due date of 1st June, much to the joy of all!!

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Monsoons arrive with a magic wand … transforming even the mundane into things of beauty

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So looks like the bud on the right is flirting with the bloom and asking it for a dance in the rain

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How do they know?

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It is a source of constant amazement to my parents of how much I remember of my childhood, even as early as around the age of four years. Some of the memories over the years seem to be the product of my active imagination superimposing images from the stories told by my parent over the memories of places that I had, however some stand out very clearly as distinct experiences – like the day when mom carried me around for ages with a cold compress till dad could get home and take us to the hospital for stitches, after I had cut my head against the flower bed brick border. Or that evening when dad walked us a to a hitherto unseen area to pluck flowers and the kaleidoscope of impressions of the day – the lovely colours of the setting sun, the shower of pink blossoms bursting through a creeping bed of green leaves, parrots squawking as they returned to roost and the simple joy of being with loved ones. That childhood bubble of joy still channels through the years and hits me every time I look at the golden hues of a setting sun.

When I was around six, dad was posted in Arunachal Pradesh and we got to spend our summers in this eastern extremity of India. My memories are filled with towering mountains, lush green vegetation, gushing streams, roaring waterfalls and the weird creature – leech. Besides the fresh water black blob variety the higher altitudes also had a grey-green terrestrial variety of the most tenacious kind. One just couldn’t complete a stroll through a grassy green without having a couple stuck on. They were also very hardy and could tolerate high dosages of salt before they would let go. This one time when we had gathered some wild flowers dad found a minuscule one crawling on one of the twigs. As soon as dad picked up the twig the leech changed directions and “charged” (if that’s possible while crawling) towards dad’s finger. When dad held the twig by the other side the leech promptly changed direction and headed again for the hand. As my six year old self watched the movements of the leech in awe, the only thought in my head was – how does it know where to go??!

A Foreign Perspective

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“Suddenly turning into one of the city’s main thoroughfares we were swept along in a whirlwind of Indian traffic. Bullock carts and sacred cows meandered across lanes of pollution-belching cards. Vespas buzzed past. Drivers overtook, undertook did U-turns in the middle of moving traffic, reversed down one-way streets the wrong way, and honked their horns incessantly. Overloaded truck accelerated and then slammed on their brakes. Motor-scooters slalomed. Battered buses cut across lanes at breakneck speed. It was as if every vehicle was piloted by a circus clown.

I watched as a mother and her child tried to cross the street, the two terrified figures clinging to one another like passengers on the sinking Titanic.”

– Tarquin Hall in “To the Elephant Graveyard”

I love it when I read a foreigner’s account of Indian chaos. We being part of the chaos seem to hardly register the comedy of it all. The book however is a serious look at the loosing battle on their right to their habitat faced by the elephants of Assam – portrayed through a hunt for a man-killing Indian Elephant.

In An Antique Land

Phew! Its been a long time since I put pencil to paper – and it shows! Picked out Amitav Ghosh’s “In an antique land” to read and loved the cover art so much I decided to sketch it. Though the rustiness of skills are evident I still liked the outcome –

In an antique land cover art

The book itself is an ethnography based upon the author’s stay in Egypt & his interactions with the people, at the same time discussing the relationships between India and Egypt during the medieval times by tracing the life of the Jewish Merchant “Abraham Ben Yiju” (utilizing the documents from “Cairo Geniza“). The multiple parallel timelines and locations in the book are a bit difficult to keep up with, however once one gets used to the style, one realizes that narrative is designed to bring out the numerous contrasts of the two eras –

The rich multi-lingual, multi-religious trading ethos of the medieval times, to a generation where relations are broken to the point of ignorance of others’ existence, religious intolerance and warring nations.

From a time when the Indian Ocean Trade enriched the cultural and economic aspirations of all the countries involved in the trade, to a generation where a country’s progressive aspirations are measured by the number of weapons of mass destruction that it can accumulate.

An era when just communication and travel used to take days and months, to a time when a few years changed the financial and economic situation of a village for the better.

From the observation of how the military might of the west ruined the peaceful nature of the Indian Ocean Trade, to the observation of how western education and progressive ideas overtook the agrarian village society changing the lives and lifestyles of the inhabitants.

The book gives a graphic description of Egypt and its transformation over the centuries – the medieval times, the modern times and the build up and discovery of the Cairo Geniza. The stories in the book left me with a deep sense of loss – the loss of not knowing a culturally rich era and the loss of living an era of war torn nations and religious intolerance.

P. S.: The cover page is the work of Viren Desai & Bena Sareen and is used (it seems) only for books sold in the Indian Sub-continent.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Did that just happen? Did that really just happen? Did Ben Stiller just make a movie that I wouldn’t mind having in my DVD collection!! Well that’s a first!

Of course the movie locales are just awesome – such lovely shots of the ocean, sunset, Greenland, Iceland etc. – along with the background score it makes for a great watch, but it was more than just that. It was the whole concept of the protagonist “zoning out” to escape from his mundane existence and what they had done with it in the movie.

When I had gone for the movie I had no idea what it was about – I was just accompanying some friends who wanted to see it. Now that I have done my research I know that it was a second, more modernised film adaptation of the James Thurber’s short story. However I still love the way that the movie creates Walter Mitty’s alternate universe with some main stream movie themes and juxtaposes it to the lost look that Ben Stiller always has when he’s zoned out making him seem a little mentally deficient to the onlooker. As a person who dramatises the most mundane conversations of the day, the fact that the protagonist’s imagination runs wild at the most normal daily encounters, makes him so relatable to me.

That he’s also very good at his work but doesn’t ever bring up it up is another relatable trait. With the kind of upbringing me and my friends had, boasting is considered a bad quality and one doesn’t ever really talk about the great work that one does. Its a drawback in a world where show is more important than substance. We wish that somebody should recognise our worth and appreciate it like Sean O’Connel does for Walter Mitty in the movie referring to negative 25 as the “Quintessence of Life”.

Add Shirley McLain (I just adore her in Guarding Tess & Mrs. Winterbourne) to the mix, playing Walter Mitty’s mother – the grounding character to his restless mind and you have a complete formula for a dreamy feel good movie.

The movie focuses more on visuals (and what great ones at that!) than dialogues to carry forward the narrative which adds to the dreamy charm of the movie. However the minimalistic dialogues are not to be taken for granted – Most of them are going to be in my quoting list for a long time ahead –

Cheryl:  “Major Tom—that song is about courage and about going into the unknown.  It’s a cool song.”

Trawler Captain: “Unfriend the shark! Now!”

Walter Mitty: “OMG That really happened?”

Sean O’Connell: “Beautiful things don’t ask for Attention”

Sean O’Connell: “If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

Not to forget the Motto of Life Magazine: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

The only tad overdone dialogue –

Todd Maher: “I pictured you as this little grey piece of paper, but now I see you and it’s like Indiana Jones decided to become the lead singer of The Strokes or something.”

P.S.: Been wanting to update this for some time now …. but “being there doing that” got in the way.

Also there are great reviews of the movie here.