Friday, October 31, 2008

Bern, Baby!

The weary traveler strolled about the streets of Berne in an attempt to kill some time before his next connecting train. The journey so far had been amazing and the cherry on the cake had been the Monument of the Dying Lion at Lucerne. The traveler was heading out to a well deserved break in Amsterdam. As he was walking aimlessly, a pang of guilt seized the traveler. Clearly, Switzerland had been the best experience so far, yet he was seeing so less of it. However, did Switzerland have much to offer a la Prague or Paris? In his perception, Zurich and Berne were staid financial centres and the beauty of Switzerland could be best experienced from the train rather than walking the streets of these cities.

The traveler sighed out of tiredness. A puff of vapour went up the air.

It was very cold. He reached out into his pocket and collected whatever remained of his Swiss Francs. They were all in coins and amounted to not more than three and seventy.

He looked about for a Kebap shop. The only kind of shop that would even deal with this amount of money could be a kebap shop. And even there, this money may be good for one coffee. But yes, a coffee would be good.

The traveler’s reveries were interrupted by the haunting sound of a bagpipe. Whoever would play bagpipes in Switzerland? The traveler headed in the direction of the sound. There, by the side of a road, stood a person playing his bagpipes. He was stomping his feet in the direction and the sound of trinkets (salangai) acted as an accompaniment to the music.

The effect of the music was mesmerizing. It would be futile to attempt to capture the beauty of the music in words and the author shall not attempt it. Slowly, a crowd grew around this musician, swaying to the tunes of the bagpipe. If we were the townspeople, he was the Piper. The traveler recollected the story of the piper. Finally, after many years of having heard the story, it suddenly became richer in meaning. The power of the instrument was remarkable indeed and the story was no exaggeration.

The piper played on. The cold did not seem to matter now. The traveler emptied his pockets in genuflection. The destination did not seem to matter now. The first connection to his destination was missed. However, only the moment mattered. It is well said that the best journey has no destination.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Travel Acquaintances

6:45 PM

On the train from Goteborg to Copenhagen

On the ship to Stockholm I met a Finn who works as a bouncer and a Russian electrical engineer who had been on a long trip to India. I forgot both their names, so let us call them Jari, the Finn and Dmitry, the Russian.

I was initially taken aback to see Jari in the room. I said a silent prayer. You see, just outside I had seen 4 “Yo Dude”s and was hoping that no one like that would be sharing my cabin. I had a long bout of travelling to do and getting a sound night’s sleep was a priority. Most travelers on the Turku-Stockholm ferry came for the cruise rather than for Stockholm. The ship is a gigantic amusement park actually. There are decks of amusement, from casinos to discos to saunas and it is more of a let-it-all-out trip. And I did not want anyone in my room to let it all out that night.

I entered my room to see a swarthy guy with tattoos all over his body. However, as these things turn out, he was quite soft-spoken and was keener than me for a good night’s sleep. I must confess to find his behavior a tad disconcerting. He kept looking out of the door, and saying, “Wonder if we are alone”! I was reminded of the tunnel scene from the movie Eurotrip and that did not help! However, in the course of the conversation, I learnt that he was going to Stockholm for a Jujitsu competition and hence did not want any party dudes. I was however eager to learn more about the bouncing profession. But before I could quiz him on how one became a bouncer, the interview process, tips and all that, a most curious person entered.

In entered a short and stout man who started moving about the small space looking to place his bag. Usually, the formality in such occasions (though it is not written in stone, one might add) is to exchange pleasantries with the others sharing the cabin. On the contrary, the new visitor seemed keener to learn the topology of the room. After having placed his bags and coat, he greeted us. I tried not to laugh.

The inventor of the phrase pot belly must have seen Dmitry when he coined the phrase. The man had a properly pot-like belly. He was balding, but he compensated for the lack of hair on his pate with a well groomed beard. His English was not that great. He spoke in broken sentences. But when he realized that I was from India, he immediately took out his passport and showed it to me. He had visited India in 1976. He had visited India as part of a government delegation and had gone to Mathura, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Nepal. He spoke in short sentences about those places and to confess I found his manner of speaking more interesting that his experiences. Clearly, he had been on a “Karma Cola” trip, seeing India in clich├ęd terms. But still, it provided a common conversation point.

I learned that he too had a similar journey schedule like mine, except that he was doing Europe on a bus. Then he started on his dinner and I took out a book. It is really very comfortable traveling on the ship. After some time, I really could not help noticing the concentration with which Dmitry ate his food. He had bought a lot of pre-cooked stuff and seeing him go about using each one was interesting in itself.

After that novelty wore out in five minutes, I drifted off to a dreamless sleep! One does meet all types in the ship!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Saar, where be the next Idli Shop?

(With due apologies to a Mr. Jim Morison)

Oh, Show me the way to the next Idli shop,

Oh, don’t ask why, oh don’t ask why,

Show me the way to the next idli shop,

Oh, don’t ask why, oh don’t ask why


For if we don’t find the next idli shop,

I tell you my tongue will die, I tell you my tongue will die,

I tell you, I tell, I tell you my tongue will die.


To all this pizza and pasta,

We must say goodbye,

Helsinki don’t have any dharshini bhavanas,

And we must’ve sambhar-idly,oh, you know why

These Markets...

The bloody thing keeps losing the gains that it makes! Reminds me of the story of a man whose soldier could not stand up long enough for anyone's good :P

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ah... Rangeela

(Some parts of this post may Not Suitable For Work. I can rest easy knowing that this warning will cause more people to read it. It is just like those videos on youtube which are flagged. You may not pay attention to them if they weren't. But if they are you almost definitely end up watching it :))

Whatever may have been the lofty intentions behind the invention of the internet, one of the biggest consequences has been the infinite avenues to vettiness. Remember how the Internet was sold when it came to India, some drivel on how it was the information superhighway or something. The real reason was known to Generation X. (or Y... I always get confused) It was a porn superhighway, sowing seeds of perversion that the Indian mind had never known before. Honestly, before the internet how many of you thought the organ used for ingestion could be used for anything other than that. (Chee Cheee....)

Anyway, I digress. (As usual... humph) Coming back to the infinite avenues of vettiness, none is better than youtube. Youtube? In a world of bandwidth shortage by using Youtube for vettiness am I not cheating all those who have got on the internet in search of information! Hahaha... I know it is scary, sometimes I look out of my hedonist life!

Moreover, Scandinavia can be faulted for a few things (being perfect and boring?) but none can fault it for bandwidth. Does it not warm the cockles of your heart when you can just watch a youtube video without having to buffer it. It would also warm other parts of your anatomy when you can watch the other site starting with "you" without having to buffer it :P

One of the nice features for aiding vettiness is the related videos tab they give. I started from somewhere and landed on this. For those who are not in a position to see it, the link is a video of the song "Tanha Tanha" from Rangeela and it immediately triggered one of those nostalgic trips.

This song made my jaw drop when I first saw it and I still think it would win an award for the category "Songs Showcasing Pretty Things in Small Clothes" category. I am sure it would have ruled the Superhit Muqabla charts. Anyway, note that it is very gracefully done and there is more a feeling of mischief than obscenity. People go gaga over this (Babuji** Zara Dheere Chalo) and the Bipasha number in that film which was supposed to be a remake of Othello, but I don't know.
As far as the song goes, obviously Rehman killed it and Asha Bhonsle's dusky voice has just the right lilt to enchant you, but it is really the beach, Urmila and her perfect legs that makes the song what it is.

The opening sequence is the stuff dreams are made of. (Not the soul uplifting variety of dreams but... ok ok, it is getting boring, I get it!) Urmila Mataondkar running down the beach, her hair flailing freely in the wind, dressed in a white underthing gives a sense of freedom, liberation but most importantly the pleasure of seeing a hot girl run in skimpy clothes. Of course, we are Indians so no bikinis! But this song has been so well shot that you don't miss the bikini! Sigh... life!

My last blog post was a weepy whiny one on the meaning of life. Who needs that when Urmila tops Tanha Tanha in the same film with this yummy number. She looks "...saucier than a direct hit on a Heinz factory". Amen to that.

** Talking of Babuji, curiously that is how the bouncers in Roppongi Tokyo used to solicit Indian looking people. (me at least) More curiously, almost all the bouncers from Shinjuku to Roppongi were swarthy Africans and it can be kind of intimidating when such a guy calls out to a scrawny-almost-pure-vegetarian like yours truly. "Babuji, wanna have a good time" was the sales pitch with the bro twang and the perfectly white teeth. See, that is what gets my goat. Whatever happens I can never get my teeth as white as them Africans. Life can be unfair!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Somerset Maugham

Stumbled upon one of my all time favourite short story, The Verger by Somerset Maugham.

The story can be found here. (the webpage looks a bit plain but will be worth your time)

Two other favourites are:

Lord Mountdrago
(A Google Books link)

Mr.Know All

Do read these if you are in the mood for a good read.

What it would take to write like this!

The Bridge on the River Kwai and the Futility of Human Action

Watched Bridge on the River Kwai yesterday. I think it is 65 on the IMDB top 250 but I would rate in my top 10. Do watch the movie when in the mood for some food for thought. I have written about the movie in the first part, but if you have seen it you can jump to the second part where I have rambled on about my thoughts.


The story is about the construction of a bridge across the river Kwai by British POWs. (Prisoners of War) The bridge has to be completed by a certain date and failing to do so would result in loss of face for the commanding officer of the camp Col. Saito. The British POWs are led by Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) who is very particular about maintaining the dignity of the uniform. He is particular about rules and refuses to take prisoner like treatment. The Japanese Colonel Saito however has a different view. In his book, a true warrior would rather commit suicide than be taken prisoner.

During the first month little progress occurs on the construction of the bridge chiefly due to a dispute between the two colonels over the status of officers. Col. Nicholson points out that according to the Geneva Convention officers were not required to work, whereas Col. Saito believes that they have to bend to his will as they were prisoners. Col. Nicholson is thrown into solitary confinement in a shed called the oven but he refuses to budge. Seeing the intransigience of the British soldiers, Col. Saito lets the British officers command the soldiers and exempts them from hard labour. Much to his surprise, Col. Nicholson responds by deciding to build a fine bridge instead of the makeshift ones the Japanese are used to throwing together.

Unknown to Col. Nicholson, another party in the British HQ in Ceylon is planning to bomb the bridge. A key person in this mission is the American Commander Shears who just escaped the camp as Col. Nicholson's men marched in. The rest of the story is about how a fine bridge is built and finally it is blown up.

A notable scene in the movie is when the prisoners come marching in whistling the Colonel Bogey March. You can listen to it here and check out this link for the lyrics.

Hitler has only got one ball,
Goring has two but very small,
Himmler is somewhat sim'lar,
But poor old Goebbels has no balls at all.

A real blues beater!


PG Wodehouse takes a dig at Russian writers in his golf story, The Clicking of Cuthbert. "
Vladimir specialized in grey studies of hopeless misery, where nothing happened till page three hundred and eighty, when the moujik decided to commit suicide."

The weather yesterday felt like that.

You can therefore imagine the mood I would have been in after watching The Bridge on the River Kwai in that weather. Suffice to say I fell into a putrid pool of pessimism and started reflecting on the something that has always intrigued me - the seeming futility of human action.

Let us ask a question. Is it that a beggar's life* is less meaningful than that of an individual who has risen to the highest post of the land? (Note, it is not about worth. The assumption is that all human lives are of equal worth.)

If the answer is yes, then is it that a life of achievement is the only meaningful life? Then what of countless people who have tried earnestly and given up? Does not their life carry meaning? This is admittedly a defensive stance catering to the "losers".

This can be argued in another way. We can define achievement in terms of impact on other people. Therefore, the head of state's life is more meaningful since he/she made some positive difference as opposed to someone who did not. Alternatively, if as the head of state that individual caused more harm then that person's life is less meaningful than one who has done nothing.

But should this be the metric? What about people who may have affected just one person in a profound way? We are psychologically tuned to believing that "doing good" for others is a meaning of life. The chief flaw of this thinking is that it draws meaning from the suffering of others. What if there was no one who needed your help? Does it rob life of meaning then? Is not such a defintion of meaning fragile?

More importantly, it is often the case that this sort of thinking unleashes an army of do-gooders all set out to find "victims" to do good upon. What about some people who may conceptualize things without care for other's "good"? And in some cases, what is good?

What about the middle path then? ;) Is it that it is about trying your best and having been convinced of that end defines a meaningful life?

I prefer the view that there is no inherent meaning in life. It is what we define it to be or more usually what our environment defines it to be. We draw meaning from our environment and taken out of the environment the meaning may be different. There is no magical purpose for which God has created the unique snowflake that we may consider ourselves to be. We were born by a biological event and that event will run its course. In this interval we have to amuse ourselves.

But if one were to take this cynical stand, there is no incentive for action. We could all just dope ourselves away to death.

The answer to me often appears that we must pass through different stages of wilful cheating of ourselves. In the youth we must convince ourselves that achievement is the source of meaning. As time goes we must take different views on the meaning to life!

*No offense to beggars! Just hyperbole!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On Soaps of the television kind

What explains the popularity of soaps of the type aired on Sun TV or the Kabhi-Saans-bhi-something-something variety? It is all well to mock people for being hooked to them, but as students of marketing one has to take a different look it. What hidden need are these serials catering to that they hook people so strongly to them?

I used to see two serials quite regularly when I was in 9th and 10th. One was Marma Desam and I really used to enjoy that. My memory is very hazy but there was one "season" when people used to get killed mysteriously by lorries and the symbol of a dog used to occur frequently. There was also some nadi astrology fundaes. Overall it was a pretty engaging whodunnit. But that was only one year. The next edition was pretty boring, so I lost interest.

Another thing that I used to watch regularly was Dindigul I Leoni. For some reason, the name is etched in my memory. He used to draw most of his material from mocking the tamil songs of the day. But that got predictable after a while.

Another show of this type was Yugi Sethu's Naiyandi Durbar. The man was especially in form during election time. But after a point, the material got stale. (It is quite amazing then that Letterman, Colbert etc. keep their game up for so long.)

Chithi had actress Radhika in it. And I don't even know why I used to watch it. Maybe the slot was right during dinner time or just afterwards. I don't know, but I guess most families eat between 8:30 - 9:30 PM and that slot is very important. But the after slot of 9:30 - 10:30 will also be important because after eating, you want to relax and the relaxation after a heavy meal is one of life's greatest pleasures.

As an aside, I really miss those Sunday afternoon meals at Sri Krishna Kafe after L square. Typically, I would be at L square till 2-3 am and then crash till 1:30 - 2pm. (In Europe they don't use the AM/PM thing. It is the 24 hour clock. AM/PM is a redundancy if you ask me) I hope you can imagine my state then. Ravenously hungry, savage hunger would approximately describe my state. At that state, going and hogging away at the unlimited meal at SKC is the closest to orgasmic bliss that I have experienced.

In Finland too, we have parties that go really late, like friday night's. But as a vegetarian the possibility of eating to my heart's content is just not possible. For one, there are no proper Indian restaurants near the area I live. And secondly, it costs 7 euros for such a meal! The unlimited meal at SKC costs 1.4 Euros equivalent and that is itself costly if you ask me. One must not convert, but the cost structure in Scandinavia is so ... much! So much that yours truly has been forced to cook just to save on money... sigh!

Anyway, coming back to the topic of soaps, the one theory I can think of is that most of these soaps have strong women characters. Maybe, the sight of men grovelling before an ugly matriarch (there is usually a matriarch and she is hideous) may be the stuff of every woman's dreams. I don't know. It would be interesting to hear perspectives. Fire away please, for I am really curious.