Friday, January 13, 2012

Italo Calvino - Hermit in Paris

Every once in a while, one comes across a book that makes one pause periodically and reflect. Hermit in Paris, a collection of essays by Italo Calvino is precisely that.

Italo Calvino is an Italian author, possibly his most well know work is 'If on a winter's night a traveller'. In this collection of essays, he takes us behind the scenes, so to say, and talks about the various experiences that have contributed to his writing.

The first half of the books talks about his time in the US in the late 1950's. And possibly the fact that his experiences so closely mirrored mine when I visited the country nearly 5 decades later could be one of the reasons why I liked this book. The author then talks about his time in Italy during and after the second World War. In between, there is a small essay about his stay in Paris, and ends wit a few interviews where he talks about his literary style and influences.

After reading the book, I couldn't agree more with the following review - 'Beautifully written...the work of an extraordinary mind, one that is worth exploring from every angle' - Independent on Sunday.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

2011 - Looking back

2011 was quite an eventful year for us. Looking back now, a few days into 2012, we cannot even recall where we welcomed 2011 in! By then we had packed up our belongings in Sydney, and were on our travels around Australia and New Zealand.

Most likely, we were in Port Douglas, in the far north of Queensland, on the first day of 2011. By then we had been to Cairns, and done one snorkelling trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. We spent 5 days in the small, beautiful tropical town of Port Douglas, from where we made one more trip to the Great Barrier Reef, visited another World Heritage site in the Daintree Rainforest, and more rainforests in Kuranda.

From Port Douglas / Cairns, we flew to Alice Springs, and the highlight of our Australia stay - the Outback. We took a 3 day / 2 night budget tour of Uluru, Kata-Tjuta and Kings Canyon. Words fail me to describe the beauty, grandeur and mystery of these ancient places. Suffice it to say that these are truly one of the must-see places on the planet. Beyond these sights, the wide open spaces, endless blue skies flecked with white clouds exerted a strange pull on us. These places might be remote and desolate, but I won't be too unhappy if I got the chance to visit them again!

After a couple of days in Sydney to say our final goodbyes to one of the most beautiful (and livable) cities in the world, we headed to Christchurch in New Zealand. We rented a campervan and spent the next 17 days exploring the South Island of New Zealand. The ideas came from my wife, and it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

From Christchurch, we headed inland to Lake Tekapo, then back to the south-eastern coast, visiting Moeraki and Dunedin. After visiting the Otago peninsula, we headed to the Catlins, in the south eastern coast of the island, for some more fantastic sights. We then headed westwards via Riverton to Milford Sound, where we did the obligatory cruise. We then headed north and spent a couple of hours on Fox Glacier, a first for both of us. Continuing north, we visited the pancake rocks in beautiful Punakaiki, and then reached Nelson, on the northern coast of South Island. We then headed to Kaikoura via the beautiful Queen Charlotte Drive, before ending our road trip in the beautiful, relaxed town of Christchurch.

On the way back to India, we spent a day in Singapore - the first time I have been here. We did a quick 3-hour trip of the city from the airport, but the highlight for me was the fantastic Changi airport. I was a like a small boy let loose in a toy shop, what with all the fantastic, high-tech things to see and do at the airport!

After a relaxing couple of weeks in Mumbai, we left for the UK, our fifth country in a little over 2 months!

Arriving in the UK, we spent a few months in Essex, while looking for a job and a place to stay. We found both in a couple of months, and moved to our place in North London.

Places we visited in England include St. Albans, Hadleigh castle, Stonehenge, Bath, Cotswolds and Cambridge.

But the most momentous event of all in 2011 was the birth of our first child. It is truly a life-changing event, and we are now looking to experience 2012 and beyond with the new addition to our family!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Recent tension in Mumbai

These are my observations on the tension in Mumbai in the past few days.

1. Lack of faith in the ability of the state to maintain peace and calm. Why is it that people fear violence at the slightest hint of it?

2. Media irresponsibility - Most the headlines I read mentioned 'Violence erupts in Mumbai'. Reading further, I found out that there were stray stone throwing incidents in a bout 4 localities of this vast metropolis. Surely, 'Sporadic incidents of stone throwing' would have been a more realistic headline? But no, in this age of sensationalism, reason flies out of the window.

3. Eagerness of Mumbai residents to believe the rumours. It almost felt that Mumbaites were hoping for some more such sensational news, so that they could reach home early, and maybe enjoy a day off work as well!

Fortunately, I had work at office, so could not leave office early (not that I was particularly keen to). When I finally left at 9 PM, it felt as if it were midnight! The shops were all closed, there was very little traffic, and the trains were not crowded. For a change, commuting in Mumbai was not a pain!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Mahua Memoirs

Written and shot by Mr. Vinod Raja, an FTII alumnus, this documentary captures the impact of industrialisation on the lives of the 'adivasis' - tribals who have been staying on the land for generations. The documentary takes a dispassionate look at the issues faced by the local populace, when land, the only asset they know of, is taken away from them forcibly. The film is beautifully shot and narrated well.

The film raises one fundamental question - why should the cost of 'development' be borne by the people who are the least likely to benefit from it? This question is being asked even louder now, with the SEZ scheme that the government is pushing through. And it is a question that we, the educated middle class, will do well to ponder on as we continue our comfortable lives, before it gets too late...


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Flamingoes Slaughtered in Navi Mumbai

I do not know how to react to the shocking news that flamingoes are being caught, killed and sold in Navi Mumbai for rates cheaper than a chicken! It is easy to point fingers at the police; but we all know the situation our police force is in. The force is understaffed, poorly paid, low motivation, and completely politically motivated. We have arrested the two hunters, but do they know why they have been arrested? Have we done enough to ensure that the common man knows that it is illegal to catch and slaughter wild life?

The urban, educated class can cry hoarse about this incident, but are we doing anything to ensure that such incidents do not happen in the future? Yes, I know there are groups of highly motivated people who are working in this field. But unless we, the educated, urban elite step out of our AC cars, and get our hands dirty tackling the societal problems faced by the larger populace, we cannot expect things to change.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

All Hail Roger Federer - The Tennis Genius

I was lucky to watch the finals of the Shanghai Masters Cup, last Sunday, between Roger Federed and the surprise finalist, David Ferrer. David was on a hot streak entering into the finals, while people has started wondering if Roger is not the same player he once was. However, it tooks just a few minutes for Roger to show David and the world who the boss is.

Words fail me to describe the game of Roger Federer. His ability to execute one stunning shot after another, consistently over a 5 set match, is unlike anyones' I have ever seen. And I have been watching tennis regularly for the past 18 years now. Coming to this specific match, I believe it was one stunning shot that turned the match around, in Rogers' favour. He was facing break point in his first service game, which he managed to save. In the next game, with Ferrer serving, he hit a brilliant backhand slice on a powerful Ferrer inside out forehand. David managed to hit it back, which Roger lobbed back. David Ferrer showed great strength to chase the ball and keep it play, but Roger Federer was at the net for an easy put away. That point visibly took the winds out of David Ferrer; his spirit was broken, and the rest of the match was a pure exhibition of Roger Federers' incredible genius.

I have watched some great tennis players - Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and I firmly believe that when it comes to tennis skills, Roger Federer stands head and shoulders above all these great players. Sure, Stefan had the finest serve and volley game, and Boris and Andre had phenomenal charisma, Pete could possibly be the toughest player mentally, but Roger brings it all together in a manner that makes watching him play sheer pleasure.

Rogers' game is a work of art. It touches you emotionally in a way good music, good movies do. It is no longer a game, where winning and losing matters. Sure, it helps that Roger wins most of his games, but I would gladly watch him lose, if he continues to give me the same pleasure of his game as he does today.

My only regret is that tennis will be an infinitely poorer game once he decides to call it quits. But till then, whenever he is playing, stop whatever it is you are doing, and just enjoy the spectacle of the greatest tennis player in action.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

English football - A reality check

Finally, the English football players have been shown to what they actually are - well below International class. The Premier League organisers can shout from the top of their lungs that they have the best league in the world, but you just have to watch the action from leagues such as Germany to realize the huge difference in class. The play is much faster, more open and result oriented, as opposed to the dour football that the EPL offers.

It is worth thinking over why very few extremely talented football players from other countries either do not play in the EPL, or play well below their par. The English game just does not allow individual flair and creativity. Sure, football is a team game, but you need the creative players to flourish for the game to evolve and continue to be attractive to the millions of fans who pay good money to watch the game.