Saturday, December 27, 2008

A R Rahman's Slumdog Millionaire OST

This isn't a review. Just a few quick observations on A R Rahman's musical technique.

When I started watching Slumdog Millionaire, I was trying to guess whether the soundtrack and background music was by A R Rahman. I didn't know because I saw the film without reading or following too much about it. I wanted to watch it with no preconceived notions. The opening chase song O...Saya had a characteristic Rahman feel - expansive sound, ARR-sounding vocals and a train beat to go with the train visual. But M.I.A's arrival on vocals threw me off the scent.

Then I got so caught up in the film that I stopped thinking about it. A compliment for good film technique (and background music ) is that it doesn't draw attention to itself outside the context of the film while you're watching. The music fits the film perfectly.

During the song-and-dance end credits though, there was a point when Sukhvinder starts singing the chorus Jai Ho. He starts by himself with a backing layer of keyboards. Sometime into the second refrain, an additional layer of music kicks in, making for a goosebump moment.

At that point (maybe a minute before Rahman's name pops up in the credits), I had my answer. No one quite layers sound for effect like he does. He draws you out slowly, adding layer on layer, preparing you for a final assault and a pitch-perfect crescendo.

Another interesting  technique that I noticed is the use of voice as sound. While his liking for fresh playback voices is well-known, what is probably not appreciated is how those voices add to the 'sound' and feel of a song. An example that immediately comes to mind is the female playback singing in Pappu Can't Dance! and the use of Vasundhara Das for barely two lines in Kahin To*. The use of Mahalaxmi Iyer( or is it Tanvi Shah?) on vocals in Jai Ho does that perfectly. Complimenting Sukhvinder's earthy voice and the Spanish-sounding chorus, that voice breaks through and registers on a different level. I'd have expected Alka Yagnik or someone similar to sing that exuberant love song but he surprises us, defying our musical expectations to come through with something bordering on the sublime.

*Vishal-Shekhar's use of Preeti and Pinky in Bluffmaster for Say Na Say Na qualifies too

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Observations on a desi indie splurge

This is a great time to be a Hindi film-watcher, especially if you like the offbeat. Not since the 'New Wave' filmmakers of the '80s have we had such a surge of filmmakers daring to make films off the beaten path.

This trend is of course different from then. The presence of NFDC to fund these films and no real commercial considerations resulted in a lot of 'important' films of uneven cinematic quality and limited mass appeal. However, it also saw the emergence of a lot of great filmmakers and actors.

However, the rise of "multiplex cinema" has resulted in a rise of a lot of brave filmmakers who are trying different things - spanning small dramas (Ahista Ahista, Dasvidaniya) and eccentric comedies (Bheja Fry) all the way to noir (Johnny Gaddaar, Manorama - Six feet Under) to the  weird (Mithya) and plain bizarre (No Smoking and the upcoming Dev. D).

Importantly, these filmmakers are doing it in a self-sustaining way. They seem to be making enough money or generating enough interest from producers to get second and third films off the ground. The output of such films is only increasing. These films don't necessarily tackle weighty subjects but are accessible and surprisingly willing to subvert Bollywood tradition with no stars and limited to no songs.

At the center of this vortex appear a set of usual suspects. The first is a group of people I call the Rajat Kapoor clique. Somehow Mahesh Uncle from Dil Chahta Hai seems to be at the epicenter of a lot of unusual indie film activity - either as a producer, or as a director or in some supporting acting role. In leading and supporting roles around him are Ranvir Shorey, Vinay Pathak, Saurabh Shukla and (surprise!) Neha Dhupia. For instance, Rajat Kapoor directed Mithya, while he makes an appearance in the Vinay Pathak-produced Dasvidaniya. Vinay and Ranvir show up and deliver solid performances in anything and everything involving the other two. Neha Dhupia turns up as the mandatory female interest in both Mithya and Dasvidaniya. Saurabh Shukla acts in supporting roles and is often involved with the script.

Another leading character is Abhay Deol. If I've rooted for some Indian film actor over the past couple of years, it has to be this guy. I remember picking up Socha Na Tha for a weekend watch on a whim and being completely impressed with the film. He's subsequently proven so fearless and sharp in his film choices that I wonder if he's really from the same family as Bobby Deol. Ahista Ahista, Ek Chalis ki Last Local, and Manorama were all films that had their high points. His acting is competent without being spectacular - but he can definitely carry a film. However (I'd like to believe that) his name attached to a film gives it cachet at least among a certain section of the audience.

As for writers and directors, we're in a bit of a glut aren't we? Dibaker Banerjee (Khosla ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye), Anurag Kashyap (he of the many banned films fame),  Sriram Raghavan (Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddaar) and slightly more mainstream directors like Shimit Amin (Ab Tak Chhappan, Chak De...India) and Vishal Bharadwaj. And I missed out half a dozen more notable names.Whew.

I remember a time in the '90s when there were maybe two-three Hindi films worth watching in a whole year. A sore point with interesting non-mainstream films was access. I remember being so excited when they showed Santosh Sivan's Halo on DD on a saturday afternoon. 

With multiplexes and easier access to DVDs, yes, being a desi film fan is so much better these days.

* This is from a very unscientific set of observations - I saw Mithya, Ek Chalis ki Last Local and Dasvidaniya all on DVD over the course of a week.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Rabbi Shergill's Avengi Ja Nahin

After three albums, I've concluded that Rabbi Shergill is the best pop singer in India at the moment. He is the complete package: singer, songwriter and musician extraordinaire who weaves catchy melodies with solid songwriting to make top-notch music. On top, he's articulate, urbane and quite funny.*

Frankly, Rabbi's debut album was slightly underwhelming for me personally. Bulla Ki Jana was very good as was Tere Bin, but the rest of the album seemed good without being great. The fact that I don't understand Punjabi may be part of the problem. The videos for Bulla and Tere Bin with English subtitling helped a lot with understanding the songs and I enjoyed Ajj Nachna and Gill 'te Guitar.

The soundtrack to Delhii Heights was better. I haven't seen the film, but all the songs on the album were quite good. Dilli, the raw folksy energy of Aaja Nachie, the irony built into Kabhi Aana Na and even the initially grating Ey Gori all grew on me.

Avengi Ja Nahin tops both these though. The album is a cracker with Rabbi making a marked departure in themes - focusing even more on personal travails, unrequited love and more earthly problems, moving focus away from the Sufi invocations of Bulla and the meta/physical yearnings of Tere Bin. Also discernible was a change in tone. While Rabbi is quite varied in and of itself, somehow AJN seems more upbeat. Songs like Karachi Valiye, Maen Boliyan and Avengi Ja Nahin all point to a style that's sad but not morose.

There's something about certain albums or artists. You feel that they're 'speaking' to you - not just through their songwriting, but through their style of music and musical choices. I felt that very strongly with AJN, in a way that I've not felt with an Indian pop album in a while - which explains the gushing praise.

The songs are varied - be it yearning for a love lost in arena-rock ballad Karachi Valiye, talking about playing hard-to-get in the ditties Maen Boliyan and Avengi Ja Nahin or about female infanticide in the pensive Ballo. There's an English track Return to Unity which was the weakest lyrically but is remarkable for its sheer energy. The quieter songs, including a paean to Bandra, Tu Avin Bandra and Ballo are quite well done too. Especially Bandra, where he sings:


Je tun labhda eyn koi ik apna                       If you’re looking for some
Tuttia-futtia hoia supna                                Ragged ol’ dream
Sutt ‘ta jihnu tu kadey                                  That you’d long discarded
Lagda hai ik chor-bazaar ithey                     There’s a flea market here
Har sham samundar de kandey ‘te               Every evening by the seashore
Farhin koi auto ‘te kahin                               Get into an auto and say
“Bhay! Carter Road” jan “Bandstand”           “Brother! Carter Road” or “Bandstand”
Sab labh ju ethey                                         You’ll find it all here
Pehlan das dan vira                                      Let me warn you though
Ethon de bha ne tikhe                                  The prices here are a bit steep

He also sings in Hindi on Bilqis - Jinhe Naaz Hai, an incendiary track about contemporary India's conscience. It's a track in the best tradition of Dylan and Springsteen, audaciously channeling the Indian national anthem in its guitar chords. All in all, rocking in the true sense of the word.

An incident to end this fawning fan tribute. I was traveling with family in India on vacation. The AJN CD was playing in my brother's car, and Bilqis was playing. I was riding shotgun with him. Halfway through the first antara (the one about Satyendra Dubey) we went silent and the silence lasted till the end of the song as we are hit by the sheer force of his words. A couple of seconds after the song ends, my brother says "He's really good." And I'm thinking, "Hell yeah!".

* I saw him on MTV India while on vacation a few months back. He did a censored Punjabi version of Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe that cracked me up completely.

**The official album site for Avengi Ja Nahin - has lyrics and translations for each song and some streaming audio. The CD is a worthwhile buy for the inlay - again with lyrics and translations, plus information about each song, where it was recorded etc.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shameless plug

For the past year or so, I've been DJing (in Indian parlance, RJing?) at a radio station (KBCS, on air at 91.3 FM here, streaming online at ) run out of Bellevue. It's a program called "The Spice Route" which plays music from South Asia - ?ollywood (? == B, T, M), Indian classical songs, music from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other countries in South Asia.

Now the station supports streaming archives which you can search here:

You can search for me by name or search for "The Spice Route". Playslists are always available. Audio is archived for 15 days after the program is over. The station can't archive more because of USA DMCA regulations.

This means that after my next show on the 24th you'll be able to listen to it till the 8th or 9th of December. I generally DJ on the 3rd Wednesday of every month, and it's been a fun experience for sure. If you're in the Seattle area and are interested in DJing, drop me a line. It's a volunteer thing. You won't get paid, but I guarantee you'll enjoy it.


Yes, I take requests.

No, I don't let you go on air when you call in. With the FCC being what it is, we can't risk you using a swear word on air.

Yes, listening to yourself can be weird at times.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Stick to the basics

I'm not big on writing about stuff I'm not an expert on, but that's not stopped me in the past.

This time it's the bank and credit meltdown. I was observing the rise and rise of real estate for the better part of two years and one thing struck me last year: this isn't making sense. I'm not talking about the subprime loans, credit default swaps or collateralized debt obligations et al. The basic business itself wasn't making sense. How can a sensible businessman even assume that real estate prices will keep going up forever? Were incomes going up at the rate real estate was? How long before people could simply not afford to buy homes anymore? In the Seattle area, it'd reached the point where buying an affordable single-family unit close to Microsoft was well nigh impossible for a single-income family. You had to move farther away or move into a smaller place. How many banks realized this and yet did nothing to reduce risk or exposure to mortgages?

This American Life had an illuminating episode on this. Link here. They say that the system made it such that no one had any incentive to be realistic about the kind of risks they were taking. Risk kept getting transferring from the lending institutions to banks, then to investment banks and so on till you had no idea where your debts were really owed. Then of course, everything went haywire.

However, I still wonder about banks and the people who run them. Didn't they at some point wonder - "This person didn't put down a single cent of his own money to borrow half a million from the bank. Is s/he ever going to be in a position to return all of this? What if some of these people are unable to repay?"

There's a saying in Kannada my mother loves to quote about money (which may partly explain why I'm hard-nosed about it). The saying means that you should stretch your feet only as much as your bed allows you to. Sleeping with your feet hanging off the bed leads to much grief, including $700 billion bailouts.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I've heard from more than one source that I sound a lot more serious in print than in person. When I write on my blog, write email and so on, I tend to come across as being quite serious. There have been rumblings from some quarters that I sound like a preppy upstart. DQ remarked on my seriousness once, and I've had other friends say the same.

The musings on this blog tend to be introspective, well-thought-out and so on. I can punctuate my writings with :), LOLs and :p, but what the heck, my blog was meant to challenge my writing style and not my texting vocabulary (which is fine, thx! ). If trying to be articulate and very precise with my vocabulary in speech and in writing is a crime, guilty as charged.

However, all this seriousness isn't because I don't have a sense of humor. It's just that my sense of humor is not very bloggable. I find humor in stuff I talk about, observe (especially personality traits, attitudes etc) and not in things I write about. It's also that I'm never satisfied with the attempts at 'humor' I make and they never end up on my blog for the same reason. Being a medicore humor-attempter is fodder for a Seinfeld 2.0 episode.

Elaine: "He writes lame jokes on his blog."

Seinfeld: "He's a pseudo-humorist!"

Elaine:"OMG, I just met a pseudo-humorist! Is it infectious?!"

This leads to a weird dichotomy: a somber persona online combined with a dry, sardonic tongue-in-cheek flesh-and-blood personality. The twain do meet, in the form of this person, who long ago learned that caring too deeply about what people think about you tends to over-analysis of your own behavior, which is never fun. As coeus would say "Doosron ke bare mein soch ke kiska bhala hua hai."

*The title of this post is pure genius, which is not me. Hat-tip to elder Bhratashree. It's also to avoid actually saying "Why so serious?!" - the dialog cliche of the year.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Tale of a day set right


7:30 AM - To self: "Wake up. You've got lots of work to do today."

7:50 AM - "OK this is it. Enough is enough. At this rate I'll be really late to work."

8:00 AM - Finally wake up to a miserable day out.

8:20 AM - I'm getting ready. Maybe I can get out of here by 8:40.

8:40 AM - Ha! I'm still wolfing down breakfast.

8:50 AM - The 16 is here. Why the 16? The 5 would've saved me a few minutes getting to downtown. But I'll take what I get.

9:45 AM - I'm walking to office from the Transit Center. "Alright! Will be in office before 10 - only half an hour later than planned. Work to be done."

Act I

10 AM - As I'm prepping a couple of machines for testing, I'm furiously multitasking, catching up with the market and bailout news...wait, what's that? Neil Gaiman's reading from his new book in Seattle tonight.

OMG OMG OMG, Neil Gaiman's in town. Wait, he has a new book out and I didn't know?!

I *have* to go for this! Chance of a lifetime! It's Neil Gaiman!

It's at 7 in U. District in Seattle, so I need to get out of work by 5:45. If I really rush my way through work, have a quick lunch, maybe I can get done here sooner.

1:30 PM - Things looking OK and on track.

Act II

2:30 PM - Why TF is that happening? An AV, of all things? Why today? Why now?

4:30 PM - NJ and I are no closer to figuring out what the problem is. NJ goes and tries something to fix a separate unrelated bug, re-builds and voila! The problem is gone. I'll still have to chase it down later, but the crisis is averted for now.

5:45 PM - I'm still not done here. Neil Gaiman's not happening. *sigh*

6:20 PM - Overlake Transit Center. I'm waiting for the 545. Me to self: "If I make it to the Montlake stop by 6:50, I'll take it as an Omen. I'll go then. Otherwise I'll go all the way to downtown and take the 5 home."

6:30 PM - The bus is whizzing through insane Friday-evening traffic. Hurray for the carpool lane! At this rate, I'll make it to Montlake by 6:50!


6:50 PM - Montlake ramp sidewalk - Two buses whizz by as I'm walking up to the Montlake Ave stop. Bummer. I'm going to have to walk 8-10 blocks which will take a minimum of 20 minutes.

6:52 PM - Montlake Ave stop - the 48 pulls up just as I reach it. That'll save me 10 minutes.

6:58 PM - A girl is asking the driver where the University Bookstore and church are. I ask her "Are you going to the Neil Gaiman reading? Do you know exactly where it is?." "Yes. My friend told me it's in the church across the street from the bookstore."

7:00 PM - We( The Girl From The Bus & I ) are rushing down 15th Ave NE and then across on 42nd street. We're late!

7:05 PM - I've paid up for the book. It's either that or a $5 fee. The clerk tells me that the book is autographed. Yay! Also, because of a number of buses running late, the reading's not started yet. Double yay!

7:10 PM - We make our way in: a Safeway grocery clerk from Ballard and a software 'serf from India, talking about the awesomeness of Neil Gaiman's writing and how crazy it was to make it here in time with the insufficient notice. (She learnt of it 20 minutes back just as she got off duty)

7:15 PM - Gaiman's finally on stage! He looks much shorter in real person, but as impish (and as good-looking) as in his photographs. Shorter hair than his recent pictures I've seen elsewhere.

He reads a full 40-page chapter from his latest, The Graveyard Book. It's good. The chapter is also curiously self-sufficient. I later realize it's a short story by itself in M is for Magic.

8:30 PM - Post-reading, there's a short break and we're back to a sneak preview of Coraline, based on a comic book by him.

9:00 PM - Q & A. He's really funny in real life too. That droll British sense of humor shines through. To top it, he reads from a new poem book Blueberry Girl. It's absolutely beautiful. As he ends, he gets a standing ovation from the 850-odd people in the audience.


9:40 PM - I'm out on the street, waiting for the 44 to take me home. There's a smile on my face and a song on my lips as a dull, regular "wait-for-the-weekend" Friday was transformed. And I have an autographed Neil Gaiman book to show for it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Rock On!!

AG once remarked how Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy were very clever with the hooks in their songs. A prime example offered up then was the brass band trumpet refrain in Tainu le ke from Salaam-e-Ishq.

Rock On!! adds to that oeuvre with the blistering lead guitar solo for the title song. An ear-worm of a piece, it's made me listen to that song at least 30 times in the past week alone.

The soundtrack is an absolute winner. In a Bollywood where song sequences increasingly mean exotic locales, dozens of dancers and pointless breaks in narrative, Rock On!! succeeds because it performs (quite well) the duties of soundtrack music - drive narrative, evoke emotions and tell stories.

Javed Akhtar is pure genius as he manages to write quirky, sometimes idealistic but mostly pointless rock music lyrics (most of the film band Magik's songs), a really bad metal band song (Zehreelay), a sappy teenage ballad (Tum Ho Toh) and lovely, dreamy soundscapes (Phir Dekhiye and Yeh Tumhari Meri Baatein). S-E-L are in top form as composers, with the sound of a rock band emerging clearly. It's standard stuff: guitar intro, lyrics, simple chorus, long lead guitar solo, rinse, repeat. But that's what most new bands are about and it's quite nicely done.

Farhan Akhtar does a good job as a singer. I mean, he isn't expected to be Mohammed Rafi, and his singing is good enough for a college rock band. 

Of course, what makes it all work is the film. The soundtrack isn't much without the film, and vice-versa. Writer-Director Abhishek Kapoor manages to build a whole world around the characters, all of whom live their roles with attendant instrument-playing. I won't bet my life on it, but what appears on screen seems to be in sync with what the band is playing. Maybe the long guitar solos are made-up, but the vocals, harmonies and the drumming was definitely spot-on. The lack of a bass player is explained away in a sentence ( Luke Kenny's character programs bass on the keyboard) and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt since they got most of everything else right.

While the film isn't a classic by any standards, it's low-key and honest, a rarity in Bollywood. And it still has humor, warmth and a style all its own.

Watch Out For: A rock Dandia version of Saanson ki Zaroorat Hai Kaise from Aashiqui - for me, one of the funnier moments of the film.

And now I'm off to listen to Rock On!! the song again...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dream On

Aankhon Mein Jis Ke Koi To Khwab Hai
Khush Hai Wohi Jo Thoda Betaab Hai
Zindagi Mein Koi
Arzoo Kijiye
Phir Dekhiye ...

- Phir Dekhiye - Rock On!!

Dreamy, catchy, lovely.

*Lyrics from here: with a minor edit

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ye Re Ye Re Pausa

Here comes the rain, falls on my face again - BT, Circles

Let the rain fall down and wash away my tears - Celine Dion, A New Day Has Come

Dhagala laagli kaLa, paNi themb themb gaLa... Dada Kondke, Dhagala lagli kaLa

I like rain. If you live in Seattle I guess you have to. It's a coping mechanism.

For me it isn't that. Growing up in Western Maharashtra means rains come with the pleasant association of engineering vacations, the idyllic first few weeks of a semester, lush greenery and so on.

My grouse is with the pitter-patter that is Seattle rain. Unlike what BT or Celine Dion or Dada Kondke go on about, rain here doesn't pour down. The Dhags have no kaLa moments and paNi themb thembach gaLta. The clouds are just making up attendance.

Rain here kind of slides its way down apologetically, saying "Gee, I won't interrupt your life like those thunderstorms in the south or those snowstorms in the Midwest. But mind if I just kind of scoot in and make myself comfortable? Under your skin, that is."

This kind of rain drives people from more tropical climes up the wall. I'm thinking, "Can't it rain already?"

Maybe a couple of times a year these complaints are addressed. As it poured today, I looked up and let it fall on my face. There were no tears to wash away or fears to drown, but it did fill my soul.

Monday, August 18, 2008

AID Seattle quiz

AID Seattle is organizing Chakraview, a quiz on India on the occasion of India's Independence Day. The quiz is being set by Mihir Dharamshi and Arvind Sethuraman, two regulars at the Microsoft Redmond Quiz Club. The quiz, in fact was 'outsourced' by AID to the quiz club and these two people signed up.

More details are at Parth's blog and on the AID site . I've been at quizzes set by Mihir and Arvind before, so I can assure great quizzing and much fun.

Teams of two, registration is FREE, yada yada.

What: Chakraview, India quiz

Where: Microsoft Building 99, 14820 NE 36th Street, Redmond, WA  98052.

When: August 23rd, 2008, 2PM

Random info on last year's India quiz here.

Event on Facebook:

Thursday, August 14, 2008


There's a sense here of the familiar and the unfamiliar. The signs are in the four official languages - English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. In addition to places like St. James Power Station and Clarke Quay, there's a subway stop named Dhoby Talao. The temple in Little India resembles the Asthika Samaj temple in Matunga and I eat better South Indian food in my weekend here than I did in three years in Seattle.

On the metro, there's a girl with Asian features. She's dressed in standard Malaysian headgear. Yet she has mehndi on her hands. Everywhere, there's people with distinctly South Asian features dressed in clothing I associate more with the Asians I see in visuals from Hong Kong or Japan. Add hair with highlights, and the incongruity is complete.

The strict government here is purportedly scary. But honestly, most of suburban US looks more organized and clean. Nothing here's dirty, but the city looks lived-in. Everything's spotless in a natural and organic manner, not as if anyone's taking a real effort. Which adds to its charm.

And yes, this is what a tropical metropolis looks like. Shorts, flip-flops and summer wear all year long. Umbrellas and jackets for the rain? Maybe. Mostly not.

On my taxi ride back to the airport as I head back to Seattle, I'm shaken out of my reverie as Seattle local favorites Death Cab for Cutie play on the radio. I will follow you into the dark. Fitting.

Also, I get sunburned over a cloudy Singapore weekend - something six US summers couldn't accomplish.

I jotted down quick thoughts on my flight out from Singapore two weeks back. Fleshing these even into this stream-of-consciousness post has taken a while.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


scha·den·freu·de [shahd-n-froi-duh]


satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else's misfortune

There are times when you understand a word. There are other times when the full import of a word makes complete and eminent sense.

Edit: Linked to original meaning

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Aargh...maybe not.

On days, you feel like the guy in Office Space who's sitting in traffic in a lane which simply won't move. You change lanes only to find the lane you moved into has stopped moving.

However, the important thing to know is that you've been here before. You've seen this room and walked this floor. Strategic lane changes, patience and good music on your car stereo means you'll be through before you know it.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Nick Hornby

My first brush with Nick Hornby was a few years back. I was in India then and I saw a movie about a record store owner who's just broken up with his long-time girlfriend and is having a hard time dealing with it. I didn't know it was based on a novel then, but the movie stuck with me. It was rich in irony, dripped in sarcasm and impeccably cast, with John Cusack as the record store owner, Jack Black as one of the two neurotic music-obsessive clerks working at his store, and Tim Robbins as the mysterious hippie his girlfriend defects to.

A few years later I ended up in a bookstore with High Fidelity staring me in the face. What had remained with me about the film included the deep love of music the protagonist has, and how it permeates everything he does. Jack Black and the other clerk in his store are laugh-out loud funny in how they try to out-obscure each other's music tastes. Being a bit of a music obsessive myself (just look at the number of posts I have tagged music), the idea of the book seemed interesting.

I, however, knew how the book ended. So I did the next best thing. I picked up another book by the same author with a more intriguing premise: 4 people end up on a London rooftop deciding to commit suicide on New Year's Eve, 2000 - the beginning of the New Millennium. What happens on the road taken - when they don't actually go through with it? (I have a morbid streak that is probably worthy of psychiatric attention. Death and its effects/after-effects as humor or literature fascinates me.)

A Long Way Down was a home run. I'd had a horrid time at a social do I felt  obligated to go to and I came back home feeling miserable because of some of the people I'd had to meet. I polished off the book in that one night - it was probably 4 AM by the time I slept. It wouldn't be the first time I did that with a Nick Hornby book.

Hornby's strength is, as one of the gushing blurbs on the back of High Fidelity says, is "The Male Confessional". Many of his novels are about a young man trying to figure out his way through life, responsibility and the onset of middle age. High Fidelity and About a Boy both follow this pattern and to an extent, one of the story arcs in A Long Way Down and How to be Good follow the same path for a married, middle-aged man.

However, what makes all his books shine is the generosity of spirit he expresses towards his characters. The character may be a complete goofball scared of commitment (like Rob in High Fidelity) or someone shallower than a tea saucer (Will in About a Boy), but Hornby manages to infuse them with warmth and uncharted depths. They aren't the way they are for no reason. Maybe life never really demanded they be responsible until the circumstances unfolding in the book asked more of them.

Then there are the pop-culture references. Hornby himself seems to be a music junkie and the numerous references and use of popular songs (and films, and sports) in his books as plot points play well enough if you are music literate, but can be to devastating effect if you are an obsessive. One such note played to poignant and hilarious effect is the death of Kurt Cobain in About a Boy.

In addition to the references to music and the warmth he displays towards his characters, what is likeable about his books is that all of them have satisfying endings. All his books have fairly dramatic arcs( attempted suicide, break-up, a husband finding religion), but the denouement tends to be not so. The story starts with a bang. Then the protagonists generally go through a lot of soul-searching with lonely drinking sessions and pizza dinners aplenty. It however ends quietly with everyone picking up the pieces and moving forward with cautious hope. Kind of life itself.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na

Films are made or unmade in the small moments. Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na has many of those small moments that make it memorable.

In Jiggy's birthday party, Jai says "Hum hamesha dost rahenge" and Shaleen crinkles her nose at Aditi - a knowing, shared confidence about Aditi's unrequited feelings. Then, after the party Jai's mother asks him "Us ka mangetar bhi tha?", Jai nods and she hugs him as he breaks down. Cool parents were everywhere in the film, but the tenderness in the relationship between Ratna Pathak-Shah and a fatherless Imran Khan was especially well-done.

The film reminded me of Dil Chahta Hai on many levels. A key aspect of what made it work for me was how real and contemporary the characters seemed. The friendships in DCH leapt out at you in terms of how realistic the interactions between Akash, Sameer and Sid seemed. Similarly the lives of the characters that Jai & co. live with the attendant wisecracking, easy camaraderie and tangled webs seemed lifted right out of the pages of St. Xavier's class of '08.

Worth noting: The film belongs to Abbas Tyrewala. Good direction, tight script, crisp dialog (very Bambaiyya without being clichéd) and quirky lyrics. He wins the award for the funniest ending for a standard romcom story. Imran Khan is believable and likeable, as is most of the supporting cast. The film uses Mumbai as a location more cleverly than any film in the recent past (Satya pops to mind). The title sequence is pure genius. The Khan brothers are an inspired piece of casting - it may be the most memorable film they end up acting in.

A R Rahman rules, hands down. He's copped a lot of flak for having a 'signature' sound. But here (it's been so increasingly in the past few years) the music suits the film to a T without him imposing any stylistic pressure. It sounds fresh, funky and fun with ARR's penchant for using new voices paying off rich dividends. Kabhi Kabhi Aditi, Tu Bolein...Main Boloon ( a very low-key ARR himself - great singing and jazz interludes) and Kahin To (personal favorite, Vasundhara Das is phenomenal) are lovely and Pappu Can't Dance! wins the award for party song of the year, with attendant cool dance move.

Not cool: Genelia was a bit of a weak link, but not weak enough to bring the story down. Very expressive eyes, but her diction didn't quite cut it. The flashback/flash-forward technique got annoying after a while. The script really had no loose ends and trying too hard to explain everything with the airport narrative was jarring.

And really, Tyrewala also takes the award for beating the Gujju stereotype to death with Jiggy. The accent was overdone and there are other lesser stereotypes ripe for harvest. After the horror that was Satish Shah in Kal Ho Na Ho, I'd cop the Gujjus a break and take on Punjabis  for a bit. With upcoming classics like Singh is Kinng, a bit of parody won't hurt their butter chicken-fattened egos.

To sum: Aamir Khan strikes again, in style.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

See Micro...Spot?

One of the biggest challenges Microsoft faces as a company is how we can humanize ourselves to the world. Being called "The Borg" or similar doesn't do wonders for our public image.

I mean, we are a company of human beings. The company is full of really smart and passionate people working on things they genuinely care about. Things go crazy once in a while and we are shown up as being incompetent (Mac vs PC, anyone?) or even worse, malevolent. But the fact remains - Microsoft is a great company with its set of great attributes and flaws (some of which are great too).

Aiming to capture that is microspotting, a blog that focuses on interesting employees at Microsoft. Check it out. My favorite so far is the Dare Obasanjo story. He is the son of a bona fide Nigerian President. He talks about the Nigerian scam emails:

What’s weird about those is that I have to actually read them because I can’t be sure. They could actually be legitimate mail for me — I mean, I know Nigerian Senators and Governors who worked with my dad. So it’s irritating because I actually have to read those emails to be really sure!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The way we live

Musings on gas prices, communities, density and sprawl

What does the price increase in gas mean for us US residents long-term? The obvious is known - more people have started driving smaller vehicles, the market for big SUVs and gas-guzzling Hummers and trucks is going down, more people now take transit or try to.

However, I'm interested in what this means in the macro, long-term sense for the way communities have developed in the US.

If we see this oil price trend continue or even stay at a $4.00 per gallon baseline for a couple of summers more, I foresee a huge change in the way housing gets built and for housing demand in general. General trends I see developing:

- Density goes up. People are moving closer to city and community centers with an emphasis on easy access to transit, proximity to schools, shopping and community-type activities. While driving 30-40 miles every day to drop off + pick up kids, for doing your groceries and going shopping may make sense when gas is $2.50 a gallon, at $4.00 it's murderous for your wallet. People will prefer staying in places where all these things are much closer to home or maybe closer to transit options.

- This in turn means average size of homes goes down. The past couple of decades has seen the average size of a single family house in the US balloon. Astronomical heating bills and long driving distances will see more people opting for town-home style housing, smaller house sizes ( no more 1.5 acre lots) or at least 'friendlier' housing with smaller lots which are more amenable to smaller communities with walker-friendly neighborhoods.

It's already beginning to happen. While sprawl was a direct function of urban decay, urban revival in many towns and cities in the US is seeing a trend 'inwards'. Places like Denver, Portland and other smaller towns have managed to do a great job of revitalizing the city core making it easier (especially for younger people or empty-nesters) to make their way back to living in the city.

To me, this is a good thing. After over two years of living in the suburbs (suburban New Jersey, then Redmond, WA), moving to the city was revitalizing in many ways. This post wouldn't have been made if I hadn't moved - my thinking would never have evolved to this point.

Communities are a function of inhabitants. However, residents too become a function of their communities. There is something vital about living in an area that's denser and occupies a smaller footprint. It's something that's missing in a lot of the 'bedroom communities' that a combination of the real estate boom, cheap gas and a predilection towards big houses conspired to create. Huge McMansions where your house is your fortress and you have no real link to the place you live in isn't going to help make a place seem more like home.

The "walk-ability" of a neighborhood does seem to increase your affinity to the place and foster a sense of community - it's definitely done so in my case. As I've mentioned before, there's a sense of place about here that I have come to genuinely like. There's pieces missing of course - like the fact that I hardly know or talk to my neighbors, which would be unthinkable while growing up in India (though I see similar trends developing there). This lovely piece in the NYT talks about that.

If this increase in fuel prices results in more places like Seattle and Portland which have a reasonable trade-off between sprawl and skyscrapers and a push towards mass transit, at least some good will have come from all this pain.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Overwhelmed? You're not alone

Ah finally. There's scientific evidence. It had to come in - that multitasking beyond a limit is bound to hit the law of diminishing returns. Coincidentally, there were two articles on one day in different publications about the same:

The New Atlantis - The Myth of Multitasking

The NYT - Fighting a workplace war against distraction

The articles make their case - I'm not going to repeat ad nauseum what they say. I've had my share of issues with trying to do any serious 'thinking' work with the amount of interruption a typical office environment provides - hallway chatter related to work that you may want to tune out, your neighbor's phone ringing, email...

There are, however, things that help me cope. These articles talk about cutting back distractions, but you need to push back hard yourself. My favorite tricks:

- Close that office door: OK. I work in a company that has long held a policy of individual/shared offices to be better than having cubicles. I have an office all to myself. I close the door. "Open" workspaces with the collegial atmosphere they provide are IMO overrated. When you need to get work done, you shut yourself off for 3-4 hours if you need to. Simple. If people need you, they can knock.

To make my office seem more "open" even though the door is closed, I always leave my blinds open. People can see me working in there and I've not visually shut myself off from what's going on.

If you're not in crunch mode, door stays open. Maybe you put candy in your office and people swing by to chat you up. Of course, if you have a cubicle, a nice pair of noise-canceling headphones should do the trick.

- Manage email: People can be harsh and talk about shutting down email while working. I'm not that hardcore. I use Microsoft Outlook for my email and one of the first things I do now when configuring my email client is - lots of rules, no alerts. I have rules for a gazillion things - emails go into different folders based on who sent the email, whether they were sent directly to me or to a particular alias. Different aliases have their own folders. There's a whole level of complexity I have in my rules with exceptions etc. so that stuff is classified and I know what to prioritize based on which folder that email falls into.

And yes, no alerts. When I mean no alerts, I mean that. Absolutely. No. Alerts. No sound when email pops in your inbox, no pop-up from your system tray with subject and some blurb of email. Nothing. I don't know I've received email unless I actually go to my inbox and check. This may not work for some people whose life revolves around replying promptly to emails, but believe me - except in very rare cases, answering someone in 15 minutes or even an hour versus 30 seconds is not going to be the end of the world. Plus, we have corporate messaging at work. Urgent things go on IM immediately.

- Calendars are not just for meetings: I'd like to think I'm not overscheduled. However, there are things that are important long-term which I'm likely to neglect simply because there are other things that suddenly gain urgency. The simple thing to do is block time on your calendar. I have 30 minutes blocked on my calendar post-lunch for answering customer questions. I drop everything I'm doing then to look at queries on newsgroups, internal mailing lists and some external forums I monitor. Unless there's something earth-shaking happening, I spend this time on that.

Focus is something that's becoming an obsession with me at work. Any ideas on how you fight distraction?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Zindagi Badi Honi Chahiye, Lambi Nahin

What would you do if you had only one opportunity left to pass on what you've learnt to the world? CMU's 'Last Lecture' series stems from that - "What if you (in this case, a professor) had only one lecture left before you died?". Various academic luminaries and alumni have delivered this lecture in the past.

This year one of these talks took on particular urgency, since Randy Pausch was literally going to give his last lecture. Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, Pausch battles on. In parts heart-warming, funny, poignant and triumphant, Randy Pausch delivers his Last Lecture, the talk of a lifetime.

Links to video and various other Randy Pausch information here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Viva La Vida!

Coldplay's new album Viva La Vida drops tomorrow. Excited!

Sneak preview here - very promising. The title track is lovely.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A tale of two concert films - as close to musical heaven as a non-concert experience can get.

First, let's get the commonalities out of the way. The two bands - U2 and Rolling Stones come from across the pond - Ireland and Britain. Both have defied expectations in terms of how long a band is expected to last. In one case (the Stones), the key band members have unchanged for over 40 years. In the other , all members of the original line-up are still around after over 25 years. Even as age catches up with them, they are still vital, wowing audiences worldwide with their skill, craft, virtuosity and showmanship.

U2:3D plays on the near-myth status of U2 as one of the biggest rock acts in the world. Using latest digital technology, the dazzling visual feast that is a U2 concert is milked to the limits. Spare (there's no one on the dimly lit stage through the whole concert except the four band members) and grand ( huge video screens with dazzling visual effects) at the same time, the concert film too is akin to the religious experience that a U2 concert is purported to be.

Visually, it's stunning. The 3D effects that are used only for a few kicks in movies like the latest Harry Potter film are showcased to their full potential as Bono reaches out his hand and you high-five him in the middle of Vertigo. Vertigo does ensue as a camera on a lift zooms in on Larry Mullen Jr.'s drum calisthenics from behind him as the camera gives you stage access like you'd never dream.

Then there are the songs. Be it old staples like Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride (In the Name of Love) and Where the Streets Have No Name or new favorites like Vertigo and Love and Peace (or Else), bombast isn't a term lost on the Irish quartet. I wouldn't tolerate this from any other band, but to paraphrase another superstar, they make this look good.

For a U2 junkie like me, it's manna from straight above.

Shine a Light is a complete contrast. While U2 has always been about changing the world and making a point, the Stones, it seems, are just out to have a good time. Musically inspired by the blues, they make being melancholy look like fun too. Brightly lit stages, red costumes for Mick Jagger and a whole retinue of backing instrumentalists all combine to make Shine a Light an absolute joy.

As Mick Jagger shimmies his way through classics like Brown Sugar, Miss You and does a twist with lesser known songs and covers of blues pieces, a different kind of genius shines through. The visual pace here too is frenetic with quick cuts from multiple cameras under the assured guidance of movie rock star Martin Scorsese. Old yet new, cocky yet respectful (of the blues) and sad yet happy only in the way blues (and ghazals) can be, the Stones show just why they are such a class act. 

As the encore winds down, they've also played a few radio and soundtrack staples including Start Me Up, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction and that rocking ode to Lucifer, Sympathy for the Devil.

In the process, they win over a fan for life.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Heaven forbid you dance

Reflections on Sasquatch, indie music and pretentiousness

I finally went to Sasquatch this year. I've been meaning to for the last couple of years, but life gets in the way - other plans, family visiting et al. It was an immensely enjoyable day out. Gorgeous weather and lots of great bands made for a vasool day of entertainment.

Seeing a bunch of upcoming and established bands - Beirut, Ozomatli, Crudo, Modest Mouse and R.E.M. was a great experience - even with the rain that graced the ending part of the day. The only bad note was M.I.A. - a lot of people loved her act, but I was left cold (literally and figuratively) by her dancehall/ reggae/ electronica mix.

The day reminded me of the site 'Stuff white people like' (Hat Tip: India Uncut). They have an entry for 'standing still at concerts'. I quote:

The problem is that most of the music that white people like isn’t really dance-friendly. More often the songs are about pain, or love, or breaking up with someone, or not being able to date someone, or death.

So when white people go to concerts at smaller venues, what to do they do? They stand still!

It struck me forcibly when Beirut and Ozomatli performed in quick succession.

Don't get me wrong. Beirut's music is gorgeous. Ukulele, trumpets and Balkan brass band sounds all come together and the music has texture. You can feel the layers in the music combine, making it more than the sum of its parts. What got to me was the somberness of it all. I mean, Zach Condon, the guy behind Beirut is all of twenty-two years old. He's been creating music since he was 15. Isn't that too young to be so dreary? As I say to a colleague at work (who's 22 incidentally). " Aren't you too young to be so bitter?"

It's something I've been feeling for a while now and reading the blog post on 'standing still at concerts' a month back made it stick. So much of the indie music I hear (not all, but enough to make it a trend) is goddamn downbeat. Death Cab for Cutie, Fleet Foxes, The New Pornographers (all performing at Sasquatch) fall into this category. So do that indie favorite, The Shins and many others I keep hearing being hyped up on indie radio. I stopped following recommendations on popular music sites and radio stations because it was all getting so pretentious and precious.

After Beirut left, Ozomatli came on stage and changed the mood of the crowd on a dime. This Latin rock/hip-hop group from L.A. really knows how to throw a party. They had the crowd rocking in no time to their infectious mix of Latin, hip-hop, rap, dub and general joyfulness. In the defense of M.I.A, her music throws political bombs but she manages to keep the party going while doing that.

Another new group I saw, Crudo ( Dan the Automator's side project) helped you let your hair down as well. They combined hip-hop, rock and some neat work on the turntable to put out a irresistible mix that you couldn't help dance to. These three turned out IMO to be the best showcases for going to a music festival to try new music. I was really impressed by R.E.M's set as with Modest Mouse, but they are the biggies. I wouldn't expect any less from them.

To kind of reinforce my point on how annoying and insular indie rock can get, I point you to KEXP's blog post on day 1 at Sasquatch. Not even a mention of one of the smaller bands (Ozomatli and M.I.A were both on the main stage). I rest my case.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reality TV bites

It's been an unusually busy couple of weeks - I'm preoccupied enough to not blog. I have a long book review swirling in my head (Samit Basu's Gameworld trilogy, if you must know) but that will have to wait as work on the world's biggest software project and CRY's biggest fundraiser this side of the Atlantic takes its toll.

However, the interest I've developed in a reality TV series cannot go without comment. A disinterested TV-watcher at best, my live TV watching mostly consists of infinite re-runs of Seinfeld with a dose of The Simpsons, South Park and King of the Hill thrown in for good measure. I started watching American Idol (the tuesday one, when they actually sing) because being the music junkie I am, some of the singing on display makes the series for decent viewing, especially towards the end of the season.

However, probably the very first or second episode I actually saw, I was hooked. The reason? I saw David Cook perform Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. He sang a cover version made by Chris Cornell that's on his new album. David Cook's version completely blew my mind. His version can be seen on YouTube here.

After dismissing most of American Idol winners as good singers of the mostly harmless pop type (Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Carrie Underwood), here was someone who had balls. He was singing alternative, edgy songs, ripping the playbook apart, and doing it well. I've watched with more than passing interest as he's made his way through the rounds and reached the final two. His song choices and arrangements are out there - a rock version of the Beatles' Day Tripper and Eleanor Rigby, Switchfoot's I Dare You to Move, and a rock version of Lionel Richie's Hello. What is this guy smoking?

It's slightly freaky, but I'm actually rooting for him to win against the more clean-cut and predictable David Archuleta. Let's see what happens, but when American Idol gets record viewership for its season finale, I guess I may be one of the guilty parties involved.

And I wondered how that completely pointless talent hunt ran for 7 seasons.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Jal's Boondh

My reviews (books/music/movies) tend to be subjective and all over the place. It's about how the album/movie/book makes me feel at that point more than anything else. So usual disclaimers et al.

Second albums are always a challenge. You have your whole life to do your first album but you only have a year or two to do the second one. Plus, if you've had a reasonable modicum of success, the added weight of expectations and the likelihood of adulation going to your head are both high. So second albums in some ways are doomed. How many artists have we seen fade away after a promising debut?

Jal thankfully won't fade away at least on the basis of their second release. Aadat - their debut album had a lot going for it. Their scrappy guitar-based rock sound which sounded like a couple of friends out to have a good time was fresh and appealing. The solid songwriting on tracks like Aadat, Bikhra Hoon Main and Dil Haray Pukaray was pure bonus.

I wouldn't say that their second album Boondh is a top-notch effort in the realm of Aadat. However it shines in a few notable places and what it's not means as much as what it is.

It's not an album by a rock band deciding to go crowd-pleasing just for the heck of it. There are no hip-hop remixes, no gratuitous uh huh's, yeah yeah's and 'on the floor's  by weird sounding voices trying to sound hip but only sounding annoying. There are no female choruses going it's rocking. It's an enjoyable pop-rock album, thought at places it's a tad overambitious and tries too hard. Some notes:

- Sajni starts the album strong - with good backing vocals featuring both the vocalists and a smattering of acoustic guitar

- Chalte Chalte starts off well before adding crowd applause samples towards the end which I found annoying. Though it fits well with the music video featuring Amrita Rao

- Raatein is IMO the one solid old-school Jal track coming from Aadat-land. Enjoyable, very interesting transitions

- On Moray Piya, the vocals of Farhan Saeed Butt sound mature and you can see him ready to move on beyond teen-bop. Enjoyed this one

- Main Mustt Hoon is a fairly enjoyable track drawing on traditional Sufi music. This track threw me off because I wasn't expecting Jal to sing 'Jhule Lal Qalander' in a refrain ever

- Mahia (my favorite track on the album) features some good rock-out music. Very familiar 4x4 beat (Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze?)

- Chup Chup has a vibe to it that reminds me of Kucch to Hua Hai from Kal Ho Na Ho. Interesting vocals, liked it on further listens

The two tracks on the album I didn't care for much were Humein Itna Na Pyaar and Kia Se Kia. The slow versions of Sajni and Humain Itna Na Pyaar left me cold as well. This trend has to stop - unless you're adding something new (see Bikhra Hoon Main/Aadat), one version per album is quite enough, thank you.

While being a good album, the album suffers from less-than-stellar songwriting. An obvious culprit is Humein Itna Na Pyar Karo. While the rest of the songs aren't bad, nothing comes close to the intensity or quality of Aadat's songwriting. Maybe there is something to the sophomore jinx.

Another grouse about the album I had was its overproduced feel. It feels like the band (or rather, Goher Mumtaz who wrote and composed all the tracks on this) tried too hard to incorporate too many sounds rather than letting the sound flow organically. Incidentally, the producer on the album is Mekaal Hassan who is a remarkable composer and performer himself with his own band. His Sampooran is a lovely album, also slightly overproduced but highly recommended.

All in all, a solid but not remarkable release from the Pakistani rock stables. But Pakistani pop-rock is alive and kicking and that is good news.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

I heard it on Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero and Rockband seem to have created a completely new breed of music listeners. My music instructor tells me that school kids learning music now are more dexterous because they are used to playing on Guitar Hero and the like.

Of course, now there's a whole generation of people whose musical tastes are informed by tracks available on Guitar Hero.

Last week I was cycling through radio stations on the dial. Within a span of 30 minutes, I heard three songs that have been made famous by these games - Carry on wayward son by Kansas, Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine and Orange Crush by REM.

No, this wasn't a 'songs made famous by wannabe shredders too lazy to really learn a musical instrument' special. These songs played on three different stations playing different styles (classic rock, rock and alternative respectively)

And I don't know if I'm the one paying excessive attention, but Carry on... seems to play on radio way more than is good for a single song to be heard. It's in danger of becoming like Hotel California for me - a perfectly likeable song that I can't stand anymore, simply because of the number of times rock radio has made me listen to it.

In other news, Rage Against the Machine becomes the ultimate sell-out - part of the same 'evil capitalist system' they once railed against. Welcome to the machine.

xkcd like many other times has the last word.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Random Musical Musings V

- Listening to The Essential Bruce Springsteen brought back a pleasant memory.

There was a Philips ad in the early 90s where the guy and the girl get stuck in an elevator and the light goes out. In a pre-AXE deodorant, more innocent Doordarshan world, our man switches on his boombox and they dance to... 'Dancing in the Dark'. Before I knew it was by Springsteen, I remember getting drawn by the hooksy melody of that song. 'can't start a fire without a spark..'

As I listen to it and other tracks on this fabulous 3-CD collection now, I understand why The Boss is known as such a great songwriter. Through blue-collar early Americana/Folk-inspired 'Jawsey* boy' all the way to mature, thoughtful middle age, he manages to convey so much through his songs.

- AG pointed me to someone singing Hallelujah on American Idol. It's triggered a major interest in the Jeff Buckley version of the song which this participant channeled. And why not. As a Buckley junkie, I'm not too unhappy.

- The Once soundtrack is full of romance, longing, genuinely heartfelt music and complete awesomeness. I haven't seen the film yet, but an unexpected gift (yo, AG - thanks!) lit up a miserable week highlighted by extra work, a cold and an unexpected allergic reaction.

Falling Slowly won the Oscar for Original Song this year. I liked it a lot, though I do wonder about the Academy's choice in songwriting at times. In addition to that track, there are other songs on the album which work really well including Fallen from the Sky, Trying to Pull Myself Away and If You Want Me. Many of the songs are spare acoustic pieces recounting all parts of being in love and breaking up. 

There's a certain Damien Rice vibe to the songs, especially because Marketa Irgalova's voice is so similar to  Lisa Hannigan's. The songs manage to hit all the right notes and I need to watch the movie now.

- Radiohead inspires shock, awe and rabid devotion among its sizable chunk of fans throughout the world. However, frontman-vocalist Thom Yorke's solo release 'The Eraser' showcases a completely different side to him. Retaining the ambient, ethereal sound of his band, Yorke explores electronica. Tracks And it rained all night and Harrowdown Hill shine, making for essential earphone listening on the bus.

*(that's Jersey for the rest of us. Springsteen's from New Jersey)

Previous takes on an abiding obsession - I, II, III and IV

Saturday, March 15, 2008


The New York Times last week had a lovely piece on the time paradox - if you think you have less of it, you probably will.

"....because the time we experience bears little relation to time as read on a clock. The brain creates its own time, and it is this inner time, not clock time, that guides our actions."

I've been thinking about how there are days I see myself as being harried and generally rushed, while there are other days when it doesn't seem so. However, the real quantum of difference between these days isn't very different.

I see myself ( and people see me, I think) as being a more laid-back person mainly because I somehow always see time luxuriously stretched out in front of me, even when deadlines whoosh by. So I do have time to stand and stare. As Dean Moriarty would say, "We know time."

And of course, xkcd has the last word.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

'Do it with respect'

Dileep Premchandran writes about how today's upcoming cricketers may be losing their sense of grounding because of the amount of money and adulation being thrown their way.

This reminded me of an article I read on MSN money a short while back. It seems like it was syndicated from here. It was something that somehow made sense as the author says:

And did you do it with respect?

When I read that question ..., it seemed to me here was some real guidance.  Anything worth doing is worth doing with respect.

I see that in the way the Australians approach their game. Even if Ponting or Hayden are on song, but they'll run every single like their life depended on it. They don't take anything for granted. The same approach is visible whenever Dravid takes guard or Tendulkar simply enters the playing field. These greats did and still do their thing with humility and give their job the respect it deserves. It's something these youngsters could do well to remember.

While scratching around and hating the things you have to do to get by(cleaning, the laundry, chores, your taxes...) is one thing, these are words I found to be worth living by. Do what you are doing with the respect it deserves. It'll find a way to pay you back.

Or so you hope.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Writing for writers

Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things is a little gem of a book. It's a collection of short stories and poetry, most of which has been published elsewhere. There's some stories here which are absolute masterpieces - notably A Study in Emerald which explores the world of Sherlock Holmes in a brilliant pastiche. Other great pieces include The facts in the Strange Departure of Miss Finch and The Problem of Susan. There's a couple of really good poems and a story with my favorite title - How to talk to Girls at Parties.

That, however isn't the defining part of the book. The book comes with a long preface where Gaiman explores the how, where, why and what of the story. By providing more detail about each story's provenance and the circumstances around writing it, Gaiman in his inimitable way manages to make the book more than what it is. He gives us an insight into his creative process.

Neil Gaiman is proficient at creating his own worlds. The Sandman series, his atmospheric American Gods, the magical Stardust and Anansi Boys prove that beyond a doubt. But in this series, instead of working with a huge canvas, Gaiman paints smaller, more intimate word pictures.

The child on the way home from school passing a haunted house. Four men narrating ghost tales in a club. In addition, he even manages to find himself in a box with a smaller area to work with - writing a piece for a Doyle meets H P Lovecraft short story collection ( resulting in A Study in Emerald) or another inventive, fun piece based in the world of The Matrix films (written on the basis of the original screenplay to go on the official website before the film was released).

Celebrating writing in every genre in every which way, Gaiman channels his creative genius and somehow manages to, through his writing (which is uneven) and his exposition (which is personable and inviting), inspire. Traveling with him, being creative doesn't seem so daunting anymore.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Yeh tujhe kya ho gaya?

I ended up listening to Baadalon Se from Satya last week after a long while. That song somehow brought back a flood of memories - second year of engineering, watching Satya second time lucky after it was "housefull" the first time at Rahul, Ramanand's evocative post on the theatre, and so on.

What happened to RGV? Satya was in some ways a dream team - Vishal Bharadwaj on music, Gulzar on lyrics, Anurag Kashyap co-helming the script. A bravura performance by Manoj Bajpai, Saurabh Shukla and Shefali Chhaya as a strong supporting cast. And of course, Sandeep Chowta with that haunting background score.

I was and remain a big RGV fan. However, his quality of work since then never quite matched up. IMO, the peak of his work was Satya. Though Company, Jungle and Sarkar were satisfying movies to an extent, none of his later films as director matched up to the promise he showed in Rangeela and Satya. (though Kaun was definitely an interesting experiment) Other films he helmed as producer or had creative input in ( as part of his Factory), including Love Ke Liye Kucch Bhi Karega, Ek Hasina Thi were worthwhile efforts but again, there's this feeling of promise not quite fulfilled.

*I didn't dare watch RGV Ki Aag, and haven't seen Ab Tak Chhappan so I won't comment on those.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Shine on, future supernova

He came out unexpectedly and was suddenly everywhere. Glancing off the windshield of the car parked in the lot outside my window. Jumping off the whitewashed wall opposite my apartment. Making his way jumping off particles of dust thrown up in the air as a truck made its way through the alley.

It was a fine sight, one not seen for months (or so it seemed. It had been so long since we last saw the sun). All around the world seemed to have burst forth with joy. Suddenly, smiles on faces lingered longer. The 'Thank You' from the grocery clerk seemed cheerier. The temperature seemed to have gone up a few degrees just in deference to the brightness. Even the news reporters on TV seemed to make note of it. It was almost like the solution to world peace and hunger (at least to general gloominess).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Renaissance Man

There aren't many books I wish I'd read when I was younger. That probably stems from the fact that I was a precocious kid. I started reading books above my recommended age pretty early. This meant that there were a few books I read arguably way before I should have. Subsequent readings at a later, more mature age have proven that.

However, one book I did feel that way about wasn't a fount of wisdom or a profound take on life as I know it. It was a mad scientist's light-hearted account of his mad scientist ways. Reading Richard Feynman's "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman" proved to me at age 28 that being a bit of an ass at times wasn't a bad thing per se.

It's not like I haven't been a wise-ass all along. I've tried to keep out of trouble mostly, but I have a stubborn streak that refuses to let me take things for granted without always questioning "Does it have to be this way?" or "What if I did that? What would happen then?"

Unfortunately (though I do try to reassure myself otherwise), that's not been always the case. There's a certain amount of kowtowing to the rules you end up doing to stay within the system. If you're as smart as RPF himself, and if you're in a society (MIT, Princeton, the Manhattan Project) which allows and embraces a certain sort of iconoclasm, it works for you. If you're not courageous enough, or a tad lazier, you start conforming and before you know it, you're 'The Man' you've been mentally railing against all your life.

Reading "Surely you're joking.." was a refreshing reminder that the curious child within each one of us can play even when we grow up and become adults. That a Nobel Prize winning physicist can paint (enough to get paid for your paintings) or play percussion in a samba band in Brazil. That the Renaissance Man isn't a Renaissance-era anachronism.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What do you mean, 'Tall's the smallest option?'

Tim Harford is 'The Undercover Economist'. I recommend the book highly - it's way better than 'Freakonomics' when it comes to rigor while explaining economic phenomenon. Freakonomics succeeds partly because of its explanation of more bizarre phenomenon.

Harford however has the kind of mischievous curiosity that really means he is up to no good. Most of the time you'll find him trying to figure out the mysteries behind really mundane stuff.

In this delightful piece he explains the mysterious lack of the 8 oz. Starbucks espresso option.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A double-header review on the Lit Blog - reviews of "The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes" and "Marvel 1602".

Imitation  as a form of tribute

Comments there, please.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

- On Friday it seems that there's less of a rush coming in to work at peak hour. Makes me wonder, where does the crazy Friday evening rush appear from? The roads are clogged from 3 PM to almost 8 PM and even later at times. Does TGIF mean people get to work early and leave at normal times, or maybe they come late and leave early/on time?

Maybe there's some secret factory that generates Friday-commuting drones that suddenly hit the road saying 'Thank God It's Friday!" Recycling them (or storing them till the following Friday) must be a massive job, since they disappear by Monday morning when things are back to normal.

- Ever wonder how almost all retail stores have women's sections on the first floor/street level (that's ground floor for Indians) while the men's section is hidden away upstairs or in the basement? Retail science has evolved so much. They've figured out that men have the homing instinct and will hit exactly the store and section they want, clearing out the minute they are done, missing most of everything on sale in the bargain.

Which is why 90% of shop window displays in these stores are devoted to women's apparel with a forlorn mannequin in the corner sporting menswear. The women's section is on the street level, guaranteeing temptation and instant gratification those who seek it most.

- I'm given to wonder why the most beautiful women play Lizzie in various versions of "Pride and Prejudice". Kiera Knightley plays her in the '05 version, while Aishwarya Rai plays her in Gurinder Chaddha's butter-chicken edition. Isn't she supposed to be less conventionally beautiful, but with more spunk than the dainty Jane? Looks apart, Knightley's characterization isn't completely off. But one has to wonder if it's a recent phenomenon. I'll have to check older versions to know.

- Day 4 of Perth is yet to be played, and I have a request of Anil Kumble. Please, please, when you need a breakthrough ( I know there's going to be enough of those pesky partnerships with the Aussies), can you toss the ball to Ganguly? On a swinging pitch, it's going to be interesting to see what he can muster. He's had a lackluster match with the bat and I'd count on his general form to give him an edge with the ball. I'd give him and Tendulkar a few overs here and there just to mix things up and see what happens.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Notes on a long and unexpected hiatus

- A couple of book reviews are in the works. But it's all amorphous and murky. Sitting down, revising and declaring something as blog-ready isn't quite happening. To put it succinctly, mazaa nahin aa raha.

- Props to JR for pointing out a fabulous Holmes pastiche by Neil Gaiman. Fragile Things is one of the few Gaiman works I haven't read, so it's duly on the library hold queue now.

- I'm super-happy about the death-knell being sounded for DRM with MP3s being sold on Amazon by all comers now. Add lossless audio too and we'll love you for it.

- On a personal note, creative expression finds more avenues. 'Is there anybody out there' takes on an entirely new meaning.

- New Years come and go. Resolutions kept and unkept take their toll. But going downhill sideways in the freezing cold finally sounds like my idea of fun.

- Enough of the 'monkeys' and the 'maa ki's. Real Test cricketers ought to last more than 70 overs. Seriously, Michael Clarke getting three wickets? In an over?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A sense of place

I get asked if I moved to the city for the nightlife.* It seems to many people that nightlife is why you'd want to live in the city.

If nightlife is defined by late-night coffee at one of the coffee shops that this city seems to breed like weeds, yes. 'Getting down' was never my cup of tea. Or coffee.

That's not the reason I moved. I moved because I love the city by day. I love being out at the Pike Place Market on a bright, sunny Saturday, soaking in the crowds, people-watching.

Being  a Seattle vaasi, coffee is, of course, an essential commodity. Coffee to wake you up. Coffee to warm you up. A coffee for the hours of table space you use up at the neighborhood coffee shop. Coffee to make you feel less guilty about using their wi-fi and their fine establishment all this while.

While the promise of city living has been fulfilled, there's more and more I seem to like about it.

Cities have a sense of place. When I'm home, I'm in Seattle. When I walk out (as opposed to drive out, which I'm not required to do all the time anymore), I walk past the Troll. The statue of Lenin. The Fremont Bridge. 

It's unique. There's a sense of being in a place and time that's not like any other, anyplace, anytime. A few years from now, more IT hegemonies will take over real estate everywhere. We'll be making history for all the wrong reasons as traffic in the area is already at clusterf#*k proportions. But what I have now is great.

Quirky is good. And Fremont has loads of quirky. They practically invented the term. I'm still not conformist enough to dislike quirky. So, some time more of this doesn't look too bad.

*I moved from the suburbs - a 10 min commute to office,  to live in the fair city of Seattle 15 miles away. In rush hour it can take me upto an hour by bus or car to get to office or to get home.