Impressions 'n Expressions

Location: Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

The permanent temptation of life is to confuse dreams with reality. The permanent defeat of life is when dreams are surrendered to reality.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

That day, feeling slightly high on a rationed quantity of Old Monk and carbonated fizz, I walked in home to find my brother and my dad talking about a plane crashing into the WTC and even as I was trying to register surprise...I heard that another plane had crashed into its twin tower and suddenly there was this enormous possibility of it being deliberate. I remember feeling sad about the people trapped in the twin towers...but somewhere deep inside me, I was smiling at seeing the confusion within the American Intelligentsia...and in one fell swoop, the US of A was exposed to war on their own land.

From the second half of the twentieth century, the US has been waging wars in far off the name of installing, preserving and fostering democracy. No other country in history has killed as many people in collateral damages and economic sanctions as the US has done and the most interesting aspect of these wars were that almost all of them were fought away from home. So to see the world's only 'superpower' brought to its knees and forage in the dark for enemies to shoot at amidst unprecedented confusion...brought on a sense of reluctant satisfaction. Somehow I can't bring myself to use the 'wounded tiger' analogy about the Americans, but what followed was predictable...finding a suspect and providing 'swift and sustained' retribution on the enemies of 'America' and the 'war on terror'.

Ok, the preamble was necessary to understand the reaction behind a thought provoking good read, Mohsin Hamid's 'Reluctant Fundamentalist'.

Changez is a Pakistani who graduates from Princeton at the top of his class and is absorbed into Underwood Samson, a premier valuation firm. Life is really looking up for him and though at times he feels a little bit affronted by the supposed lack of 'cultural etiquette' among his peers, he is beginning to enjoy his growing stature. He also begins to have a very tentative relationship with an American woman, Erica, who is trying hard to cope with the loss of her lover. On an assignment in Manila, he hears about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center and he smiles as he evidences a feeling of faint cheer in seeing the world's 'superpower' been brought to its knees. The events post 9/11 starts changing his perception about himself and he begins questioning his identity, becoming defensive about his identity as a Muslim. On a trip to Chile to do an assessement on a book publishing firm, he learns about the Janissaries and he wonders if he isn't a modern day Janissary after all. Not being able to take it anymore, he quits
Underwood Samson and moves back to Lahore, where it he has become a staunch anti-American critic. One day he meets up with an American in a Lahore supermarket and he begins telling his story.

Told in a monologue, Hamid writes in a very lucid manner and conveys through his central character...the identification that we all reach at some point in time, to the person we are and why it is very difficult to get rid of our roots in a world that is essentially becoming one big cosmopolitan cesspool. I wont vouch for it, but this I guess is the same sense of feeling that makes a second generation Indian or a Pakistani in London to support India or Pakistan in a cricket match against England and most of these people know of India and Pakistan only through their parents and the influence of mass media in the form of entertainment and news. The idea of using Changez as a device to speak to us may be artificial and for it to work, we have to buy into the premise, considering that the story is told in one sitting to an unnamed American (?) in a open air restaurant in Lahore. Throughout the narrative, we only hear Changez speaking and responding to the American. There is a certain ambiguity to the identity of the American and what he is doing there at that time, which adds to the increasing tension towards the close.

The central theme of 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' is how a normal young man, who buys into the US way of life, at ease among his American colleagues and friends, being ashamed of where he comes from and getting alienated on each successive visit home, begins to question his identity and finds that while he helps the superpower influence its way in an increasingly global world, his home country is getting left behind. The narration, starting of as a mild condemnation of the western way of life, becomes increasingly strident and judgmental towards the last third of the book, especially when the narrative begins to explore the increasingly disturbed mind of the protagonist as he begins to question his role as a 'janissary' in his role at Underwood Samson - a not too subtle symbol for US. Changez relationship with Erica also serves as metaphor for his relationship with US. This point also is driven in a none too subtle manner as he can have her only if he pretends to be some other person.

Somehow, I believe that, with the Changez-Erica part of the story, Hamid was trying to drum up the analogies...which I thought was not necessary. Some say, it gives the protagonist a whole rounded personality if there is a love interest involved too (in terms of commercial best sellers, at least), but why does every other thing that happens in his life to mirror his inner turmoil. The premise was set, so I didn't think it was necessary to really drive home the point, and, Erica, to me at least, was jarring, with her constant mourning and pining for her lost lover. (Was Hamid trying to be cute, I don’t know…but it would definitely seem so if you read it as, Erica=America and Chris=innocence and to have Erica, Changez has to become Chris).

But these are minor nitpickings because at its very core 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist', though decidedly biased, is a highly entertaining read with a deliciously ambiguous ending.

Mohsin Hamid, a Princeton graduate himself, has acknowledged in one of his interviews that he was also not very different from Changez, except that his reaction was tempered by a slightly more tolerant approach. I believe that the author has tapped into his own sense of identity and used the protagonist to identify the fissures that can crack and how the very nature of conflict between US imperialism and its foreign policies has its consequences in the making of many more reluctant fundamentalists.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

...we shall build another tower in the sky

'Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you'.
Sand and Foam - Khalil Gibran

Deceptively simple, these are some of the most beautiful lines I have read in any writings.

MY FRIEND, you are not my friend, but how shall I make you understand
My path is not your path, yet together we walk, hand in hand.

Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deeping of the spirit.

You may sit at your window watching the passersby. And watching you may see a nun walking toward your right hand, and a prostitute toward your left hand.And you may say in your innocence, "How noble is the one and how ignoble is the other."But should you close your eyes and listen awhile you would hear a voice whispering in the ether, "One seeks me in prayer, and the other in pain. And in the spirit of each there is a bower for my spirit."

They say to me in their awakening, "You and the world you live in are but a grain of sand upon the infinite shore of an infinite sea."
And in my dream I say to them, "I am the infinite sea, and all worlds are but grains of sand upon my shore."

The significance of a man is not in what he attains, but rather what he longs to attain.

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.

You have your ideology and I have mine.

One day you will ask me which is more important, my life or yours?
I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing that you are my life.

Nothing you become will disappoint me, I have no preconception that I'd like to see you be or do. I have no desire to forsee you, only to discover you. You can't disapoint me.

Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more,
We shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song,
And if our hands should meet in another dream,
We shall build another tower in the sky.

I said to my friend:
"See her leaning over his arm?
Yesterday she leaned over my arm."
And he said:
"Tomorrow she will lean over mine."

And I said:
"See her sitting at his side?
And yesterday she sat at my side."
And he said:
"Tomorrow she will sit at mine."

And I said:
"Don't you see her drinking from his cup?
And yesterday she sipped from mine."
And he said:
"Tomorrow she will drink from mine."

And I said:
"Look how she glances at him with eyes full of Love!
and with just such love, yesterday she glanced at me."
And he said:
"Tomorrow she will glance at me, likewise."

And I said:
"Listen to her whispering songs of love in his ears;
And yesterday she whispered the same songs in mine."
And he said:
"Tomorrow she will whisper them in mine."

And I said:
"Look at her embracing him;
and yesterday she embraced me."
And he said:
"Tomorrow she will lie in my arms."

And I said:
"What a strange woman she is!!"
And he said:
"She is life!"

Monday, May 14, 2007

Spiderman - yaaawwwnnn

With great powers come great responsibility...sadly Spiderman 3 fails to recognize its own powers gained over two clearly superior prequels

What a let down. Boring, one word that can describe the third instalment of this hugely successful franchise. To make the final part bigger, the makers tried to do a little too much...thereby destroying the essentially childish, yet adorable charm of the prequels. Not only does Spidernam and his alter ego have to battle three villians, he also has to fight his own swelling ego brought on by public's acceptance of his exploits, seek revenge on his uncle's killer, try to save his relationship with Mary Jane from breaking up, try and patch up with his best friend, shed copious amounts of tears, do a strange jig on the streets and generally be so...Gay. None of the action set pieces - the primary reason why we go to watch a superhero movie - is a shade on the 'train out of control sequence' from Spiderman 2. In fact the novelty of Spiderman swinging across the sky scrapers is not there anymore, so we look forward to even bigger set pieces, of which there are...none. Even the climax where he has to battle Sandman and Venom is such a tame affair. I for one agree, if there is an attempt to flesh out the character of a Superhero by giving him a backstory and probably a raison d'etre for his very existence, but that doesnt mean one has to make him a psychoanalyst's case study. In 3, Spiderman has to fight so many demons inside him, which meant that the CGI folks could wait at the bar, till Spidey is done quelling his psychosis and with a few too many inside them they return and figured, 'What the hell, anyways this is gonna be a money spinner...why the hell should we even do anything. You know what, lets hang MJ once again from the top of a building or a crane and lets make Spiderman fight Sandman and Venom, while trying to save his love'. Which shows. One of my chief grouse is that Kirsten Dunst, who is one of my fav actresses is not very flattering in the movie. In fact she is hardly there. She is not your traditional beauty...but I find her strangely delicious :)

Well, what is the movie all about?

Spiderman has gained acceptance and he is liking it. He is doing good at college, his relationship with MJ couldn't have been better and he is getting ready to propose to MJ. Things are looking rosy until he gets afflicted by some stuff from outer space called symbiote, which though enhances his powers also enhances his agressive personality and that leads to an an inflated ego...and begins ignoring MJ, who is not having a particularly good time at Broadway and wants a crutch and seeks it from Harry. Even as MJ takes solace in Harry's arms, his on - off relationship with Spiderman / Peter Parker turns sour, because Spidey is busy pretending to be gay (I made this up, but you should see this segment..its so funny). Spiderman meanwhile also finds out that Sandman was responsible for his uncle's death, so he wants revenge. Oh I forgot to mention Peter Parker's rival camera slinger at the Daily Bugle who ends up becoming Venom...dont ask me how or why. Now Venom and Sandman have major issues with our sticky fingers. Harry finally understands that Spiderman didnt kill his dad and decides to join hands with Spiderman, who has managed to dissociate from the Symbiote, to save MJ who decided to get kidnapped by Venom and Sandman. And in the climatic free for all, Harry does a Viru ( a la Sholay) and dies in the arms of MJ.

This is the kind of movies where we dont talk about plot holes - cause it is likely we are sitting in one of them. We have to avoid mentioning them because, plot holes will imply having a plot. But I am sure these kind of movies are made with one particular make money, and that it has and will. I just wish that they had made it less complicated and more fun like its decidedly more superior predecessors. They were not classics, but at least they had more warmth and there was a sense of joy watching them, unlike this ponderous and bloated waste of effort and time.

So, even if you have a couple of hours to spend and even if you enjoy mindless entertainment and even if you are the biggest fan of Spiderman, this side of the known universe...if you have taken the tickets prepared to be...BORED.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Veyilode Villayadi

Humiliation wrought on by severe chastisement of a youthful indiscretion can change the course of a life...forever.

This is the underlying motif of one of the better movies I saw over the past few weeks, a rather energetic and vibrant movie, Veyil. A touch overlong, a tad contrived and a plot that is predictable, maybe, but it doesn't detract from the fact that Veyil is highly absorbing and eminently watchable.

Aimed at capturing the ambience of a sun kissed southern village in Tamilnadu, the cinematography is wonderfully evocative. Meandering thru the fields and by lanes, the picturesque sequences that accompany the song 'veyilode villayadi' capture a certain joie de vivre of life when we were kids.

For having gone to watch a movie during school hours, Murugesan, is dragged, beaten, tied up naked and left in the sun for an entire day by his father. Unable to bear the humiliation he steals his mother’s jewelry and runs away from home. He grows up under the care of a theater caretaker and comes to love the magic of movies. Possibly the illusions created by larger than life movies help him forget his past, or at least keep the memories dormant. At one point in time he speaks of going back after he has made it in life. He also falls for a village girl and there are promises in the horizon. But life is not too kind on him and defeated by the vagaries of fate, after twenty years, he returns home. Kathir, his younger brother, who is now running a successful business and taking care of the household, is overjoyed at his return though his father is still angry. Though welcomed back into the family, Murugesan is low on confidence as everywhere around him life seems to have passed him by. His only solace is in the company of his childhood sweetheart, a single mother trying to eke out a living making matchsticks. They find in each other like souls and in the comfort of this knowledge they try to pick and build a life out of the dregs of failure.

Pasupathy, as Murugesan, puts in a remarkable performance. Though he is not at ease when asked to be romantic, he exudes a sense of vulnerability to his portrayal of a person searching for his lost childhood. This is compounded by the fact that he realises that he has failed in life.

All others essay their parts well and though there are missteps, there doesn’t seem to be an insincere performance in front of and behind the camera.

The movie is at its best when it deals with the relationships between Murugesan and others in his family...especially so is the relationship between with Murugesan and Kathir. The script is not taut enough and tends towards contrivances post interval, as it tries a little too much to pull at the heartstrings and there are a few extra songs than was necessary. With tighter editing and probably around 30 minutes less, Veyil could have been one of best this year, as it is it qualifies to be recommended.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The man who counted to infinity...twice

I am sure we have all come across Chuck Norris factoids...but here are a few gems,

Chuck Norris' tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried.

Chuck Norris counted to infinity - twice.

Chuck Norris does not hunt because the word hunting infers the probability of failure. Chuck Norris goes killing.

If you can see Chuck Norris, he can see you. If you can't see Chuck Norris you may be only seconds away from death.

Chuck Norris sold his soul to the devil for his rugged good looks and unparalleled martial arts ability. Shortly after the transaction was finalized, Chuck roundhouse kicked the devil in the face and took his soul back. The devil, who appreciates irony, couldn't stay mad and admitted he should have seen it coming. They now play poker every second Wednesday of the month.

Chuck Norris has already been to Mars; that's why there are no signs of life there.

They once made a Chuck Norris toilet paper, but it wouldn't take shit from anybody.

A blind man once stepped on Chuck Norris' shoe. Chuck replied, "Don't you know who I am? I'm Chuck Norris!" The mere mention of his name cured this man blindness. Sadly the first, last, and only thing this man ever saw, was a fatal roundhouse delivered by Chuck Norris.

Chuck Norris kicked Neo out of Zion , now Neo is "The Two"

When Chuck Norris had surgery, the anesthesia was applied to the doctors.

Chuck Norris can divide by zero.