Sunday, November 27, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 65 ( Commercial Telugu Movies - My medicinal dose for fantasies and relaxation)

Jottings : Slice of life - 65 ( Commercial Telugu Movies - My medicinal dose for fantasies and relaxation)
For sheer entertainment, lavishness and unbridled sense of imagination on screen, there is nothing in Indian Film industry which can equal those that come from the land of Andra Pradesh. And I say this with all admiration, respect and regards I can muster. There is something about them that eludes definition or categorization. If all that I want on a cool, wintry evening is to be entertained, benumbed and taken on a fantasy filled journey , governed by virtually no rules, logic or conventions, then my choice would be to tune into a commercial Telugu feature film and stay hooked for three hours in utter disbelief and awe. Believe me, it can also be riveting and near timeless experience, if one can abandon expectations on how a film should be. I mean no offense or condescension here . Every now and then, I do give myself this lush, extravagant delight of losing myself completely in the web of Telugu movie. I come out of it energized and refreshed. An inner catharsis happens, cleansing me of painful arty abstractions my mind perpetually dwells in. Like an infusion of LSD, my doors of perception are cleansed, and start seeing things more clearly then before. If movies are meant to take away ones focus from daily mechanical chores, pains and suffering and uplift a man to a lighter world of inner freedom and carelessness, then Telugu movies are the best medicine. Not that other languages do not provide such entertainment; but none does it as consistently and with so much commitment as Telugu Film industry. My father used to say “ I love Telugu Films because everybody and everything in the movie is generally rich. Even a poverty stricken family would live in a house with six bedrooms and a hall as big as a stadium. And, most importantly, the ending will always be happy, even its a tragedy. You can be sure of that”. Paradoxical!!, but you are right Papa!!. That's why I love them.
My father incidentally was a great admirer of Telugu language, and he could speak the tongue quite well. And given the fact we were based out of Hyderabad for some time, I picked up the language as well. The eighties were the time, when Telugu film industry was really taking off with high budget productions shot in exotic locales with glamor and spice liberally sprinkled. Even before that era, it had the reputation of being mass entertainers. Actors from other regions would love to do a movie or two in Andhra, at least for the money and glory, if not anything else. Many actors also come to shores to Andhra to break their stereo types. Quite a few actresses, who would not wear anything less than a saree in other regional films, would surreptitiously act in a Telugu film in modern costumes to exorcise their ghosts. Anyway, What has stuck me as unique about Telugu cinema is the absolute seriousness of their intent in creating these extreme conceptions of entertainment. To an outsider, used to logic, structure and reason, Commercial Telugu movies can totally blow their minds away. It is an intentional effect. That is my point. The makers are fully aware of what they are creating, and they do so to the best of their ability keeping in mind one singular focus : unbridled entertainment and nothing else. The great thing about any art is once we decide to forsake conventions, then a world of possibilities open, and there is no need to apologize to anyone for anything. As long the audience can respond, empathize and believe , then it has found its mark. High nosed connoisseurs may smirk at the lack of artistic elements in commercial Telugu movies, but who cares? Movies theaters are packed, audiences love their heroes to be superhumanly superhuman (I am coining a new phrase) and most producers, if not all of them, make enough money. Even if they don’t, they dont mind going at it again and again. After all, Love of fun is infectious and deep rooted.
My quiet Thanksgiving Holiday was enlivened by a Junior NTR (the grandson of the Late NT Rama Rao) movie: “Nanakku Prematho” or “ To Father, with Love”. For some reason, I like Junior NTR films, just as I quietly enjoy his Uncle Balakrishna’s Movies. If one were to ask me, what this film is about, I would be uncertain. All that i can say with any amount of confidence is that it is about “Chaos theory” and its applicability in Human life. If Edward Lorenz, the weather scientist, who conceived this theory in 1962, was alive, and needed popularization of his theory, he wouldn't have found a better three hour capsule to showcase what he meant by Chaos to the common man. Chaos can quickly become a buzz word after watching this drama. The Movie is ingenious in conception. A father lies dying of a disease, confesses to his extra-intelligent son the reason for his financial downfall; son vows to bring the culprit to justice, woos his daughter in accordance with tenets of Chaos theory, and finally metes out justice. In between these four phases of the movie, we see slices of London, Spain, corners of Hyderabad with lavish sets, avant-garde clothing and style, foot tapping music, slick choreography, unimaginable stunts, crisp dialogues, overflowing money, melodramatic emotions, razor sharp brilliance and aptitude in the Hero, and above all, a carefree abandon to the flow and rhythm of wherever the movie cares to take us. I loved it..
Having said so much about fun In Telugu Movies, I must also remind myself and others that some of the most beautiful, meaningful Feature films in Indian languages have also come from this same land. Who can forget the artistic dramas of K Vishwanath : Shankarabharanam, Saagara sangamam, SwathiMuktyam, or the path breaking intensity of Ram goal Verma’s Shiva or frivolous brilliance of his Kshana Kshanam, or Mani Ratnam’s Geetanjali, or K balachander’s Maro charitra and Rudraveena, or Raghavendra Rao’s fantasies including my favorite “Jagadeka verudu Athiloka sundari” in which Sridevi sizzled like never before and after; and many, many others for me to find space to list. They have been trend setters for other regional films. My favorite Music Director Ilayaraja, has done some of his best work for Telugu cinema. And so have many other successful artists in many fields.
A few years ago, I remember reading an interview in a leading newspaper on one of the more successful heroines in cinema, not only in Telugu but other languages too. She made an important comment, which has remained with me ever since. She said “ the most respect I get as an artist - though in many films ,as you know, we dont really have too much to perform as an actor - is in the Telugu industry. Though, we appear in skimpy dresses, and generally flirt around with Heroes, I think , they take care of us with utmost respect and honor.. I love working in Telugu films, because I love the people I work with..”
None can disagree with that. The land, the language and its people are not merely sweet, but honorable, respectful and know how to reciprocate true friendship. I will continue watching Telugu films for that sweetness and joy they exude..
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Friday, November 25, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 64 ( Presidential medal of Freedom - honor and appeasement)

Jottings : Slice of life - 64 ( Presidential medal of Freedom - honor and appeasement)
Unlike most other countries, the USA’s highest civilian award - the Presidential medal of Freedom - is often a whim, a taste, a sign of an outgoing’s President’s larger legacy than his political one. Historically, if one looks at the number of awards given by each President, especially during last few months of their tenure ( jokingly referred to as the lame duck period), it is always the time when they open the white house halls to honor those they have loved, cherished and supported their cause in one way or the other. Not that recipients at any time were less deserving. No, not at all. All awardees, since the time John F Kennedy reconstituted this award in 1963, have been stalwarts, giants and path breakers in their fields of endeavor. Music, dance, writing, Governance, Military, business, social science, sports - all of them have found representation. But as I said, each President’s choice of whom the awards are given to reflects what they like, respect or enjoy the most.
By far, President barrack Obama has given away the maximum number of awards during his tenure. 124 awards till date, significantly higher than any President’s beneficence. This year alone (2016), in the just held ceremony, he handed out in his usual charismatic style and wit, the prestigious awards to more than 20 deserving causes and people. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to watch on TV many of Obama’s Presidential award ceremonies. I always get the feeling that Obama is at his best when he is in the company of people who are non-political. His innate wisdom, spontaneity, wit and effortless eloquence comes out when he talks about cultural transformations, individual achievements that go beyond the political spectrum. Well, one may argue, he is a democrat. And democrats are known to favor cultural ambassadors than political ones.
But what surprises me a little though in the last eight years, only three writers have received the honor. Maya Angelou in 2011, Toni Morrison in 2012, and Isabel Allende in 2014. Considering that Obama is a voracious reader and lover of literature, one would have hoped to find more writers in the list. Well, that brings me to my point. Like all national awards anywhere in the world, they are given primarily to keep its recipients in the good books of existing political party, and to expect their continued patronage in money, idealogical evangelism and fan following . It reflects the attitude “you are my man..”. In fields, where such loyalty isn't possible, for example, Philosophy, you wouldn't find many winners. In fact, As I look into the list right now, i see only three philosophers recognized in the history of this honor (Will Durant is one of them). It is difficult to woo philosophers to tow a line. Better to leave them alone. Well, Writers also dont contribute much in terms of money and time. They live in their own world. Even if Obama may have liked to honor few more writers, politically it may not have been a “correct” or wise decision.
However, to find Robert De Niro, Tom hanks and Robert Redford on the same podium was awkward and an overkill. All three are great artists, no doubt. But even to a layman, it is pretty obvious, the only reason all three were chosen hastily to be honored in the same function is demonstrably to return favors done during a grueling democratic campaign. And of course, Bill gates foundation found its long due honor. For a couple whose annual income equals or exceeds GDP of many nations, and whose unbelievable philanthropy and social awareness has raised them to a status well beyond merely business tycoons - the Presidential award is just one more walk in the park. Any political party would like to keep them in good books. Not that the couple needs it, but they wouldn't mind lending their little support every now and then.
To me, the most fitting award of the ceremony was given posthumously to Commodore Grace Hopper (aka amazing grace). She holds a very special place in my heart and mind. The first Programming language NIIT taught me in 1989 was COBOL, a language that transformed enterprise business processing and led the way to building more complex and sophisticated models of software. If I close my eyes, I can still code in COBOL. I can visualize the cascading flow of code beginning with Identification division, followed by Environment, then Data and its seamless consummation into procedural block of processing. The methodical certainty of each piece of code, its elegance, beauty and design , even today guides me in my approach to software. It was Grace M hopper, in 1959, who headed the technical committee that led to the development of COBOL. Not only was she one of the first American Computer scientists( notably woman), she also holds the honor for developing the first compiler for UNIVAC. A frail lady, with a doctorate in Mathematics from Yale, entered the US Navy technical operations because she was underweight to enlist for combat. The second world war gave her wings to experiment on her computational models and her sharp brain was able to transform the nascent computer from merely a computational/arithmetic machine to one that could logically process chunks of instructions. The first full fledged compiler was delivered through her able hands. The rest is history, as they say. Grace was called and recalled for special assignments by the Government well into her seventies, and later DEC (Digital equipment corporation) appointed her as special consultant for their operations till her death in 1992. When she died, She was 83, and still holding a technical position and contributing to the company. True American spirit, if there is one.
While Ellen DeGeneres stole the award ceremony with her emotional acceptance, I think, the overall list this year was an impressive one. Each one of the recipients are among the very best in what they do. It is my personal belief that awards can never completely objective and impartial. There will always be biases, dictated by personal and professional choices. The best one can hope for is people so honored will be beacons of light for others to look up to, and will inspire younger generations to a level of excellence that comes not merely from possessing talent, but the ability to transform that talent into hard-work, dedication and commitment. The bottom line is this : If , after an awards ceremony, one gets inspired - the job is done!
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life- 63 ( Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln”)

Jottings : Slice of life- 63 ( Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln”)
No other man in recorded Human History has so much written about him or his work, his influence or his legendary personality - as Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. The number of written works alone around this enigmatic man totals to more than 15,000, let alone other art forms . Ironically, only one more individual can rival that claim, and that is Jesus - the Christ. In the iconic Ford museum in Washington DC, where Lincoln eventually met the assassin’s bullet, there is a 34 foot tower (picture attached) erected in memory of his life and death. At first glimpse, the tower would seem odd, but one quickly realizes its entire structure is made of metal replicas of front covers of books written on Lincoln. A little placard placed nearby announces that 6800 books are represented so far in the column, only a fraction of the total written with more to come. When I saw this tower for the first time in February 2015, I was transfixed for some time. What was it in Lincoln which still captivates ones imagination. Is it a sense of disbelief and awe, Like Gandhi, that such a man could have actually existed in the shifting political world of nascent America, or simply an overpowering feeling of greatness and faith in humanity and its core values, or is it the tremendous confidence his life instills in each one of us - despite odds, setbacks, rivalry, war and peace, inequities and dissensions - to find an inner reservoir of self confidence, dignity and equality , not merely for oneself , but for all mankind. It is difficult to answer. Perhaps, it is all of this, and more.
I am not embarrassed to admit that when I was young, I believed the Lincoln founded the USA, and was the first President of it. For many years, nothing that I heard, read or saw seemed to contradict my conviction. Until, a wonderful History teacher politely pulled me aside one day, when I vociferously argued about Lincoln’s position, and gently informed me George Washington was the first after the constitution was ratified in 1788. He had to open a book, and prove it to me. That was over three decades ago. But even recently, surveys bear out the fact that not all American children are still sure who their First president was. The name that comes most easily and effortless to their minds is Lincoln. Such is the indelible mark of the Man and his aura.
The story of Lincoln needs no repetition. Its been told too many times, and many more new tales are spun each day by each new author or researcher. Nearly five thousand biographies exist, which discuss threadbare his day to day life in all its different dimensions. In a way, Lincoln was fortunate. Almost everything that he said, wrote, grunted, whispered and orated have found place on paper, except his childhood days, which to a large extent is based upon accounts heard or passed on. Therefore, it is easy for a diligent scholar to find all the material they want, and draw a thousand interpretations from it. What comes out clearly from those voluminous details is the life of a self educated man, not very handsome, quick witted, extremely dexterous with words and ideas, widely read, sympathizing husband, condescending father, wonderful friend, scheming statesman, deeply spiritual without being outwardly religious, and above all possessing a political acumen which could weigh, balance and measure situations with a razor sharp perception, and stand by his own convictions no matter what the odds were. It was a momentous point in the newly formed nation, when he assumed power. Barely hundred years had passed before it was being cut asunder into anarchy and primitivism. The dream, the vision , the glory that bought the “New land” into shape against all odds with is motherland was at the cross roads of its existence and forced to face its demons. It was Lincolns Job as President to determine whether there was a future for this country or not. Nothing else mattered. An undecided North and a belligerent South were pulling in different directions, and in the process sucking millions of young men into death and mutilation. The civil war - as historians have come to call it - was the one single most agenda in Lincoln’s mind. Surrounded by best brains and brawn, pushing him often into compromising positions, Lincoln needed to keep his vision of an unified country intact. That was his singular strength. Almost super human strength, if I may call it. A lesser man than him would have buckled in, But not Abraham Lincoln. His entire presidency was based on simple two point agenda. That slavery should be abolished, and secondly, no state shall secede from the Union while doing so. There could not have been a more difficult, stressful and morally conflicting battleground for this agenda to succeed. And surprisingly, as if all the powers of the universe converged into the body and soul of Lincoln, he was the best suitable man for that kind of battle. The 15,000 books available in print, and many more that will continue to be written are all efforts to try and understand how he managed win the battle, and what kind of inner spirit kept him to his task with unswerving commitment.
My Interest in America’s experiment with democracy has led me to read quite a bit on Lincoln. Though, I am not a “Lincoln scholar” by any stretch of imagination; but, as a student of literature and philosophy, I have read some of the best books written on and around him. Starting with Michael Burlingame’s “Life of Lincoln” , Stephen B Oates “malice toward none”, Doris Kearns Goodwill ” Team of Rivals”, Garry wills “ Lincoln at Gettysburg: the words that remade America” ( one of the finest books on what is arguably the greatest speech ever) - all of them attempt to demystify Lincoln. But in my opinion, if there is one book on Lincoln you may wish to read to understand Lincoln during his tenure as president, my recommendation would be Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln - a novel”. It is historical fiction at its best. Many readers may not know who Vidal is. Thats alright, I will reserve a different essay to introduce Vidal to them. Suffice it to say that Vidal was one of incisive political and social commentators on American society in the last fifty years. He died in 2013. A prolific writer with great feel for language and dialogue, Vidal reconstructed Lincoln from historical archives to a breathing, doubtful, faltering , yet courageous, visionary and tenacious President - who rose above his times to restore a fractured republic. Its a novel, therefore, Vidal takes few liberties of a novelist. But the overall impact of the 700 page book is a breath taking insider view of what it took Lincoln to harness all scattered energies around him into one singular thrust towards preserving the Union without slavery. In Vidal’s hand, Lincoln becomes a Human again. As readers, we move with the highs and troughs of his tumultuous life and its tragic end.
Lincoln was a complex man. There is no doubt about that. He lived his life at various levels, not easily accessible. A straight factual biography of him can only gives us raw details, but never the juice that flowed within. And that is where, a great fiction writer with firm grasp of essentials facts, and a superlative imagination can make the difference. Just as an Irving stone could breathe life into Van Gough’s or Michelangelo’s tortured and intense lives in his brilliant Biographical novels, or a James Michener could bring a Alaskan or Texan landscapes alive in his moving novels on American history; Vidal infuses realism and emotion into Lincoln’s political success and near failures. He never tries to deify or venerate Lincoln. Where Lincoln’ nerves fail, where his towering intellect succeeded, wherever his scheming political brain maneuvers - Vidal presents them with due candor, interspersed with masterful strokes of dramatization. The result is we get a picture of a man, who really did not like what he was doing as President, but couldn't help it because he was propelled by a force beyond his power. All that Lincoln had was a firm conviction about what United states of America should be, and all other factors which came in the way of the dream became subservient to that one overpowering vision. Vidal does not fail to present the fact that there were abler men during Lincoln’s time, who probably were more suited to be the President. But, he points out, equally well that none could match that unique combination of force, wit, intellect and tact which Lincoln possessed, and his ability to draw from vast, deep reservoirs of inner strength when it was needed most. When the chips were down, Lincoln would soar like an eagle - like he did at Gettysburg - When in a matter of less than three minutes and 272 words, he raised an entire nation from to depths of agony to heights to patriotism. Vidal’s Lincoln is a Man of such anomalies. Even after 150 years of diligent study of his life by academia, he still remains an enigma .
Gore Vidal, once famously described the USA as “United states of Amnesia”. He believed Americans have forgotten their history, their struggle and the story behind the republic they now so proudly inhabit. A staunch critic of the Bush administration, and an Obama sympathizer, One wonders what he would have said about the recent elections and its surprising outcome. In one of his last interviews, Vidal said, and I paraphrase “ sometimes, it is good for new blood to be infused into a political system. Practices become habits, and unless someone steps outside and looks at it, there can be no change, least of all any progress..”
Gore vidal’s Lincoln is a man who stepped out of the box, and had the daring to envision a united country. His novel demonstrates how Lincoln managed the near impossible feat - with all the facts, passion, rigor and grace of an accomplished story teller.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Jottings : slice of life - 60 ( Transformation of Paper money in India - Bold stroke by a Bold man)

Jottings : slice of life - 60 ( Transformation of Paper money in India - Bold stroke by a Bold man)
A system can be only as good as its practitioners want it to be. This is the fundamental truth to be understood in a democracy. First thing immigrants learn when they land in a Western country is the implicit respect for basic rules and processes they find there. It cuts across all sections of society. Also, what they are normally surprised to find is that people dont grumble , fret or fume about such rules. They follow it joyfully, effortlessly with conscientious participation. Now, We are not talking obtuse, debatable laws of equality, rights and liberalism - over which there will always be contending sides. What are we talking about is simple rules of living in the midst of other people, and making democracy function effectively on a day to day basis. It is often funny to observe when an Indian goes to India on vacation , after say three or four years of stay in the US, he or she will subtly, without any conscious effort or pretense start standing patiently in a queue, be more polite to strangers, open doors for others, treat people little bit more equally regardless of caste or profession, follow road rules more carefully etc. Things they would have disregarded with disdain earlier would have now become a part of their psyche. What happened to them in those three, four years. Nothing drastic. Nobody held a gun point to their head to force such changes. It happened because of the very nature of the orderly environment they lived in for few years. And once such an exquisite taste for basic order is acquired and relished, like wine, it cannot be given up that easily.
It is impossible for any democratic government to enact any changes, good or bad, if its educated citizens find ways and means of circumventing processes without an iota of guilt, sympathy or sense of wrong doing. Of course, when such changes are blatantly injurious to the body politic, then we must act. But otherwise, once all of us agree there is a dangerous malady affecting the health of a country, any change which aims to cure that ill should be welcome without exception. Especially so, in countries where democracy mostly exists on paper, and inequality is rampant in everything else.
When the Government of India announced the withdrawal and replacement of certain denominations of currency bills to ferret out unaccounted/illegal hard cash in the economy, it was only an election promise met by governing political party. Lets not forget, they were elected on such promises. And when steps are unfolded to transform that promise into action, it needs our fullest co-operation to make it happen. What Modi has attempted without warning or signs, will go down as one of the most audacious moves ever in Indian Financial history. To withdraw and then inject cash into a billion strong country over a period of just one month, for majority of whom cash is the only way of doing transactions is something that will make the best of leaders squirm in their seats. And to able to do it successfully ( we are hoping for success) without hurting daily livelihood of millions - which if backfires could cost Modi his next election and the credibility of this current tenure is a staggering act of statesmanship for a man who has to prove himself again in couple of years in an other election campaign. But nevertheless, he went ahead and did it , in the hope that something good will eventually come out of it. It is like giving birth. Without that excruciating pain for brief while, nothing new can be born, unless we decide to cheat the body and bring out the child. In which case, we are weakening the system in the long run. For an action of this magnitude to succeed, it should have the fullest cooperation of its citizenry. The question is : do we have that kind of co-operation. Already, sections of population who have connections with Banks and its employees have surreptitiously started exchanging denominations they want to possess. They are not doing anything “illegal”, but as I said earlier, they are only disregarding simple rules set for smooth transition. In mature economies this kind of currency replacements happen all the time to prevent counterfeit and black money. US does it once every five years. The process is well ironed out, and we dont hear about it in national news. But in India, this is a bold step taken by a bold Prime minister. Rumors are a-spread that there were ulterior motives to sanction this change at this time, and certain large business houses are pushing this agenda. May be true. Maybe not!!. The fact remains, somebody needed to shake the economy from its soporific financial stupor with regards to unaccounted money. If there is one single disease which can ruin any well made economic plans, it is hard cash stacked away under pillows and mattresses. Like luring rats out of dark holes, it needs ingenuity, perspicacity and courage to bring it out without fear of its repercussions. It will be messy for a while, but afterwards, the playing field will be cleaner and more seasoned for better plans and measures. That is the hope.
I am not a great admirer of JFK as a President, but his fourteen minute inaugural speech in 1961, contained some brilliant insights into strengthening of democracy including “ ask what you can do for your country…”, which is universally known and admired.. But personally, I like
“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich”
True democracy can only come into form when there is certain level of financial stability for all. It can never be equal. There will be always be financial inequalities, based on talent, education and jobs. But by regulating money flow, ensuring that there aren't too many leaking holes, Government can bring about a modicum of rationality into its financial process. In a predominantly cash based economy like India, the first thing that needs regulation is cash. Mr Modi’s move is not taking away anything from anybody, but merely replacing it with something that may help make sense. It may not be full proof. No law or legislation is or can ever be.
We should give it a chance..
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jottings : Slice of Life -59 ( Ernest Hemmingway - master of the narrative form)

Jottings : Slice  of Life -59 ( Ernest Hemmingway - master of the narrative form)
On a beautiful summer evening on July 2 1962, Ernest Hemmingway, walked down to the basement of his farm house in Idaho, pulled out his favorite shot gun - oiled, cleaned it; bought it up to his living room; sat down facing his large window that opened up to the acres of wavy farmland, put the barrel to his head and shot himself. The literary world, friends and critics, fans, his wife weren't in the least bit surprised or shocked. If there was a way Hemmingway was going to die, it was to be through his own hand, by his own means and only in this manner. For a man who lived his life at its very edge, no other kind of death would have done him justice. Suicide was the violent climax his genius persistently craved for, or could have accepted with dignity. Quietly, after few days of cursory investigation and a nod from his wife, the coroner declared his death to be “accidental” and closed the file on the greatest American writers.
His death in this manner was not in the least bit ironic. From 1918, when from the first time, as a debonair , young, virile corp he enlisted himself to volunteer as an ambulance driver during world war 1 - an effort that nearly killed him, then to report first hand in ragged lands of bloody Spanish civil war, thereon to Cuban jungles and the second world war, Hemmingway took his pen and paper where blood and adrenaline flowed. Nearly seven times, death had her loving arms around hemmingway, only to allow his grit determination and occasional help from his family get him out of her firm grasp. It was not for him the ordinary, peaceful, objective life of a writer. He needed to be in the midst of battle, at the very edge of life, with death staring at him in the eye. Only then would the terse, structured and disciplined prose that he wrote with so much passion emerge from his tormented, male chauvinistic depths. Never was a writer so much troubled, sexually driven, openly abusive and intolerant, so full of brilliant insights into human nature and; and yet, capable of writing the most sensitive, artistic prose time and time again, under the most adverse circumstances. He was an enigma to himself and literature.
In all, Hemmingway produced seven novels, six short story collections and two works of non-fiction ( a collection of his journalistic pieces) in a writing career that spanned 40 years. In between , he found time to marry four times under different circumstances. Each of wives alternatively were his muses first, sexual mates next and soul mates last. They were his only grip on reality, when everything was crumbling around him.It was only with them at his side ( or periphery of his life) he produced feverishly the best and renowned works for which is known worldwide.
I have come to believe that an author's overall vision can only be honestly understood by reading what they wrote in chronological order. I have heard many readers talking eloquently about Hemmingway after reading couple of books (many - just one). They would talk about either “farewell to arms” - which is his most popular work, or “from whom the bell tolls” - setting during the Spanish war, and reach the erroneous conclusion that Hemingway was a “war writer”. Yet, if one has the patience to read him as he unfolded himself from his first Novel in 1926 “The sun also rises” to his last “the old man and the sea”, one would realize that Hemmingway’s primary interest was man’s moral and ethical predicament under extreme stress and in an hostile world, where for millions daily struggle is the only condition they know. War was only a pretense, a stage for his characters to flower, talk, express and die. In his first novel “ The Sun also rises”, hemmingway sets the tone of his life’s work. In ten pages, somewhere in the middle of the novel, he embarks upon a description of Bull fighting. In terse, controlled prose, which was to become his hallmark, Hemmingway elevates the art of Bullfighting to a metaphor of Man’s struggle. In few striking paragraphs during that description, one will be left wondering, if Hemmingway is writing about the bull fighting the matador, or the matador fighting the bull. The force, speed and directness of his prose hits us like tidal waves - lashing upon the shores of ones being with force and disdain. His writing had this unique “Stream of consciousness” quality without its relative obscurity (like Joyce).
In 1952, towards the end of writing career, he produced, from some unknown depth of his being, a work that will resonate across ages, even if all of his other books fade away. He wrote a 130 page novel “The old man and the sea”. In hemmingway’s terms, it was the crescendo of his life’s work and philosophy. The tenacity of an old fisherman, his big catch, the ferocious sea, the frightening swarms of sharks, His pity and respect for his prey, the young boy who awaits his arrival on the shore , and the old man’s eventual redemption after three harrowing days in the middle of an ocean against all odds - is a masterpiece of literature, existential philosophy and gripping terse narration. Only Moby dick by Herman Melville comes close to the intensity of Hemmingway’s austere prose. In 1954, hemmingway was given the Nobel prize, and in their citation , they mention
“ his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style”
Last week, one night after work, my eyes accidentally fell upon “Old man and the sea” buried deep in my library, while searching for something else. It is a faded paperback copy presented to me by a friend of mine many years ago. I have read this book at least five times. each time for a different reason. And now , when I held it again in my hands, the pull was irresistible. I read it once more in about an hour, losing myself again in the brilliance of its scope and the precision of its execution. On the front page , My friend had inscribed the following words “
“To Bala, Philosophy Personified….”..
And I remember him telling me, “ I couldn't think of a better inscription”.
Well, “The Old man and the Sea” is and will remain one of my favorite books, and so will the entire Hemmingway repertoire. A tormented genius. But again, can genius be anything else?
God bless…
yours in mortality,

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 58 ( Donald trump, President elect - a good victory)

Jottings : Slice of life - 58 ( Donald trump - a good victory)
A most commendable victory for Donald trump. Against all possible odds, with entire political establishment, including the party he represents vehemently undermining his credibility, his own instinctual actions and comments almost overwhelming his political future - Trump has won a clear victory, not even a close battle by any standard of measure. His victory reminded me of an odd analogy. In india, we still have few old doctors who can diagnose one’s ailment by merely feeling the pulse, and not having to order and analyze elaborate medical tests to fathom what is wrong in your system. In a similar sense, trump was able to gauge the pulse of modern America and know exactly what they wanted. He may not have been the most informed, savvy, and intellectual idealist we expect our Leaders to be; but he knew what his people wanted out of this election, just as Modi did. He knew his own idiosyncratic antics will have no bearing on the eventual outcome of election 2016. The people of America wanted someone to reinforce a sense of confidence and self- belief, and trump gave it to them in full measure and more. His direct declamations of a political system which slowly let the ball slip between their fingers, allowing a once proud nation to now stand with enormous debt, unemployment, and lack of future prospects for its naturalized citizens - found direct response from its voters. The plush electoral campaigns of Clinton’s, though brave, charismatic and emotional , failed to impress and evoke faith in people who were consistently let them down for last thirty odd years. Trump was their only chance to get back at Washington for having failed to protect their interests.
It is people of other nationalities living in America who seem to be largely disturbed about Trump. The common rationale I have heard over the last year, whenever Trump has been outspoken about the issue of immigrants is that : America has always been a country of immigrants, it was founded that way; hence they should embrace anybody who manage to reach their shores whatever be the cost. In my mind, this is flawed reasoning. It is true , when the “Pilgrim fathers” weathered storms to reach this new Land, they were composed of different nationalities. And even after the country was constituted as United States of America, there was enough assimilation for about hundred odd years to strengthen its sinews of growth and democratic values. But in the the last 150 years, a new breed called an “American” has taken root in this country. This generation and others after, do not consider themselves as immigrants anymore. Their identity is firmly American; just as an Indian or a german would identify themselves with India or Germany. And to such Americans, every new citizen is an alien, no matter what their legal status may be. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. As a nation matures - a firmer, stronger and inviolable identity will be born. America is now nearly 250 years of age, and generations of Americans have come to believe it as their own country, and others as infringing on what is rightfully theirs. It is natural. Even a casual reading of facts will inform us that America still has the most liberal borders in the world. Anyone with qualification, talent and right credentials can gain easy entry. The ever growing asian population is testimony to such liberality. But what is disturbing for many Americans is the unaccounted mass movement without responsibility, and such immigrants taking advantage of the liberality granted in a free nation. So when trump promises he will make sure this process is streamlined and sanity restored , he is talking common sense. And in such claims naturalized citizens find a very sensitive nerve touched. They want to give him a chance.Many find it hard to digest, because it may indirectly affect them, and this knee jerk reaction to his victory is a consequence of that insecurity. There is nothing to worry, if one has the right credentials, can contribute to welfare of country by way of taxes and adopt the laws and regulations of the country. America will always open its arms , as it has always done.
Anyway, I am glad this election is over , and a clear winner has emerged. The first few months of Trump’s presidency will show if he can transform himself to be the man he promised the nation he would be. At least, to his advantage, he does not bring political baggage with him, and to that extent he is free to charter his own path. He is bound to be criticized, ridiculed and made fun off, just as a section of India did when Modi assumed prime ministership. But Trump strength of character, his business acumen and ability to deal with pressure and crisis will, I hope, enable him to establish trust and acceptance across the nation. Lets not carry the abusive, vituperative and sometime vulgar rhetoric of the campaigning days into the future. That is done and finished. Now the time has come to run the country, and run it well. As an Indian, living and working in the USA, I hope trump’s government will allow me to work with pride, contribute with honesty and live with dignity without having to sacrifice my roots. That is the America, History has taught me, and what the founding fathers dreamt of building and protecting.
I join Millions of Americans in wishing Trump a fruitful Presidency, and my utmost admiration for Hillary Clinton for her spirited and engaging battle. God willing, she may have another chance..
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

Monday, November 7, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 57 ( Rajan, a personal portrait)

The story of NIIT is the story of legends. For over three decades, if there is one defining principle which runs through like a golden thread weaving together different strands of business and practices into one coherent whole - it the quality of its leaders at the very top of the pyramid. There are handful of them, not more - but in them lies encapsulated NIIT’s philosophy, vision and dreams.
It my privilege to write few words commemorating Rajan - recipient of this year’s Global leadership award . I remember my first visit to our Atlanta office, on a cold January morning nearly ten years ago. I was carrying a parcel for him from India. It was impossible not to have heard of Rajan , before coming here. Legends has a curious way of percolating across an organization colored and painted in different hues. Obviously, expectations were high, and a sense of trepidation followed me as well. How would he relate to me? Would he fit in the picture I had in mind? After all, I had met my manager ( Dj, a legend again ) only few months earlier in India, and instantly fell in love with his integrity, work ethic and discipline. And here I was meeting one more such stalwart in our austere Atlanta office.
At around 9.30 that morning, he walked in and I was introduced. In a moment, all walls, imaginations and expectations dissolved, and he addressed me in my native tongue (Tamil) with profuse warmth and affection. I remember his first words to me in English in his inimitable, sweet South Indian drawl “ Welcome to the land of Milk and Honey…”. That was the beginning of my wonderful official and personal relationship with Rajan. Over the years, that respect has only grown deeper and more respectful. His straight forward advices without mincing words, his wonderful culinary skills (apart from my mom, Rajan has been my guru in introducing me to the world of cooking), His practice of judiciously choosing between alternatives , his vibrant mind, and above all, his understanding of IT as a conduit to business efficiency and not an end in itself - is something I have personally learnt in my association with him.
A Global leadership award normally gravitates towards those who contribute to business growth. But the fact that Management chose to honor Rajan with the award this year is a great decision. As head of technology, Rajan and his team have provided unremitting support, advice to diverse teams during odd hours of work without batting an eyelid or momentarily slacking in intensity. Rajan’s understanding of technological infrastructure is not merely detailed, but comprehensive in its grasp. He could in an instant look at the big picture, and in the very next delve in minutiae of how things work. This is his strength. And this ability has not come without hard work. It has been honed, nurtured, and nourished over twenty years of working through ranks, and dirtying his hands with the nitty gritty of setting up infrastructure for constantly evolving businesses. The fruit of that effort has now found consummation in Global recognition as a global leader. Though he has very capable, young and efficient team, who bring their specialized skills to work, Rajan can still be found cuddled in his office researching, studying, searching for new answers to old questions. Perhaps, this is the hallmark of our leaders. They never shy away from learning, and are humble enough to learn from every quarter.
I wish to join all of you in Congratulating Rajan on this honor. Nothing more need be said!!.
God bless..
yours in mortality,
Bala



Thursday, November 3, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 56 ( tenacity and resilience - My aunt)

Jottings : Slice of life - 56
Look at this “Kolam” ( a traditional form of drawing) very carefully. What will strike one almost immediately is the geometrical precision of its execution. Its hypnotic structure captivating in its symmetry. The lines so firm, the edges fluted, careful strokes in color interwoven in definitive patterns, which makes sense once drawn - but in the mind of its artist it would have remained a fluid vision, bursting out like a flower out of nowhere and blooming and gasping towards perfection as the hand draws out its intricate patterns in one spontaneous movement of harmony between mind and body.
This drawing is not by a twenty year old or a forty year old artist, but by our octogenarian aunt, the eldest in the family living in Palani, Tamilnadu. Frail of body, strong willed, articulate, she has spent every moment of her adult life in this little town - renowned as a place of pilgrimage, living within its conservative traditions, serving her late Husband with as much devotion and care a Brahmin housewife could muster, bringing up two sons, each doing well in their own way; watching a generation of Grandchildren grow, flower and mature into adulthood, in touch with her five siblings ( of which my mother is one) with the same interest and compassion she has had since the time we know her. And add to this - she is also the most artistic among all.
For many years, we lived close to Palani, which is Madurai; and our holidays would invariably take us to Palani. My brother and I have vivid memories of our time spent there. Of particular importance to me were the holidays I have spent alone there for whatever reason. My aunt, then at her prime, would make me sit, read and copy down paragraphs from the erstwhile Chandamama ( one of the best children magazines ever). Not that I remembering enjoying it, but my aunt would insist i spent at least an hour of so doing something useful during vacations. Her own command of English was reasonably good. Grammatically correct, she could string together sentences with ease ( A fact that stuck me as extraordinary then), and her handwriting reminds me of the term “Copperplate” - a style of writing with thick and thin strokes producing stunning visual effect. Solid, unwavering and stylish - she would pick out paragraphs from a story in Chandamama (It was mostly from King Vikramaditya and the ghost), write it down in her beautiful hand, and then ask me to reproduce that piece with exactitude. It wasn't fun. But, at this distance, I am convinced that her reading and writing regimen has something to do with my own discipline in writing today. Try , as I did, my handwriting could never become half as perfect as hers, but I did eventually pick the art of forming sentences or rather the feel for it , imperceptibly during those holidays there - and from her.
When I was in kochi last month, My Mother bought out a small piece of paper and said
“Sunder, look at Periamma’s ( elder mom) handwriting even today”
It was amazing. The same sure strokes, proper spacing, neat calligraphy and firmness of purpose was evident in those few verses she had written down from memory for Amma’s use. A deep sense of gratitude filled my heart.
We owe ourselves to our Elders. Whether we like of not, acknowledge it or not, believe it or not, accept it or not, pieces of them will always be imperishably a part of us. Just as biological genes are passed on, the initial impetus of cultural, social and intellectual growth are given by our parents, immediate family and teachers, and from there we go on to make our own destinies. And somewhere along the line, during moments of silent reflection faint reminiscences of our acquired heritage does pop up, reminding us of a lineage that stretches way into the past - generations past generations - humbling the pride that claims there is a generation gap, and we are unique. Nonsense!! From an ape to a trousered ape, we may have travelled different paths, but the common pool of life, its archetypes will always come along with us. More so, from the Elders of our family. They define who we are at the very base, and give us every opportunity to build on that firm, solid ground.
My sister in Bangalore wrote this yesterday in a short post. She writes about the three Elder women in our family ( five in all including two brothers). And what she writes will be true for all readers who have had the fortune of growing up in a big, embracing and loving environment.
“ All my three aunts are awe inspiring, organized, meticulous, agile, affectionate, graceful, defy age, denote life and best of all - resilient..”
I couldn't have said it better..
God bless..
yours in mortality,
Bala
( I have tagged members i could immediately pull out. Not a whole list. Apologies for missing out some names. However, I meant this post to be from all of us in the family)