Sunday, February 26, 2006

A blessed end

He said that one has to be very determined to withstand - to stand up to - India. And the most vulnerable, he said, are always those who love her best. There are many ways of loving India, many things to love her for - the scenery, the history, the poetry, the music, and indeed the physical beauty of the men and women - but all, said the Major, are dangerous for the European who allows himself to love too much. India always, he said, finds out the weak spot and presses on it.

Olivia becomes a victim of the Indian Heat and Dust in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Booker-winning novel. The reader gets acquainted with her heightened sensitivity early on in the book when during a dinner table discussion on the practice of sati, she says,

"Oh I could!" cried Olivia, and with such feeling that everyone was silent and looked at her…"I'd want to. I mean, I just wouldn't want to go on living. I'd be grateful for such a custom."

(Italics writer's)

Olivia falls for the beguiling charms of the Nawab of Khatm, with whom, unknown even to herself, she tumbles into love.

Her story is narrated by her step-granddaughter Anne, who returns to India to uncover the details of Olivia's scandal. As the story progresses, one discerns a mirror-like quality in the lives of the two characters. Anne herself falls for India's allure and develops an illicit relationship with her cohort Inder Lal, with whom she becomes pregnant, just like Olivia and the Nawab fifty years ago. And like Olivia too, she decides to stay back in India to know how it would it be when she is transformed by the place.

Yet to have done what she did – and then to have stuck to it all her life long – she couldn't have remained the same person she had been. But there is no record of what she became later, neither in our family nor anywhere else as far as I know. More and more I want to find out; but I suppose the only way I can is to do the same she did – that is, stay on.

There is an element of exotica to the book, a sort of peering in from an Occidental perspective, which, considering the circumstances, cannot be begrudged. For to a native like me, a decision to stay back would amount to throwing an axe at one's own leg, even if it were accompanied by lofty sentiments.

A touching segment details Anne's worry for a beggar woman who roams the streets of Satipur and her final hours in the lap of an elderly lady, affectionately called Maji. When Anne discovers that there is no room for her at the local hospital and that this does not seem to generate a general feeling of shock, she is awash with a sickening sensation that is new to her, a sensation that she realizes she is experiencing because the old woman, her life were dispensable.

But there is release finally for the beggar woman and for Anne too:

It was as if everything had already been squeezed out of her and there was nothing left for her to do except pass over. Maji was very pleased; she said Leelavati had done well and had been rewarded with a good, a blessed end.

These words acquired a mystical quality for this reader, who tied them up with larger questions of salvation and afterlife.

Ruth had a long cinematic association with Merchant-Ivory Productions and penned award-winning screenplays for them.

In 1983, Heat and Dust was made into a film starring Greta Scacchi, Shashi Kapoor and Julie Christie in the roles of Olivia, Nawab and Anne, respectively.

Here is a picture from the 2002 Baftas with James Ivory on the left and Ismail Merchant on the right. Merchant passed away last year.

Friday, February 24, 2006

'Bond'ed to cliché

Some respite for Daniel Craig after a string of high-profile Bond men defended the star for the role. Toby Stephens, who played Gustav Graves in 2002's Die Another Day, said Bond was becoming "too clichéd and unrealistic". He said the casting of Craig in the lead role was "inspired".

Indeed, with websites such as Craig Not Bond sprouting across the web, "the short, blond actor with the rough face of a professional boxer" has come in for criticism from a segment of diehard, and if I may add, insolent fans.

It's quite unfair, isn't it, maligning him just because he does not fit a hackneyed image that the idea of James Bond has come to be straitjacketed in. For all genuine Bond lovers, surely, the charisma of 007 goes much beyond this.

And it's not even that. Look at this pic. Does he not looking dashingly suave in it? The perfect Bond to me.

Craig also received support from Pierce Brosnan and Christopher Lee.

More fodder here and here.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Summers shown the door

Well, not exactly. The Harvard President has offered to voluntarily step down, but the entire world knows by now why he chose to do that.

His has been a tenure of verbal fisticuffs and outright disagreements with the faculty. AP reports:

Shortly after he took office, a handful of prominent black studies professors, including Cornel West, left the university after a dispute with him.

But what proved his nemesis were the remarks he made last year at an academic conference. Incredibly, he said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers.

This, from the president of Harvard, folks!

No doubt, he had an inkling that he was going to lose the second no-confidence motion after having flunked the first one. Clearly, Mr. Summers had lost favour with his faculty.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Execution raises ethical dilemma

California has indefinitely postponed the execution of condemned killer Michael Morales after two anesthesiologists refused to take part in it.

Morales, convicted in the 1983 murder a 17-year-old girl, had argued that the chemical cocktail to be used in his lethal injection violated the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment found in the Eighth Amendment.

Consequently, a US District Judge last week ruled that California must change the drugs it uses when executing prisoners, and the Ninth Circuit on Sunday approved the presence of a doctor to ensure that Morales would be unconscious during the execution.

However, just hours before the execution was to begin, the two anesthesiologists withdrew their agreement to monitor the injection of a three-drug sequence and to make sure Morales was unconscious as he was being put to death.

As a result, the execution was postponed indefinitely.


Schwarzenegger is part of the case too. The California governor rejected Morales’s clemency petition twice.

Now the other slap

It takes all kinds. After earning flak from the US media for crawling when asked to bend, Google has raised the hackles of the Chinese MSM, for not doing enough to protect the mighty secrets of the Chinese communist party.

The difference in the mindsets can be gauged from a scathing newspaper editorial that blamed the search engine for complaining about the country's stringent censor laws after sneaking in as an "uninvited guest".

What are these journalists, government poodles?

Time for Google to chuck its much-vaunted logo and show some teeth. For the bark to turn into a bite, one needs to begin by barking.

Be evil, guys! You have nothing to lose but revenue.

To a company whose kickass attitude was its reigning shtick.

Googling its way into the zeitgeist

Monday, February 20, 2006

A thousand knives

A letter in which Napoleon chides his wife for her infidelities is to be auctioned in Moscow in March, with bids starting at $50,000.

A month before the letter was written Josephine began an affair with Hippolyte Charles, a soldier. Napoleon divorced her in 1809.

The letter is remarkable for its restrained and literary tenor.

Napoleon writes with a lucidity that comes with sharp grief:

“My soul had been ready for joy but now it is filled with pain,” Napoleon writes. “It seems to me that you have made your choice and you know who to turn to to replace me . . . I am not using the word treachery because you have never loved.”

Josephine’s love for him, Napoleon writes, had been nothing more than a whim whereas his soul had been dreaming of her even before she was born.

He has adored everything in her — “including the escapades that took place 15 days before our wedding”, he notes archly. But then he reproaches her again: “And you, you haven’t held my portrait in your hand for six months and that has not gone unnoticed by me.” Later he writes: “Cruel. Why have you forced me to believe in a feeling you did not have?”

Napoleon concludes by wishing Josephine farewell, telling her to stay in Paris and not to write to him any more. “A thousand knives are tearing my heart apart, do not sink them any deeper. Goodbye my happiness, you have been everything to me that existed on earth,” the letter ends.

(Bold mine.)

Read the report here.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Troika tangles

What is it with avian flu and nuke ambitions? A lot it would seem from the cast of characters.

France, Iran and India confirmed their first outbreak of the deadly strain of bird flu among fowl, as unconfirmed reports say a man has died of suspected bird flu in Surat in western Gujarat.

Read between the lines, and you'd agree that the three nations to become the latest victims of the influenza are also enmeshed in nuclear labyrinths.

French President Jacques Chirac said this week that India and France are 'close' to signing a deal on civilian nuclear engagement, as the Indian government explained to death just why it committed the blunder of not siding with Iran at the IAEA. Poor Prime minister made a long-winding statement in Parliament.

When it gets stuck, it's normally stuck for the long haul, right?

On Iran, France (freedom fries, anyone?) has been raising the pitch. Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that Iran's nuclear activity is a cover for a clandestine weapons program.

I can't say about Iran but India and France must definitely start co-operating lest they become victims of whatever crisis next befalls their mate.

The way it's been going, the troika may conveniently be christened The Jinxed Axis.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

To see and to seek

Guardian, in publishing an extract from Written Lives by Javier Marías, broaches the very relevant issue of keeping a writer's face in mind when reading a text.

It is very important for me to know the person I am reading, and the closest the reader comes to is having the writer's portrait in mind. How do texts shape up in our minds when the picture of their creator accompanies their reading, is a question worth pondering.

I can say that the savage intelligence of The God of Small Things struck me harder because I had seen the fiercely intelligent face of its writer. Similarly, Mrs. Dalloway became a song of beauty not only on its own accord but also because of the near maternal regard that I came to develop for Virginia's soft features during the reading of the book. That combined with the details of her tragic life enhanced the book's enigmatic quality.

The list goes on. As I read The Master, Colm Toibin's rotund frame seemed like a prerequisite for the gentle flow of words that sailed smoothly across the pages. Henry James's dramatic life turned into a silent plea for mercy in Toibin's hands.

In a tautological coincidence, James's face kept me warm company when I read his heart wrenching The Altar Of The Dead and the autobiographical Daisy Miller. The above-mentioned article, referring to him, says:

But the gaze is frighteningly intelligent, for it is an intelligence turned outwards, far more inquisitive than that of his philosopher brother, whose face, at first glance, seems, erroneously, to have more personality: you have only to look at their eyes to see this, William looks straight ahead, almost without seeing, Henry [on left] is looking to one side, doubtless seeing even what is not there.

I am sure I can think of many more instances if I delve into it, but these are the ones that immediately spring to mind.

This fascination stems from a need to seek a release in the face of dramatic twists in plotlines. When Richard throws himself off the window in The Hours, you cry not only for him but also for that fount of painful creativity from which Michael Cunningham bore this character.

At such moments, it becomes imperative to see, and hence to know those wise men and women who induce such devastating effects in us.

Then there was one

Eva Green has been signed on to play the next Bond girl opposite Daniel Craig, in the remake of the classic Casino Royale. The woman lands the role after a string of high profile exits, the latest by super-glam Charlize Theron. Angelina Jolie was also in talks for playing Vesper Lynd at one time.

Haven't seen any of Eva's films, so can't really comment on her histrionic abilities. She debuted in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers. Here's wishing her all the best!

That said, I shall now crawl to my subterranean grotto to shed a tear for cinema's great loss. Imagine Charlize in the role and you'd know why.

No-one, and I mean no-one, evokes the chutzpah, the glitz and the finesse of the Bond girl better. Not even Angelina, no.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ordeals that return

People scarred by the Khmer Rouge regime are adopting Prozac to come to terms with their horrid past.

True to their Asian ethics, many people were initially circumspect about trying so-called Western drugs. Combodians have often visited herbalists for their traumas, who prescribe ineffective but high-falutin remedies. They blame their problems on the effects of bad karma.

But now, a team of psychiatrists is prescribing Prozac and Valium to deal with the national crisis. Pol Pot’s excesses caused the deaths of up to two million Cambodians.

No reliable data exist on the traumatic effects of the past, partly because people are not generally aware of the lasting impact of their experiences, said Dr. Sotheara Chhim.

"People think their past problems have been buried and don't realize that the present is connected to the past."

Out of Africa
Moral disengagement

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

'Ledge' of talent

Frank Wilson linked to the memoirs of a man who the world recognizes as the greatest lover ever to roam the earth. While 'casanova' may not harbour decent connotations today, the man himself

...studied to be a priest, wrote poetry, played violin in an orchestra, ran a lottery, dabbled in magic, started a silk factory, translated the Iliad, smuggled industrial secrets out of England and worked as a spy, a mining inspector, an impresario, a stockbroker, an abortionist and a librarian...

Speaking of memoirs, Alan Greenspan, true to his smart economist self, has hired a lawyer to tout his book that speaks of his years as the Fed chairman. The NY publishing industry has gone into a frenzy over a light into the man's past.

And on the topic of Casanova, Heath Ledger who plays the eponymous role in a recently released film is milking the success of Brokeback Mountain to good measure. He has signed up for Nautica in a likely repeat of his pairing with Jake Gyllenhaal (Jake's entry not confirmed yet). They won't be playing lovers in this one, as far as I gather.

Ledger is also in talks to play the rakish Hollywood icon Rock Hudson.

Here, he talks about why he chose to play Ennis:

I really liked that he had very few words to express his battle. I like representing emotions in the body and in the voice...he was a clenched person and any form of expression I wanted [it] to be painful, including words and speaking. The words had to fight their way out from within.

The bloke managed that, and how.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Weighs heavy on the heart

Ang Lee shapes up Annie Proulx’s short story for the big screen. I had read the story and about the movie before hand; in spite of that, Brokeback Mountain shattered me deep. The movie is just...too much!

Critics have hailed Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the brooding protagonist. I agree. Ledger steps into the details of the character. His smouldering intensity grabs you by the ears. In a review in Rolling Stone, Peter Travers wrote:

Ledger's magnificent performance is an acting miracle. He seems to tear it from his insides. Ledger doesn't just know how Ennis moves, speaks and listens; he knows how he breathes. To see him inhale the scent of a shirt hanging in Jack's closet is to take measure of the pain of love lost.

His performance is sprinkled with such moments of epiphany (the ones that melted the Academy’s hearts, presumably). Chief among them is the final scene in which Ennis is visited by his daughter Alma Jr. at his pad. Alma (Kate Mara in a short, sensitive role) has come to inform her father of her wedding. After she leaves, Ennis discovers she has left her cardigan behind. (None of this was in the story.)

Ledger picks it up, folds it neatly, and keeps it in the cabinet. His oppressive loneliness in the face of the motions of daily life that one performs is a dark reminder of the unflinching power of memory to haunt the soul. It takes grit on the viewer's part to deal with a man breaking down for a piled load of missed chances. The denouement crushes one to the core.

Fine acting also issued forth from Michelle Williams, who plays Alma, Ennis’s wife. Her hurt and rage at having been cheated by her husband is instinctive and very real. Her hostile demeanour stands out for its verisimilitude.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are good, though the latter is heavily underutilised despite her high glamour quotient.

The direction could have been better. The movie moves at a snail’s pace for the most time. Lee takes a lot of liberty with the script, but that is due largely to the effort in deriving a 2-and-a-half-hour movie from a 40 pages story. But as I said, the final scene more than makes up for the shortcomings.

The Hours was another movie that depressed me, but it ended on a hopeful note for Clarissa (played by Meryl Streep). BM, on the other hand, kills you with its lingering sorrow. The kind of film you are anxious thinking about for fear of the pain its recollection entails.

Subversive in a deeper sense

Monday, February 13, 2006

From the darkness, some hope

From the BBC website,

China has announced new rules to control and prevent the spread of Aids. The law, which comes into force on 1 March, will also ban discrimination against Aids sufferers. Local authorities will be responsible for providing free testing, as well as free medication for poor patients and pregnant women who have the disease. Aids sufferers and their families will also have their identities protected under the new law.

China now believes it has about 650,000 people living with HIV, lowering its estimate of 840,000 people in 2003. However, the government announced last month that 70,000 people contracted the virus in 2005.

Most of these are believed to be intravenous drug users or sex workers and their clients.

Patriarchy, ignorance, stigma

Sunday, February 12, 2006


I have been trying to read A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry but have not got the time to actually sit and read at length. That is the only way I can enjoy a book. I can't read a book in duress, with a sandwich in one hand, and the book perched in the other, thoughts of reaching the office in time flitting through my mind.

The beginning was quite ordinary and any war book must be extraordinarily good for it to interest me. I flipped to the end and read some pages in the middle. That is where the real human story emerged, and I was relieved I had laid hands on an emotionally evolved work.

In the meanwhile, I have been reading a few short stories off the Net. On a day I had nothing much to do, I googled "short stories" and came across a website named Short Stories at east of the web. I have trawled quite a few short stories websites, and can safely say that this is one of the better ones. Try They're Made out of Meat or That's How She Says Goodbye. Good stuff.

I don't know how much longer can I survive this book-less phase. Need to figure out something soon. It's jangling my nerves already.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Library Tower in Sep 11 like plan

Bush details a thwarted al-Qaeda plot to hijack an aircraft and fly it into the tallest tower on the US West Coast in 2002.

The President said that instead of using Arab hijackers, as in the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, the Los Angeles plot called for "young men from South-East Asia whom he believed would not arouse as much suspicion".

The operatives, Mr Bush said, trained in Afghanistan and met Osama bin Laden before beginning their preparations for the attack, which started to unravel in early 2002 when "a South-East Asian nation" captured a key al-Qaeda operative.

(Pointing out to Pakistan's capture of al-Libbi perhaps)

The Bush Administration has also been attempting to defend its controversial domestic monitoring programme. The White House would not say whether this plot thwarted was stopped as a result of the National Security Agency's eavesdropping on e-mails and phone calls of US citizens with suspected ties to terrorists.

"It took the combined efforts of several countries to break up this plot," he said.

"By working together, we took dangerous terrorists off the streets. By working together, we stopped a catastrophic attack on our homeland."

Shifting moral compass

Psychologist Albert Bandura has conducted extensive research on the prominent role of social modeling in human motivation, thought and action. In a study published in 1986,

Moral disengagement is the propensity to disengage self-regulatory processes from the actions taken. The individual brings a lifetime of experiences and learning to the ethical decision making process.

Social cognitive theory proposes that individuals possess self-regulatory mechanisms which provide a level of stability in interactions with the environment. If motivated solely by external rewards and punishments, behavior would fluctuate erratically. Instead, Bandura suggests that, in many areas of social and moral behavior, the individual's standards for behavior remain relatively stable.

Bandura identifies four distinct points at which the individual can disengage from these internal self-regulatory mechanisms. Specifically, internal self-sanctions can be disengaged from detrimental conduct by reconstruing the conduct itself through the processes of moral justification, advantageous comparison, and euphemistic labeling.

Individuals may also disengage by clouding personal causal agency through displacement and diffusion of responsibility. The third way in which an individual can disengage self-sanctions is by diminishing or disregarding the consequences of his/her actions.

The individual's final disengagement mechanism is to disparage the recipients of the actions through dehumanization or attribution of blame. It is expected that each of these points will weaken the linkage between the individual's moral reasoning and intention to behave in accordance with that reasoning.

It is a mix of these that is explored in Benedict Carey's essay on moral disengagement among executioners. I have been discussing the death penalty on this blog, and this issue has a close resonance with its de-humanizing aspects:

Participants in executions, like ones carried out by lethal injection in San Quentin, traditionally divide the responsibilities among workers so that no one person is entirely responsible for the death.

The innate human ability to disconnect morally has made it hard for researchers to find an association between people's stated convictions and their behavior: preachers can commit sexual crimes; prostitutes may live otherwise exemplary lives; well-trained soldiers can commit atrocities.

Bush powwows with Morales

Plans afoot to chalk out another axis against the "evil" Chavez. But will the strategy work?

Dubya must have had to swallow loads of self-pride in picking up the receiver and making that call. Morales has been going around town with his communist agenda and has legalised coca cultivation, something that has raised Big daddy's already furrowed eyebrows.

But geopolitics makes for strange bedfellows. Call it conventional wisdom or considered compulsion, Simon Tisdall gives you a lowdown on just why the superpower is appeasing a local dwarf:

But Mr Bush has increasingly urgent reasons to raise his game. They include Mr Chávez's confrontational stance, his regional oil politics and his alliance with Fidel Castro's Cuba. This week he called on Venezuelans to arm themselves and "launch a counter-attack against US imperialism". His speech followed tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.

The US is also concerned that China, hungry for raw materials and energy deals, is filling a Latin American vacuum caused by post 9/11 neglect. Washington's security, immigration, and drug worries are all linked to the so-called "slow growth trap" in which many regional countries are stuck despite the current commodity led export boom.

Expectedly, the man is a regional superstar.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The rise of Mr. Clooney

From doing B-grade "Return" flicks like Return to Horror High and Return of the Killer Tomatoes to notching up 3 Academy nods this year, George has travelled a long distance indeed.

Good going, George. Hope you do well on March the 5th.

The metamorphosis.

One step forward, two steps back

While the government deserves kudos for its stance on Iran, a major problem is cropping up on the nuke deal front.

The Indian Express quoted Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar as saying that Washington’s request for placing specific nuclear facilities on the civilian programme amounts to changing the goalpost.

Kakodkar wants the fast breeder reactor programme, all facilities at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the uranium-enrichment facilities off Mysore exempted from the civilian list.

This, he said, is mandatory for both long-term energy security and maintaining the minimum credible deterrent.

His statements carry weight because he runs the department that ultimately handles India's nuke ambitions.

The statements drew the PMO's ire, which communicated to him that it would have been more appropriate had he waited for the Prime Minister to make a statement in Parliament.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Facing the world anew

Isabelle Dinoire, the French woman who received the first-ever face transplant in November after her nose and lips were disfigured by a dog, appeared in public for the first time and revealed her identity.

This is how she looks after the operation. Brooks Bulletin reports:

A circular scar was still visible where the face tissue was attached. Dinoire appeared to still have great difficulty moving or even closing her mouth, which often hung open. But in terms of colouring, the match between her own skin and the graft appeared remarkable.

A scandal about Dinoire's private life had emerged after the operation when it was reported that she had tried committing suicide in a fit of depression last May. But those doubts were quickly dispelled when Dr. Daniele Bachmann, a psychiatrist who had also treated the world's first double hand transplant patient, expressed confidence.

Bachmann declined to comment about Isabelle's personal life, saying that they mostly talked about the present and not the past. Asked if there were any concerns that Isabelle was not the ideal patient for such a radical treatment, she replied: "First of all, is there anyone perfect on earth?"

The most important consideration, Bachmann said, was whether Isabelle would be motivated and stable enough to take her potent anti-rejection medication every day for the rest of her life. "I don't think there are any worries about the treatment," she said.

The Media chatter: How reprehensible!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Fiery rage convulses Muslim world

The scenes on TV evoke a strong deja vu. Is this the return of the Islamic revolution, or the uproar over The Satanic Verses? Scores of Muslims stormed streets in capitals across the globe against the disrespect accorded to the Prophet by news dailies in Europe.

From the Boston Globe, thousands of Syrians enraged by caricatures of Islam's Prophet Mohammed torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus.

From Aljazeera, Lebanese demonstrators have set on fire the building housing the Danish consulate in Beirut to protest against the publication by European newspapers of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

This on a day when Iran declared it's ending all co-operation with UN nuclear watchdog IAEA, even as it would continue discussions with the Russians on ways to enrich uranium for its reactors.

Take care, people. Hope the matter is resolved soon.

Fine collection

Reached the Book fair late despite didu and I having planned it for almost a week. It was the last day, so headed straight to the Penguin stall which housed the best collection of the lot. There were parents who found comfort in the Scholistic stall in the form of science books for their children, but hey, nothing beats fiction.

Stacked were reams of classics, non-fiction (one excellent book by my blog's atheist-in-residence Richard Dawkins), and most attractively, contemporary fiction. So out we go in different directions, collecting books by the dozen, and one of us (all right, it was me) making a complete fool of himself by asking everyone for a goddammed basket to keep the tomes in. And tomes they were, from slim ones like Never let me go and An artist of the floating world (both Ishiguro) to beefy ones like My name is red (Pamuk) and Vikram Seth's Two lives, which we didn't buy because I have it at the library in my office. Didz is very keen on reading it and it is a damn fine read too with Seth's characteristic simple yet gripping style. The beginning made me nostalgic for An equal music:

The branches are bare, the sky tonight a milky violet. It is not quiet here, but it is peaceful. The wind ruffles the black water towards me.

There is no one about. The birds are still. The traffic slashes through Hyde Park. It comes to my ears as white noise.

I test the bench but do not sit down. As yesterday, as the day before, I stand until I have lost my thoughts. I look at the water of the Serpentine.

The yearning prompts me to include Seth in the collection, and I pick up The Golden Gate. Along we drift with our separate selections, which in the final moments of the fair, we sift through to decide on the ones we are taking home. Of the 15 or so titles, 7 finally make it to the list after a gruelling brainstorming session on two yellow bean-bags.

Perfect evening! Great company, excellent books.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Iran referred to the UNSC

The push has come to shove. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has referred Iran to the UN Security Council. The extent of Iran's isolation can be gauged from the voting pattern of the resolution. The decision was taken by a lead of 27 against 3. India voted for the motion. Good choice!

Cuba, Syria and Venezuela voted against the motion. Comint is working up a lather again.

Iran's government has been threatening dire consequences. Just a day before countries met to discuss the referral in Vienna, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad had said that his country has the undeniable right to develop nuclear energy and will not succumb to bullying by fake superpowers. He also surveyed the nuclear power plant in Bushehr with scientists.

The situation is following a decidedly different path from the Iraq conflict. That the Americans have given the UN the time and opportunity to follow on the process is an indication that they are not thinking aggression, at least in the near future. Makes eminent sense. Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the limits of the armies' endurance, as it is. Britain is unlikely to blindly support America if the demand for another army recruitment arises from across the Atlantic.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Oh no, not again!

China's banning spree continues. The latest victim is Rob Marshall's cinematic adaptation of the Arthur Golden bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha. This time, the government is not playing big daddy. It is banning the movie to protect the Chinese from "memories of Japanese wartime aggression towards mainland women."

How are the two related, you ask? Well, the Chinese look upon geishas not as courtesans but prostitutes and the movie is likely to refresh memories of horrific sexual abuses that Chinese women suffered at the hands of Japanese aggressors during the second world war.

The movie has been in controversy for some time now. In fact, the use of Chinese actresses for Japanese roles had caused much heartburn in Japan.

The movie seems to be generating all the wrong noises. It didn't manage to earn itself a single decent Oscar nod this week.

Back to the topic, Google, take heart. There are other victims too!

Subversive in a deeper sense

Mainstream criticism of Brokeback has centred on the “the moviemaking chameleon’s (referring to Ang Lee’s jump from The Hulk to the cowboy drama) ability to tell a gay love story uncontroversially set in the pre-AIDS past, utterly removed from the political movement whose success made it possible.

Ehrenstein has a point there. Our acceptance and indeed appreciation for the movie comes from a mindset that has become more accepting of alternative lifestyles. To that extent, Lee may have been the unwitting beneficiary of greater public tolerance.

But to claim that the movie (and the book) are “easy” is to miss the finer point. No forbidden love is easy, even if it is not played out in the public eye of a political movement. Ehrenstein may like to read The God of Small Things, where Ammu and Velutha’s illicit love has tragic and may I add, public consequences. Their lives get tied up with the politics and biases of the day.

Granted, this is not the case with Brokeback. The men find a space for themselves in the wild-wild west, that is displaced from even the hint of time and place.

Yet, Jack (who dies) and Ennis’s lives ultimately remain private domains of grief:

Around that time Jack began to appear in his dreams, Jack as he had first seen him, curly-headed and smiling and buck-toothed, talking about getting up off his pockets and into the control zone, but the can of beans with the spoon handle jutting out and balanced on the log was there as well, in a cartoon shape and lurid colors that gave the dreams a flavor of comic obscenity. The spoon handle was the kind that could be used as a tire iron. And he would wake sometimes in grief, sometimes with the old sense of joy and release; the pillow sometimes wet, sometimes the sheets.

There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it you’ve got to stand it.

(Brokeback’s last lines)

This is a comment on the prejudices of the time and their effect on human psychology. Intolerance has peculiar ways of poisoning even those who are its certain victims.

To sum up, Brokeback may not be a political movie but it is far more subversive than some of them.

Sidenote: Curiously, GOST’s protagonists follow a proscribed trajectory of love akin to the Brokeback lead.

The Line of Beauty is a good start for those who agree with Ehrenstein. Lyrical and captivating, it does not skirt controversy.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

School of anxiety

Does faith matter to you? Does it define your being in ways you cannot quantitatively enunciate? At the same time, do rituals seem meaningless to you? Do they give you a sense that you are in fact being irreligious (in the spiritual sense) by mindlessly following a set of actions that everyone else deems sacred? If yes, then you are in the grips of a dilemma that Kierkegaard can solve for you:

The school of anxiety is the path to true freedom, which is what remains after we have been purged of all the comforting hiding-places we automatically flee to whenever we feel insecure. Only such anxiety is "absolutely educative, because it consumes all finite ends and discovers all their deceptiveness." The curriculum of this school is possibility, "the weightiest of all categories." No matter what tragedies actually befall us, they are always far lighter than what could happen. When a person "graduates from the school of possibility,... he knows better than a child knows his ABC's that he can demand absolutely nothing of life and that the terrible, perdition, and annihilation live next door to every man". It is an exercise in awareness: dredging up all the psychic securities we have hedged around us and then "forgotten," until we found ourselves in a safe but constricted little world. Consciousness of what could happen at any moment deconstructs this comfortable cocoon by reminding us, at every moment, of our mortality; in psychotherapeutic terms, this demolishes one's unconscious power linkages or supports. "He who sank in possibility... sank absolutely, but then in turn he emerged from the depth of the abyss lighter than all the troublesome and terrible things in life." Such a person no longer fears fate, "because the anxiety within him has already fashioned fate and has taken away from him absolutely all that any fate could take away." This spiritual discipline stands in striking contrast to the sense of divine protection that is usually taken to be a secular benefit of religious faith. Kierkegaard is no less interested in faith, yet for him it does not come so cheaply. Authentic faith is not a refuge from anxiety but its fruit.

Like guilt can only be defeated by experiencing it (in some measure at all times), anxiety can be killed only by giving in to it and experiencing its aftermath, which is the real and pure essence of existence. It strips us of all our illusions and brings us face-to-face with our bare pristine souls. It helps us delve into our real selves and throw away the quasi-securities that we waste our lives on.

Education in troubled times

It's a time when global conflicts revolve around issues that require a grasp of basic science principles. The Iran imbroglio has caught the imagination of the global media who cannot stop providing questionnaires on uranium enrichment and nuclear research. The BBC sent out an exhaustive Q&A on all that one needs to know to appreciate the finer points of the crisis.

Similarly, President Bush's "Advanced Energy Initiative" in his State of the Union address got everyone talking on the American dependence on oil. Terms like clean energy fuels, hybrid cars and ethanol-based petrol are gaining currency even among the hoi polloi.

Not just on the science front, the success of Brokeback Mountain has launched a debate on the rights of gays and lesbians and what modern societies need to do to grant greater adoption and property rights to them.

The so-called negative news carries with it knowledge-enhancing dimensions these days.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Rejigging good-ol' plots

Horror writer Stephen king has conjured up a rather (un)novel idea for his next book, titled Cell.

Everyone who is speaking on his/ her mobile at a given instant becomes the victim of a mystery pulse that turns them into deranged killers.

The Shining updated for the globalized world, anyone?

Only those who don't own a cellphone can hope to escape the mayhem. Clayton, the novel's protagonist, must save his son before the virus gets to him.

Incidentally, the book's publicity is being driven majorly via cellphones. How's that for an irony?

Food of love

"...such music, is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness; why hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music - not too much, or the soul could not sustain it - from time to time."

With those final words, Michael Holme in An Equal Music reconciles the permanence of his grief, with the realization that he has lost Julia forever.

Music, to paraphrase Michael Ondaatje, it has a power.

Albert Einstein, before the world came to know him as the greatest scientist ever, was an accomplished amateur violinist. While working on the Special Theory of Relativity, he would often listen to Mozart's symphonies whenever "he thought he had come to the end of the road," in the words of his son Hans Albert.

Music gives solace to those hurting in love. But to me, I need to transcend that. The calmness is my inner state, it is what speaks to me. I don't need solace- I analyze it and want ultimate beauty which it does not give me.

Too much music, like too much beauty can lift the soul to a weakness whose sharp sensation lingers within.

Relief to a burdened soul, burden to a relieved one. That's music.