Thursday, May 30, 2013

A walk downtown in Portsmouth, New hampshire

I took a walk around downtown today. Portsmouth is a dainty township of hardly thirty thousand people. A historic place that traces its history way back to the sixteenth century. Its inhabitants even today proudly call it the " jewel of New England". Within a couple of square miles, there were about hundred odd eating establishments (not the Franchisee's that we see all around the United states), but original family owned restaurants and pubs that have been around for a long time. It has an astonishingly high density of pubs and a large number of microbreweries for a small city. The people of Portsmouth obviously love their alcohol. As i walked along the frosted pavements of Downtown, literally every pub was brimming with activity and sounds of garrulous merry making echoed and ricocheted off the ancient brick walls : a lasting testament to the antiquity of the place . I believe, there is an University close by, and one could see young ,confident boys and girls, walking with trepidation into pubs (probably for the first time) to get used to the taste of finely brewed beer.

The "River Run" Bookstore in downtown is a wonderful place for book lovers. I walked into it at seven in the evening to find that there was a book reading session gong on inside. J.A Hitchcock , a renowned educator was speaking on the ill effects of unrestricted social media, and was reading and answering questions about her new book on Cyber crime. I listened to her some time and quietly slipped in between the racks to bury myself in the tome of books. The store did have a wonderful collection of rare books. In fact, I found a hard bound edition of "The satanic verses" by Salman Rushdie and a collection of critical essays by John Updike for a good price. I could not resist the temptation.

I landed up in an old restaurant called the "Press room", suggested by a co worker to grab to a Garden burger. The place had a live band playing country music on the saxophone. It seemed as though that most of folks who came there are regulars. There was good camaraderie all around. The burger was also surprisingly good. Probably, I was famished after all the walking that I had done.

Need to catch up on some study now....... the night is still young...............

Musings on Graduation day In America

This is Graduation day in New Hampshire, and I guess in most parts of the country. The city of Portsmouth is flooded with parents visiting to witness a momentous day in the lives of their children. There is almost a deep sense of fulfillment and pride in their eyes. That is the beauty of this country. They tend to commemorate every significant milestone in their families.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not very easy for most young boys or girls in America to go through School or college with an intensity and dedication required to complete it. There are a lot of distractions and oppurtunities that could sway them from a formal academic rigor. For middle class parents , working their way through mortgages, loans and the compulsive need to maintain a decent lifestyle; it becomes very difficult to support children's education in a sustained manner, more so, if the kid develops other interests in life. Single parents or dysfunctional families find it even more difficult. In a cocooned society, it is easy for parents to exercise control over their children, but not so in America, where boys and girls develop a sense of intellectual maturity and character rather quickly, and tend to take control of their lives far earlier than usual.

I was sitting in a restaurant yesterday evening; which essentially, I learnt later was student hang-out place ; reading Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" and sipping a glass of raspberry lemonade. All around me were young men and women of different nationalities, confident in the exuberance of youth, dressed with liberal ease, gesticulating to each other and laughing with gay abandon;talking over subjects that range from Boyfriends, to books, to movies, to Obama's stand on the IRS fiasco, to the recently ended war in Afghanistan . They exuded a raw and unadulterated aura of a young human species in the prime of their flowering. The sheer atmosphere was exhilarating. Tocqueville's words still ring true after two hundred odd years that" Life should be entered upon with Courage...";. and courage was evident in the gaiety of these vibrant youngsters.

As i sat there reading and ruminating, I was all of sudden woken from my reverie by a young blonde waitress. She wanted to know if I needed anything else. I ordered a Margarita Pizza with less cheese and looked into her eyes. They were bright, blue and deep and she was looking at the book I was reading. There was a sense of elation in her eyes. I asked her is she had read this wonderful book that defined the American way of life. She nodded her head and said .." Yap, I did a thesis on Tocqueville's vision of America in my last semester in Buffalo. I completed my masters in Political science last year and came down to Portsmouth to be with my Parents. I have a couple of months more, before I could start work on my Doctoral work in the University of New Hampshire. The money that I made here should be good for some time to help me with my studies". She then rushed to the kitchen and came back a little while later with my food. As as she left the table she made a remarkable statement. She said " You know what, Tocqueville was a political exile from France, hence he found America liberating and commented on it, but let me tell you, I believe that no commentaries can do justice to the pristine words of the Declaration of Independence " and she quoted verbatim: ' We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness', we try and live up to this."

I quietly ate my Pizza and walked back to my Hotel thinking how wonderful would it be if every democracy can produce such a breed of such vibrant, thoughtful and alive people.

My best wishes to all the graduates across the country. May your aspirations, dreams and its realization make this universe a better place to inhabit.

God Bless...........

A note penned late in the night after Sahima's Graduation party

A note penned late in the night after Sahima's Graduation party :

Sergei Bubka, arguably the finest Pole vaulter the sport has ever seen, Once said " The art of Pole vaulting lies not in the lift, but knowing precisely when to let go of the pole in mid air". I guess, the same could said about parenting as well. As a parent, it is absolutely imperative to know when to gracefully grant the psychological and intellectual independence to one's child; to let go of the hand that was so carefully held and nurtured for many long years. That is the ultimate gift that could be presented by a parent to a teenager.

I have just come back to my hotel from the Graduation party of Sahima (daughter of my good friend and colleague - Sandeep Godhkindi). Time has this unique capacity to flow past us without leaving a ripple. I find it hard to believe that this small chubby girl, with sparking eyes, a warm smile has now graduated from high school and now ready to embark on a study of journalism at Georgia University. She has grown into a confident young girl with a firm grip on what she wants to do. The way she talked, moved , behaved throughout the four hour function bespoke of the quality of her upbringing by both Sandeep and Ritu. They have left no stone unturned in making sure that Sahima gets a well rounded education, and have instilled an abiding interest and thirst for Knowledge in her. Now, the bird is ready to break out of the chrysalis to touch the horizon albeit with the roots firmly in place. The joy, pride and surging emotion on the face of both the parents to see so many of Sahima's young friends and classmates from diverse nationalities speaking well about their daughter , is undoubtedly the well deserved satisfaction of good parenting.

My heart was filled with joy to be a part of this warm occasion. In a way, I represented many others out there in Bangalore who were part of Sandeep's team and have seen Sahima grow up as a kid. I am sure their blessings, remembrances and prayers will definitely be there with this young girl for a wonderful future ahead.

I remember reading somewhere a wonderful message for young graduates , which I would like to quote here for Sahima... 'The important thing is this: to be able to give up in any given moment all that we are for what we can become.' Our Parents have given the environment to make us what we are, and now it is up to us to explore the possibilities of what we could become.

So Sahima - If there is no door to Knock, build the door. I am sure you are made of that kind of mettle.

Sandeep and Ritu - My heartfelt congratulations to both of you on the graduation of Sahima and your wonderful parenting.

God Bless.......

Musings in the airport at Dallas

As is sat waiting for my flight in Dallas airport last week, a very curious thought emerged within me. I was in the airport by three in the morning to board a flight four hours later, and it gave ample time to get into one those mellow moods of observation, which grips our senses every now and then, when we are not particularly stressed or worried about anything in particular. There is a strange sense of dispossession. Slowly, the airport was coming to life with travelers pushing their trollies, parents herding their children, youngsters with headphones jammed tight on their ears : as they walk around hunting for a cozy seat to put up their legs and relax. An airport is a strange place. It is a no man’s land. Thousands of people congregate, chat, socialize in bars and restaurants, making inane conversations with strangers; sometimes audacious enough to reveal their long buried secrets. All that one needs is a sympathetic ear.
Beside me was seated a good looking lady, probably in her late twenties. Well groomed, dressed in maroon coloured short sleeves shirt and a tight fitting jeans, sporting a silvery Karl Lagerfeld watch, nails immaculately groomed , sipping a cup of Star bucks coffee. Very soon, both of us started conversing with each other. Apparently, she was on the same flight as me to Atlanta. Before long, she was talking to me about her estranged husband and tragedies at home. She went on to say that she does multiple jobs, and that she would be heading to New York, after spending a few days with her childhood friend in Atlanta. During this entire conversation, never once did I ask her what is that she did for a living. I merely sat listening to her pensively, replying at appropriate times with a generous “yes”, “Hmmmm” etc. It was as though she wanted to speak her heart out to somebody and I happened to the sympathetic ear that she found. After nearly hour and a half of conversation, she turned towards me and said “Hey, you know what; I used to work at the gentlemen’s club in Portland, Oregon.” For some strange reason, I wasn’t surprised in the least. She was definitely good looking, seductively dressed and curvaceous as well. She went on ...” I studied to be a public administrator, but then, that is the time the economy was slowing down and jobs were hard to come by. I had just gotten through a messy relationship with my ex-husband and my parents had other priorities in life. I got a job in a local bar in Portland and then slowly realized that there was more money to be made, if I could dance a little. Eventually, it became a full time profession. It’s been two years now. I still hope to get an administrative job someday. Hopefully, it will come sooner than later…” All this while, I was looking at her intently, without for a moment judging her by what she said. She now visibly seemed relaxed after having regurgitated her thoughts. All that I could say to her was “All the very best to you”. I am not sure what I meant by those words. It seemed rather insensitive in retrospect, but really, I was in one of those moods where everything seemed alright with the world. She gave a benign smile and said “Thanks for hearing me out patiently. I am not sure why I told you this “.

The Boarding call was announced and we parted ways. For those couple of brief hours, two strangers had met and touched a spot within ourselves that was not judgmental. It was the flowering of natural empathy that exists between human being everywhere. It was after I had gotten out of flight in Atlanta did I realize that both of us had not even exchanged names. All that remained was a memory of a conversation between two human beings, who met in transit, and talked to each other without any motives or purpose.

Such is the reality stuff of life………………..

God bless

Sunday, May 5, 2013

“Flight” – A Movie review of a Remarkable film by Robert Zemeckis

 “Flight” – A Movie review of a Remarkable film by Robert Zemeckis

The movie begins with a Pilot lying in bed naked with a flight attendant, intoxicated with alcohol, and fatigued after a riotous night of unfettered physical intimacy. That defines Captain Whip, a chronic drug abuser, an ace pilot, a charismatic and debonair seducer called in to command a domestic flight that develops a mechanical failure , and is doomed to perish along with hundred and odd passengers on board. By a miraculous professional instinct that comes from deep seated talent, the pilot steers the flight out of trouble and lands on an empty field. The trouble though is that the Captain was drunk during the flight. The fact the aircraft was grounded with minimal number of causalities does not abdicate the irresponsible behavior of the pilot, and he is made answerable to a commission, battling his alcohol problem all along. The Movie captures the helpless condition of a talented man under the grip of drug abuse and his stubborn reluctance to face the fact that he is an alcoholic, who cannot find courage to let go of the bottle.  The movie ends with his realization that this endless craving is a self-deceiving madness, and the moment he faces the truth, he is free of it.

One of the greatest challenges of alcoholism is the ability to confront it head long : Especially so, if the person involved is intelligent, talented, morally sound and has the ability to ratiocinate the deep seated addiction to be a minor problem that can be easily overcome. No amount of suggestions, advice or admonitions can bring such person to face the psychological illness that is eating away at his soul and body. It needs a miracle to bring about the transformation. To sublimate the trauma of self-imprisonment and break the through the shackles of layered lies, there needs to be a moment when the morality and integrity of the person comes into question and is pushed to the limits of one's intellectual tether. A singular catastrophic situation, when the realization dawns that his entire life has been one meaningless roller coaster ride of drug intoxication, and to completely snap out of it: as though one is awakened out of dream, with no trace whatsoever of the former self.  That is a glorious and timeless moment of freedom for an addict that forever transforms him from the confines of tortuous craving. This is the underlying message of “Flight”.

I have always had great admiration for Denzel Washington. His brilliant portrayal of Captain Whip is perhaps, one of his finest performances in his long and illustrious career:  The inner torment of an alcoholic; the emotional burdens of broken relationships; the false confidence of insecurity – find fitting expressions in the fluidity of the Denzel’s facial dynamics. In the final moments of the movie; the moment of truth for Captain Whip, when he acknowledges himself to be an alcoholic : Denzel Washington presents  a great virtuoso piece of acting to bring to a consummation that unresolved pangs of addiction, moral wreckage and pain caused to himself and all those all around him. One could see the inner cleansing in those deep eyes of Denzel as each tear drop oozes out of it. Never before in my study of movies have I found so much intellectual depth infused into the role of alcoholic; and none better than Denzel Washington to have played this marvelous role with a rare sensitivity and feel.

A truly remarkable film. Pls do watch it……

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Introspection into the plight of Prisoners on both sides of the border - The assault on Sarabjeet

Introspection into the plight of Prisoners on both sides of the border - The assault on Sarabjeet
The already tenuous political relationship between India and Pakistan has further been muddled by this needless controversy over the death of Sarabjeet- a convict imprisoned for an alleged terrorist attack that killed nearly fifteen people many years ago. While I have been reading and listening to endless debates, points, counterpoints, denials, affirmations, duplicities and countless other peregrinations of arguments and facts; what puzzles me entirely is the utter lack of commonsense in dealing with such an issue. Yes, the man was brutally assaulted within the walls of a high security prison and later suspiciously allowed to languish in pain and bleeding, before he was administered any medical help; which did not stall his inevitable descent into irrecoverable comatose condition and his death subsequently. It is not my intention in this essay to argue on the innocence or otherwise of sarabjeet, but all that I wish to say is that our hearts reach out to this man, who has been cut off from his family for twenty long years; nursing a faint hope of redemption in his breast, only to be so unceremoniously snuffed out of existence by some indoctrinated bunch of maniacs. I deeply condole his death, as an individual, living in democratic world (not a nation!!!).

It is an established fact that POW’s and innumerable innocent people are being incarcerated in jails on either side of the border, with absolutely no hope of ever seeing the light of the day, and it seems the only way for them to achieve martyrdom is to be die the way Sarabjeet did. What he could not achieve in his life, a brutal death has done for him. It is indeed shameful to note that, since 1971, both India and Pakistan have been deliberately turning a blind eye to the plight of lacerated prisoners lying in their cells. No country can claim a high moral ground for such a horrific display of apathy. Every sovereign country has its border disputes and ideological differences with its neighbors. But that should not be a hindrance to providing justice and quality lives for people within its country. Prisons are not safe places, and they are never meant to be. This is the fact of History. No amount of Rhetoric can wipe away the fact that a “secure prison” is only a myth that would burst at the slightest possible provocation. In those rarified confines of isolated cells, the human psyche would give vent to the most perverse thoughts and intentions. And more so, in a highly politicized atmosphere like the one that exists between India and Pakistan. If India believed that Sarabjeet was being illegally charged for acts of terrorism, then , I must confess unequivocally, that twenty years is too long a time for inaction on our part. It was matter of time when Pakistan would want to set the balance right for the Hangings of the Kasab and Afzal Guru. Have we become so na├»ve that we couldn’t see something like this happening? We could argue ad finitum about the way that we treat Pakistani prisoners in India, and expect the same reciprocation from the other side. But that’s not the way the game is played. Our foreign diplomacy needs to come out of the cocoon of procrastination and meaningless compromises to understand the ground realities of the situation around our borders.

While political parties are busy leveraging the death of Sarabjeet, let us ,as common men, urge the governments of both the countries to look closely at the prisoner lists, and identify how many more innocent, gullible, uneducated lives will be eaten away by this diabolical political stance taken by India and Pakistan. Let’s not forget that they are “Human” lives, and not cogs in the wheels of a political machine.

Let the Death of Sarabjeet awake us to a newer dimension in our relationship with Pakistan. Every opportunity lost would only mean more lives meaningless sacrificed on the altar of misplaced ideologies and hopes.

God bless................

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

If one a winter’s night a traveler - by Italo Calvino, translated from Italian by William Weaver

If one a winter’s night a traveler - by Italo Calvino, translated from Italian by William Weaver

Latin American writers have always had this tremendous flair and gift of surreal storytelling. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, to name a few – all of them possessed this uncanny ability to paint a vivid canvas of emotions, psychological subtleties and a deep sense of existentialism into a story; without the demanding rigor and structure of methodical and linear narration.

This book by Calvino is a pure experiment in the art of magical fiction. The impetus for this work lies in the author’s need to understand the synergetic link between “I” the reader and the mysterious process of understanding the written word, and weaving an imaginary world of causes and probabilities that could arise from  an impromptu trigger of common place incidents. Every beginning in a story could have a million different endings. Like the prince in “Arabian nights” who needs to be fed with stories that feed on the incompleteness of the one narrated before, Calvino presents the reader with Nine contiguous ,yet utterly unrelated stories, that result from a bizarre flaw in printing of books; which leads the protagonist into a labyrinth of situations and falsities that keep pushing the edges of imagination ever so slightly from our comprehension.

 Calvino wishes to demonstrate that the pure pleasure of reading comes from a deep seated ignorance of the author’s motives and goals; and the written word starts taking a life of its own when it is not contaminated by the emotional intrusions of the self and bated expectations of a specific end. The medium of words is at most a conduit, through which the author pours his story. The shape and form that the molten liquid of language would eventually take in the minds of the reader is as subjective an experience as there can ever be.

The narrative style of Calvino is breathtakingly inventive as well. The novel keeps making quantum jumps in consciousness. Through the many characters and pithy dialogues that embellish the story, Calvino projects a substratum of unity in the outward resemblance of forms and names amidst shifting contexts and perceptions.  The reader is led through various layers of introspection to arrive at a unified sense of understanding and purpose that the power of words can evoke.

This is not an easy book to read, but can be one of the most rewarding experiences, if one can get through it slowly. It is like a long drawn act of lovemaking with a lot of foreplay before the final orgasmic consummation. In Calvino’s own words -  “What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space.”

This book is to be read for the pure of joy of reading and nothing else. A brilliant work of Literature..........................