December 24, 2009

The 'Health Care Overhaul Bill' Passes in the Senate - Obama's First (amputated) Deliverable?


The Health Care Overhaul Bill was passed in the senate on a party line vote of 60 - 39, and President Obama called it “the most important piece of social legislation since the Social Security Act passed in the 1930s ......With today's vote, we are now incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality in this country,.... Our challenge, then, is to finish the job. We can't doom another generation of Americans to soaring costs and eroding coverage and exploding deficits."

The Bill at a glance:

  • it will not offer the public option
  • it will not offer illegal residents coverage, even if they can pay for it themselves
  • it will almost certainly increase by at least 30 million the number of people covered by government and private health insurance.
  • it will for the first time require most individuals to buy health insurance
  • it also will offer federal subsidies to help pay premiums
  • it will impose penalties on employers that do not offer workers affordable policies
  • it will set up an insurance exchange where individuals can shop for coverage if they have no job-based coverage
  • it will make insurance companies end practices that have made it hard for people to get coverage when they get sick or have a chronic disease by setting caps on total payments, for example, or denying coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition
  • it will let young adults stay longer on their parents' health plan
  • it will allow families free preventive health care such as well-baby visits and mammograms.
  • it will give health care professionals incentives to provide more cost-effective care and face penalties if they do not
  • it will give Americans the right to live a healthy life

December 18, 2009

Extremes



What deeps, the droves of loneliness can dig!
Can make you weep and cry for things inane.
A tearing need
a dire craving
an endless pit
an angry chasm

What chances the angst of age can augur!
Can make the sanest soul savor a life on edge.
A growing fear
a silent scream
a senseless infatuation
a one night stand

What abuse marginalization can procure!
Can make the apathetic cringe for sure.
a soundless whipping
an endless pain
a racial slur
an ire unexplained.

December 10, 2009

Support "The 'Dream Act" - A Bill Truly 'American' !


The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

(Emma Lazarus' poem inscribed on the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands)

Juan came to this country when he was 10 years old. He was heartbroken to leave his grandmother behind in Honduras, his native country; she had been the sole family he had had for the first ten years of his life. His father left Honduras before Juan came into the world, and his mother left shortly after, seeking a new life in the USA. Some ten years later, Juan is told that his parents have sent for him, and he boards a plane to come to the USA to join his parents who are now illegal immigrants as their visitor VISA had expired within a few months of their arrival.

Juan joins two strangers, his parents, in a strange land and starts in a strange American Public School setting where his native language, Spanish, is of no help. He is enrolled in an ESL program, and that is the beginning of his academic career. The 11 year old gradually gets acclimatized to his new parents in the new setting, and is gladdened by the arrival of his baby brother who till date is the only one Juan considers as his real family. Within months of his arrival, Juan too becomes an illegal alien, a status he is completely oblivious of until he is in his junior year at high school and is thinking of college as his next step toward living the American dream. What is more is that Juan is now a star soccer player who has been the MVP in the county for two consecutive years scoring the highest number of goals. At the All Star Game, the recruiters all make a beeline for Juan only to lose interest when the coach tells them of Juan's undeclared legal status. In the meanwhile, Juan is slowly awakening to to the reality of his situation; he sees his team mates, who played soccer only so that they could put that on their resume, being accepted to colleges on full and partial scholarships. His high school coach tries to find Juan a spot in a community college only to find that the college cannot give Juan any money because he is undocumented. Juan's parents in the meanwhile, decide to separate, and decide that Juan will go with the father and Jose the younger would stay with the mother. Juan cannot bear the thought of separating from Jose, the one human being he feels connected with! He protests but to no avail. His father, who is a part owner in a construction business, has to relocate because of the non availability of jobs in the current recession. As a result of the financial crunch, he will also not be able to help pay for Juan's college. Juan is devastated; his dream of going to college and being able to play soccer at a college level is shattered!


Juan has since done odd jobs accompanying his father to construction sites every now and again. He plays soccer whenever he can on adult leagues that call him when they are short on players for practices. That may perhaps be only reason why Juan hasn't sunk into depression despite the hopeless situation he finds himself in.

Why should this trusting 19 year old have to pay a price this big for something he really is not responsible for? Why should Juan have to suffer for the decisions made by his parents? Why does he have to suffer the illegal alien status when the USA is the only place he recognizes as home, a home he has never been outside of since he first arrived here?

The 'Dream Act' can bring hope into Juan's life and into the lives of thousands of other Juans who live their life in fear, in a kind of limbo that they cannot find a way out of. Life is passing by for the Juans of this country, and we can change that if we support the Dream Act that will give the children of illegal immigrants their life and the opportunity to live out their American Dream!

November 22, 2009

A Relationship - An Asset or a Liability?


A chance meeting actuates it:
a glance, a touch, a word, an act
can set it in motion.

It takes root
before you know it.
It starts to grow
and you sense it.
It starts to knock
you can still ignore it.
It starts to move in;
now you feel the push.
Finally it occupies
n then you wonder at it!

When? How? Why?
And what next?
Will it stay?
Will it grow?
Will it co exist
or will it replace?
Will it calm?
or will it rile up?
Will it destroy?

Will it bring:
a new vision
with a new meaning,
maybe a new understanding
to begin a new chapter?
Perhaps one of the last,
as mortality beckons.

November 11, 2009

Jude Law on Broadway - an energetic and mercurial Hamlet.


Jude Law brought his own flavor to Shakespeare's Hamlet. The British actor carried the role with a vitality and vitriol that was truly captivating. His use of pauses, as tools to manipulate audience response, was a masterful stroke that had the audience participate in his eccentric-sounding yet witty pondering. Jude Law presented a Hamlet whose hands and body movement spoke volumes for him, as did his poignant pauses in speech delivery. This prince was more prone to flights of mercurial fancy. He drove speedily in and out of emotions such as anger, ridicule, jest, and pain; unlike other Hamlets he did not indulge in long bouts of melancholia and brooding. Jude Law's lean physique lent itself to this characterization of ebullience and vitality, not quite associated with earlier Hamlets. This combination of vitriol and energy in Mr Law's spasmodic yet graceful bodily movements quite compliment the indecisiveness in Hamlet 's character! Which makes me wonder how exhausted he must have been at the end of the 3 hour 15 minutes performance during which he performed for more than 40% of the time! Also, I would be curious to know if Mr Law surprised himself by his range of rendition in presenting the Danish Prince to audiences in London and New York over the last few months. In fact in one interview he admits, " there is no definitive ‘Hamlet,’ because you don’t play Hamlet, Hamlet plays you."

Mr Michael Grandage, the director of the play, has done a splendid job of creating an austere Demark, 'an unweeded garden' with 'things rank and gross'. The set and costumes are both, in minimalist tradition. The metaphor of Denmark as prison was well captured by the cold, grey fortified walls that Hamlet was presented against and within, as were the costumes in subdued shades of grey, blue, and brown. The supporting cast members did reasonably well to support Mr Law in one of his best performances, though they did appear wanting in a few scenes when they were pitted against a superbly fluid and natural Hamlet, not quite as somber or melancholy as the earlier Hamlets played by Lawrence Oliviere and Richard Burton.

This is a show I strongly recommend! I was pained at the amount it cost a dear one to have me watch this play on Broadway, but it was definitely worth it. Jude Law's rendition of Hamlet is in fact a tribute to Shakespeare's characterization.

November 06, 2009

"A Poet' - Defies Definition ?

A poet is...

a passive painter of words
plush with passionate beliefs;

a traveler in a trance-like state
disconnected yet empathetic;

a sensitive soul, doubtless,
yet doesn't bother blending;

a stranger who defies definition
yet spends a lifetime seeking one!

October 15, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize a "Political Liability" for President Obama?


"I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."
President Barack Obama on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009

David Axelrod's statement, " I'd like to believe that winning the Nobel Peace Prize is not a political liability" made me stop and wonder on a possibility.... Would conferring a recognition of that proportion impact/burden an individual like Obama such that he could make choices which he would not have otherwise made? Will the lure of being remembered in posterity make Obama more global and less national? Will the thought of sharing space in history books in years to come with the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela, affect Obama's decision making today, especially on global issues such as immigration, nuclear proliferation, climate change, human rights, and poverty?

The Nobel committee that selected President Obama, based the selection on, "Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons". A preemptive strategy, perhaps, to ensure global peace by presenting a unique opportunity to the leader of the most powerful nation in the world to become revered in the annuls of history. Will this bait of recognition work its charm? Will Obama's decisions henceforth have a distinct global f(l)avor? Will he now scrutinize his agendas under a global/philanthropic lens? Will he consciously or unconsciously try to justify the honor conferred on him, and will the world be the better for it? Will the USA end up becoming the collateral damage in all this?

I am optimistic about my President; yet, these questions linger...

September 15, 2009

"A Honeyed Gaze" - A Sonnet


Do they smile for me I wonder ..
Crinkling almost as if to lure
And then suddenly they dance
While stealing a glance
Furtively flirting so often
readily waiting to soften
Appealing and repealing
Like a lover besotted

Honey gold blinders
so forlorn yet tender
Innocently they seduce
with a gaze so compelling
that its a tug at your heart
saying, "Do we have to part?"

September 03, 2009

"My Antonia"- Willa Cather's Sensitive Portrayal of the Eternal American Displacement

Thank you Gloria, for lending me Willa Cathers 'My Antonia', an amazing piece of American literature that brings alive Nebraska of the 1880s. It is in this backdrop that Ms. Cathers presents her endearing protagonist, Antonia, the epitome of the female pioneer spirit of the late 1800s, when a woman was but an adage in a male dominated world.

Antonia, a Bohemian immigrant comes to Nebraska as a twelve year old along with her family, all of who don't speak English. There she meets Jim Burden, a young American boy who is forced to move in with his grandparents after the untimely death of his parents. This marks the beginning of a very deep and unique relationship that Kathleen Norris calls "a remarkable friendship between a man and woman of different cultures and classes, a childhood affection that helps ...reconcile them to Nebraska, to the past, and to life itself." It is no surprise therefore when an adult Jim confesses, "You really are a part of me." Ms. Cathers has presented two very enchanting individuals in Jim and Antonia, both of who are committed to overcoming their odds with a stoicism that baffles. What is more intriguing is their deep understanding of each others decisions and actions, even as their living worlds are gradually growing apart with Jim going to university for a 'mental awakening...that introduced (him) to the world of ideas", and Antonia, in the meanwhile 'had come home disgraced' because she is 'not married... and (she) ought to be."

The underlying message in the novel is brilliantly captured by an image that Cathers introduces toward the middle of the novel, that of a gigantic plow against the orange hue of the setting sun epitomizing the harshness of frontier life in Nebraska as completely dominating every nicety and finesse that life chanced to offer. The endless struggle for survival amid the 'brutality of pioneer life in the prairies' appeared to have overshadowed, perhaps even defeated, and certainly redefined many sublime human emotions such as love and caring. The 'plow' with all its symbolic undertones wins hands down as it looms large between Antonia and the warmth of a comfortable life. Yet the plow cannot be hated since it singularly sustains life in the cold and cruel prairies of Nebraska. It is extremely valuable, so much so that it could make university learning, like Jim's 'mental awakening', appear shallow and meaningless in comparison.

Willa Cathers has spun a remarkable story of lasting friendship that is unique and undoubtedly ahead of its times given that Tim and Antonia could just as well have been ideal lovers or a well matched couple had it not been for the time period in which they lived. Their deep respect and unconditional love for each other and for the land that sustains them make for tragic undertones which strangely enough are satisfying for the reader. The novelist so nonchalantly spins the tragic and the sublime as it follows the lives of two undaunted human beings who are, both lovers and victims of Nebraska's unforgiving prairies.

August 13, 2009

"Strangers" an IFC Movie Makes for a Strange Romance Against the Backdrop of a World Cup Soccer Final!


Having just watched the World Cup Qualifier soccer match between Mexico and US at Azteca, I couldn’t resist Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv’s “Strangers”, an IFC movie (watch trailer) that won the ‘Viewers Award” at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It is a movie set against the backdrop of the World Cup Soccer Final in Berlin, but halfway through, the action moves to France, the home of Rana the illegal Palestinian immigrant, also the female lead in the movie. However, immigration is not the main focus of the film. The film is about a bond that develops between two unlikely lovers, who under normal circumstances would have had the Western Wall of Jerusalem dividing them. Eyal, the male protagonist, and Rana meet in Germany, where both have come to watch the Soccer World Cup final. A chance encounter in a foreign country, between two lonely soccer lovers develops into a passionate relationship which unfortunately gets cut-short when Rana has to rush back to Paris where she lives.

The movie is an easy watch with Lubna Azabal doing a remarkable job as the feisty liberal who lives out the belief that ‘we always have choices’. Leron Levo as Eyal, the Israeli tourist, has a lanky laid back charm that grows on Lubna as much as it does on the viewer as the movie progresses. Moreover, the camaraderie that the two share on screen is all pervasive and reinforces the underlying message of the movie, of love being all powerful. But that does not make the movie a preachy-mushy romance because every now and again we see reality intervene when Eyal and Rana watch harsh footage of the ongoing Palestinian Israeli conflict on TV, to which both react in their unique ways.

"Strangers", though no ground breaker in terms of its theme or its setting, is certainly worth watching for the simple reason that it captures both heart and imagination. If you are a soccer lover, you will enjoy the movie even more because “Strangers” also showcases the universality of soccer to bring together the most disparate and the most unlikely.

August 11, 2009

Kate Chopin's "The Awakening"- Captures the Early Feminist Movement in America?


I remember reading Kate Chopin's short story "A Pair of Silk Stockings" in High School, but thanks to a British education system, Kate Chopin and other equally interesting American writers never made it to my active reading lists until I was in my twenties. "The Awakening", one of only two novels that Ms. Chopin wrote, is a delightful read which takes the reader to New Orleans in the early 1900s when women were grappling with basic identity issues in the South while the likes of Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony wre busy establishing the National Women Suffrage Association in NY.

The chief protagonist of the novel, Mrs. Edna Pontellier, an artist and a thinking woman of the early 1900s 'refuses to be caged by married and domestic life and claims for herself moral and erotic freedom" thus becoming a hallmark character of the feminist movement that had started gaining ground across the country. No surprise therefore that Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" was one of many 'feminist literature' books that was pulled off the shelves for being 'morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable'.

Interestingly it is Edna Pontellier's Creole connection, Madame Lebrun's predominantly female summer colony on Grand Isle, that sparks Edna's quest for self outside the patriarchal culture that surrounds her. The openness with which her Creole friends discuss their intimate relationships is something that both embarrasses and piques Edna Pontellier. This strong reaction of hers eventually results in Edna stepping out of her traditional role as wife and mother to explore her world, something that gives her a sense of personal fulfillment. Her initial trepidation and fears during the course of this journey could easily have made her abandon her exploratory quest but for her friend Mademoiselle Reisz, the pianist. Reisz's words, "The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies" inspire and encourage Edna to continue her maiden 'swim...blindly following whatever impulse moved her as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility...running away from prayers...a stifling atmosphere...and reach the open air."

The male characters are no less intriguing than Edna is in the novel, and they could become interesting research projects in themselves: Leonce - Edna Pontellier' husband, Robert Lebrum - Edna's love interest, and Alcee Arobin - Edna's first sexual encounter outside of marriage. Each one of these characters introduces a different flavor of male society as it existed at the time: Leonce, the domineering husband who is indifferent to the emotional and social needs of his family; Robert Lebrun- a 'ladies' man with limited finacial capability who falls madly in love with Edna but has no clue about what to do next; Alcee Arobin - a businessman who is a womanizer and gambler and ultimately manages to seduce Edna.

The title of the novel could just as well be the theme of the novel. It is Edna's 'awakening' as an artist, as a thinking woman living in New Orleans in the early 1900s who wishes to live life on her own terms. Ms. Chopin has, indeed, created a very powerful character in Edna, almost too powerful for both the times and the plot of the novel; Edna's character pushes the boundaries of both, demanding her space on the sheer power of what she brings to the table.

Definitely a novel I would recommend as a hallmark read of the early feminist literary movement in the USA.

August 05, 2009

Jack Finney's 'Time and Again' - Suggesting a Makeover for New Yorkers?

Jack Finney's Time and Again is a tribute to New York City of the yesteryear. The author has created a warm and endearing picture of Manhattan in the 1880s through the vivid and accurate lens of an illustrator, Si Morley, also the chief protagonist and time traveler of this novel.

Mr Finney's novel, though about time travel, cannot be categorized as science fiction; which does not take away from the novel in any way as it is simply an observation and not meant as a derogatory reference. Regardless of what literary category the novel may fall under, Time and Again is an engrossing read that provides suspense and romance within a historical context. The protagonist, a resident of Manhattan in the 1970s, takes on a government sponsored time-travel project and chooses to go back to Manhattan of the 1880s by the sheer strength of his will power. While straddling between the two worlds of past and present, both of which are set in and around Manhattan, Si, the protagonist, falls in love. This emotional involvement becomes the source of a major conflict for Si who now has to make a choice between the two worlds he has been romancing. The conflict is not only for Si to resolve because, by this time, the reader is as much a part of the two Manhattans as is Si, and like Si, the reader too has a difficult choice confronting him. For every New York lover this part of the novel will prove heart rending and will make for a lot of reflection and questioning: What if I had to make this choice? Have Manhattan and New Yorkers really changed that much? Has that change been for the better? Has the city lost it's heart in its effort to be the 'business capital of the world'? Have New Yorkers "shut themselves off from the streets around them, alien and separate from the city they lived in, suspicious of it...no one took any particular pleasure in it."

Clearly there is a sense of nostalgia for a Manhattan of the past whose residents "moved through their lives in unquestioned certainty that there was a reason for being...their faces were animated, alive in that moment and place....pleasure they felt at being outdoors, in the winter, in a city they liked...conscious of time and money...all sorts of expressions just as today, but they were also interested in their surroundings...and above all they carried with them a sense of purpose...they weren't bored, for God's sake!"

Whether Si ultimately makes a choice, and whether that choice changes or interferes with the past that is already gone, is really not that significant. In fact, toward the end, the plot almost seems subservient to the soul searching journeys that the reader takes with Si, from the past to the present, in and around Central Park. These travels paint a vividly stark contrast of life then, and life now in Manhattan; it is a picture not easy to ignore or shake off given that there are some interesting illustrations given at various points in the novel of NYC in the 1880s.

"To correct mistakes of the past which have adversely affected the present for us - what an incredible opportunity" could perhaps have been Finney's driving theme for this novel. The question is whether New York today needs 'correction', and whether time travel into the past is the only way to do it? Could reading this novel do the trick, perhaps?

August 03, 2009

Ode to Rocks and Landforms


Eye to eye with eternity...

All the Time

when You were

and I wasn’t.


Folding of mountains

to makings of oceans;

happenings You partook in

and I inherited.


Birth of life forms,

extinction of species;

processes You hosted

and I became a part of.


Evolution in progress

until the arrival of man;

history You witnessed

and I be the proof of.


Sideling Hill in Maryland

a syncline in rock

some million years old;

a road cut that reveals

antiquity and tribulations

a saga often untold.

July 30, 2009

A Hindu Temple in the USA


A friend and I visited a 'Mandir' (Hindu Temple) located near Princeton a few days ago and that lead to some very interesting discussions about religion: its place in a given culture, and its perception outside of its natural home. Given that my friend had never ventured into a Hindu Temple ever before, I was curious to know her reactions, and she agreed to let me post those, and here they are:

1. The inside (of the temple) setting was very informal, and contrary to what she had imagined. The few people in there were chatting and some were sitting in groups on the carpeted floor as that was the only available seating.

2. The statues had identical faces and expressions, yet each had a unique embellishment to set it apart like a musical instrument or a weapon. All the idols were light skinned, had European features, and some even had light eyes. They all looked serene, almost benign.

3. "It did seem strange to see people praying before those figures. In a Catholic church the people pray (often very intently) before statues of saints or Christ, but these statues represent real people that once lived and are remembered for some particular reasons. The statues in the temple were not representing anything real, which is why I asked you if they represent an idea. My very first thought when I saw them was these are the "false idols" we were always taught about as children in religion classes, and the people who worship them were the "pagans" we were supposed to feel sorry for, because they didn't know "God." I always thought it was silly to feel sorry for them. I was quite sure they were very satisfied with their gods who had as much meaning for them as mine did for me. I guess I never was the ideal Catholic student. I asked too many questions. Did you ever read Bless Me, Ultima? That Catholic church was the one I knew, and Ultima's religion was the one that made more sense to me."

Makes me wonder about my first reactions to the different places of worship I have entered for the very first time ...

July 24, 2009

U.N. Intervention vs Humanitarian Imperialism


United Nations Secretary General, Ban-Ki- Moon " ...resist those who turn our common effort to curb the worst atrocities in human history into a struggle over ideology, geography or economics...It is high time to turn the promise of the 'responsibility-to-protect' into practice."' (July 2009)

2005 UN World Summit adopted the “responsibility to protect,” known as R2P, which “formalized the notion that when a state proves unable or unwilling to protect its people, and crimes against humanity are perpetrated, the international community has an obligation to intervene—if necessary, and as a last resort, with military force.

... then how does one explain the continuing humanitarian crises in Dar-fur, Congo, and Iraq?

Does Noam Chomsky's explanation answer this...

Noam Chomsky : "The UN system doubtless suffers from severe defects. The most critical defect is the overwhelming role of the leading violators of Security Council resolutions. The most effective way to violate them is to veto them, a privilege of the permanent members. Since the UN fell out of its control forty years ago the United States is far in the lead in vetoing resolutions on a wide range of issues, its British ally is second, and no one else is even close. Nevertheless, despite these and other serious defects of the UN system, the current world order offers no preferable alternative than to vest the “responsibility to protect” in the United Nations... and the humanitarian imperialism” of the powerful states that claim the right to use force because they “believe it to be just,” all too regularly and predictably “perverting the administration of justice itself.

...does that mean that in order for the UN to be effective, it has to turn a blind eye to the apparent hegemony that is practiced by some countries because they happen to be the major resource providers for the UN?


Would this explanation suffice...

US Ambassador to UN, Susan Rice : "There will be more perpetrators...more victims. But we must work to ensure that there will also be more justice and fewer and fewer bystanders."

Do you see future UN interventions as necessary, viable, and justifiable?

July 16, 2009

Daphne Beal's "In the Land of no Right Angles" - Designed to Lack 'a' Perspective?

I picked up Daphne Beal's "In the Land of no Right Angles" simply because I happened to be at the local library without my 'to read' list. As always I fell prey to the newness of the setting, Nepal, a very small country perched in the Himalayan mountains.


The writer's sensuous descriptions of the various locales in the novel, especially Kathmandu and Jankat in Nepal were perhaps the high point for me. It was like a vicarious journey into this picturesque land which seemed untouched by the vagaries of the West except for the few adventure seeking tourists and mountaineers who come here. Alex, the protagonist in the novel, is one such visitor who comes back a second time only to say goodbye to the simple and kind people of a small Nepalese village, Jankat, that had hosted her for a few months while she was there working as student researcher. Her trek to and from Jankat makes for a vivid and captivating read. Ms. Beal has an innate ability to draw color, smell, sound, and texture into her writings in a way that transports the reader into her settings be it the seedy and dangerous red-light area in Mumbai, the crowded sweat-reeking streets of Calcutta, or then the pristine and alluring slopes of Jankat.


Given that the protagonist is a westerner, and a woman who travels East to this exotic land of Nepal and who “ wanted to come home different from what I’d been—bolder, wiser, happier”, the storyline was almost predictable for me as it followed a well trodden path - that of self dicovery for the protagonist, where she discovers a side to herself that she is reluctant to claim. This self discovery is made possible for Alex because of Maya, the 'other' woman in the story; a beautiful, young, and undaunted Nepali girl who is quite the enigma for Alex and also the reader unfortunately. The death of Maya's sibling haunts her, and all her actions are driven by this painful reality; however, most of her decisions are highly questionable as are the actions they result in. In the light of which, Alex's near obsession with Maya's well being becomes unjustifiable to the reader as it seems so obviously misplaced.

There are some other interesting characters in the novel like the young free spirited professor, Will, who practices sex as an art and charms native Nepalese girls and his research students to join him in his artistic endeavors. Then there is the Heathcliff like Karsan, who Alex has a soft corner for and eventually gets into a physical relationship with. But, like Maya, Karsan carries a lot of emotional baggage which to the reader remains unexplained and completely unnecessary, especially in the light of the ending. Which ultimately leads me to believe that this is perhaps what the writer meant for the reader to carry away : that there are 'no right angles'. Every perspective on the situation, no matter from what 'angle', has a flaw; there are ' no right angles'!

Ms. Beale's first novel, "In the Land of no Right Angles', despite all the questions it raises, is worth reading because it's summertime! If you are sitting at home, unable to vacation in a faraway place that you long to be in, this novel will give you wings!

July 14, 2009

Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" Captures Small Town America in the Early 1900


"An archeologist's eyes combine the view of the telescope and the view of the microscope. He reconstructs the very distant with the help of the very small. It was something of this method that I brought to a New Hampshire village. --Thornton Wilder, "A Preface for Our Town" [1938]


A simple tale simply told about life at it's simplest in a small village in New Hampshire, USA in the early 1900s. 'Simple' as this play seems, it sends the most profound and universal message: cherish the moment and live it like there were no tomorrow because death will and does end it all.

It took me less than two hours to read this play, at the end of which I stopped to reflect on the things I so verily take for granted; perhaps, exactly what Wilder hoped from his audience.

"Our Town" is a popular prescribed-text in American High Schools, and I would recommend it to anyone who is w(e)ary of long and dense writings.

July 13, 2009

"Anil's Ghost" by Michael Ondaatje - Documents Sri Lanka's Unsung Civil War.

Michael Ondaatje, better known for his Booker Prize winning novel "The English Patient" that was made into an Oscar Winning movie, believes ''Writing is a kind of archaeological act, ... In all my books there is a discovery of a story. You're unearthing and you're learning. The drama is to find out about the characters.''

Ondaatje's novel Anil's Ghost is in fact about an archaeological adventure undertaken by his protagonist Anil in the picturesque island nation of Sri Lanka, once the homeland of both Anil and the author. Anil, a forensic anthropologist, comes to Sri Lanka on an international human rights fact-finding mission to investigate possible war crimes committed in the Sri Lankan Civil War during the 1980s. Shortly into the novel, she unearths her first lead, a 'subject', which apparently is a displaced skeleton; possibly that of a tortured war victim in the 1980s. Collaborating with her on her humanitarian fact-finding mission is a native archaeologist Sarath who, as the reader finds out, also has some 'personal unearthing' to do as well. During the course of the novel, both Sarath and Anil discover closely guarded secrets of the Civil War as a result of their archaeological quest; just as they do secrets about themselves; ones that they've never admitted to, so far. Ondaatje's novel is as much about self discovery as it is about throwing light on the innumerable brutalities that went undocumented during the Sri Lankan Civil War; while Anil and Sarath, the archaeologists, open graves, Ondaatje, the writer, opens up their past to the reader with "a pen instead of a scalpel or blow torch...It's what the writer does with any character. On one level you're moving forward, but in the other, you're revealing the past."

This novel must have been special for Ondaatje since it is based in his native country of Sri Lanka that he left at the age of eight. In fact he shares this commonality with the protagonist Anil who "was a stranger but who had come from that country... who had been liberated by living in the West and was now in a country that was a male world.'' By having a female protagonist, Ondaatje gave himself "an extra pair of glasses" that "allowed (him) to see the place differently.'' Clearly, here is a novelist who wants to explore situations and identities with a plethora of lenses. However, at times, the lens is torturous, especially when focusing on the violence that became so commonplace in Sri Lanka during the 1980s.

A very intense read.

July 01, 2009

Life As We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer's Compelling Read!


I have my colleague Liz to thank for recommending this young-adult piece of fiction, Life As We Knew It. She and I have discussed reading habits and reading strategies endlessly these past some years, and finally here is a piece which could lure even the most resistant reader. Ms Pfeffer has done a remarkable job of spinning a story around a catastrophic event that impacts the entire world, and she has done it with an ease and a simplicity which is both appealing though sometimes questionable. However, her tale is so captivating that it compels the reader to set aside his disbelief and go along with the flow of events as Ms. Pfeffer would have him do. As a reader, I felt like putty in the story teller's hand as she had me react exactly the way she would want. Now that is not something easy to do, and it is to the credit of the writer that she is able to anaesthicize the most alacritous of readers with her brilliant storytelling.

The earth's moon gets hit by a meteor and the moon is nudged closer to the earth, and therein lies all the action of Life As We Knew It, since the earth is now no longer how it used to be! Now it is upto the protagonist, Miranda, a young 14+ year old living in Pennsylvania to document her day to day life after this calamitous event. Written in the form of a diary, the account is simplistic as it is age appropriate, but it has the reader in its grip. Whether Miranda and her family survive this catastrophe, and if so how, is for each one to find out for himself, but here is a read worth undertaking as it is exciting and appears short because it is so compelling.

Having said that, I do have to admit that I had a few questions about the novel in hindsight. One of which I posted on this new writer's website, about the credibility of the story, and I am hoping to hear from Ms. Pfeffer about the same.
I have just posted her response to my questions in the 'comments'.

June 26, 2009

Iranian Soccer Players Face Lifetime Ban - 'Justice', Ahmedanijad Style?

As if the widespread reign of terror and oppression wasn't enough, now Iranian authorities unleash fire on sportsmen!
"Four players, Ali Karimi, 31; the captain against South Korea, Mehdi Mahdavikia, 32; Hosein Ka’abi, 24; and Vahid Hashemian, 32 wore either green wristbands or armbands during the first half of the match....The players were told to remove the wristbands at halftime because FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, prohibits any political displays and because the bands were not part of their uniforms...The gesture by the players drew worldwide attention and comment. In addition to being barred for life by Iran’s soccer officials, the four players have been forbidden to give interviews to the news media." NYT

"Ahmadinejad, a known football fan, has taken a close interest in the sport's affairs. In 2006 Iran was banned from international competition by the world governing body Fifa after claims of improper interference by his government. The ban was later lifted.
This year the national team coach Ali Daei was sacked, reportedly on Ahmadinejad's orders, after a 2-1 home defeat by Saudi Arabia." The Guardian

June 20, 2009

Gimme Shelter: Give Shelter, Save a Life



June 20 is World Refugee Day!

Having created so many refugees, perhaps now we can help create some semblance of a shelter for them until such time that they can go back home. Join UNHCR and Ben Affleck to help displaced fellow beings!

"There are millions around the world in need of shelter, not just physical shelter but respect for their rights and the capacity to live in safety and dignity. In recognition of World Refugee Day, Microsoft has offered to match every donation you make for the next two months. If you donate $10, Microsoft will donate $10. Every donation you and your friends make for the next two months helps our work twice as much. We also know many of you would like to help but cannot afford to donate. Therefore, Microsoft have offered to donate $1 for every person you persuade to join our cause. Use the invite button below of this page to invite your friends to join. Regardless of your location or position, you are just a few clicks away from raising hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars."
DaysLeft:
53

Matching Grant from Microsoft
Expires On: August 14

Microsoft will donate:
$1 for every person who joins

So far: 44,021 people have joined
$44,021 from Microsoft

$1 for every $1 donated
So far: $2,060 from 54 people
$2,060 from Microsoft

June 17, 2009

Milestone for technology or 'US meddling in Iran'?


Twitter is being credited for the political makeover in Iran! This is a milestone, no doubt! Information technology appears to be facilitating public awareness which may perhaps lead to an informed and empowered electorate in Iran that will ensure that they get their leader of choice.


"Monday afternoon, a 27-year-old State Department official, Jared Cohen, e-mailed the social-networking site Twitter with an unusual request: delay scheduled maintenance of its global network, which would have cut off service while Iranians were using Twitter to swap information and inform the outside world about the mushrooming protests around Tehran.


The request, made to a Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, is yet another new-media milestone: the recognition by the United States government that an Internet blogging service that did not exist four years ago has the potential to change history in an ancient Islamic country.

“This was just a call to say: ‘It appears Twitter is playing an important role at a crucial time in Iran. Could you keep it going?’ ” said P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs.


Twitter complied with the request, saying in a blog post on Monday that it put off the upgrade until late Tuesday afternoon — 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in Tehran — because its partners recognized “the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran.”

NYT June 17, 2009

May 05, 2009

Crossing Over


The pulse that throbs
to the beat of my heart.
The voice that I hear,
so dear and so near,
when things fall apart.


A final parting?
A goodbye forever?
Can this be it?
A lasting separation?


The pain that sears
seeing love disappear.
As the insides retch,
the mind's in shambles
'n emptiness rambles.


Both the enstranged
and departed are torn,
as am I, in fear,
of an end so forlorn.

April 28, 2009

Achy Obejas' Cocktail of Characters in "Ruins"!


Achy Obejas recent novel "Ruins" takes the reader to Cuba in the 1990s and screens it through the eyes of a die hard nationalist. The novel does not have much of a storyline, and that perhaps is the reason the reader never feels completely engrossed. Also, I found myself resisting the lens that was offerred to me by the narrator; almost as if I resented the paucity of the information provided by a clearly biased narrator. Obejas could have done so much more with the robust setting that she had chosen; Cuba during this transition period would be a writer's delight, and yet Obejas presented it within a pretty narrow spectrum, and I wonder why...


Usnavy, the die hard nationalist and chief protagonist of the novel, was quite a disappointment and did not make any impact; primarily because the delineation of his character appeared contrived and unoriginal. He reminded me of Old Major in Orwell's "Animal Farm" who dies half way through the novel spouting all that was supposedly 'good' about Animal(Commun)ism. Usnavy also has shades of Willy Loman from Miller's "Death of a Salesman" as the disgruntled idealist, and then there is a distinct similarity that Usnavy bears to Santiago of Hemmingway's "The Old Man and the Sea". These similarities made me feel cheated as a reader; it's almost like the writer put together a cocktail of characteristics from various welldrawn characters in literature and put them into her protagonist. Perhaps, readers who are not familiar with some of the characters I mentioned may find Usnavy appealing, and as a result, they may possibly enjoy the novel. However, even though Usnavy forced me to reminisce on some great characters in Literature, but that did not make him a memorable character. or Ruins a delectable read. Obviously, in my mind there was a stalemate in terms of the character of Usnavy, and I think that really ruined 'Ruins' for me.


I have heard great things about this young writer, and she has received some good reviews this past year, but I will just have to wait to read another of her books ...

April 21, 2009

Introspection

Inspired by someone who is lost but will not listen to a little voice that cares to keep you in the game!

Do you have somewhere to go?
You know there’s a way
if you know how to get there.

Do you want to get there?
You know it isn’t so hard
if you used all your cards.

Do you use all resources?
You know friends can hold on
if not kept waiting too long.

Do you see yourself there?
You know you could
if pursue you would.

Do you imagine you'd pursue?
You know you might
if only you tried.

Do you even mean to try?
You know, NOW, you should
if you care to be understood!

April 13, 2009

Only a Partial "Rescue"; the Pirate Needs Rescuing Too!



This piece does not aim to undermine the courage or the commitment of the rescuers who put their lives on line to save a fellow human being, Captain Richard Phillips, who will go down in naval history as a model Captain.


A 'rescue' alright;
by snipers and seals so savy!
A brave battle in distant waters
betwixt a lifeboat and a navy!

Saving the innocent
from a dastardly attack
by 'pirates' of
a nation -
one fighting for morsels!
A 'rescue' albeit:
of the have from the have not!

A 'rescue' was it?
Tentatively balanced
on a few million dollars.
Hushedly conspired
in powered headquarters.


A 'rescue' no doubt:
one precariously towed-
with a hundred feet of rope;
one fervently prayed for-
on pretty Vermont slopes;
one testily argued -
in Somalian swelter;
one instantly admired -
by American viewers.

A 'rescue' so unique!
Made thinkers to ponder
as to who was captive,
and who the captor...

April 07, 2009

"What do we, as writers, owe our subjects?" - Sudhir Venkatesh's 'Gang Leader for a Day' Fails to Answer.


I had been meaning to read "Gang Leader for a Day" by Sudhir Venkatesh ever since I read about it in an article by Steven Levitts who authored "Freakonomics", a brilliant piece of non fiction that came out a few years ago.

Venkatesh calls himself a 'rogue sociologist' who tested and often defied all norms of academic research while collecting data for this novel which is set in Robert Taylor Homes, a poor and gang infested neighborhood of Chicago. Venkatesh, a graduate student at University of Chicago, takes up a daunting task to study gangster life from within, little knowing that soon it would cease to be a mere study as it would graduate into a complete immersion of him into a life that he had never imagined! This novel documents an unusual relationship between two people of very dissimilar backgrounds and with completely differing goals and futures. Whereas one of them terms this relationship as a friendship, the other is guilt ridden on how to label this relationship, since he clearly sees it as being one-sided, yet is unable to or incapable of reciprocating.

The novel deals with a subject that has been popular with American writers for the last so many decades. Gangs and gangsters have been depicted often enough in motion pictures and other artistic genres; West Side Story being one of the more popular ones. Venkatesh therefore, was not exploring uncharted territory here, but it is his approach and the fact that he is who he is, that makes this book a trifle unique. Sudhir Venkatesh is a Southern Californian of Indian origin who has attended good schools and had lead a sheltered life until J.T happened to him. J.T on the other hand, the gangster from Chicago who Venkatesh chooses as his subject study, is a product of the projects and has lived the life of a 'have not' until he became a member of the Black King gang in which he steadily rose in rank to eventually become one of its leaders. It is this relationship between Sudhir and J.T, that gives this piece of non-fiction an emotional twist. What starts off as a 'study', a 'research project' spirals into a complex human interaction with some highly charged give-and-takes.

An interesting and captivating read, but toward the end it had me wondering about the writer's motives behind this extensive research; what was the writers objective, and was it achieved? If this were academic research in Sociology, what did it lead to other than instant celebrity status for the writer who is already enjoying the fruits of his unusual and daring research; he is now a chaired professor at Columbia University. I am also told that Dr. Venkatesh is currently busy with another research project involving poverty, but it is in France this time. In the meanwhile, J.T, the Chicago gangster, is simply thankful " as long as I am not behind bars and breathing, every day is a good day."

Who said life is fair or academia clean!

A Human Story

Tears and smiles
do color this life
in hues and shades
that promptly fade.

The fear to tear
so always near.
The need to smile
always takes a while

Tears and smiles-
manifest a call
Casting a vote-
an emotional poll?

Foreclosures both,
do clearly imply
an inadequacy
to live out a lie.

Having said that,
how do I compile -
a human story sans
tears and smiles.

March 30, 2009

Teacher - the revolutionary ( Part 1)

Human Being's recent post, "I'm not a Thief..." compelled me to revisit and re post this three-part essay on ' the teacher and the taught' that I posted a few years ago:

I came across this interesting article by A. Dee Williams titled 'Teaching as an Act of Love:Towards a Revolutionary Vision of Teacher Quality'. The article talks about what it takes to be a teacher. The author lays out a three fold relationship between teacher and student that makes for real learning. Here's the first fold:

"A teacher is a revolutionary. A revolution is a change in the way things are organized. As we teach we create revolution because we change patterns of thought. Cognitive psychology and developmental psychology tell us that the adolescent locks in on the first possible solution to a problem and once equipped with this possible solution, will not explore new possibilities. (Myers, 1999) The role of a teacher is to re-open the evaluation process and have the students begin to practice exploring different options, and when faced with different viable alternative solutions, use critical analysis and reflection to choose the direction of their life. As William Ayres writes, a teacher calls students to look beyond the reality of the moment "you can change your life. Whoever you are, wherever you have been, whatever you have done, [I] invite you to a second chance, another round, perhaps a different conclusion. [I] posit possibility, openness, and alternative; [I] point to what could be, but is not yet. [I] beckon you to change your path"."
.... to be continued

March 29, 2009

...Teacher - the activist ( Part 2)



A teacher is an activist, and has to lead by example. Students have to see you fight injustice around you, even if it's about dealing with the structural inequities of the school itself, especially ones that relate to the students. They must see you take on their cause and fight for it. If the students can see you fighting for them, they will better be able to address the inequities and injustice in their own lives. Furthermore it also makes them cognizant of your love for them. A teacher is in fact an advocate of love; not the feeling , but the love that manifests itself in action.

Bell Hooks talks about love as "the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth." The ways in which the teacher opens the curriculum up to a student or a group of students is the first way that she can express her love to a student. As a teacher, she can empower the student to leave his comfort zone and venture into areas thus far challenging or even unexplored. Then, by encouraging the student to 'feel comfortable being uncomfortable' the teacher plants and fosters risk taking abilities in the student. A skill that'll forever come handy to the student when going down untrodden paths or etching out new ones!
...to be continued

March 28, 2009

...Teacher - a friend ( Part 3)


A teacher is a friend. "a friend of my mind...the pieces I am. She gathers them and gives them back to me in all the right order"(Toni Morrison). As Ayers says this bond of 'friendship does not end the last day of school' because 'a teacher affects eternity, he never knows when his influence stops'(Mitch Albom). Lessons learned and shared with a teacher can come back years later to help make important decisions, not very different from a best friend who is forever there when you need him. A teacher can be a lifelong friend from whom you have nothing to hide because he's been with you through the thick and thins of your early years. Much like a revolutionary , a teacher has the courage to hold up a mirror to your world and you, have the patience to listen to your endless excuses, have the resilience of an activist to be by you in your numerous failed ventures, and finally, much like a true friend, she has a unique love for you which always translates into meaningful action that'll always take up your cause in some way or the other.
If one day, one of my students looks back and remembers something they learned while in my presence, if they hear my voice when confronting a problem, if their thought patterns are forever evolving to adapt to a newer reality, then I will have left a footprint. I will have been a teacher.

March 17, 2009

Pedro Almodovar's "Hable Con Ella" or "Talk to Her"


Communicating with another being alleviates loneliness; that is a well known fact, but if the other being happens to be comatose...what then? Pedro Almodovar's movie "Talk to Her" addresses this 'what then' situation in a plot that flits between the past and the present; yet, has the audience flowing along with the fluidity and ease of a participant.

Two men nursing two comatose women; both claim to love the woman they are nursing , but their ways of caring are vastly different. There is one who 'talks' to his beloved constantly and keeps her current on all that interests her in the outside world: the movies/ the musicals she loves and which he watches only to give her a feedback on them. He is a selfless caregiver who worships his lovers body by tending to it as a mother would. On the other hand we have the other man, a writer, caring for his bull fighter beloved with a distant and stoic silence that isolates him from the audience and perhaps also from his comatose beloved; something he has to be made aware of. Both men face the harsh reality that their beloved may never regain consciousness, and yet they continue to be there in the medical facility with their loved one every waking moment. The two men meet while at the facility and establish a unique bond that outlasts their roles as care givers.

The two comatose women are just as disparate as are their circumstances and basically serve to bring out some strong emotions from the men who love them. The women come across as predefined characters who are very physical and hardly develop during the course of the movie. It is the two men with their loyalty and passion that make for the pace of the movie. Almodovar in and through this movie seems to be seeking an answer to a primal question about whether love is really a need, and whether loyalty is in fact what is labeled as love. In finding his answers Almodovar creates a tragedy that has at its center a character who we can't sympathize with, yet, we come out of the movie hall with a complete understanding of why he did what he did. There is a repugnance for the act he commits, yet there is empathy for the rationale behind the act. A movie maker who can tear the soul of his audience so, has to be master artist, and Almodovar certainly is.

There are sexually explicit scenes in the movie that might shock and even drive away a conservative viewer. In this Spanish movie (has English subtitles), Almodovar explores the boundaries of physicality almost to the verge of near absurdity, but the scenes have an artistic ethos about them, as they raise philosophical questions such as whether love is but lust in genial disguise, and whether loyalty is neediness camouflaged. Admittedly, both my brain and my heart were on overdrive throughout the movie, and I'm still not certain I was entertained as much as I was challenged by Almodovar's creation.

"Hable Con Ella" is a movie that entertains as it intrigues, and it is not for an audience with predefined sensibilities.

March 13, 2009

Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger" - Drawing Parrallels with Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire"?


I would not have read this novel, "The White Tiger", had I not seen the movie "Slumdog Millionaire'. The parallels between Aravind Adiga's novel "The White Tiger" and Danny Boyle's movie "Slumdog Millionaire" are uncanny: they are both set in the current day India with it's booming economy; both have a poor young Indian male as the protagonist who becomes incredibly rich in record time and in the most unique way imaginable; both reveal the class based ethos of India in a nonchalant narrative of two incredible storylines.

Adiga's book is definitely a page turner as it took me a few hours over a weekend to get through it. Though a simple tale, but Adiga manages to make it intriguing because of his colorful and unpredictable protagonist Balaram Halwai whose reactions to events and situations make the reader hold his breath and wonder. Halwai, though similiar to Boyle's 'Slumdog' Jamal in his socio economic status, lacks the straightforwardness of Jamal. Halwai is not waiting for love as was Jamal in the movie, and neither is Halwai content with his lot as Jamal was until he entered the Game Show. Unlike Jamal, Halwai wants to change his have-not status; he knows that he has to grab life wherever and whenever he can find it, and in the book he makes the ultimate grab for it in the most bizzare way possible which I think you will want to find out on your own when you read The White Tiger.

Aravind Adiga beat Salman Rushdie, Joseph O'Neill, and some other well known authors to get the Booker Prize in 2008, and I wonder why. No doubt, the novel has an intensity in that it keeps the reader at edge wanting to know what Halwai would do next, but that is not enough for this novel to have gotten this prestigious recognition. Apparently Adiga's book prevailed "because the judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure." This comment made me think about another novel I had read a few years ago, "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry; a long and arduous read of some 600+ pages that shares its theme and setting with "The White Tiger". Mistry's "A Fine Balance" created waves in the literary world then, but not on the scale that Adiga's book did, and I think that was so because it lacked in its ability to 'entertain while shocking'; something that Adiga manages to do with uncanny ease in his "White Tiger".

Whether Adiga's "White Tiger" got lucky and rode the wave of world interest in India, or whether it truly deserved the Booker Prize, is for each individual reader to decide. However, I can safely vouch for the novel's ability to keep the reader engrossed until the very last page.

March 04, 2009

Stephen Daldry's "The Reader" - Exploring the Ramifications of Illiteracy in Post War Germany?

The curse of illiteracy haunts Hanna, the female protagonist in the movie "The Reader", and it is a curse she is not ready to disclose to the world, not even to her 15 year old paramour Michael, with whom she establishes a relationship defying all social norms of the day. The fact that the movie depicts a post war Germany is important in so far as it gives a context to the heinous crime Hanna commits after she disappears from young Michael's life.

The relationship between Hanna, a forty year old illiterate bus conductor in Germany during the 1950s, and Michael, a 15 year old school boy, is driven by passion. However, the nature of their passion differs at both ends. For Michael, the teenager, it is about wanting to experience and explore his sexuality, and for Hanna, who is illiterate, it is about wanting to hear what is in those books and novels that she is incapable of reading. Both have different expectations from the relationship, and yet it flowers because of the intensity of their individual passions. I think Daldry, the director, deliberately introduced those torrid love making scenes between the two for the reader to sense how the passion burned within them. Since Daldry could not visually depict the cerebral passion that drove Hanna, he hoped the viewer would be able to gauge it by looking at what Hanna was prepared to do, to sexually gratify a 'kid', in order to live out her own passion for stories. Does that mean that Hanna was completely uninvolved with the 'kid' as she always refers to him? That's a question you'll have to figure out when you watch this movie based on Bernard Schlink's novel published in German in 1995.

The film maker and the writer have been accused of trying to assuage the guilt of Germans who lived during or immediately after the Holocaust. However, I am not so sure the Holocaust was the real focus of the film; it is illiteracy that seems to take center stage: its far reaching effects, and what it can do to a life. What ultimately happens to Hanna in the story is self explanatory; there is no condoning the Holocaust or Hanna's part in it, but there is an implicit pointer embedded in the film telling us that Hanna's role could have been different had she had the ability to make informed decisions. Alas, it was her shame and misfortune to be illiterate and thus uninformed, and that cost her not just her own life, but also the lives of 300 others!

All through the movie Hanna is consumed by her shame of being illiterate, something which Michael is able to transform into passion at two separate times in Hanna's life. The first time he does it inadvertently while satiating his own juvenile sexual fantasies, but the second time he does it with the awareness of a friend who knows how much stories, and reading them, mean to Hanna.

Clearly, the writer wants to send a message here that reading adds new dimension to human awareness and is therefore crucial to our decision making ability. It is particularly important to those of us who live alone, or who are private/reserved by nature and share little with the world, except vicariously through books and other multimedia productions. In some of our 'developed nations' we often take literacy for granted, and this movie, "The Reader", takes us back in time to show us a horrific impact of illiteracy in Hanna's world of post war Germany. Illiteracy is definitely the villain in the story since it holds potential to bring untold shame and horror to those who house it; like it did to Hanna and the other prison guards in "The Reader".

I may have looked too long and too deep into this movie so you may want to watch it simply because Kate Winslet gives an amazing performance in this movie as a reluctant seductress, a heartless guard, and a confused war criminal with an indescribable passion for books.

March 03, 2009

Cricket Under Seige in Cricket-Loving Pakistan?


Pakistan is no longer safe ground for cricket and it definitely isn't the "Mecca of Cricket" as it once used to be called! Indeed, it is a very sad day both for Cricket and for Pakistan which prides itself for being a cricket-loving nation. A nation that has produced amazing cricketing talent like Imran Khan, Miandad, and Shoaib Akhtar, and is to co host the next Cricket World Cup in 2011. Now the fate of Pakistani Cricket stands on very shaky ground after what happened yesterday.

The visiting Sri Lankan Cricket Team became a terrorist target in the city of Lahore when some eight or more armed terrorist opened fire on the bus carrying the Sri Lankan Team to the Gaddafi Stadium in the very heart of the city at about 9 AM yesterday. The attack left eight people dead and two Sri Lankan players injured. The Sri Lankan Goverment sent a special flight to bring its team home within a few hours of the incident. The terrorist are at large while the police network is doing all it can to gather intelligence on the incident and there is a major man hunt to apprehend the terrorist who walked away into the crowds quite like the terrorists in the Mumbai blasts did.

Of the two Sri Lankan players who are injured, one of them apparently may not be able to play the game again because of the nature of his injuries. Shameful as it is, yet the predominant emotion I feel is one of sheer disbelief at what happened; it is appalling that even Cricket is not spared in the onslaught of extremism.

Why am I reminded of this speech of Antony at Caesar's funeral:

"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now......."

February 22, 2009

In defence of Art !

Why can't we leave artists alone! The creative outpourings of art cannot be curtailed to accommodate the fickle demands of an overtly moralistic society. Cartoonists have a perspective that is unique to their art, and our inability to appreciate/understand their vision must not convert into taking punitive measures against them or their creativity.

Agreed, that the editor of the NY Post could have used better judgment and could have chosen to withhold this cartoon , but he did not, and suddenly all hell broke loose for artist Delonas. There have been other artists who have suffered a similar predicament: M. F. Hussein in India, Danish cartoonists with Jyllands Posten in Brussels, Amiri Baraka in New Jersey, Salman Rushdie in England, Solzenitsyn in Russia of the 60s, Neruda and Allende in Chile, Taslima Nasreen in Bangladesh, and many more in various parts of the world during various times in human history. The point to be noted is that the darkest hours of human history were also the darkest times for art and artists; be it during the Holocaust, the Great Depression, the McCarthy Era, the Crusades, or during the World Wars. Whenever and wherever art is suffocated there has always been a price to pay and a vital truth to be hidden. Suffocating art is like suffocating a civilization. Art may not cater to trends in socio moralistic behaviors or may at times even defy other socio political parameters, but as 'art', it must have its freedom lest we end up becoming a uni dimensional civilization.

Art presupposes freedom of the mind and consequently a freedom of expression. Delonas''s cartoon, though offensive to some of us, and definitely inopportune with some 'clear racial implications', is, after all, an artist's unique perception. If it got published due to the oversight or the in discretionary practices of publishers and newspapers, then why does art have to pay a price?