Monday, January 26, 2015

The art of work..

“Bala, each day I am becoming more and more insecure with my job. It is kind of odd because when I entered software industry fifteen years ago, I had very little knowledge but abundant energy, but now it seems as though the tables are reversed. I am becoming more self-conscious of my role, and every new task assigned seems an overwhelming burden. I am not able to plunge into a task with that gay abandon that I used to before. Something pulls me back, and saps all my energy…”
I was talking to an old friend of mine a couple of months ago. He had called me from India, and after exchanging pleasantries, he broke into this monologue recounted above. I know he is doing well for himself - career wise. He joined a small company as a developer many years ago, and very quickly rose up the ranks to become a tech lead and subsequently a Project manager. About five years ago, he got married and now lives in a posh three bedroom apartment in Bangalore. Recently, he did achieve the distinction of becoming a father as well. In short, he is, what we would call a “successful” person with enormous talent, and in my opinion, a very good brain for software.
As he kept talking, I was reminded of a stunning verse in the Bhagavad gita. In the battlefield, Arjuna stands despondent, weak, bereft of energy (Vyasa poetically indicates that the Gandiva slips from Arjuna's hands) unable to perform his role as a warrior; and Krishna tries his best to bring him out of the mood of desperation and weakness. In the midst a Philosophical discourse on imperishability of the soul, he suddenly slips in a stark psychological insight, which hits you on the face with tremendous force, if one would listen to it with attention He says:
hato va prapsyasi svargam
jitva va bhoksyase mahim
tasmad uttistha kaunteya
yuddhaya krta-niscayah
Freely Translated: “Arjuna, if you die killing these people, you attain Heaven; or if you happen to kill them, you get to enjoy the richness of earthly pleasures. Either way, you have no choice, but to fight. It is your vocation to fight, what are you worried about. So my dear, just get on with it with all that you have got”
It is an interesting psychological truism by the master. When the push comes to shove, that is all there is to it. When an occupation - that one loves and is inclined towards - is adopted after years of training and experience, one just gives it the best that we can till we quit. And we quit, not because of fear, boredom, cowardice or nervousness, but quitting out of the fullness of having done one’s job well. One of the important elements that conveniently gets left out in formal education is the simple fact that the role that we so assiduously prepare ourselves to play ultimately has no relevance to who we are. As we get older, and our bodies and minds get a bit rusty and weary, this realization slowly descends into us - What Psychologists call a “mid-life” crisis. A gnawing sense of futility and purposelessness of one’s vocation, and a faint whisper of a call that goes deeper than our formal thinking can take us - beckons us.
My favorite mystical poet Kahlil Gibran writes on this other worldly call so beautifully when he says
“The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.”
Getting stuck ( in the sense, that believing that without it you are nobody) in a role, and languishing in it is the surest way of suffocating one’s life. The other day I was talking to a practicing anthropologist, enroute my flight to Seattle, and a very interesting fact stuck me as we were discussing Hindu mythology. I told him, the symbol of Krishna is perhaps the most audacious of all incarnations of God in any culture. For the simple reason, there is an element of intense playfulness in his life at all stages. As a naughty kid, a lusty lover, a crowned prince, a strong warrior, a wily diplomat, a loving son, a compassionate friend, a treacherous schemer - he adorns all these roles with a lightness that is almost unbearable (Milan Kundera wrote a wonderful book with this title “The unbearable lightness of being”). Like the Greek Gods, Krishna bristled with energy.
So the question then is this: Can we do our jobs with a tremendous playfulness (not to be misunderstood as childish), and try the best we can, given the limitations of circumstances beyond our control, and enjoy every moment without allowing it to become a burden. The great warrior in Arjuna, who could wield the bow blind-folded, strike a moving target with impunity and with nonchalance, becomes paralyzed at a seminal moment in his life; and the message his charioteer gives him is: “Enjoy shooting your arrows, your target is immaterial”..
Think about it…
God bless…

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Junot Diaz’s “The Brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao” - Creative writing at its best.

Junot Diaz’s “The Brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao” - A literary work of fiction
What most of us often get to read in history books is this : ‘Christopher Columbus discovered Americas in 1492’; and after that, in a short few paragraphs, pages or chapters (depending upon who is writing the book), the focus shifts to formation of the Union centuries later, its civil war and all the rest of it. What is largely left out of these narratives is the wonderful account of Santa Domingo, the oldest European city in Americas and the first Spanish establishment in the new world; and the first stop of Columbus on his fourth voyage sponsored by the Catholic royalty of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The city was christened after its patron Saint Dominic. Rich in gold and fertile with abundant alluvial plains, it was a milking cow for the ailing Christian monarchy; and within half a century, the unbridled avarice and voracious appetite for much needed gold to replenish the impoverished royal coffers caused by ruthless, ideological and costly wars of Crusades caused the flamboyant and calculative Spaniards to seriously ruffle the native rhythm and lives of the indigenous population, pushing them to work under excruciating circumstances of Slavery and material bondage. The result: The local Taino Indian population dwindled from a million in 1492 to an abysmal count of less than twenty thousand by 1550’s. The founding settlers in their new found exuberance of discovery systematically disintegrated a culture that had subsisted on this land for over a millennia, and Columbus, a reserved and God fearing by nature, was not a very happy man. For an explorer like him, nothing can be more painful than watching a civilization crushed under his very nose. But none can stop the flow of history; and over the centuries Spanish, English and French invasions bought in cheap labor from Africa and nearby Caribbean Islands, populating the Dominican Republic with biological and cultural injections from various genetical syringes. In 1844, Dominicans fought their own war of independence, and wrenched themselves free of all political obligations to become free citizens of Dominican Republic, a curious country on the fringes of North America with a rich history and Santo Domingo as its Capital. But the curse that descended upon them four centuries ago had not yet abated. The twentieth century bought in its wake a host of internal Rebellions, power struggles, external intrusions (especially by USA), a powerful hurricane that nearly destroyed the city, followed by merciless dictatorial rule of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo - creating a kind of people, who were quite unsure of their origins; displaced in many ways, and seriously beginning to contemplate migrating to other countries, mostly to neighboring United States of America.
Junot Diaz, the author of “The brief wondrous life of Oscar wao” came to USA as one such immigrant. A precocious boy, voracious reader; worked his way into college in New jersey to study creative writing; published his first short story in the prestigious Newyorker in 1996, in which he fashioned his alter ego in the character of Yunior, a Dominican-American, who is to appear many times more in his stories and novel; Joined Cornell and later MIT as a professor of creative writing; published two collections of short stories and one extraordinary novel ( the subject of this essay!!!); awarded the distinguished MacArthur fellowship in 2012 of $500,000 to be spent without questions asked, on furthering the boundaries of fiction - Junot Diaz has come a long way from his family’s humble origins in the terrible times of Trujillo in Santo Domingo.
It took eleven years for Diaz to write his literary Novel - The wondrous life of Oscar wao; and when it was published in 2007, there was an air of disbelief in critic circles and educated readers. The story and the style of its narrative was quite out of the ordinary. In the footsteps of James Joyce and Thomas Wolfe, who wrote in early twentieth century and David Foster Wallace later, Diaz captures the life story of young fictional Dominican named Oscar- an immigrant in New Jersey; juxtaposing and tracing his ancestry through tumultuous times during the dictatorial era of Santo Domingo; probes his intellectual and sexual identity, his compulsive need for a firm anchor in an ever shifting world of conflicting values; his disillusionment with deeply inherited social and cultural beliefs and its complete contrast to what he finds in his adopted country. Diaz’s writes with compete abandon, pouring out his legacy and feelings in a torrential flow of paragraphs and chapters, mixing licentiously English and native Spanish, slipping into sentences of indescribable beauty and shifting gears instantaneously to mouth profanities that his characters need to voice without pretensions; or flashing insights into life’s dilemma’s - “….It's never the changes we want that change everything..” or “…Success, after all, loves a witness, but failure can't exist without one…” - in the eight chapters that constitute this novel, Diaz rips open his heart and intellect in a prose that is at once mercurial, unconventional and many times utterly poetical..
What I love the most though is Diaz’s deep understanding of the medium of words and its ability to evoke vivid images in the reader’s mind. In many cases, Diaz seamlessly slips into Spanish, but one never notices the difference. The absolute lack of any artificiality in the narrative and its striking honesty in telling a story without any frills and paraphernalia, is perhaps the most absorbing feature of this work. If creative writing means expressing oneself without inhibitions and boundaries , then this book is a perfect example of what I would call as ‘literary exuberance’. In a single publishing year the novel won the Pulitzer, the prestigious National critics’ award and seven others of equal magnitude. It was, simple put - a publishing and literary phenomenon of the first decade in this century, and probably will hold that place there for a long time to come.
I enjoyed reading this book (infact twice!!!). It reminds me of Salman Rushdie in his early days, when he could bend language into any mold that he wished too. There are paragraphs in this book that run into a page and half without pause, only punctuated with semi colons and dashes. Like the magnificence of cascading waterfall, Diaz words roll down in a majestic flow, leaving the reader no time or inclination to pause at inconsistencies. They are swept away by the sheer force of his narrative brilliance. Junot Diaz summarized his views on writing during one his interviews in 2010, when he said:
“In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book. Also, there are writers who write for writers, and there are writers who write for readers. I prefer to belong to second bunch…” - One cannot articulate a vision better than this
Ladies and gentlemen, for all my readers who love literature, this is a book that deserves to be read… Buy it, lose yourself in its luscious writing and pass it on.
God bless…

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Intense living and perception of Death - A breakfast conversation with a friend

" Of late, I find no energy, intensity in daily life. You know, I am comfortably placed. Happy family, Decent house, respectable job ; but somehow, I don't find the energy to do the things I want to do. For example, I have been holding on to a book for the last three weeks, reading a few pages each day and then I begin to procrastinate. Similarly with Music, Drama, sports and all my creative interests - I know I got to be doing these things, but somehow focus eludes me. A lot of unfinished projects in my life , Bala..."
We are sitting in coffee shop after our swim. Both of us are almost of the same age. He works in a senior management position in a bank, keeps shuttling between the West and east coats for work.
A Well read person, and a very good conversationalist - I enjoy being in his company whenever I can. I replied..
" Yes, Drake (name changed). You are right. What you say is true of many of us. It is interesting though, that in my case, things changed after my near fatal illness years ago. I guess ,what dawned on me afterwards is the tremendous realization of mortal death being a certainty and not a idea or an abstraction. When one experiences and "knows" with authentic certainty that our days are numbered, not in a fatalistic way, but as an inevitable law of nature, then life does take on a new focus. The other day I was reading about Average life expectancy in the United states in a WHO report. It is 77.4 for a Male, and 82 for Female. Now, I am not a great believer in statistical measures of central tendency, and on a bell curve one could be an outlier, which means an individual could live more than the average measure. So lets for a moment assume that one can potentially live for a 100 years.. Drake laughed... " You know its a possibility, and a whole number makes my calculation easier. So it means we have 36500 days at our disposal. Take away the first twenty years as formative ones , which is 7300 days and what is remaining ; 29200 days. So here is the important thing : If an individual can possess a large enough board or a wall to tabulate 29200, and keep striking off each day meticulously before he goes to sleep, then you will find that one cultivates a stark sense of temporality of this physical body , which otherwise we lose track off . When one realizes in the marrow of one's bone that we do not have unlimited time, not matter how hard and how much Medical science progresses, then a new energy can seep into our lives. Our relationships gets a new orientation, and we are not unduly frittering energies on things that pales away in the fire of this truth. In fact, that is the meaning of the word "Solitude" - to remain conscious of our enormous vulnerability and allowing life to pass through uninhibited like a wind through a bamboo flute. We, then will have time and energy for all that we really want to do with ourselves , and not put on pretenses and parley excuses.. You see, as a culture, we shirk death. we don't want to talk , think about it, keep our children away from it. We want it to postponed "indefinitely", and that my friend is the most stupid idea that any educated man can have.. It saps vital energy out of our lives"
Both of us laughed and Drake said " Yea, makes sense if you put it that way...."
"Is there any other way of putting it Drake...?
Our breakfast of Omelet and Fresh juice arrived, and both of us dug into it with a ravenous appetite. That is life.....
God bless...

Shashi Tharoor : The rise and fall of an intellectual

Shashi Tharoor : The rise and fall of an intellectual.
Historically, the clan of “Tharoor” traces its origin to nearly two thousand years. They were an integral part of Namboodri’s, the great matriarchal lineage of Malabar - Theravada of Kerala, a community known for its learning, racial superiority and social exclusivity. Even today, a Nair (a member of this clan) in Kerala is a distinct breed; easily spotted by a demeanor that can only come with generations of genetic purity and polish. A cursory glance at Shashi Tharoor in the media, as he prepares to address an audience; or as he speaks in an interview; or as he saunters in a gathering, brushing shoulders with Lutyen’s crowd or seasoned intellectuals; or posing for a picture projecting his well-groomed persona embellished with impeccable taste - one senses, that, here is a man who was born privileged, bought up in the lap of luxury and now lives audaciously with aplomb and style.
Born in London in 1956; educated in Montfort, Campion and St Stephens, where he majored in History; wrote his first published short story at the age of ten; a novelist by the time he was eleven; studied law at the prestigious Tuft’s university, where he astonished his professors and peers with iridescent brilliance; founded and edited a Forum of International affairs in college, which is currently in its 35th year of publication; Joined the UN in 1976 as a junior staff member rose like a meteor in its glittering and rarefied air of political and diplomatic circles; promoted every four years until, in 1996, he landed as the executive assistant to the most powerful man (after the US President) in the Globe, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary general; in 2001, he took over its communication’s wing - transforming the muddy, mechanical functioning of that crucial function into a vibrant, relevant and pulsating arm of the UN; spoke and wrote with great erudition and sensitivity on Antisemitism, terrorism and neglected ideological issues; positioned himself to become the next Secretary general in 2006, which if attained, would have made him the second youngest man to scale that height in the history of UN. In the middle of all this tremendously active years of professional life, he found time to marry and divorce twice, fathering a couple of sons, who in their right are doing very well for themselves; published five works of fiction and seven collections of Nonfiction - with a writing style worthy of a Voltaire , Shaw or a Montaigne; commissioned to pen regular columns for Newsweek, New York times, Times of India, Herald tribune and many others; a sought after socialite across the world , at ease both with glamour and intellect - Shashi Tharoor in short is the quintessential debonair intellectual that one can ever aspire to be. There is nothing that he could do wrong, until he made the fatal decision of joining the Indian political fray that was largely unused to the finesse, grace and bearing that Tharoor bought with him.
The Indian Government welcomed his participation. For a system that is so bereft of quality Statesmen, a Man like Tharoor would have been a dream come true. They offered him choice portfolios, assuaged his seething intellectualism, and inducted him into native subtleties of running a democratic government in a Developing country, where power centers normally operate at the bottom and not at the top, and almost everything is up for sale at a price. From 2008 onward, Tharoor began his perilous descent into the vortex of unorganized diplomacy, corrupt and avaricious politics of his party, playing into the hands of money mongering mafia dons who were using him as a means to an end; and a playing field that was so largely different from the clean and polished power corridors of the United Nations he was used to.
However, his nemesis figuratively and literally began with his involvement with a form of cricket that really does not deserve the name of Cricket at all. For a man who has all along lived his life in the fullness of his intellect, his morbid attraction to this mockery of a game is nothing but surprising. Possibly, he misunderstood T-20 with professional baseball in the USA, where rules and statues are strict and there is an unwritten code of conduct and ethics that governs baseball, which have rarely been violated in a hundred odd years the sport has been professionally in vogue. Wedded for the third time to Sunanda Pushkar (whom he met at a party hosted in Dubai by a Millionaire Philanthropist) a divorcee, struggling with an ailing kid, with no stable occupation or compatible intellectual stature - Tharoor ventured into this unknown territory of corruption and malfeasance, using her as his public persona, while still being an active Minister in the Government. It ultimately cost Sunanda her life.
The rise and fall of Shashi Tharoor raises a very important question, and I seem to be hearing it from everybody I speak to. That is “How can an educated and intelligent man like Shashi Tharoor take such bad decisions in life. How could he have fallen so low? “Well, the answer is pretty rudimentary. It is a common fallacy that we fall into when we think of intelligence as a product of formal education or qualifications. It has nothing to do with it except to the extent that it can streamline our instincts to make judicious choices when necessary. Being “intelligent” is a gut feel of what is wrong and right courses of action in a given circumstance, and history has proven over and over again that not every educated person is an intelligent person. I remember watching one of Maya Angelou last interviews with Oprah Winfrey where she said:
…..Intelligence doesn't mean educated. Intelligence doesn't mean intellectual. I mean really intelligent. What black old people used to call ‘mother wit’ means intelligence that you had in your mother’s womb. That’s what you rely on. You know what’s right to do….” This is almost a Zen-like statement from the great lady…
Shashi Tharoor could have chosen for himself any role he wished to take on, but all his erudition could not stop him from making the worst possible choice - slipping into murky Indian politics without any background whatsoever. He believed that his unabashed intellectualism and charisma would be a Midas touch but scarcely did he realize that he was entering into a different zone altogether, where none of his high browed learning would ever come in handy. He should have listened to his guts; but then, as if so often the case, the overwhelming voice of reason sometimes drowns the silent whispers of inner prompting.
In a way, I feel sad for Shashi Tharoor. On television and printed media, he is being maligned, embarrassed and questioned by people who are no match for his caliber. But that is the price one pays for having slipped down the precipice. At the back of my mind, I am still optimistic that he will come out of this clean, and that he was not in any way involved in the alleged murder of his last wife. But even if he does come out of it, he would have lost a lot of his credibility in the mind of people. But frankly, if you ask me, I think he wouldn't mind that. That is the joy of being an intellectual. One could retire into the cocoon of one’s abstractions and be oblivious of the world and its maddening noises. And I feel, Shashi Tharoor will do just that.
God bless…

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Legend of Count Dracula

The dark lure of a towering Man, clad in black with a flowing cloak caressing the earth as he strides – tall and scrupulously groomed; magnetic deep eyes that seems to beckon from a world far removed from the present, a voice that is at once seductive and charming; a physical attraction that draws young nubile and lissome women irresistibly into his arms, yearning for that solitary long warm, wet and lascivious kiss that could appease their seething passion; their placid white swan necks yielding itself like a flower to the Sun with its throbbing veins pressing itself against their glistening skin - and then the Count lowers his face with a rapacious look in his eyes numbing the beholder with its hypnotic intensity, his red lips opening up ever so slightly revealing short, sharp fangs, ready to bite just enough into their succulent veins throbbing with blood; evoking a light lusty, throaty hiss from his victim, slurping up all vitality in the form of cabalist red liquid; those ghostly pale whites turning crimson red in their sockets, and trickles of blood slithering down the parched lips of Count Dracula as he lays his limpid prey into a coffin, easing them to a nether world of uninhibited lust and an everlasting twilight zone of deathless life.
The legend, the charm, the horror of Count Dracula has been with us for more than a century. Bram stoker, the writer who conceived the myth of the Count was never an author of great repute. As a child, he was affected by a mysterious illness that left him brooding and introspective until the age of seven. Though he showed no traces of ill-health in later life, Stoker notes in his journals “…I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years…” What those thoughts were, and what deep wells of Human fantasy that this young boy touched during those formative years, is something we will never know; but it is clear that he was fascinated by a gothic sense of supernatural that characterized almost his works. In all, Stoker wrote twelve works of fiction and three collections of short stories; and spent more of his working life managing the famed Lyceum Theatre in London, host to some of the finest Shakespearean drama, opulent operas during Stoker’s time, to Musical concerts and beauty pageants even today. It was a chance visit to a quaint English town of Whitby in 1890 that triggered his imagination on medieval European folklore. A casual conversation with a Hungarian writer propelled him to research the strange history of Hungary and Carpathian ranges whose history is soaked in human blood during the period of crusades, pushing Man against Man into a mad vortex of unimaginable hatred and blood lust, committing crimes that would repulse the most psychotic of killers in the modern era, creating myths and legends that were more real than life itself - Stoker avidly absorbed the putrid and sinister current of those disturbing times, when the only act that kept Europe alive was war, pillage, inquisition, ritual slaughter and a certain darkness of the Human soul. Renaissance was but a distant dream then. Not without reason, those were called the dark ages of Western civilization.
“Dracula” is one of those orders in the middle ages formed to fight the infidels. Their sole intention was to serve Christ, and through him the Pope, by massacring Ottoman Turks, who had almost reached gates of Rome in their quest for world dominion. The more they killed, the better were their chances of a Holy recompense and a place in heaven. Vlad III (Count Dracula), the particularly aggressive king of Wallachia- a little province nestled in the Transylvanian ranges, was known for his abnormal commitment to the cause of crusades. He was popularly called as “Vlad - the impaler”, an appellation that stuck to his name because of his merciless decapacitation of his enemies and impaling them on the battlefield. He is pictured in History as a staunch Man of God, a warrior whose zeal for Christianity was messianic. But, when and how this great crusader lost his faith, and revolted against the very God he believed in - is a mystery that is shrouded in darkness of the age itself. There are legends and myths that whisper that the Count’s wife killed herself on a false alarm that her Husband died on the battlefield; and when the Count came back victorious, found his beloved bleeding herself to death in his arms; let out a heart wrenching cry and swore to himself that he would relinquish his faith in a Godhead that could not preserve his beautiful wife; giving himself into the hands of Darkness for all time to come. Modern historians dispute this claim, but the stronghold of belief, myth and terror still continue to hold sway in public mind. In those gloomy mountain ranges, it is still believed, that the Count rises from his dead slumber each night to drink the blood of innocent girls. No amount of facts can wipe away deep rooted beliefs.
Bram stoker spent six years researching European lore, myths and superstitions before he embarked upon writing his novel. He knew that in the blood thirsty, lusty conception of a princely count who preys on young nubile women – there was an archetype that will find deep resonance in reading public. His previous books weren’t a great commercial success, but Stoker knew, that with “Dracula”, he had hit upon a universal theme of Good and evil, heaven and purgatory, death and salvation. Written in the form of epistles, flashbacks and journals in terse prose that left a lot unsaid, the two hundred odd page book contained within it an attraction the pulled a reader to the edge of sanity. Even a century after, Stoker’s Dracula can still give us the creeps.
In my opinion, the wide popularity of Dracula is largely due to its adoption by Movies in the last century. Stoker was probably a trifle lucky to find his dark, evil protagonist becoming a sensational subject for the visual media. IMDB lists, at a bare minimum, two hundred and thirteen adaptions, reprisals, and different favors and remakes of Stoker’s core characters - Count Dracula, the intrepid real estate agent Jonathan Harker and his fiancĂ©e Mina. Only one more fictional character has more adaptions than Dracula; and not surprisingly, it is Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (237 appearances on screen). The actor who played the role of Count, invariable became linked with it for rest of their career. Bela Lugosi, Christopher lee, Leslie Nielson - great actors in their own right, are only known today for their respective appearances as Count Dracula. However, there are three adaptations which are as close to Stoker’s original story as it can possibly get. The 1922 silent film titled “Nosferatu”, "Dracula - The horror", 1958 adaption played by Christopher lee and then the 1992 extravaganza by Francis ford Copolla by the same name featuring Gary Old man as a slightly comical version of the Count. Each one brilliantly told in its own way. Among the three, I personally rate “Nosferatu” as perhaps the finest, scariest and true to Stoker’s grim story. Klaus Kinski, who played Dracula, captured the pure evil essence to perfection. His nauseating ugliness on screen was enough to evoke fear in audience. Though, the movie was made in the Silent era, the sheer pace of its narration on screen was more intense than any words could have possibly conveyed. Directed by FW Murnau, the famed German director, philosopher, Nosferatu got into trouble with the stoker family after its release. The reason being that Murnau did not acknowledge Stoker’s story, and it was considered an unauthorized adaptation of the book. Stoker’s won the case, and all prints of the movie was ordered to be destroyed. But, by a strange act of fate, a few copies were smuggled into England and USA, and decades later they found their way into the public domain. It seems as though destiny wouldn’t want such a great effort go wasted; and rightly so, in my opinion.
Christopher lee, on the other hand consummated the charm of Count Dracula in a different way. Six and half feet tall, aquiline face, penetrating eyes, deep sonorous voice that was at once seductive and authoritative – Lee presented the lusty and sophisticated of Stoker’s Dracula. Finally, Copolla’s adaption in 1992 was more visually authentic to that gothic century when the tale is set. It is the least scary of all the three adaptions that I like.
To conclude, Bram stoker never would have realized that the Gothic story that he so innocently wrote for commercial success, would have such a pathological following in years to follow. One can never rationalize the lure of the Blood thirsty count, but none can deny that it satisfies something rather deep within us - a suppressed desire to be possess eternal life and love. Stoker was never a student of Psychology, but even if he was; little would he have known that the raw nerve he touched through Dracula’s character, was indeed the basis of psychoanalysis that Sigmund Freud later developed as “libido” - the strange coiled relentless desire of man to achieve physical consummation with the other half.
Read the book, if you have not already done so. And when you read it, make sure you are alone with just a mellow reading lamp to illuminate the book. And preferably, read it during the nocturnal hour. Once you have done reading the book, watch “Nosferatu” on Netflix. With that one’s education on Count Dracula’s strange story is complete.
God bless…

Friday, January 9, 2015

“Analects” of Confucius - brilliant ramblings of an extraordinary mind

“Analects” of Confucius - brilliant ramblings of an extraordinary mind
The benefits of eclectic reading is the chance to encounter some of the finest ideas in a broad spectrum of human endeavor. One of the oldest known books of wisdom is the “Analects” of Confucius - a sage, social reformer, revolutionist, soothsayer, political manipulator; he is as elusive a figure as ever to cross the threshold of history. Yet, for almost the entirety of Chinese civilization, his name and ideas have resounded and penetrated the lives of its Men and women in a manner that is quite unimaginable in any other known culture. Like Socrates, Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed there is no written body of work composed by him. All that we know is that is he was a wise old man, who offered a radically different perspective to life and living in society. Kings sought his advice and some chased him away, commoners flocked to him for practical solace, he arbitrated crimes with a fairness and directness that turned jurisprudence on its head; his disciples were perpetually on tenterhooks with him, knowing not how the master would react to a situation. In all he was an enigma, a puzzle whose words and actions were to be experienced and not cogitated upon. A single important trait that distinguishes Confucius from other mystics and thought leaders was his constant emphasis on living an orderly life within the boundaries of society. Compassion, aesthetic development, playing one’s role to perfection, filial duty - these were the consistent themes of his prolific utterances.
The “Analects” is a curious book. Assiduously compiled by avid students and contemporaries of Confucius, the entire text is divided into twenty short books of aphorisms, anecdotes and stray reflections - not leading up to any spiritual ideology, but rather presenting a picture of scattered reminiscences of a wandering monk, illumined intermittently by brilliant sparks of deep ingenuity in interpreting daily life with deft touches of mysticism embroidering it. Read this wonderful insight into filial duty:
“Meng Wubo asked the (Master) about filial conduct… The Master replied “Give your mother and father nothing to worry about, beyond your physical well-being...” What a wonderful insight into parental obligation??
Stunning in its simplicity, rich in layers of connotations; statements like these strike straight at the root of an issue. Confucius did not obviously believe in metaphysical ruminations; his concern was to integrate Human life with his immediate surroundings and never entertain any divagation that could lead to a disconnect with prevailing social laws and customs. Chinese, even today bear the brunt of his insistence on adherence to basics rules of Human behavior.
What then is the fundamental philosophy of a nation that could produce such men of incomparable practical wisdom? How is it that the Chinese have so tenaciously held on to the precepts of a man, who by no stretch of imagination was worthy to be called a saint (in the religious connotation of the word)? Why is that Chinese thought and action places so much importance on roles that one plays in daily life, and not so much on an afterlife or immortality, as other civilizations did? These are important questions to be answered in understanding the life and sayings of Confucius.
While most cultures spent time investigating the unchanging substratum of this universe, the Chinese lived by the precept that changing forms are equally important, if not the only palpable truth. If ocean is the base, and waves are its ripples; then Chinese believed that ripples are nothing but ocean’s waving, and the wave is as real and tangible as the ocean that actualizes it. Evanescence, temporality and rejoicing in mutable forms with no thought of a primordial principle or an undifferentiated consciousness to care about, have led Chinese thinking and living into a practical and humane way of living. To them, allowing the mind to think about abstractions is as futile as hearing the sound of one hand clapping, or trying to remember ones “original face” before one’s birth. What is important is the present form, texture and quality of living; and if one can remain rooted in it, then life becomes simple, straightforward and peaceful. It is the overarching need to go beyond what one is – that leads to a complexity, neuroses and an agitation that split one’s personality. Integration lies in living and performing one’s present role with utmost reverence, joy and dedication.
Of all the societies around the world, there is none which pays tremendous respect to norms of society and the harmony of communal living than the Chinese. And that is largely due to Confucius.. 4.25 Of the Analects states “Excellent persons do not dwell alone, they are sure to have neighbors” or in 4.14, perhaps the most lucid statement on importance of official roles and title, the Master says: “Do not worry over not having an official position, worry about what it takes to have one. Do not worry that no one acknowledges you, seek to do what will earn you acknowledgement”.
The essential idea emphasized is the need to deeply acknowledge forms and patterns of life, and not to treat them as ephemeral as other philosophies do. The Chinese never believed in fatalism, and never resigned themselves to a formless “God”. In every other civilization, there is evidence of some kind of anthropomorphic dictator who runs this universe and our lives in a certain preordained manner, the Chinese never succumbed to that debilitating idea. To them, it has always been “Dao” or the way, or the role that nature assigns to every individual and to a blade of grass. To live according to the “Dao” is the surest way to harmony. There is a very interesting, and virtually untranslatable pictograph in Chinese, called “Ren”, which very loosely can be understood to mean “an authoritative life”. The representation of this pictograph is a symbol of man with two arrows pointing outward. The indication is: to be “yourself” in the world, the “other” is needed. To play a role in society, there has to be people who acknowledge that role. Otherwise, the role becomes irrelevant and inconsequential. This word “Ren” appears more than hundred times in the Analects. Confucius constantly iterated the need to express ones “person hood” creatively in society and not dwell on individualism. One’s life is intricately elated to the whole, hence “playing “ the role well is imperative for peaceful living This insistence on a “persona” as a means to regulate human affairs has molded the structure of Chinese society, making it flexible and robust enough to survive all vicissitudes the tides of history have bought to its shores. In its three thousand years of recorded civilization, there have been at least four times, when they have resurrected from ashes - but their sense of living , building and working together in meaningful harmony have always helped them preserve their unity as a race. There have also period in their history, when Confucianism have been banned, and all his works burnt or shredded; but somehow through little crevices and nooks in the fabric of social living, his words have always echoed and survived; bringing itself to life when the nation most needed it.
Along with some select other books, “Analects” is always by my side. I read them often- a few aphorisms from a random chapter – and what strikes me is the utter simplicity of its words. No pretense, none of the heavy duty logical conundrums; its message touches and soothes an aching heart like a balm that brings relief to a festering wound. One could visualize Confucius, a sixty year old man, leaning on his stick, walking slowly down a street with a pleasant, humane smile on his face, talking to people; giving them simple truths they can live by; never stretching into metaphysical speculations but always insisting on doing the right thing.
God bless…

Thursday, January 8, 2015

"flawless" - a 2007 film

“Flawless” - a 2007 film…
There is always a fascinating perversion, an overpowering thrill in breaking the law; to subvert a system; to infiltrate into areas that are designated as prohibited; to cross moral and ethical taboo’s; to explicitly attempt to break something that is established as sacrosanct - Man is forever looking for opportunities to stretch the boundaries of social limitations. In fact, if history is to be studied as a series of challenges and responses, one would find that every epochal event: socially, morally and scientifically is an act of rebellion against a known system. Some of these acts are absorbed into the existing scheme of things as revolutionary and fit to emulate; and others are branded and discarded as repugnant; and laws, safeguards are made to prevent them from occurring again.
The History of Cinema has celebrated Robberies and heists from its very early days. From Stanley Kubrick’s “Killing” to “Great Train robbery” to “Reservoir dogs” to “Entrapment” to “Oceans eleven” , to name very few, Hollywood has celebrated plotting, robbing, kidnapping, ransom and revenge to a great degree of refinement. Many of them have become cult pictures in their own right. The fact that audiences enjoy a well-planned plot that portrays a system being beaten, is indicative of a certain Freudian sense of rebellion that lies dormant within all of us. The thick chains of social indoctrination and to a large extent religious fear has kept in check these anarchic feeling in many of us; and yet in these colorful dreams of make believe that flit across cinema screen, we allow these meticulously drawn plots become a part of us - satiating a deep craving and rebellious joy within to break the shackles of lawful society . After all, that is the function of art - to draw forth a catharsis in the beholder, purging one’s emotional inhibitions of dichotomous emotional energies that would otherwise prove to be a strain in day-to-day living.
“Flawless”, the 2007 film is one among the long line of such stories. What drew me to watch this movie was the presence of Michael Caine – whom I rate as one of the finest actors to come out of England in the last century; and, Demi Moore, who is not the most versatile of actors, but more than makes up for the lack of it with her sculptured beauty; a sensuous bearing that would stir up coiled passions in the most ascetic of Men. The story is set in London in 1960; a high powered executive connives with a Janitor to pull off a theft from one of the largest Diamond corporations in the world. Each moved by a different reason. The story line seems predictable and sometimes a little sluggish as well, but what kept me going is the brilliant performance by Sir Michael. His cockney British accent, soft brown eyes; and a face that can shift between sinister looks to deep sadness in a flash – is a treat to watch. Few will know that he is one of those select actors who along with Sir Laurence Olivier and Jack Nicholson have been nominated for an academy award every decade since he began acting in 1960. He may not be as flamboyant as a Sean Connery, but certainly a wonderful actor in his own right.
And, I cannot stop myself from admiring the chiseled beauty of Demi ( Incidentally, as a side note, she shot to fame in 1982 with a slap stick comedy titled “Blame it on Rio”, in which Michael Caine played the lead role). Her brownish complexion, dark eyes that seem to peer in to one’s soul, right balance of voluptuousness with elegance – have always held me in fascination. Movies the “Ghost”, “Indecent Proposal” or “Striptease” have not really given her to chance to emote; but she has this uncanny ability to stand up to the very best without lowering herself as an actor.
What I liked about “Flawless” is that it is a neat film. It doesn’t stretch itself towards perfection in any department of Movie making; but the overall impact is one of satisfaction. If I were to write as a pure breed film critic, then this movie could be faulted at different levels, but, as a lover of this art, who would like to curl up in his chair, with a blanket covering his knees, sipping a hot cup of Starbuck’s on a wet, winter evening, wanting to entertained - then, this is the right ambrosia...
In all, a decent film to watch with your arm wrapped snugly around your partner and children munching popcorn, in a cozy dimly lighted living room with an overcast sky darkening the atmosphere for you.
God bless…