Monday, October 30, 2006


I don't consider myself to be a big art aficionado. I enjoyed my trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York two years back. I still stand and look at a painting if it catches my attention. But the aesthetic value of a painting, for me, is Kala Akshar Bhains Barabar. That, of course has never stopped me from having an opinion or made me any less curious. A thing of beauty is a joy forever and all that, and I try to enjoy what I can.

However, I still think Impressionist paintings are something else. I don't understand what makes them what they are, but some of them (especially Monets) stand out and the style is immediately apparent. The blurry brush strokes and the out of focus visuals make for a slightly surreal effect.

Why Impressionism suddenly, you ask? I was making my way through a gift shop this weekend and a bunch of postcards caught my attention. What annoyed me about the postcards was the fact that they depicted Seattle as a place where it rains heavily enough for you to have to carry an umbrella around.*

However, the postcards reminded me of the Impressionist style**, and I noted the seller's website to go take a look at similar prints. A nice example here. Another one here.  

*I've never had use for an umbrella in the 18 months I've lived here. A light jacket suffices.

** I don't think these qualify as Impressionist, but they evoked a similar reaction.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Relevant News

I complained just over a year ago about Indian sites being really bad with RSS and general web compliance. The Times of India pleasantly surprised me today. After a downward spiral of over five years, they seem to have seen the light. While some of the frivolity on the front page exists, the content and ease of use is improving significantly for power users. They started slow, with RSS feeds for the front page and certain sections like sports and editorials. However, a RSS feed for a single columnist - on my wishlist forever, has been added. Awesome is too common a word to describe it. I can finally read Gurcharan Das and Swaminathan Aiyar linking off my RSS reader (IE7 rocks!) without knowing what Shah Rukh Khan did for Diwali.

Thank you, Times of India. There may be redemption for you yet.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Good Will Hunting

I like trying different genres of writing from time to time. Next on the agenda is a play (we are reading Cyrano de Bergerac in a book club I'm part of ). However, out of pure curiosity, I decided to try a screenplay.
I first remember skimming through the screenplay of Pulp Fiction in a bookshop a few years back. The words lept out at me in a way the dialog on screen didn't.
So, when a cursory search on the local library database indicated that the screenplay for a personal favorite, Good Will Hunting was 'on shelf' (versus having to put a hold on it and wait for it to be returned), I took it as a sign and picked it up then and there.

Film, needless to say, is a very visual medium and the screenplay reflects it. Physical descriptions of characters are more detailed, and there's scenery descriptions much more detailed than in a play. There are moving shots, descriptions of shots of the Boston skyline, the Charles River and so on. Since a spare film in terms of its setting (it's fully set in Boston), it's less so than, say, a Lord of the Rings would be.
The film narrates a short period in the life of Will Hunting, an orphan genius who works as a janitor in MIT. He is 'discovered' by a mathematics professor, and along the way, meets a psychologist - an equal to his genius and attitude. The film is very Hollywood and triumphant in some ways, celebrating 'smarts' over 'intellectualism' - as director Gus Van Sant puts it succinctly in the foreword.
But the dialog. Oh, the dialog. Crisp, quirky and celebrating the art of the repartee, it makes the film what it is. It is hard to imagine two young Hollywood actors writing this script. Especially not young actors whose names are Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. But they did, and they did well enough to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
I've seen the film and it's hard to imagine reading this and making a lot of it without seeing Robin Williams as Sean and Matt Damon as Will. That's the bane of reading a book adapted into a movie after watching the movie or reading a screenplay. It's difficult to immerse yourself and create a world of your own. The world-vision you have of it is slightly contaminated by what you've seen before.

But this has been an immensely enjoyable journey into the world of Will Hunting.

Skylar: Maybe we should go out for coffee sometime?

Will: Great, or maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels.

Skylar: What?

Will: Come to think of it, it's just as arbitrary as drinking coffee.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Travel Musings

- Even as a reasonably tolerant traveler, the level of security checks is beginning to get to me.
Casualty: A deodorant forgotten in my carry-on bag. I'm sure security sees this Axe-wielding traveler as a threat to the virtue of the female populace on board the flight. Consider yourself warned.
- That quintessential American invention, the car cup-holder is better designed to hold grande or venti cups of coffee than tall ones. Tall coffee drinkers, ...erm...drinkers of tall cups of coffee struggle with dexterity to get a reasonable grip on the cuppa. All this while actually driving the darn car.

- You get used to a car and then driving a rental car becomes difficult. Then you get used to the rental and going back to your own car is a joy. The dexterity! The control! The acceleration! Korean cars rule! OK, the last one's a tad much, but my car's a Ferrari compared to the Ford Fusion dear Enterprise decided to foist on me.
- Roethlisberger is the leading jersey in Pittsburgh by miles, though central PA divided its loyalties equally with McNabb. Terrible towels are sold in rest stops too.
- Seattle feels like home more than ever. My favorite metropolis seemed more distant now and a tad easier to get lost in. The Emerald City seems friendlier now. Familiarity can breed love, too.

Friday, October 13, 2006


There's cartoons and there's cartoons.

This one's jaw-dropping in terms of sheer topicality and timing.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Indian Ocean: An Oasis of hope

A slightly modified version of this article appeared in Hafta magazine last week.

A common problem with so-called "fusion" artists is that the fusion between the different aspects of music seems forced. This is true especially of wannabe popstars with art-house pretensions or one of the many emigrant/second-generation South Asians on the underground scene in the UK or USA. The best (Nitin Sawhney is one name that comes to mind) have definitely have made use of their hybrid upbringing and myriad influences, bringing something of that into the music they make . However, the worst of the 'fusion' genre generally involves an obligatory tabla or dhol beat interspersed with hip-hop rhythms and rap competing with Indian vocals.

At the other end of the spectrum is the one Indian band whose music brings the word "organic" to mind. Indian Ocean fuses together various elements of their influences and beliefs as musicians and human beings to create music that may be called 'fusion', but this fusion sounds natural and not forced.

Be it the dramatic segues on Bhor (on Jhini), or the Knopfleresque flourish of wizardry at the end of Khajuraho (on Kandisa), Indian Ocean has time and again shown why it is so difficult to pigeon-hole them as a band. Promiscuously absorbing influences from Indian folk, rock music and adding the improvisational sensibility of jazz, Indian Ocean creates a collage of sound that is uniquely Indian and contemporary.

Indian Ocean is a paradox in many ways. They've been around for 15 years, yet haven't had the kind of mainstream success that you'd expect. They have a cult following among certain sections of the population and yet, a large number of people haven't heard of them, leave alone heard their music.

They are Indian, yet they follow the American band model of incessant touring and live shows to build their popularity (versus the traditional music-video route, though they have had a music video for Jhini out). They perform songs that are political in tone (Ma Rewa - based on a traditional folk song, is about the river Narmada - a dam on this river is at the center of a controversy), yet refuse to be labeled a political band. Ironically, their biggest shot at mainstream attention - the soundtrack for Black Friday went down quietly since the movie itself ended up running only for a day in theatres before being pulled.

The band, however, soldiers on, going from strength to strength. They are on the road continuously, and are now on their fourth tour of the US, where people who've heard them back in college(or not) attend their concerts to be blown away by their live performances.

Still grounded and extremely down-to-earth, the band members are a revelation. They made the courageous decision to live off their music a few years after they started. Was it a hard decision to make? "When we decided to, it didn't seem like a big thing." says Susmit, the guitarist. "But then, as kids you do things that when you are grown up, you think about and say "I could have died doing that."" he says, and laughs.

Animated and well-read, the band members are livewires off-stage too. Effortlessly riffing off well-known Hindi and English film songs, satirizing everything from the humble coconut to George W Bush, they keep their hosts and us (the host's guests) in splits. For a group that just rocked a 500-strong crowd for two and a half hours, their spirits are high and their energy infectious - a requirement for the time spent away from family on tour. "The band is like family to each one, in some ways substituting for our real families back home, at least when we are on the road." says Asheem.

One can only hope that the effervescent spirit and passion that resulted in the formation and sustenance of Indian Ocean takes root in the hearts of more talented artists throughout the country. The purity of their music, their refusal to compromise on their beliefs and their success despite the odds is a beacon of hope for creative people who despair at the present state of Indian popular culture.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Days go by...

This photo's for Lalit.

The madness started two days back with P&G's gift in the mail.

Starting from midnight, with the cake my parents got and followed up by another one Lalit, Shailu and Vasanth got, it was special.
It ended with RK calling at 9:15 (Sir jee, shukriya) and Bunty SMSing at 10:00 PM . It's already the next day in India, so he says "I hope I'm not late :-(" . No Bunty,you're not.
Muchos Gracias. You rock my world.

And yes, those of you whom I barely know, and yet you left scraps for me on Orkut. Thanks for being so thoughtful. But really, get a life.