December 29, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

What a bit of sunshine can do in the most hopeless of situations!

A hilarious tragic-comedy that'll have you in splits while it breaks your heart. Situational humor that makes you forget the dysfunctionality of the family within which it happens. A streak of stray sunshine that momentarily obliterates the bleakness that surrounds a family ready to fall apart; parents on the brink of a divorce, a delusional father but a step away from bankruptcy, an overwhelmed mother who's recently been burdened with her thirty year old brother who is gay and suicidal, a war veteran grandfather who is obsessed with sex, a teenage son who has muted himself and lies buried in Nietzche while forced to share a room with the suicidal uncle. The only redeeming feature is Olive, the 9 year old, whose hundred watt smile could brighten a universe. She is competing in the final rounds of the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant that she is destined to lose because of her obvious little paunch; a result of her love for 'good food'!

I'm embarrassed to label the movie a comedy; even apologetic for finding it funny. The humor depicted was at the cost of a family's happiness; something I completely disregarded or was oblivious to, while reeling under peels of laughter in the movie hall. The fact I could do that, says a lot about how akin we are with situations such as those presented in the movie. I wonder if that is a statement on the society we live in? Are we to understand that dysfunctionality within a family is quite the norm? That we can calmly pass it by, even ignore it, and then go a step beyond to find humor in the bizarre situations that it creates? The next question that comes to mind is about the writer's intent. Was he holding up a mirror to society and smirking when he saw his audience laugh? Or else, like the rest of us, he's developed an immunity to this dysfunctionality that exists, and can now create humor, even while family values are being trampled on.

A must see for anyone who appreciates low key 'n top quality humor, rendered by some fine actors in unique situations that speak volumes for the storytellers creativity.

Blogger Upgrade Problems

I've switched to the new Blogger version, and as expected there are some surprises; I find many of the comments on my posts are now titled 'anonymous' that earlier carried a name! This may be due to a variety of reasons, and I apologize for any communication exigencies that may occur as a result.

December 19, 2006

'Blood Diamond'

Sierra Leone's bloody civil war of the late 90's is captured by this action packed thriller, "Blood Diamond", starring Leonardo DiCaprio and the Beninese actor Djimon Hinsou of the "Amistad" fame. Perhaps the United Nations can set up a partnership with Hollywood for catching public attention and raising public awareness about issues that plague our world today; Sierra Leone, Darfur, Afghanistan, Colombia. This movie successfully brings out the issue of illegal diamond mining in Sierra Leone and the illicit sale of diamonds thereof. The pathetic plight of the exploited diamond mine workers is whipped to the forefront by Zwick's thriller. No individual having watched this movie would be able to buy a diamond without wondering whether it is a 'conflict diamond'! It may be wishful thinking on my part but possibly the Diamond District in New York may have taken a temporary hit because of this movie. Couples wanting to get engaged may, for the time being, have been guilted out of buying that diamond ring!

Illicit diamond mining has been a major issue at various global conferences these past few years, yet, that hasn’t affected diamond sales in any significant way. Primarily for two reasons: one that global issues such as these seldom break the confines of the conference sites or the tenement of an exclusive bureacracy to reach the common man. The other reason is that the social conscience of most human beings is very easily appeased by words: “the diamond I buy is not a ‘conflict diamond’”, " I made sure I did not buy a diamond from Sierra Leone". These consolatory words do two things: placate a stirring conscience back into apathy, and convince the buyer to go ahead and write the check to get ownership of a diamond. If anything, movies like 'Blood Diamond' could only affect how diamonds get marketed to the general public henceforth. For instance Tiffany could market its diamonds using a different line: “flash it without guilt”, ‘your diamond, your conscience keeper’, and other such euphemisms.

Statistics show that Americans are prolific diamond buyers, and knowingly or otherwise may have sparked off and sustained many vicious wars in places such as Sierra Leone. Movies such as “Blood Diamond”, therefore, may raise public awareness of global issues in the American public, but whether it’ll bring about a change in the life of those exploited workers in Sierra Leone is debatable.

A trifle violent and at times gory, 'Blood Diamond' is definitely worth watching, if only to nudge us out of our complacency.

December 11, 2006

Harry Frankfurt's 'On Bullshit'. A definition, a defense, or dizzy dialectic?

The title "On Bullshit" is no doubt an eyecatcher, as is the compactness of the book: a 67 page 7"x5" book; the single reason I picked it up. As they say, appearances are often deceptive, and this one surely was. The 67 page book is a piece of dense non-fiction that took me over three hours to read and another some to comprehend. Every page is dialectic so coherent, so convincing that the reader, manacled in argument, is lead into a maze where the only way out is to suspend disbelief and go where the author leads you.

The term 'bullshit' is not merely a reference to a British expletive but also to an activity that millions of us, world over, are engrossed in. Harry Frankfurt, after admitting that 'bullshit' is a British coinage, goes on to define bullshit in many creative ways: 'humbug','hot air', a male cow's 'corpse of nourishment', and many such more. That's when the reader wonders why he's reading an entire treatise about something that is 'short of lying', is an irreverent and colloquial usage, and is as hard core British as 'bull shit'. At this point in the book the author may very well lose his reader who might choose to abandon the book for its lack of real substance. Well Frankfurt didn't lose me. Not so much because of his creativity at defining bullshit, or his defense of it thereof; it was because I needed to find out the relevance of 'bullshit'. I was piqued by the newly established importance of 'bullshit' that makes a professor at Princeton say "although it (bullshit) is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false". Having said that, the reputed professor then decides to write an entire book about it.

Whether Frankfurt's "On Bullshit" is able to give 'bullshit' its rightful meaning and place in our world, is not immediately discernible. However, it's interesting that Frankfurt chose to write a sequel to this book soon after, and titled it "On Truth".

The 'Truth' is out there somewhere, and I must pause till it comes to me.

November 22, 2006

The Poet


Million muses fail to inspire
the apathetic soul of doused desires.
Seldom can I dare in ink
the passionate thoughts I used to think.
Mute though I am today,
comfortably a no one;
not venturing much to say.
Will I find it in me
to be a voice one day?

November 17, 2006

Cops Taser Iranian American Student in UCLA

Would the treatment meted out to the student at UCLA have been different were he not a 'foreigner'. An Iranian American student was forcibly taken out of a university premise by cops for not being able to provide a student ID. The live video on this link brings to mind the Vietnam War protests of the yesteryears.The same video can be seen via 'you tube' on Sharique's post where I first saw it.

1.The University of California Police Department had this to say about the incident.

2.There was a protest at UCLA yesterday at noon, and there's one scheduled at UC Berkeley at noontime this coming Tuesday. The National Iranian American Council is protesting vociferously to the UCLA Chancellor, Mayor of LA, and the UCLA Chief of Police against this incident.

November 09, 2006

Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk's "Snow"

Pamuk comes in highly recommended, besides being the most recent Nobel Prize winner for Literature. He was on my to-read list for over a year, but it was only after his novel "Snow" was singled out for recognition did I finally get down to reading him. This may have something to do with the fact that he writes in Turkish, and therefore his novels are translations. Of recent, I have developed a mental block toward translated novels; Garcia Marquez's novel "Memories of my Melancholy Whores" being my first victim. Pamuk's Snow is yet another such translation; a novel I therefore picked with some reservations. Having decided to read it, I have to admit that it was quite the page-turner for the first hundred pages or so. When a novel starts off at that frenzied level of anticipation, it creates problems for itself; those of sustainability. The author has to now maintain the same level of excitement in the reader for the remainder of the novel. I'm not sure Pamuk succeeds in doing that in "Snow". The delirious excitement of the first few chapters subsides steadily into a figure-out-who-I-am session.

What really drew me into the story was its setting; Anatolia, a peninsula of Western Asia in Turkey which is part Asia and part Europe, the Asian part being the larger . The interplay of dynamic characters in an ethnically diasporic setting always makes for a unique reading experience; and "Snow" was that. The characters, so very different and yet displaying and experiencing universal human emotions of anger, jealousy, greed, and pride, makes the reader forget the geographic and ethnic borders that divide Turkey, a country that straddles between its secularist identity and its ancient Islamic heritage. In fact, at the very outset, the reader embarks on a journey that showcases this split. It is a journey that the reader takes on with the main protagonist Ka to his homeland Kars, a place from where Ka'd been exiled twelve years ago. Ka has now been invited by an old friend to report on a spate of suicides among young Muslim girls prevented from wearing headscarves in school.

Mentally taxing though at times, but the wide array of characters that Pamuk generates in the context of the story is remarkable, definitely a mark of a master story teller with a restless imagination. As Pamuk himself admits, "I have this urge to stop this life and start afresh," he says. "I am in a train, and the train goes into a town, or it passes close to houses. ... You see inside the house where a man, a family, a TV is on, they're sitting at a table. You see a life there. There's an immense impulse to be there, to be them, to be like them." That is exactly what he does in the novel; each character is unique with a life of its own that could well have been spun into another story, but Pamuk leaves you with but a taste, and wanting for more.

The evasive nature of the novel and its characters is reflective of Pamuk's own unwillingness to be pinned down, his restlessness at being unidimensional in his ethnic identity, his political views, or then his characters. For example, Pamuk's chief protagonist, Ka, is hard to hold on to. It is easier for the reader to be one with Ka's journey than with Ka himself. This inconsistency in Ka's character is like a dual edged sword that lends Ka, the poet, his credibility; yet, it also takes away from Ka because the reader is unable to empathize with him. It is this very dichotomy that Orhan, a friend of Ka in the novel (possibly the writer Pamuk himself) lays bare to reader scrutiny at the end of the novel. It's almost as if Pamuk wanted the reader to be the judge of what Pamuk had so vividly yet dipassionately presented in his story.

The reader comes away wondering whether this was but a cerebral merengue for a politically erudite brain or did Pamuk have a message to convey through the novel. Was Pamuk trying to promote Turkey's bid to join the European Union, a move Pamuk has openly supported? Or is he raising public awareness of the slow but sure insurgence of radical Islam into the Turkish psyche? Is he exploring the role of Art in a nation in the throes of political, economic, and religious turmoil? Or then, is it as the title suggests, a philosophic perspective on 'snow' wherein Pamuk studies the anatomy of a snowflake and develops it into a symbol such that, "Everyone has his own snowflake; individual existences might look identical from afar but to understand one's own eternally mysterious uniqueness, one has only to plot the mysteries of his or her own snowflake".

November 03, 2006

A Birthday Sonnet

Tomorrows, a pursuit permanent
a future filed, so to say
also pathetically contingent
on tortuous toils of today

bundle of joy and priceless gain,
posterity held so tight
an aftermath of perilous pain
bravely borne many a night

fall foliage,a poet's cue
the plush palette of a painter
gold red and orange richly hued
do but follow a bygone summer

relentless this striving
a Sisyphus calling

October 30, 2006

"Tsotsie" and "The Little Terrorist"

Tsotsie, the movie, reinforces faith in man's goodness. The worst of us and the worst within us can always be negated and wiped out by the good that's inherent within all of us, if only we'd let it surface. Tsotsie, the protagonist in the movie, is a confirmed 'thug' of Johannesburg who whips out knives and guns at the batting of an eye. However, toward the middle of the movie he is a transformed being; thanks to a surprise guest who lets flow 'the milk of human kindness' in Tsotsie and establishes a lifelong relationship between them, with no strings attached. Joseph Conrad's Kurt bared every man's Heart of Darkness and made humanity shudder. Athol Fugard's Tsotsie rekindles every man's faith in his innate goodness and makes humanity proud and worthy.

The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 with brilliant acting by the South African actor Presley Chweneyagae as Tsotsi. It is based on Athol Fugard's novel of the same title that was written a few decades ago. What is interesting is that both the writer Athol Fugard, who created the character Tsotsi, and the director Gavin Hood, who read and presented Tsotsi, are white Afrikaans. With no racially divisive agenda in mind, and with an admittedly limited knowledge of the current racial dynamics in South Africa, I find myself speculating on how and if Tsotsie, the movie, would have been different if it were a black African's creation and presentation.

Coincidentally, I also happened to have watched another foreign film "The Little Terrorist" (watch it here) made by an Indian film maker, Ashvin Kumar. A ten minute film based on a true incident that happened on the India-Pakistan border, The Little Terrorist was nominated for the Oscar in the Best Short Film, Live Action category in 2005. Though different from Tsotsie in many ways, The Little Terrorist has a similar theme that reaffirms and reinforces the good in man; and holds the promise of a fledgling hope for humanity.

Both films are definitely worth viewing.

October 29, 2006


Is ‘the Fall’
'a fall'?
a fiery falling blanket
enveloping the tired greens
a carrier of crisper winds
rustling the fallen leaves
a harbinger of felling logs
preparing for the winter
a getaway for fallen leaders
electioning in a change.

'The Fall', a changer of seasons,
from summer to December.
A temperer of spirits
that dampen to winter.

Is ‘the Fall’ ‘a fall’?
Not really after all.
It lays to rest
a lonely nest.
Till it’s time again,
at nature’s behest,
for birds to listen
and leaves to glisten’
for streams to flow
and daffodils to show.

A gentle intermediary;
'The Fall’s' but a step between.
For man’s hope and nature’s repose
A see-through kindred screen.

Mitch Albom's "For One More Day"

'Father-bashing over two generations', pretty much sums up Mitch Albom's most recent tear-jerker "For One More Day".

One of those 'let-me-be-your-counsellor' kind of novel, "For One More Day" starts off really well where Charley the main protagonist decides he wants an out of his lack-lustre life where he's failed as a son, as a husband, and as a father. However, he's unable to do even that; his suicide attempt fails! What happens next is an out-of-the-world experience where a comatose Charley establishes communication with his long dead mother; a mother he 'didn't ever stand up for'. From this point on the novel is all downhill. A set of contrived situations to showcase the sheer selflessness of motherhood against an apathetic father figure telling a young Charley "You can be a mama's boy or a daddy's boy, but you can't be both."

It took me a long time to figure out my response to the novel; primarily due to a sense of guilt for not liking what Albom presented; perhaps because at some level it did pertain to me, and to Everyman. All of us have some cleansing to do; to rid ourselves of those ghosts from our past that seem to haunt us; and here was this novel doing just that, and yet I could not readily say that I liked it. The cloying sentimentality and the not-so-surreal situations made it distant, and I could not lose myself in it; I could not suspend my disbelief.

If "Tuesdays with Morrie" is what made you pick up this novel, you are bound to be disappointed.

October 17, 2006

'The War Within'

Ayad Akhtar's movie 'The War Within' is a sensitive portrayal of Pakistanis living abroad in a post 9/11 world. The story revolves around a young Pakistani engineer studying in France whose life of normalcy comes to a screeching halt the day he's picked up as a suspect by American Intelligence and taken back to his native country, Pakistan, for interrogation. What follows is a heart rending, at times excruciatingly violent and graphic, depiction of how this normal protagonist is driven to near-lunacy and fanaticism.

A thought provoking film no doubt, but oftentimes logic-defying. For instance, how does a person just disappear off the radar for an extended period of time without anyone, not even his family, making inquiries about him? Akhtar, while trying to project the plight of ordinary immigrant Pakistanis, does get a little carried away in that he demonizes various American organizations that are but doing their duty. The USA Police is one such victim; they are presented as a bunch of non-thinking individuals who are blatantly racist. However, while dealing with the 9 year old Pakistani boy Akhtar has excelled. He's done a splendid job of capturing the impact of terrorism and its aftermath on this young mind. The viewer, regardless of his affiliations, is affronted at the quick and cruel end, almost a snatching away, of the boy's childhood.

It is said that an artistic creation usually carries a message, and I wondered about the message in "The War Within". Does it transcend the barriers of color, religion, and race, or is the message relegated to the perpetrators and the victims of 9/11? Does Akhtar's movie condone what the protagonist did? Is a terrorist born, or is he made? Who or what facilitates the making of one? I have not been able to find any clear-cut answers to any of these questions, but watching the movie I got the impression that Akhtar had.

September 30, 2006

Noam Chomsky - "Imperial Ambitions"

Noam Chomsky's popularity has risen ever since Hugo Chavez recently held up Chomsky's book Hegemony and Survival as a must-read, both after and before his speech at the United Nations. Chomsky, a highly respected linguist and philosopher from MIT, admits to his dual vocations, that of a teacher and researcher and the other lesser known one of a social activist. There are some things that make him unique. Firstly, being Jewish he has taken some strong stands against Israel's policy in the Middle East. Secondly, inspite of some fifty odd years of vocal social activism as an ultra liberal, he has no consistent political theory to propound like Samuel Huntingdon and Bernard Lewis. Finally, his popularity with die hard democrats does not spare them of his criticsm; he is just as critical of the Clintons and Kerrys of the world.

I just finished reading the book "Imperial Ambitions" where David Barsamain has Chomsky speak about the future of Social Security, the imminent threat of global warming, and mostly about the volatile situation developing in the world due to United States' intervention in Iraq. Chomsky is bold, honest, upbeat, witty and most of all alarmingly well informed in matters of global policy for a philosopher linguist. As a result he spins this web of persuasive dialectic for a disarmed reader and will not let him out, but convinced. He both informs and cautions the American public against government propaganda that works by making its citizens afraid; a tactic that he points out has been used by various American Presidents to allow them to carry out there imperialistic agendas. The one instance he gives of President Reagan's justification for the US war in Nicaragua, and then links it up with the current situation in Iraq and the Middle East, is particularly brilliant:

"On May 1, 1985 Reagan declared a national emergency in the United States because of the threat to the security of the United States posed by the government of Nicaragua, which was a two days’ drive through – I would note – at least one other country, Mexico, many times its size, from Harlingen, Texas, and Nicaragua was planning to take over the hemisphere! If you take a look at that Executive Order, which was renewed annually as a way of building up support for the U.S. war in Nicaragua, it has almost the same wording as the 2002 congressional declaration on Iraq. Just replace Nicaragua with Iraq...How much critical thinking and analysis does it take to determine how much of a direct security threat Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and so forth are to a country that possesses the most powerful military in the history of the world, is bounded by two vast oceans and is bordered by two very peaceful neighbors?"

Chomsky can grow on you without you knowing, and that makes him worrisome. I have great respect and admiration for Chomsky, the eminent linguist who has made many significant contributions in the field of language aquisition. However, I am a little wary of his political writings because they have the word-power to sway a naive populace. No wonder The New York Times has called him “arguably the most important intellectual alive”, and The Guardian declared: “Chomsky ranks with Marx, Shakespeare, and the Bible as one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities—and is the only writer among them still alive.”

September 26, 2006

Eran Riklis's "The Syrian Bride"

A movie that lays bare what a broken world does to human relationships. Eran Riklis's movie brings together an Israeli- Palestinian crew to take us to one of the most controversial geographic locations on the globe, Golan Heights. A place where national boundaries become shards that cut up peoples lives into shreds and every part seems to be moaning the other.

"Mona's wedding day may be the saddest day of her life" is how the movie begins. The rest of the movie goes about showing how that happens in Golan Heights, a part of Syria that is 'occupied' by Israel. The people living there are the 'Druze', a monotheistic people who follow an early offshoot of Islam, and who reside primarily in Lebanon, although there are smaller communities in Israel, Syria, and Jordan. Mona is the Syrian Bride who lives in Golan Heights and is to marry a famous television artist from Damascus. The two have never met, and when they do it is across a barbed wire fence and a checkpost manned by some unique personalities. Two ineffective and helpless United Nations personnel add to the motley crew at the checkpost where Mona is to meet her fiance and leave her family and home forever to go to Syria.

This momentuous event brings Mona's immediate family, her estranged brother and his Russian wife, her other brother, Marwan, of the dubious reputation, Amal her 'rebel' sister with her ultra-conservative husband to Golan Heights; all under one roof despite their differences. The house is a microcosmic representation of the unrest that prevails in the Middle East. The suspicions, the rumours, the petty differences, the attacks, the defences, and the temporary truces within those walls expose the fractured relationships within a family and also those within an entire region.

A thought-provoking and informative foreign film.

September 22, 2006

Noble is What Noble Does

Anand Kumar does the profession proud! All is not lost; teachers such as he provide hope for our future generations.

September 09, 2006

Maria Sharapova new icon for Chiquita/ Bonita/ Dole?

Maria's father and coach inadvertently (?) set up his daughter as the new icon for healthy eating. The sale of bananas is bound to skyrocket with Maria Sharapova eating one, on court, between two games in the US Open quarter finals!

August 30, 2006

Clouds - Invoking Wordsworth

'Wandering' among the blues and hues
gawking at the greys and greens
in garrulous 'company'
though lonely at times
'o'er vales and hills' they twirled
'the oceans playground of the world'

where the boistrous waves lash the rocky shore
then the tango trance seducing the pebbled shore
Careening while enrapt
by the lulling laps
and the foaming fury.
Tides crest and ebb
Waves lap 'n lash
The Bay wails and drones
The ocean foams and crashes
Beyond the dykes,
the lazy blue waters loll in calm complacence
knowing this show is not to last

caravaning cirruli

A cluster of curious crazies

A personal musing:

'While oft upon' lonely roads afly

The extremes 'to be' pass me by.

A mere standing-by in face of exultation

of history in creation

The noose drops

Life forks

Choices choke

a land and life long left

now a contender to what is;

one chosen and built.

Which way to the curtain call?

August 28, 2006

The Hues of Nova Scotia

The blue quenches
it soothes, mystifies, and humbles
forces introspection, a contemplation
on this microscopic existence.

The green enriches
it pleases, attracts, and livens
reverses inaction, a coercion
toward a meaningful existence

August 18, 2006

Nova Scotia

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads to fortune…”

And mine beckons me to Nova Scotia!
Not wanting to be left in “the shallows and in miseries”
I “must take the current when serves”…
Which is now!
Or else, lose out on witnessing one of the greatest natural spectacles …
The highest tides in the world!

August 14, 2006

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Memories of my Melancholy Whores"

This really has been the summer of my discontent as far as reading is concerned; first Updike’s ‘Terrorist’ and now Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Memories of my Melancholy Whores’.

After being wordless for over a decade, Marquez, a Nobel Laureate in Literature, decides to write a 115 page memoir with an eye-catching title, Memories of my Melancholy Whores’ and an equally luring opening to match it:
“The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin”.
The writer, the title, and the opening held tremendous promise. Perhaps it was this heightened expectation that made the work a let-down.

The nameless protagonist in the story could as well have been a self portrait of Marquez, an aging writer ready to take the curtain call. In which case this novel could have been the swan song of a literary giant, but it lacked the pitch, the depth, and the crescendo.

The nameless protagonist finds a 14 year old virgin for his night of ‘wild love’ which turns into an endless voyeur session with the overworked 14 year old, Delgadina, perpetually in repose. The protagonist embarks on a silent one-way platonic affair with Degadina during which he finds himself in love for the very first time in his life. There are various instances in the story where Marquez could have brought depth and meaning into his wayward prose; by delving deeper into his characters (Damiana, Rosa Cabarcas), or by exploring one of the numerous themes (perfect love, aging as "a tool that carves away our excess") that now sit so superfluously on the novel. But he didn't and I've yet to figure out the reason.

Like all his other novels, this one is also a translation by none other than the renowned Edith Grossman. So to say that Marquez’s novel lost some of its meaning in translation isn’t going to work. His dexeterous use of language and his wit were perhaps the only reason I finished the novel because the placidity of the plot really drowned my interest. What was it that Marquez was trying to convey through this work: a septuagenarian grappling with his dying virility, an apology for pedophilia, or then a writer’s outpouring in melancholia. Needless to say Marquez is one of the greatest writers of our time. and will always be; thanks to all the other innumerable wonderful literary experiences that Gabo's left us readers with.

August 08, 2006

Comic Relief

We could all do with a few laughs...
and stand-up comedian Frank Caliendo gives us that and more...

August 05, 2006

Is Peace a Possibility in Lebanon?

The crisis is only escalating with Israel going into North of Beirut and Hezbollah not letting up on its daily 200-plus Katyusha attack on Israel, some of which are now landing 25 miles away from Telaviv.

I see this situation going out of hand. There seems to be no scope for any kind of a ceasefire anymore. The Lebanese, the abandoned victims of this faceless war, are the only ones at the negotiating table but have little to negotiate with. Israel, despite its 12000 troops in Lebanon, is unable to contain the invisible Hezbollah, whose cache of Katyushas seems endless. With its mission incomplete, the proud and driven Israelis will not agree to a ceasefire against its fight with the Hezbollah for fear of losing face. However, given that the Hezbollah is a guerrila outfit, defeating it or negotiating with it is close to impossible. Consequently, Israel is in this war for a long haul; fighting a faceless enemy with no one national identity.

Lebanon and the thinking world looks toward the UN to bring about an end to this crisis but alas, the UN is proving to be ineffective. For the last fortnight or so it hasn't been able to muster a multi-nation peacekeeping force whose safety it can guarantee. Something that would only be possible if a ceasefire can be brought about between the warring parties, both of who are adamantly refusing to do so.

The other hope was that the US, a powerful UN member, will intervene; but that too failed because the US, committed to its 'war on terror', is backing Israel against Hezbollah, and will not negotiate for a ceasefire unless it is guaranteed 'sustainable'. Besides, the US is already fighting two other wars on alien soils, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so is unlikely to enter into another.

That leaves the rest of us, a hapless majority. Having developed an immeasurable immunity to human suffering through endless watching of news on the media, we can now, with reasonable ease, watch this innocent massacre of Lebanon to its completion.

However, the human mind never ceases to hope; maybe a miracle awaits, maybe there is another possibility that I can't envisage. Is there?

August 04, 2006

Updike's "Terrorist" Missing Soul.

Just finished reading Updike’s much talked about novel ‘Terrorist’. Were it not for Updike’s mastery of language, the novel would have been a bigger disappointment. The content was quite a let down; an oversimplification of one of the most complex issues arising out of the regionalism and religious fundamentalism that has swamped our world. To start with, Updike ventured on unknown grounds, the workings of an Arab-American teenage mind. Apparently, Updike likes doing this once in a while, which accounts for novels such as ‘The Coup’ and ‘The Witches of Eastwick’; an ‘imaginative leap’ he calls it, that often brings about revelations on human behavior and its consequent impact on the immediate society. This ‘leap’, however, was one he couldn’t span in the “Terrorist”, despite the Koranic verses interspersed throughout the novel.

Updike’s works have always mirrored American society and its psyche, but in this novel his effort at doing so appears contrived and plastic. Ahmad, the main protagonist, does not come alive like Updike’s other protagonists do. The 18 year old Ahmad’s progression from a high-achieving, half- Egyptian, half-Irish American teenager into a tunnel-blowing terrorist in New Jersey is far-fetched. Which is not surprising because even his two mentors, one who he seeks out and the other who he avoids, a Yemeni Imam and a high school guidance counselor are just as pretentious and come across highly unpalatable; a stretch to ones imagination.

"Write what you know”, is what Updike said in one of his recent interviews, but in his most recent novel, that’s the very axiom he appears to have disregarded. His ‘leap of imagination’ this time, was into a subject extremely complex, remote, and alien to him, and this disconnect reflects all too clearly in his rendition of characters and their interactions. Updike’s “Terrorist” leaves the reader cheated of an Updikian experience; ‘a rant minus the wisdom’, as a Georgetown professor describes it.

July 30, 2006

Collateral Damage!

Since when does the willful killing of innocents become collateral damage?

The recent statements made by Israel after the Qana tragedy had me agape. Am I missing something here? How can you absolve yourself of the killing of 60 innocents, a third of who were children, simply because you warned them of your fatal attack by aerially distributing leaflets a day ahead of the bombing? What did Israel expect those Lebanese civilians to do, especially the economically underprivileged? Fleeing was not even an option given that the infra structure to do so has been inundated by unabated Israeli shelling in the past two weeks. Besides, these Lebanese were those left behind; striving just to keep alive in a location long abandoned by the rich and the privileged. They were virtually orphaned not just by virtue of the fact that they had lost their family during the attacks, but because the entire world, including elected humanitarian big wigs such as the UN, had abandoned them in this crisis. Without a national army to physically defend them, and deprived of any humanitarian aid, they became helpless victims of a faceless war. Faceless because there was no identifying the enemy! Is it the Hezbollah, labeled by the world as a terrorist organization, who has strategically woven themselves into the very fabric of the Lebanese society that now looks upon them as saviors? Or else is it Israel, their well-meaning neighbor that is only fighting the Hezbollah, and has no grudge against the Lebanese! The pathetic plight of these human shields, the Lebanese as of now, is a disgraceful and horrific consequence of a faceless war; the first of many our world will face in this era of terrorism initiated urban warfare.

July 24, 2006

Brokering for an Immediate Ceasefire?

I wouldn't hold my breath about Condoleeza Rice's current detour to Beirut. The Lebanese nightmare continues unabated while the world debates over vacuous issues such as the identity of Hezbollah, the veracity of the Israeli incursion, the apathetic neighbor status of Syria, and the insidious machinations of Iran.

The link below tells how ineffective a major part of the world is, and how a few countries wield all the power and determine a course of action for all of humanity! As an American I watch the Lebanese crisis with a sense of shame, and do little else other than watch news on TV and blog about the impotency of the world powers, both meaningless activities that will not make the slightest dent in the Lebanese situation. Which part of the world do you belong to, and are you doing your part?

July 16, 2006

A Second Coming?

Wails from hearts distraught
as an innocent bites the dust.
In Gaza, Haifa, and Beirut,
how many more will hurt?
Who'll intervene to pause
this dying without a cause?

Shrouded in pain
and in tombs of despair;
Buried in arid alliances,
in empty stances and pretences;
Negligently negotiating peace
while coffined in dubious differences.

Surreptiously but surely
the voice of reason muted.
Gory graves of humanity
collaboratively created.
Before that knell is rung
and innocence is hung,
gravediggers are invited!

July 10, 2006

A Meandering Mind

"Cogito, Ergo Sum".

If not me, who’d I be?

A benign butterfly?
Midst color ‘n fragrance
And enveloped in peace;
steering clear of populated places
gliding a lazy summer breeze.
Beauty’d be my abode
‘n leisure my occupation;
seeking little, not wanting to please.

Perhaps a congruous kite.
Etching mindless circles
Gradually varying in size;
viewing a world I want to see.
Carried by the current
in apparent harmony.
High in the azure sky
A busy world defy.

Possibly a passive pine.
Bending now and again
In snow gust and rain.
Standing green and tall
when all is well.
No pressure to blossom,
no colors to flaunt;
I am, and there’s nothing I want.

I suppose a soundless shadow.
Not clearly defined;
coz I cease to be
when the lights not on me.
Have only to follow
or fall as a copy;
no need for an identity
You could as well be me.

"Je pense, donc je suis".

June 29, 2006

Acceptable inequities or violations?

In a world so economically disparate as ours, how can basic human rights be equitable. What would be termed a violation in one nation may be more than acceptable in another. To give an example: a 15 year old in China may be stuffing toys in a 10 x 15 room along with ten other boys, and be thankful for it since it provides a square meal for his family that would otherwise starve. A 16 year old in Ukraine may decide to be a part of the flesh trade as a way out of her impoverished and hopeless situation. In either of the two cases the apparent victim does not perceive himself as one. In fact he is simply exercising his/her natural instinct of survival at all costs. That the cost appears high to a person or persons of stable and flourishing economies in developed nations, is no surprise. However, what is surprising is that it is these persons in developed nations and flourishing economies that have the upper hand in determining the rubric for what entails a human right violation. The UN Human Rights Commission sits various countries that have defined powers, but it is the western nations that hold the vote primarily as member nations, others like Iran are but mere observers. The current controversy surrounding Mortazavi's inclusion in the Iranian Delegation to the UN Human Rights Conference has raised red flags in most of the rich western nations including the USA; understandably so, given his much publicized wrongdoings, especially the one involving a Canadian photo journalist. However, it is not so clear to me how and why Mortazavi can be prevented from attending the conference. Afterall he is one of many appointed by his country to represent it at the conference. Furthermore, isn't it true that the viability of any proposition is only strengthened when the proposition is fairly debated with ample representation on either side. So then if a Mortazavi does in fact accompany the Iranian delegation (even if only as part of the audience) the Human Rights conference stands to gain more credence.

Defining Human Rights on a world wide basis is no easy job. The UN Human Rights Commission, obviously cognizant of that, tries to get a balanced representation from nations around the world, only some of who are members while others are observers. But mere representation will not suffice, because countries deemed in violation of Human Rights are now unlikely to become members or even observers of the Commission, as explained in the previous link. Given this scenario, what are the chances that a North Korea will get a fair hearing on its apparent Human Right violation issue in the upcoming session...

June 21, 2006

Could I referee this one?

In the midst of all the euphoria of the Soccer World Cup, the news about the gruesome killing of the two twenty year old American soldiers in Iraq dampened my spirit in a big way. What made it worse was that when I read this bone chilling news in the NY Times, on that very page, there was a news item about three other US soldiers being charged for the murder and ill-treatment of Iraqi soldiers in Guantanamo Bay. Is this fair play?

The juxtaposing of these two news items captured the dilemma that raged within me. Is human right violation to be condoned? Certainly not, and thus I disprove what happened to Iraqi prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. On the same note, are barbaric atrocities to be meekly accepted and ignored? I would hope not! The guilty need to be taken to task at the earliest and they should be held accountable for their actions. So in fact if a fellow soldier from the contingent to which the two dead marines belonged, were to take measures to punish the wrongdoers, he’d be justified… or would he?

I’m not sure how I should react. Rationally, an eye for an eye would do more damage and bring endless suffering. However, at this point my rational self is practically non existent, and understandably so. I am mad about the way in which the two soldiers were killed, and at this moment, if compatriots of those killed were to do something reactionary, like what happened in Haditha, I wouldn’t hesitate to condone their actions. But that may change with passage of time; as the heat dies down and my rational self reasserts itself.

It's the heated insanity of the moment that often makes even the calmest of people take strange and extreme action; a result of the raging anger within, that seeks vent after a barbaric crime is committed against ones own. Do these extreme actions warrant a red card? Could the Haditha killings be regarded as an extreme action taken under extreme emotional duress? Would anyone want to referee that?

June 09, 2006

'My Invented Country'

Memory and nostalgia can create beauty unimagined and unlived, and Isabel Allende’s novel ‘My Invented Country’ does that and more. She takes you into her throes of reminiscence and creates picturesque landscapes and vivid characters woven together in a memorable journey into her Chilean past.

The novel is a memoir of Isabel who is sharing her nostalgia about Chile, her homeland, and creating her very own Chile, her ‘invented country’, in her own mind; one that she left so many years ago to escape the atrocities of the Pinochet regime. The exposition is direct yet haunting and sets the reader on a voyage he cannot want out of. He comes out of it wondering about his own invented country; whether he has one and if it shares any commonalities with Isabel’s. The wondering doesn’t stop at that personal level. The reader, especially one who is an immigrant, wonders whether every immigrant carries an invented country in his heart, and if he does, then in fact, there are so many of us who carry this beautiful burden. Why do we all carry it? Why is it beautiful that we hold it so dear, and never want to part with it? Yet, why is it a burden that relegates itself to the mind? Does this burden, this invented country, ever disappear, get replaced, or suffer ruin? Why are the memories of a lost home so tantalizing? Is it because as exiles or immigrants we never really find our promised land, or even if we do, it always falls short of the home we left behind.

‘My Invented Country’ is a delightful read that satiates the senses through some colorful and frisky language. Its reminiscing tone soothes, yet, once you close the book, there's a spring of turbulent introspection let loose within the mind of the reader.

May 31, 2006

Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart"

Things fall apart at various levels in Chinua Achebe's novel 'Things Fall Apart'.

A very powerful story that thematically crosses chronological and national boundaries. Set in Africa, amid the Umuofia clan of the Igbo tribe, the novel lays bare the catastrophic impact of British Colonialism on the ancient culture of the Igbo tribe.

Okonkwo the chief protagonist embodies the passion, the courage, the wisdom, the loyalty, and the machismo of his people. He's a staunch follower of his culture and will not let anything or anyone stand in his way of following it, not even his own blood. Achebe focuses on the Igbo culture by his vivid portrayal of their daily life as also their ritualistic observances.

This novel, though written way back in 1959, still features on the reading list of many academic institutes across the country. It is the underlying theme of this piece; the impact of imposing foreign values on a people who were otherwise living out a lifestyle they were comfortable with, that lends such universality and current day relevance to the novel. A theme that has been reenacted innumerable times in history, and is at this very moment being enacted in Iraq where the western world is trying to establish a form of government the Iraqis are not ready for; a foreign people deciding what is right for a people and a land that is completely alien to them and one they've never lived within! History has many examples of intrusions and occupations by colonists who believed theirs was the 'civilized' way and took it upon themselves to teach and change the natives, 'savages', of various nations to their way of living. In retrospect, it is the colonists that appear narrow visioned, intolerant, and less adaptable as compared to the natives of the lands the colonists occupied, and eventually destroyed, by calculatedly wiping out the native cultures of the local inhabitants.

Achebe's novel is powerful due to its simple and direct presentation of the collateral damage that colonialism brought to both the occupier and the occupied; the occupied who was deprived of an age old culture and his independent lifestyle, and the occupier who was transformed into a racist being with a unilateral vision of civilization.

May 22, 2006

'Everything is Illuminated'

A delightful movie set in Ukraine that reminded me of the award winning movie " Life is Beautiful' by Roberto Benini. The humorous and the sombre are beautifully woven together in a setting almost pastoral. The story revolves around a young Jewish American, Jonathan, who travels to Ukraine in search of a woman who had befriended his grandfather during World War II and had helped his grandfather escape to the USA. Jonathan has a compulsive need to collect random items as memorablia for remembering people/ things/ incidents that he is afraid he'd otherwise forget. It is comical to see Jonathan pulling out ziplock bags with an ease and the elan of a check out clerk in a grocery store. Then there is Alex, Jonathan's young translator, who loves America and everything American, but speaks English that comes straight out of a thesaurus and that makes for some really funny dialogues. Alex's gandfather, the third in the trio and also the driver of the car they are travelling in claims to be partially blind and thus has an additional passenger in the car: a 'crazy''see' bitch.

The journey they undertake is laden with grave and sinister undertones, but the interaction of this foursome in the antiquated car makes for some great humor and the viewer every now and again forgets the sombre nature of Jonathan's mission until the plot intervenes. The plot, though serious, is not maudlin and the events can therefore be chewed upon before being swallowed.

The movie makes for some good comedy even while it brings forth some harsh truths about life during the Holocaust. It is about illuminating a past, in the light of which not only do the present day relationships get enlightened but even the future looks a lot brighter.

May 17, 2006

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Dr. Wafa Sultan; two other Mukhtaran's in the making?

As if Mukhtaran Bibi's ordeals were not enough, here are two others:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a 'wanna be' Dutch national speaks out strongly against Islam and its treatment of women. However, her case is very different from Mukhtaran's in that Mukhtaran lives in Pakistan where Islam is the state religion whereas Ayaan lives in the Netherlands where she constitutes the minority, and where she is also a Member of Parliament. What makes Ayaan's case different has been articulated brilliantly by SR on his blog titled " Ayaan Hirsi Ali - Human Rights versus Tolerance"

Dr. Wafa Sultan, a Syrian American residing in California is yet another brave soul who stands undaunted in the face of the recent Fatwa that has been issued against her because of her views on radical Islam. She is another Ayaan who, while speaking on Al Jazeera, said, "Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them."

Mukhtaran, Wafa Sultan, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali; all three wish to be heard and want their cause to be addressed. Yet each one is perceived differently by us, the public. Mukhtaran's passive resistance hits a sympathetic chord, unanimously; Sultan's vocal protest brings an admiring cheer from most; and Ayaan's proactive resistance accords her just a hearing, and that too by only a few.

May 11, 2006

Heil hypocrisy! Heil religion!

I happened to read this interesting post about the brewing crisis over Iran's growing nuclear capability. The supercilious and hypocritical stance of some western countries on the issue of nuclear proliferation is laid bare. What goes for one, ought to go for all; else we are regressing to some of us being 'more equal than others'. The ban on nuclear weapons must apply to all nations regardless of their status, developing or developed.

On a similar note... what is with current day politicians, especially heads-of-state spouting religious quotes to negotiate political standoffs. Is that now the sole means to negotiate peace and understanding among world leaders of today? Whatever happened to logic, international diplomacy, political strategy that we find ourselves relying on religion to find solutions to a situation such as the standoff with Iran. President Ahmedinijad's letter to President Bush is one fine example of present day world leaders' increasing dependency on religion.

Update: A different perspective on the crisis

May 04, 2006

Pittance as Penalty for Plagiarism!

Story from BBC NEWS:
"The head of one of America's largest defence firms has lost out on his annual pay rise following accusations of plagiarism....Raytheon's board has cancelled William Swanson's 2006 increase after a management guide he wrote was found to include parts of an earlier book...His pamphlet "Unwritten Rules of Management" was discovered to include passages from a 1944 publication... The decision to withhold Mr Swanson's annual pay rise and reduce his potential 2006 stock options by 20% was made by the Raytheon board".

"In 2005, Mr Swanson received a basic salary of $1.1m (£597,000) plus a $2.6m bonus.
He also received 75,000 restricted Raytheon shares, worth $3.37m at the current stock price".

"Raytheon, the world's fifth largest defence company, is best known for making the Tomahawk cruise missile".

That is a pittance in remuneration for the misdeed committed, and by whom! The CEO of the fifth largest defence company, a role model to many, and surely one with a daunting resume brimming over with degrees from prestigious institutes of learning, what would have made him resort to these cheap tactics? Swanson could just as well have hired someone to do it! Did he really believe he wouldn't be caught, or was it plain and simple oversight and therefore unintentional? Were his writing skills in doubt that he had to prove himself, or was he an aspiring writer and this his covert maiden venture? Was the 'management guide' up for sale, and the profits from it worth a fortune? Being who he is, what made Swanson do what he did?

Furthermore how does Swanson get off the hook so easily? How come there isn't much furore over this copying? Is plagiarism less of a crime in corporate america than it is in academia? Is Vishwananthan, a 19 year old student at Harvard, expected to be more cognizant about plagiarism than the CEO of a multinational company who draws a few millions as annual earning? Will Swanson, the CEO of Raytheon, lose as much personl credibility due to this misdemeanour as did Kaavya, the 19 year old student at Harvard? Will both these violations be weighed in the same pan of justice, or do different rules apply?

If different rules apply, then why?

April 27, 2006

'Kaavya' gone sour?

I wonder if Kaavya Vishwanathan's current problems have to do with the fact that she is an Indian born to Brahmin parents living in the USA?

Young author admits borrowing passages

By Hillel Italie, AP National Writer April 24, 2006

NEW YORK --A Harvard University sophomore with a highly publicized first novel acknowledged Monday that she had borrowed material, accidentally, from another author's work and promised to change her book for future editions.

Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," published in March by Little, Brown and Company, was the first of a two-book deal reportedly worth six figures. But on Sunday, the Harvard Crimson cited seven passages in Viswanathan's book that closely resemble the style and language of the novels of Megan McCafferty.

"When I was in high school, I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, `Sloppy Firsts' and `Second Helpings,' which spoke to me in a way few other books did. Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel ... and passages in these books," Viswanathan, 19, said in a statement issued by her publisher.

"While the central stories of my book and hers are completely different, I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious. My publisher and I plan to revise my novel for future printings to eliminate any inappropriate similarities.

"I sincerely apologize to Megan McCafferty and to any who feel they have been misled by these unintentional errors on my part."

The book had a first printing of 100,000 copies.

Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch told The Associated Press on Monday that he did not think Viswanathan's borrowings were caused by the pressures of being both a student and an author.

Pietsch also declined to blame Viswanathan's collaboration with 17th Street Productions Inc., a book packager that specializes in teen narratives and helped her develop the story.

"Every word in that book was written by her, for better or for worse," he said, adding that work on a new edition would begin "tomorrow."

Viswanathan, who was 17 when she signed her contract with Little, Brown, is the youngest author signed by the publisher in decades. DreamWorks has already acquired the movie rights to her first book.

Viswanathan's novel tells the story of Opal, a hard-driving teen from New Jersey who earns straight A's in high school but who gets rejected from Harvard because she forgot to have a social life. Opal's father concocts a plan code-named HOWGAL (How Opal Will Get A Life) to get her past the admission's office.

McCafferty's books follow a heroine named Jessica, a New Jersey girl who excels in high school but struggles with her identity and longs for a boyfriend. McCafferty is a former editor at Cosmopolitan who has written three novels.


Associated Press Writer Andrew Ryan contributed to this story.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

April 24, 2006

Defying Definition!

Can I call you a friend?
Because you’ll listen
to my ravings and ranting,
however inane
Because you’ll hear
the sorry unsaid.

Will I call you a friend?
Because you don’t see
my philanderings;
innumerable may be.
Because you don’t look
for those promises unkept;
that lack of sensitivity.

May I call you a friend?
Because you matter;
though senselessness pervades.
And I look around for you.
Because you’re the hold
while life rushes out from under my feet.