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.