Friday, November 29, 2013

Food for Thought

So a few of my colleagues, including men and vegetarians, are crazy about Masterchef. Now I have never understood this fascination with a cooking show that has the power to unite men, women and children (now that they have a Masterchef for kids as well) across the world for a common cause: watch random people cook random stuff and get judged over it. That’s like getting a hangover by watching a bunch of people drink Coke!

Now I have never been much of a cook, and here I use the term “cook” loosely. For me, cooking is usually limited to frying/boiling/heating stuff with an occasional chicken curry thrown in. So when my dad visited me last week with an optimism that would put an incumbent UPA government to shame, he was duly disappointed when I served up Maggie/fruits/cornflakes/omlette as meals. Of course I made up for it by starving him for an entire Saturday morning and then treating him to an unlimited buffet a Sigri Grill. When he dared to suggest that I COOK a proper meal, I promptly called up my uncle (who stays close by and happens to be a decent cook) and outsourced the activity to him.

For someone who loves to try different kinds of food, I am staunchly lazy when it comes to cooking. I would rather survive on Maggie and bread for days rather than cook for myself. So yes, I do not understand how people can voluntarily spend time watching a cooking show. But then, what do I know? I eat Kurkure for lunch.

As many a Masterchef fanatic follower has pointed out, the show is not JUST about cooking, but about competition, suspense, drama and emotions. Dude, just go watch a Suraj Barjatya movie!

But then again, for all the brickbats garnered by reality shows, at least this one gives you some food for thought.

Food, in exchange for thought

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Alchemy of Desire

The case of sexual harassment lodged against Tarun Tejpal has created ripples across the media. Now there is nothing I can add to what’s already being stated in black and white and grey and nothing I say about the plight of women in this country can do justice to the macabre reality you observe around you. But being a girl who lives alone in the city, whose support system is essentially a bunch of friends and colleagues and who doesn't have the privilege of the cold comforts of a protected home environment, I can only shudder at the treatment meted out to a professional woman, who was just doing her job.

Having worked in male dominated organizations, I have often felt a tad out of place at times: not because I faced any harassment, not because I was treated differently, not because of the lack of sensitivity, but simply because I somehow don’t BELONG. There are subtle nuances which add up and one day, it just explodes on your face.

Mind you, organizations try their best to retain the handful of women employees they have, but it takes more than policies to make the workplace truly egalitarian: it requires a cultural revolution and we are years away from that.

However, incidents like this only set you back and the little glimmer of faith that was building up inside you gets shattered by one single blow. Now I am not a feminist who is out there to blast all the men in corporate India. If anything, I do believe sometimes, as women, we demand special status while crying ourselves hoarse for equality. But if I remove myself from the situation as a woman and objectively view it as a human being, I wonder if it’s something that the girl misconstrued or deliberately fabricated for whatever reasons. Based on the rather graphic descriptions, even the most neutral observer would vouch that it’s neither.

So, an inappropriate advance was indeed made which was vociferously rejected, leading to intimidation, threat and subsequent repetition of the act. This is what precisely irks me:

The inability to take “No” when it’s stated in no uncertain terms…
The assumption that professional authority supersedes the respect for personal choices (or the lack of it in this case)…
The audacity of imposing Tarun Tejpal, the noted journalist, on a young woman because he thought he could get away with it…

I have a lot of respect for Tarun Tejpal the writer, but unfortunately I can’t say the same for Tarun Tejpal, the person.

If the alchemy of desire reeks of monstrosity, even the most attractive people stirs contempt

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Big Fat Beach Wedding

Of all my five trips to Goa, this has to rank as the best:

not because we explored the pristine beaches of South Goa instead of the usual rounds in the commercial belt of Anjuna-Baga-Calangute…

not because of the luxurious hospitality of the Ramada Caravela…

not because of all the free food and alcohol forced down our throat…

not because of the carefree bike rides, the late night chats with people you haven’t met in the last four years or the addictive sea which keeps pulling you towards it…

not even because of the drunken cocktail party, the beautiful beach wedding or the Chinese lanterns flying in unison over the sea at midnight creating an illusion of escaping the world…

but because of the privilege of witnessing the sheer happiness of someone close to you, someone you have almost seen grow up from a teenager to a lady, someone who exhibited the maturity and resolve way beyond her years,

someone who was in love…

So, despite my reservations against weddings/dancing/crowd/all of it together, despite the last-minute broken bike, despite the long and uncomfortable bus rides, despite the forgotten pancard, despite the claustrophobia of conventional wisdom and despite the tearful farewell of Sachin Tendulkar, this weekend was very special.

This was the weekend in which the Masakali girl embarked on the journey of happily ever after

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Go Goa Gone

A long weekend in Goa…
A beach wedding of a close friend…
Meeting friends and batchmates I haven’t seen since college…

As far as last minute planning goes, things are definitely looking up for this weekend

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gravity Defies

For a seasoned movie buff inflicted with torturous Bollywood options like Krrish 3 or Satya 2 which are precisely reasons for calling for a ban on sequels, I did what I had to do: watch back-to-back Hollywood flicks, which are, well, purely Hollywood!

Now judge me all you like, but I don’t really like movies which are so, well, Hollywood, where the focus is more on technology, special effects, direction and cinematography and not so much on the story or the acting. Call me old fashioned, but I still enjoy films which are simple, powerful, well told and well executed, where the characters are identifiable and the acting is fluid. So give me an American Beauty over an Avatar. Always!

But then, when you are bombarded with crores worth of stupidity, you turn to Hollywood which brings alive the elements of nature packaged with sleek special effects, a true story and a tinge of wry humour. And Tom Hanks. And George Clooney.

I had heard people rave about Gravity and George Clooney in a spacesuit is enough reasons to watch anything really. So, when I finally watched the movie, it was everything that I expected and nothing that I did not expect. Almost entirely based in the space, it was literally a rollercoaster ride, and while 3D effects have never meant much to me, this was probably one movie in which it really made a difference. And did I mention George Clooney? In a space suit? (Clearly not a fan of Sandra Bullock) Did I like the movie? Yes. Would I have watched it under normal circumstances? Probably no.

If Gravity was entirely about space, Captain Phillips was entirely about the sea. A true story about the recurrent attack by Pirates on cargo ships (in this case Maersk) along the Somalian coast, it’s indeed an eye-opener about the life threatening voyages which are very much a part of the job for the men on board. And Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips is quite simply breath-taking as a firm, dependable and yet subtly vulnerable man away from his family, in charge of the lives of several men, while putting his own life on the line.

Both movies stood out in terms of their sheer simplicity and objectivity by being completely focused on the central theme of the movie without unnecessarily digressing or introducing parallel tracks or abusing the emotional aspects. Gravity does well to end as soon as Sandra Bullock finds ground beneath her feet without getting into an elaborate rescue mission and Captain Phillips does just enough to show a remarkable rescue but avoiding the Bollywood trappings of a melodramatic family reunion.

Krrish can fly off to the outer space thanks to his superpowers, but to be taken seriously, you need a bit of Gravity

Friday, November 8, 2013

Criminal Minds

The results of the Crime Writers Association (CWA) poll were announced earlier this week, and much to my delight, Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was voted the best crime novel while Agatha Christie herself was voted the best crime author and Sherlock Holmes the best crime series. Having read devoured ALL of Christie’s books as a kid, I do not quite subscribe to her accolade as the best writer, but I do agree that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of her best works, if not the best.

Now blame it on my upbringing, but I have always had this morbid streak in me which led me into the world of crime fiction at a very early age, both Bengali and English. While I never enjoyed violence, I was simply enamoured with cold blooded murders which were well planned and well executed and which challenged me as a reader as much as they challenged the sleuths in the novels, be it Holmes, Poirot, Marple, Feluda or Byomkesh. This obsession often found me awake through the night before an exam, secretly finishing off a mystery novel rather than studying for a Chemistry paper the next morning.

The fascination with heinous crimes only deepened when I discovered shows like Law and Order, The Practice or Boston Legal while I was still in school and later with Castle, Dexter and Breaking Bad. Even now, I am guilty of blowing off social engagements on weeknights, simply because I just CAN’T miss the rerun of the season finale of The Practice after work. Exaggeration? Not really. Crazy? Probably.

But lately the lure of barbarism has taken a more serious turn as I have now turned to history to walk through some of the real-life atrocities committed by leaders across nations. While my travels to some of these places touched me deeply, what shock me are not the events themselves which are out there and well documented, but the people behind these tragedies, their thought processes, their justifications or simply their denials. May be these “leaders” don’t even deserve a chance to have their say, but nonetheless it makes for an interesting read. Which is why I first picked up Hitler’s autobiography and then Pol Pot’s biography: just to understand how someone can possibly sleep at night or look at himself in the mirror every morning, knowing the genocide he has sponsored among his own people.

History does what a crime fiction can’t: it leaves a legacy of the murderer long after the crime has been committed…

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Endangered Game of Cricket

I have been one of the most loyal followers of cricket for almost two decades now. I simply love the game: every version of it (and no, IPL is NOT cricket) and I have grown up worshipping some of the players of my generation like Laxman, Dravid and my childhood favourite, Azharuddin while nurturing ambitions of being involved in the game professionally. Not to mention some of the classic rivalries in our era, be it the Ashes or India-Pakistan had me glued to the screen for hours. I have also witnessed some of the greatest moments in cricket for an Indian fan: the World Cup win in 2011, the T20 Championship in 2007 and the Champions Trophy in 2013. Finally I have been privileged enough to watch some of the best individual performances ever in history: Sachin Tendulkar’s Sharjah storm against Australia, VVS Laxman’s gritty innings against Australia at Eden Gardens, Sehwag’s triple century against Pakistan, Shikhar Dhawan’s delightful test debut and most recently Rohit Sharma’s one-day double century.

Which brings me to the India-Australia bilateral series that ended on Saturday, with India clinching it 3-2. It’s been a strange series, with records tumbling and both teams making it a habit of chasing down scores well beyond 300. Yes, it’s great for the spectators in the ground to see the ball flying off into the stands every over; yes, it’s great for the viewers sitting in their living rooms/pubs cheering each boundary and yes, it’s great for the administrators/sponsors who can rake in the mullah.

But is it good for the game in the long term? I seriously doubt that. If there is a ten-year-old kid watching the match, would this series inspire him to become a bowler? Chances are he would have recurrent nightmares of Ishant Sharma.

As a sincere follower of the game, I can only shudder to imagine what will happen to it ten years down the line, when bowlers get replaced by bowling machines and there is no contest between the bat and the ball and when each team will play eleven batsmen just to ensure 1000-run ODIs.

I had embraced the dynamics of the game from being a five-day Test match to a 50-over game to a 20-over game. I had accepted that more money and glamour would encourage more young people to take up cricket professionally and I had even looked away when corruption and match-fixing scandals raised their ugly heads, choosing to believe that the game was still sacrosanct despite these aberrations.

But what I see now scares me. I still want to cherish the sheer intimidation of the Waqar Younis-Wasim Akram duo, the guile of Shane Warne/Muttiah Muralidharan or the persistence of Anil Kumble. I still want India to produce world class bowlers who can hold their own in international conditions and I still like to watch a good contest rather than new batting milestones.

I still want to watch cricket as I have known cricket and as I have loved cricket which seems to be endangered now…

Friday, November 1, 2013

Women are from Venus

As per Bacchi Karkaria, the noted TOI columnist and one of my favourites, “If you key in 'Women cannot' google will obligingly come up with such sexist options as 'drive', 'be bishops', 'talk in church', or even 'be trusted'. 'Women shouldn't' will produce 'vote', 'work', and even 'box', which would make our million- dollar baby, Mary Kom, kayo her computer screen.”

So these are some of the much talked about stereotypical allegations made against women. Add to it a couple of others which I have noticed which apply to me as well: “read maps” and “work on excel”. And as much as I hate to admit it and as much as I rant against stereotypes, there are some things we are, how do I put it delicately, “not the best at”. And yes, driving, reading maps and working on excel feature high on that list.

Every time I have got lost while traveling in some European city where people would not/could not speak English, I have been left helpless staring at some godforsaken map which stares back rudely at me, without telling me ANYTHING, pretty much like a French guy. And each time I have asked a kind passerby, he/she had looked at me condescendingly as if to say, “But it’s RIGHT.THERE. How can you not know?” Well, I don’t! Doesn’t make me stupid. I am just bad with maps.

Same with excel. I don’t like spreadsheets, I don’t like the way they look, I don’t like the way they automatically populate themselves and I don’t like the way they program you to become a trained monkey repeating the same task, crunching numbers and making graphs. With each day and with each worksheet, I feel like the last bit of creativity is being sucked out of me, which is when I open a blank word document and start typing: randomly, desperately and furiously, trying to hold on to whatever is left over of the girl who churned out editorials at will, completely oblivious of all the accounting jargon around her.

Again, that doesn’t make me stupid, only “differently-abled”. 'The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife.' (David Ogilvy)

Women ARE from Venus; they don’t need to drive or read maps to get there…