Monday, June 20, 2016

List-opia

I'm the kind of person who likes to check things off a list.

I'm not quite sure why that is. Perhaps it gives me a tangible sense of satisfaction, perhaps because I live in a hazy world of dreams otherwise and forget things easily whether done or undone, perhaps it makes me feel like I have not wasted my time on this earth, perhaps because I'm a bit of a control freak... perhaps all of the above? 

In any case, lists work for me. I remember making lists in school - the homework to be done, the craft items to be carried the next day, the chapters to cover each day as part of exam prep. In fact, I like both - the making of lists and the planning therein and the checking things off and the ensuing glow of satisfaction. You see why I identify a bit with Monica from Friends?

Now that I pretty much live on the internet, I even have an app for creating my To-do list. Smirk all you want but when you enter the supermarket and get bombarded by shelf after shelf of products, your senses being assailed by colours, smells, sounds and your mind slowly fogging up with choices, you'll be thankful for that list you made. If I put on my pseudo-science hat, it feels like a bit of temporal displacement - Me from the past takes the hand of present, confused/ forgetful Me and says, "Pasta! That's what you have to buy next." Eureka. And with the app, you don't even have to carry around a crumpled piece of paper like some kind of wide-eyed bumpkin. Not to mention the Pavlovian joy at hearing a little 'ting'every time you check something off the virtual list.

I even find it helpful with my reading. I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. In recent years however, my concentration has taken a leap off the deep end and I often start several books simultaneously depending on whatever catches my fancy. Then I really struggle with books with a slow narrative pace or paragraphs of unnecessary description. Thus while my primeval greed to own more and more books remains intact, the chances of my completing them have dropped quite a bit. Enter Goodreads. On this book cataloging app, I jot down the names of the books I'm currently reading and also check off my progress at regular intervals. It makes me feel more motivated about completing a book especially if I beginning to get a bit bored of it. And now there also a Reading Challenge where my goal is to read 50 books this year. (Despite reading a fair bit more this year, this is easier targeted than done.)

Now let's be clear. Lists are merely an enabler not a superpower. They can't really make you do stuff if you want to be a lazy bum. Trust me I know. There are still several items in my digital to-do list that have been waiting for long in the hope of hearing a 'ting' against their name. Sigh! Procrastination is the enemy of the list-maker.

But hey! Guess why I finally wrote in this blog after ages? *ting*


Monday, February 22, 2016

Roman Holiday

EDIT: Found this piece in my drafts. It was written after my trip to Rome in April 2015 and intended to capture the details of a very satisfying break.

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It surprises me sometimes to think of how long it took me to realise I enjoy travelling. Going to a new place is like beginning the first chapter in a new book. A good holiday feels like spring-cleaning for the soul. So when I realised I had time for a super-short trip to Rome I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Rome was on my list of the top European destinations to visit - for being so steeped in history both Catholic and pagan. Indeed someone once called it a 'city of echoes' and it is a truly apt description for there seemed to be something of historical significance in every side-street in the city.




My trip began with a couple of unexpected and breathtaking views from the plane - the first as we flew over the ice capped Alps looking a bit like a fairy-tale kingdom and the second was the view of the azure sea with tiny white sailboats as we prepared to land in Rome. Feeling energized by these sights, I landed at Fiumcino Airport and found my way to the Leonardo Express train which would take me into the heart of the city. The journey from airport to city takes about half an hour and I was quite glad that my hotel was walking distance from Termini, the central train station.

By this time it was already late afternoon, but thanks to spring, I still had a few daylight hours left. Not to mention incredibly balmy weather. So I did some quick Googling, had a few words with the concierge and armed with a map set out for Santa Maria Maggiore, the closest place of interest. This basilica is the largest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is believed to have been built around the 5th century AD. When you see its grand facade and even more impressive and ornate interiors, the mind boggles to think of just how long it has been standing here. With glorious mosaic work and frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible, being inside the basilica felt like being inside a treasure chest. Since it was a Sunday, I was also able to attend evening mass and this completed for me a deeply spiritual experience.




Dusk had fallen and there was just about time to sample the local pizza before gearing up for the next day. A young Pakistani waiter spoke in Hindi to catch my attention and invite me into his restaurant, clearly excited to see someone from the sub-continent. As I sat in the open air pizzeria, I got chatting with a couple of Australian ladies who told me which sights I should see and how Florence should be a must visit on my next trip.



Dinner taken care of, a helpful Italian gent pointed me in the direction of the nearest shop selling gelato. While I enjoyed my dessert, I pondered over how travel also provided opportunities to connect with people from all over the world. A Swiss couple came into the gelato shop and after asking my opinion, selected the same flavour of gelato. We exchanged a few smiles and some comments and I thought of how freeing the whole experience was. This is one of the things I like about living in London as well - the possibility of exchanging a few words and a laugh with strangers without any ulterior motives.



The next day began with some incredible cappucino that charged me up for a long day of sightseeing.



I got tickets for the City Sightseeing Hop on Hop off buses and got plenty of helpful suggestions from the Bangladeshi promoters who started talking to me in Bengali. I had tickets for the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and was advised by the hostess on the bus to get off directly at the Vatican stop as queues tended to be long there. So I got an eyeful and camera-ful of the Colosseum, Piazzas, Circo Massimo etc.

It was a bright, sunny day and St. Peter's Basilica was teeming with people by the time I reached there.


Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I tried to figure out where the entrance was and where all the serpentine queues were leading. I was joined in this quest by a friendly German couple who told me they were on the same hunt. After quite a walk (by my standards), we figured out where we needed to go. On the way a Bangladeshi tour promoter convinced me that I needed a guide to take me through the labyrinthine museums and more importantly, that the guide would be able to drop me off near the Basilica which meant I could see that too without queuing and overall walk less! The guide was an Italian lady who took a group of us tourists through the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel dropping nuggets of history along the way. Given how crowded both these places were, I was quite happy with my decision to hire her.



The Vatican Museums contain an immense collection of art collected by the Popes down the ages. There is just so much to see and marvel at that it soon became clear that one could not hope to do justice to it within a few hours. We went through room after room of ancient sculptures, artefacts and gorgeous paintings. There was for instance the Gallery of Maps hung with elaborate maps of Italy and its surrounding regions drawn during the 16th century. And these maps, created at a time which we would consider as having severe technological limitations, were all remarkably accurate! The Gallery of Tapestries is full of huge wall hangings made of wool and silk which depict religious stories. One interesting anecdote the guide told us was that the vivid red colour used in the tapestries apparently came from crushed ladybugs, so creating a tapestry was obviously a very time consuming exercise as enough ladybugs needed to be accumulated!

The Sistine Chapel was gorgeous. And smaller than I thought it would be - but that could just be because of how crowded it was. I was also surprised to find myself a bit underwhelmed by Michaelangelo's ubiquitous depiction of the Creation of Adam. I actually found The Last Judgement more interesting with its layered references to Dante's Inferno. No photography allowed here by the way.

St. Peter's Basilica was the last stop on the day's sojourn. It was magnificent example of Renaissance architecture and every bit as majestic as I had expected. It was a bit like Santa Maria Maggiore but bigger. The basilica is believed to be the burial site of St. Peter, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ and his tomb is supposed to be directly below the high altar. Besides the many sculptures and tombs of Popes, the basilica also contains Michaelangelo's Pieta. Ralph Emerson called St. Peter's and "ornament of the world" and this couldn't be more true. One steps out of the basilica into St. Peter's square which is encircled partially by two arcs of beautiful colonnades to indicate the welcoming arms of the church.

Here I took a breather with a delicious pistachio gelato and watched the crowds go by in the square. I saw the Swiss guard in their colourful vestments too. After some souvenir shopping, it was time to head back to my hotel.





The next day, with Google Maps as my trusty companion, I visited the Pantheon - a temple built around 126 AD! The fact that it was built so many eons ago, the thought of how much those stone walls had seen, of the ever-changing multitudes who must have passed through its portico, really filled me with awe. The Pantheon is also one of the structures to have had an enormous impact on architecture with its distinctive portico with Corinthian columns and the huge rotunda within with light streaming in from an opening in the dome. Interestingly, despite its huge historical relevance, the Pantheon is not sectioned away. A loud and lively Piazza with tourists, food sellers and musicians lies in front of this gray building. I stood there among the milling crowds, helping a couple take photographs, contemplating another gelato, soaking in the sunshine and listening to the strains of The Godfather theme song being payed on a harmonica. It was a beautiful moment.



No visit to Rome could be complete without a trip to the Trevi Fountain - one of the most famous fountains in the world. Unfortunately when I went, it was being renovated. However a small pool of water was kept to one side should someone want to throw in a coin and make a wish. This girl sure did.



Among the many beautiful, open piazzas I walked across, the Piazza Navona was notable - a beautiful square with the gorgeously sculpted Fountain of Four Rivers. Rows of artists lined the sides of the square adding colour to the proceedings. Tourists were being enticed into the cool shade of the nearby bistros. And hawkers (all from the Indian sub-continent) were determined to sell one a selfie-stick. Rome was nothing if not lively.



After a leisurely lunch of gnochhi, I ambled down the sunny streets thinking of how my Roman holiday had exceeded my expectations in the best possible way. I was feeling relaxed, content, and energized - and fortunate to have set foot in a place that carries some of the key roots of civilization and spirituality.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Back from hiatus(?)

I see that it's has been a long time since I wrote a post. Getting all existential about your life and then moving to a different continent will do that to you. I also started (and have been neglecting) a different blog and wrote a few stories in the hiatus. So it's not all bad on the creative writing front.

Its so quiet as I sit in my room now and watch a leafy slowly flutter down from the tree in my backyard. The grey silence of autumn is strangely soporific. It is peaceful and unnerving at the same time - I crave the quiet and the solitude but it often plunges me into a kind of pessimistic lethargy. And so, I try daily to strike that right balance between a public life and a private one.

When one is alone, it is so easy to carve out some me-time. To do just what pleases one or to do nothing at all if that is what one chooses. It can quite spoil you for company. So easy to lay curled up in bed, endless thoughts spinning through one's head.

Being alone makes you realize just how many conversations you have with yourself. And if you're like me, it doesn't bother you at all because you have a pretty active inner voice anyways. It struck me one day as I was going back home after a long day at the office. Once my office work is done, it is highly likely that I speak to no one at all as I journey back home, prepare dinner and get ready for bed.

You realize that the reason why you didn't do certain things has nothing to do with location and everything to do with you. I thought I would finally learn the culinary arts once I was on my own. Turns out I still don't like to cook. Neither the beautiful kitchen nor the growling of my tummy can make me do it. I do the occasional egg-frying, pasta making etc. but I find I can't be bothered to do more when I can do less. In other words, when I can easily eat out or buy ready to eat food which fits my mood at the time, why would I want to spend time cooking. After a hard day at work or even over precious weekends, I feel I'd rather spend my time doing something else.

This is not to say that I don't miss home-cooked food. I miss it intensely. The cliche about nothing quite besting "ma ke haath ka khana" (meals cooked by mother) is true my friends. After a while, all the restaurants of the world will pale in comparison to a meal of familiar, comfort food cooked by your mom. But yes, the fact that I am used to dining out and experimenting with my cuisine has been helpful. I know some people who stuck to the same culinary diet all their lives and suffered each time they had to travel. Experimenting with one's taste buds is one of the joys of living.

This also means of course that plans of a change in lifestyle have flown out of the window. Healthy, organic food, regular exercise and other such dreams turn to dust when I get stressed with work. Then only a ready to eat cheese-laden pizza and several precious hours of sleep seem important. Waking up early to exercise? You must be joking. Working out after work? Do you know what time my work gets over? So, yeah.

I get easily distracted these days, so I'll assume the same for you and continue my knowledge-sharing some other time. I have to go figure out what to have for lunch.

Monday, November 26, 2012

To thine own self be true

They say imitation is the best form of flattery.
But I'm not feeling flattered at all to find that someone has merrily copied my lines onto their blog.
How desperate can people be? Grow up!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Brainy's the new Sexy!

Like most people, I have read about the exploits of Sherlock Holmes, the most famous fictional detective. However, I had mostly read abridged versions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Recently I have been trying to plough through the unabridged Complete Works but the going has been tough. The stories are more than a 150 years old and the writing style is naturally dated and dry. Some of the stories themselves also feel a bit ridiculous given the plethora of crime novels and serials we have been exposed to. So basically to read the original works and enjoy it, one always has to keep in mind the time period when it was written and make allowances for it. Kind of spoils the fun. More literature and less a good detective story, if you know what I mean.

That’s why when it comes to favourite literary sleuths, I always turn to Monsieur Hercule Poirot – he of the ‘little gray cells’ and the passion for order and method. More importantly, Agatha Christie’s detective stories are much more about the psychological human drama behind the murders. This in itself renders them timeless because the key human passions remain the same whatever be the generation. They are also written about a 100 years after Sherlock which makes them more readable but again, they do contain several stereotypes which seem amusingly old-fashioned and sometimes downright racist in today’s world.

Anyway, I digress. What has, in fact, prompted me to write this piece is BBC Entertainment’s inventive new series, “Sherlock”. This is a Sherlock set not in Victorian, but contemporary England.  While the idea of a modern setting might make purists scoff, it is surprisingly effective in reinvigorating the franchise. The adaptation is intelligent, witty and entertaining – it retains the soul of the original while bringing in a 21st centurytwist. London, where most of the stories are set, is not a rainy smog-filled city with the clattering of horses’ hoofs but a bright and lively one to be traversed in the ubiquitous black taxicabs. There have been 2 seasons so far with only 3 episodes each but each one has been a gem. Only a few Holmes stories have been used for the main episodes with their plots suitably tweaked. For instance, the first episode is “A Study in Pink” derived from the first Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet”. However, there are several passing references to other Holmes tales scattered throughout the episodes for the aficionados. “The Greek Interpreter” becomes a story about comic book related murders, “The Geek Interpreter”, “The Speckled Band” becomes the case of a “Speckled Blonde”and so on.

A big reason why the series works is of course, Sherlock himself. Sherlock is played to perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch who portrays Sherlock as a slightly eccentric, “high-functioning sociopath” with just the right amount of charm.  Cumberbatch uses his wonderfully deep voice to great effect as he delivers rapid-fire speeches giving the impression of his tongue struggling to keep pace with his mind. His intense ice blue eyes and razor sharp cheekbones add to the image of an intense, obsessive and incredibly intelligent mind. His Sherlock is however also one who is childishly gleeful at the prospect of a serial killer and goes into a sulk when he can’t find a challenging case. This strange man-child is focused only on the gratification of his own need to solve mysteries and has an alarming disregard for social skills. But despite his negligent attitude and sharp tongue, he is still capable of caring quite deeply – for his friend Watson, for Mrs. Hudson, his landlady and for ‘the woman’, Irene Adler. In keeping with the times, Sherlock also prefers to text message his associates, uses the GPS to track criminals and is trying to give up smoking by using nicotine patches. Trust me, it's more entertaining than sacreligious. The constant know-it-all behavior, the immense egoism, a certain ruthlessness are all present but strangely seem almost expected in a man so gifted.

Martin Freeman essays the role of Dr. John Watson, the closest thing to a friend that Sherlock has. He is the perfect foil to the mercurial Sherlock and brings in the Everyman point of view and bewilderment when faced with the Sherlock’s brilliance. The camaraderie between the complex Sherlock and the forthright John (‘not’ Holmes and Watson) hits the right notes and has the nowadays-mandatory touches of bromance thrown in.

This reminds me of Guy Ritchie’s adaptations of Sherlock Holmes tales. Let me just say that I find them vile; especially when I compare them to the TV series. Like most of his other popular roles, Robert Downey Jr. plays himself and reduces Sherlock Holmes to a clownish ragamuffin. The movies are like any other modern action-adventure Shanghai Knights kind of a flick and the Jude Law and Robert Downey chemistry is forced. Guy Ritchie’s movies could have been about anybody else but definitely not Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective of all time!

To appreciate the genius of Sherlock Holmes, read the books if you can, watch him in his original Victorian setting in the older BBC series or best of all… watch ‘Sherlock’.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Monsoon Memories

It's that time of the year again...when the rain whips the landscape out of maudlin stagnation and the thunder ignites disconcerting frenzies. When the world seems to turn on its head for a while as the sky darkens and lightning sizzles across it. Monsoon, like no other season, is such a spectacle, such a grand show.
While it is not my favourite season for various very practical reasons, I still enjoy a good storm for its sheer unreasonable-ness. When thunder booms and lightning zigzags, I feel alive.

I remember one monsoon when I was 8 or 10 years old. My mother finally gave in to my pleas and let me and my sister get drenched in the rain. Our house was on the 10th floor of a building and we had a huge adjoining terrace space to play in. It was all the privacy and space one would have wanted in a concrete jungle. We splashed about in the rain for a long time, exhilarated to be at nature's party. Not to mention being actually granted permission to get wet in the rain! I remember running around from end to the other frolicking in the unexpected freedom, fleeing to spots where the warmer water dripped off the roofs when it got too cold and then running back under the open skies again, while my mother sat with towels waiting for us to run back to her.

When I grew older and reached that strange limbo between being adult and a child, I enjoyed sitting by the window while the rain unleashed its fury on the world outside. I sat next to the window at night, the ubiquitous book in my hand gazing at the suddenly empty, slick streets being pelted with rain diamonds. The spray would hit my face and seem to whisper of exciting things to come, grand ambitions and secret promises. I could sit like that for hours lost in nebulous thoughts  and waiting for the transition to adulthood to be complete.

I remember sharing an umbrella. How the cold rain trickled down my back and my shoulder, my unruly hair dampened into soft tendrils. Clutching a friend tightly for warmth and because the space beneath that flimsy canopy was precious little. Giggling at the puddles, the dirty streets, the scurrying people and life's problems. Knowing that the umbrella was just a sham like much of life's promises but holding onto it nonetheless.

Nowadays when practicality almost completely threatens to overtake passion, the rain often makes me restless. I chafe at my routines and the predictability of my life when the weather gets so insanely unpredictable. I keep running to the windows to see how dark the skies have become and how hard it is raining. But my office windows are tinted and sealed shut and it is hard to make out much...

I got drenched in the rain again last night but I remembered to take out my umbrella lest my laptop bag get wet. I know I wanted to just walk down the well-known streets, past the people huddled under the shop shelters, with my umbrella in my bag, getting soaked to the skin, with a broad grin on my face and with my head held high. And maybe one of these magical monsoon days, I'll do it too.


Image courtesy: Google

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My favourite Serial Killer


Season 6 of 'Dexter' has just ended. And despite the below par season, I miss my favourite serial killer already.

Meet Dexter Morgan. Blood spatter analyst by day who moonlights as a serial killer/vigilante. Watching his mother brutally murdered at the tender age of 3 had the effect of turning him into a blood craving sociopath. His adoptive father, a policeman, realizes Dexter's murderous tendencies early on and to protect his son and prevent him from killing innocent people, makes him follow a Code. According to the Code, Dexter will only kill those who are guilty of murder themselves. Following Harry's Code helps Dexter to provide an outlet to his "Dark Passenger" (his name for his urge to kill) and also maintain a facade of normalcy. His day job is with Miami Metro's homicide division where he works alongside his sister Debra Morgan. His job provides easy access to the scum of society who meet their nemesis at Dexter's hand. The basis for the characters have been Jeff Lindsay's novel, 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter', the first of his Dexter novels. While Season 1 followed the novel more or less, later seasons have veered away from the books' narrative.

"I like to pretend I'm alone. Completely alone. Maybe post-apocalypse or plague... Whatever. No-one left to act normal for. No need to hide who I really am. It would be... freeing."

'Dexter' is not for the faint-hearted especially when you consider that the protagonist chops up people and disposes the body parts in the ocean. But it is still one of the most widely acclaimed shows in a long time and has a cult following the world over. The originality of the premise and the writing have been one of the main reasons for the show's success. We hear Dexter's wry internal monologue and wonder at the dichotomy between social life and natural inclinations. Dexter is a monster but sometimes you wonder if there isn't a monster in everyone around him too.

"There are no secrets in life, just hidden truths that lie beneath the surface."

"Everyone hides who they are at least some of the time. Sometimes you bury that part of yourself so deeply you have to be reminded it's even there at all. And sometimes you just want to forget who you are altogether... I'm not the monster he wants me to be so I'm neither man nor beast. I'm something new entirely, with my own set of rules. I'm Dexter. Boo."

Initially, Dexter believes that he has no emotions, and takes a lot of pains to appear 'normal' and blend in with the other people around him. He prefers to stay low profile given his predilections. However Dexter does maintain a few personal relationships - with his adoptive sister Debra who is unaware of Harry's training, his wife Rita who is too traumatized from years of abuse at the hands of her ex-husband, her two children from an earlier marriage, Astor and Cody and his own son, Harrison on whom he dotes. These attachments complicate his double life and often make him question his nature.

" I'm Dexter, and I'm... not sure what I am. I just know there's something dark in me, and I hide it, I certainly don't talk about it, but it's there, always. This Dark Passenger, and when he's driving I feel, alive, half sick with the thrill of complete wrongness. I don't fight him, I don't want to, he's all I've got. Nothing else could love me, not even.....especially not me. Or is that just a lie the Dark Passenger tells me? Because lately there are these moments when I feel.....connected to something else, someone, and it's like, the mask is slipping, and things, people, who never mattered before are suddenly starting to matter, and it scares the hell out of me."

 

"I am a father...a son...a serial killer".

Dexter's dilemma, his questioning and the frequent emergence of his better self inspite of what he believes himself to be find an echo somewhere with the audience. His ironic musings reveal both his despair and his loneliness. They are also tempered with a dark sense of humour that is both morbid and entertaining.

"Harry and Dorris Morgan did a wonderful job raising me. But they're both dead now. I didn't kill them. Honest."

"[about a used car salesman] It's a toupee. Even this guy's hair is a lie."

"Want a real glimpse of the human nature? Stand in the way of someone's mocha latte."


A big part of the credit for bringing Dexter Morgan to life should go to the lead actor Michael C. Hall who has been awarded a Golden Globe for his performance. Hall also faced some personal challenges of his own as he was discovered to be having Hodgkins lymphoma during the shooting of this serial. He is now in remission.  Another interesting bit of trivia is that he was also married to Jennifer Carpenter who plays his sister Debra in the serial.

As I wait for Season 7 and hope it will be more like the earlier seasons I leave you with another quote from Dex:

"All you can do is play along at life, and hope that sometimes you get it right."