September 07, 2015

Refugees or Migrants? Role of Media in the European Crisis

(Syrian refugees -
The refugee crisis in Europe affects the entire world, and yet the world watches in a stand-by mode. Why?  Is it because we are ill informed about the crisis? Is the media playing a responsible role of keeping the world informed about what's happening on the ground in Syria and thereabouts, or is the tussle for supremacy between the social media and the print media exacerbating the crisis unfolding in Europe? 

The print media is fighting to keep its hold on readership, and social media is trying its level best to make some permanent dents in the print media share.  While newspapers are trying to keep pace with the minute by minute updates of social media, the social media is upgrading its reliability of information and sources to compete with the reputed print media. However, this need for immediacy of news has compromised the quality of the end product, which is the news we get. Or else, why would established and reputed media casually use the word 'migrant' for a 'refugee' in several of its articles while reporting on the crisis? When reporting on the situation in Greece, Italy, France, Germany and other European countries being inundated by hordes of people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and parts of North Africa, the media refers to these desperate people as 'migrants'.  It appears to forget or else disregards that the hordes in question are not 'migrants' by any definition; they did not make a planned departure from their homeland, nor do they plan to establish permanent residence in another country in pursuit of better opportunities. In fact, these are some awfully scared and frantic families trying to avert death and or torture at the hands of an apathetic, violent, and fundamentalist regime that has taken over their homeland, and they have no means of fighting it off. These are mothers and fathers seeking shelter, in any place possible, that promises their children the slightest hope at life, and no tear gas, legal document, or a border fence is going to stop this mass movement of frantic and needy people.

Undoubtedly, European nations feel overwhelmed by this endless surge of humanity pouring in at their borders, but wouldn't they have done the same had the roles been reversed? Rich European nations have to revisit their policies on immigration; the age old wall of disparity that exists between the have and the have not nations in and around Europe will not hold for long, as the current crisis proves.  A Germany and a France cannot sail peacefully if a Greece is sinking.  It's no different in the Americas; USA must ensure an economically viable and politically stable Mexico and Canada if the USA wants to maintain peace and prosperity within its borders. National boundaries can no longer deter people from finding safe haven when confronted by natural or man made disasters. And when masses of desperate people are on the move, as they are in Syria and other places in the region, it's no longer just a European crisis, it's a world crisis, and the media has a very large and significant role to play when reporting a humanitarian crisis of such proportion. The media cannot play games or seek leverage in the face of such mammoth human suffering.

Here are a couple of links to articles reporting on this crisis:

August 20, 2015

Night Train to Lisbon - A Philosophical Movie.

Night Train to Lisbon is a movie I'd recommend for those who are in the fall of their lives. The movie is an introspective yet random journey undertaken by  Raimund Gregorius, a close-to-retirement Swiss Classics Professor who has immersed himself, totally, in a world of philosophy and books. He is divorced, childless, and friendless, perhaps for a reason. It is a reason not known to him, but he is told by his ex wife, that it is because he is very boring, and students taking his class often corroborate that description of him. Professor Gregorius is undoubtedly lonely as the ongoing game of chess on his dining table suggests, where  Gregorius plays on both sides of the board into the wee hours of the night.

One day, fate turns a kindly eye on the Professor when a chance encounter with a woman on a bridge takes Gregorius on a journey of a lifetime. The woman he accidentally saves, was about to end her life by jumping off a bridge, but the Professor manages to stop her in the nick of time.  However, this woman is rather quiet and does not divulge much about herself even though she accompanies the Professor to his class after the incident. However, she does not stay there too long, and within a matter of minutes, rushes out leaving her jacket behind.  The Professor goes after her to return her jacket, but fails to find her. During this time he discovers a book in the pocket of her jacket and begins to read it. This random and clearly insignificant action of his turns Gregorius' life upside down as he then embarks on an intrepid venture to Lisbon hoping to find out what happened to Amadeu de Prado, the author of the book, who was a practicing doctor in Lisbon during António de Oliveira Salazar's dictatorial rule.

The movie is slow paced with a lot of narrative and very little action.  The little action that there is, comes in flashbacks, narrated by several different characters who Gregorius meets up with in Lisbon because they knew Amadeu. The camera does very little to compliment the beautiful setting, Lisbon. The actors do their part, but nothing very remarkable which would stand out. Then what is so special about this movie that made me want to write about it? Basically, what sold the movie to me was perhaps a personal connect I made with Gregorius' journey; a journey that happened from his out-of-character decision after a commonplace event which ultimately led to some dramatic changes in his life.  How many of us, those in the fall of our lives, get a chance to take on such journeys, like Gregorius'?  Those of us who do get that chance, pass it by, or procrastinate over it and then live in regret forever. There was a message in the movie for so many in the audience- to take chances, to try out a different way, and to not wait for something cataclysmic to change your life.

Having liked the movie, now I feel compelled to read the book on which it is based,  The book "Nachtzug nach Lissabon" written by Swiss philosopher writer Peter Bieri (pseudonym Pascal Mercier), was originally published in German and then translated into English and published in 2008. The book intrigues me in that I want to know how much, if at all,  the movie deviates from the original text.  Will Gregorius' journey in the book be like Marlow's in "The Heart of Darkness"? Was Bieri inspired by Conrad perhaps? Most importantly, will I find more poetically profound and soul searching dialogue to ponder over such as the ones in  the movie?

Amadeu: "Given that we live only a small part of what there is in us - what happens with the rest?"

Amadeu: "In truth, the dramatic moments of a life determining experience are often unbelievable, low key."

Amadeu: "But by travelling to ourselves we must confront our own loneliness."

Amadeu: "What could... what should be done, with all the time that lies ahead of us? Open and unshaped, feather-light in its freedom and lead-heavy in its uncertainty?"

I enjoyed the movie! Also, it is available on Netflix, so go for it!  Take a chance : )

August 18, 2015

Andy Weir's "The Martian" - A Survival Story in Sci-Fi Mode

What a read!  I was completely captivated by the story line!  I couldn’t sleep until I knew whether Mark Watney made it home.

Andy Weir’s 2011 novel The Martian is a Sci-Fi novel with a difference.  It’s not one of those dystopic sagas, nor does it present a future phobic vision of life with automated life forms.  Here is a story of a lone man's survival in the cold and apathetic terrain of the planet Mars.  I must admit that I approached this novel with serious trepidation; a first time author with no creative writing credentials. However, reading the first chapter more than alleviated any doubts I may have had about Weir’s competence as a story teller.

Not only is the story interesting, but also the manner by which this story cast itself into a printed novel. It’s astonishing how Weir produced this book.  He did not intend to write a novel of any sorts.  He was employed as a techie at NASA when he started writing blogposts about an astronaut Mark Watney, who mistakenly gets left behind on Mars. The online posts sequentially unraveled Watney’s journey on an inhospitable terrain. The instinct for survival keeps Watney going, each day being more difficult than the previous one.  Watney clings on to the last shreds of hope; an impossible task indeed, knowing all the odds stacked against it: the fact that his fellow astronauts presumed him to be dead, he had limited provisions of water and Oxygen, he had no means of communication to call for help, the rations would run out way before any remotely possible rescue mission could be carried out.  This fearsome yet absorbing tale of a man fighting for survival on the red planet unfolded and gained momentum on Weir’s blogposts, and it intrigued Weir’s readers to such an extent that they prodded him to self publish Watney’s story!  The runaway success of "The Martian" surprised Weir himself : “ I had no idea it was going to do so well. The story had been available for free on my website for months and I assumed anyone who wanted to read it had already read it. A few readers had requested I post a Kindle version because it's easier to download that way. So I went ahead and did it, setting the price to the minimum Amazon would allow. As it sold more and more copies I just watched in awe.”  Weir’s lucky phase was still not over because a movie deal and a print publishing deal followed suit all within a week and Andy Weir, a NASA engineer, became a literary celebrity.
Besides the storyline, Weir’s format for his story enhanced and facilitated its readability. Most of this novel is written as a series of diary postings by the protagonist, with the hope that someday they will be read by another human being. Weir’s narrative style not only provided the reader with a timeline for Watney’s stay on Mars, but it also lent pace and immediacy to the storyline. "The Martian" is a gripping tale of survival and definitely a story you must read.  Also, once you read the novel, perhaps you could answer this  question that has been bothering me ever since I read Weir's novel: 
Was Watney's will to survive the driving force behind all his actions, or was it the hope of rescue that kept him going from one day to the next?

Andy Weir’s success as a maiden writer and storyteller lends credence to the belief that one can become an acclaimed writer without going through an MFA program. There’s hope for us : )

July 16, 2015

Kamila Shamsie's 'Burnt Shadows' - A Searing Saga that Shocks and Humbles.

Kamila Shamsie's 'Burnt Shadows' is simply brilliant storytelling with some very rich and evocative language.

"Do you know I've been here a dozen times, but I've never known anything about who built it or why.
My history is your picnic ground," he said..

“How to explain to the earth that it was more functional as a vegetable patch than a flower garden, just as factories were more functional than schools and boys were more functional as weapons than as humans.”

"We anticipate disasters, calculate stress with mathematical precision. The messier our personal lives the better we are at designing structures that withstand the pressure they'll inevitably- or potentially- endure.  Bring on your storms, bring on your earthquakes. We've done our calculations.  And lovers, take note....when we break up with you, it's because we've modelled the situation, run the simulations, we know which way things are headed."

“....barriers made of metal could turn fluid when touched simultaneously by people on either side...”

"This Pakistan, it's taking my friends, my sister, it's taking the familiarity from the streets of Dilli. Thousands are leaving, thousands more will leave. What am I holding on to? Just kite strings attached to air at either ends."

This 2009 novel of Ms. Shamsie was recommended by a friend quite a while ago, but the somber nature of the title put me off, and sadly enough, 'Burnt Shadows' sat on my shelf and on my 'to read' list for quite some years! So much for never judging a book by its title!

For someone that young, Kamila Shamsie took on a very vast canvas to paint; her novel 'Burnt Shadows' spans several decades and travels across many countries on different continents. The storyline weaves itself around three generation with the one common thread, Hiroko, the female protagonist, a 'hibakusha', who, though homeless never hankered for home,  and had 'not thought of destination so much as departure'. Having witnessed the bombing of Nagsaki, the aftermath of the India Pakistan partition in Delhi, a nervous Karachi during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and an Islamophobic New York post 9/11, Hiroko is Shamsie's global citizen carrying 'burnt shadows' of a tortuous history on her back, literally and figuratively. What these 'burnt shadows' are, how they came to be, and how they affect her and those around her is what the novel is about!

Did Ms. Shamsie have a message to convey through this novel? Obviously she did, and I'm sure readers will find several themes embedded in the panoramic saga of this novel, but the one message that stands out for me is that History cannot be ignored as it colors and determines the future of humanity. If and when you read the novel, could you think of another theme that is as pervasive and relevant ?

Kamila Shamsie's 'Burnt Shadows' is a must-read! It is a page turner that enthralls with vivid settings, expressive language, dynamic characterization, and a storyline that never loses it's grip.

June 30, 2015

Amulya Malladi's "Serving Crazy With Curry" - An Easy and Interesting Read

A simple story that's simply told - Amulya Malladi's "Serving Crazy With Curry". A dear friend of mine brought me a few Indian Literary treats, as she called it, from her recent recent trip to India, and Malladi's novel was one of them. Having read a couple of her other novels, "Sound of Language" being the most recent, I was eager to read this one even though, to my disappointment, it was one of Malladi's earlier writings. "Serving Crazy With Curry" was an easy read, and I enjoyed that since I was on my first week of vacation from school. The simplicity of the reading experience is what I liked most about this novel. 

Though Malladi's picked on the very serious subject of suicide survivors, she gave it a delectable gustatory twist, and that removed all hues of morbidity from the ambiance in which the story unfolds.  The protagonist, Devi, takes to cooking almost as a sort of rehab therapy. What drives her to suicide, and whether her unique rehab works for her is basically what the novel is about.  Malladi's does not explore any profound truth in the novel, neither does she delve into thematic complexities; she focuses on her storytelling interspersed with random sampling of Indian recipes concocted by Devi, the suicide survivor. In fact, the title is quite the give away, but fortunately for the reader and Ms. Malladi, one realizes this only at the end of the novel. There are three other intriguing female characters in the story who, besides being related to Devi, have very unique life styles that add a pulsating readability to the novel; in fact, Ms. Malladi's could very easily spin another story around any one of these three women!

Malladi's novels have always been my favorites when I'm looking for a light read, and "Serving Crazy With Curry" fit the bill.

June 29, 2015

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's "Sister of my Heart"

Which one comes first to a writer, the theme or the story? I always imagine it's the story that is born first; the theme is embedded almost subconsciously by the storyteller.  However, is that always the case?  And when it isn't, does that impact the quality of the end product, be it a short story, a novel, or a drama?
Divakaruni's novel "Sister of my Heart" may be a good case study. I started reading this novel with a very definitive set of expectations: it would have a page turning quality, a unique setting, some very plausible characterization, and an element of surprise. Divakaruni delivered on all of those expectation but with somewhat of an effort and delivered only to a degree. She spun an engrossing story about two close but very different cousins, who are born and raised in Kolkata, the setting of the story, and they make some baffling choices and live out the consequences of those choices in the stranglehold of familial pressures in a caste and gender biased society.
I started reading the novel one afternoon and finished it in two sittings. However, even as I was a third of the way into the novel, I already knew what to expect! There was an underlying desperation on the part of the writer to make the characters fit into the bigger storyline, and sadly it was evident at times. For example, when Sudha sacrifices her love, Ashoka, and consents to an arranged marriage after she overhears her cousin's to-be mother-in-law's threatening stance on families who violate social norms. The scene was so obviously coined to fit in! With one deliberate stroke the author simultaneously makes Sudha and Anju victims of a caste-based and patriarchal society. What follows is that which is expected. One of the victims then picks up on Ms. Divakaruni's other pet theme, the quest for the American dream, and moves to the United States, the land of freedom where she pursues a college education and even finds herself a part time job, the latter, obviously, without her husband knowing.
Having read several of Divakaruni's novels, and as a fan of her writings, I was let down by this one.


March 05, 2015


What he is, is but a fast fading shadow of what he was and has been:

A feisty
A father

A stalwart
A survivor

A botanist
A bulwark

An energetic
A yogi

A powerhouse
A parent

My rational, proud, and dependable Pappa;
the stoic, an omniscient presence in my life. 

February 17, 2015

Hugh Grant's "The Rewrite" - A Witty and Intelligent Comedy!

As winter storm "Octavia" blasted all across the North East and covered us in a blanket of snow and sleet, I couldn't think of a better thing to do than watch a Hugh Grant movie. I was pleasantly surprised to find a movie of his I hadn't seen! Given that I have watched all Hugh Grant movie numerous times over, finding a movie of his that I had not seen was like finding a treasure.

Hugh Grant's movie, The Rewrite, directed by Marc Lawrence, their fourth one together, was a low key release, which, perhaps, is the reason I saw it on Pay per View TV and not in a theater. After watching the movie, it became obvious why the movie didn't get much publicity; there is not much of a plot to speak of, and were it not for the brilliant acting of the two lead actors, the movie would have been hard to sit through. Hugh Grant, in his signature style, captivates the viewer with his charming indolence, and his accented wit. His impeccably timed dialogues are a delight as are his deliberate body movements that speak volumes to the audience. Hugh Grant plays Keith Michaels, a one-time-wonder of Hollywood, a screenwriter who is unable to make ends meet anymore, and is left with no other option but to teach creative writing in a remote Binghamton college, a far cry from the happening Hollywood that Michael's had been a prt of for the last several years. What transpires after Keith Michaels takes up a teaching position at Binghamton is what constitutes the plot of The Rewrite, which is not saying much. However, Hugh Grant's underplayed portrayal of Keith Michaels the teacher,  and his innumerable gaffes in a new and nerdy academic setting make The Rewrite a hilarious movie to watch. The erudite exchange between Keith Michaels and the English Faculty at the college is sheer wit, and with Hugh Grant's perfect timing, it becomes simply brilliant!  Marisa Tomei as the female lead with Hugh Grant does an equally remarkable job as the effervescent single mother and part time student in Grant's Creative Writing class who is ever optimistic about life's vagaries. Both, Grant and Tomei have literally carried this movie with the brilliance of their acting!

There is very little else to say about The Rewrite except that you should go see it if you wish to see an intelligent comedy. I enjoyed the movie very much, and during that time I even forgot the vicious Octavia that was battering us mercilessly.