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Unbearable Lightness of Silence

I

These awkward silences
don’t feel sorry about them
they’re just a reminder
that we need to tune better;
that awkwardness
is just a discordant note
a note misplaced.

if at all
we should be awkward
about forced conversations
something
we’ve been trained
to feel natural,
comfortable about

the two of us
we need to practise
our timing
of silence,
that is all

II

Who are these people
who leave a thank you note
on your doorstep?

are they “your people”?
are they us or them?
do we even know?

they’re not trying
to be kind
because why would they?
it’s not like they know you
or you them
they just stopped
at your closed door
and left a bunch of flowers
because they cared
about something
you said, or did, or made
something that touched them

not because you are
their brother, sister,
friend, teacher,
whatever;
so I ask again,
are they,
“your people”?

III

The unbearable lightness
of silence
of power failures
of no network access
of a book forgotten at home,
it weighs on us
because in that moment
when it happens,
we’re there,
in the moment

but
what really is weighing
us down —
the information noise
the constant agitation
petty debates
allegiances to party lines
substance free addictions
warning sounds of distractions
need to belong
need to be seen liberated
the dogmas and the isms
tyrannies of loves and hates —
isn’t unbearable
because we’re never
in the moment
to feel it

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Stardust Memories

Yes we’re all made
of stardust
but it’s the stardust
that is tired
after traveling forbidding
cosmic distances;
stardust
that’s long since cooled off,
robbed on the way
of the last bit of energy

stardust
that’s a forgotten legacy
of an exploding sun;
the residue of a failure
glorious in death,
but glory does not survive
the cold inter-space travels
on dull, semi-dead comets
and uninhabited planets
a game of pass the parcel,
changing form
without will
without ambition
without a plan

Instinctively,
we aspire to be stars
but we’re afraid to burn
the stardust that made us
only remembers
that a star is as ephemeral
as a flower
when one looks back
with hindsight
of a cosmic scale;
that star-ity
is a humble reminder
of near-permanence
of failure

Yes we’re all
made of stardust
but we’re not stars
we’re cold, calculating,
and immensely lucky
arrangements of stardust
on improbable islands
of cold starstuff,
who need someone else
to burn
to shine
to explode spectacularly
just for us to be born

 


Title is lift-off of Woody Allen film that I’ve yet to watch, strangely.

Photo Credits: Atul Sabnis.

 

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Review: Dear Zindagi

When I watched Gauri Shinde’s debut movie, English Vinglish, I had zero expectations from it. To be fair, I was in fact afraid I’d be bored. But I was rather charmed in the end. It had its moments. And I could keep my cynicism aside for those two and something hours. With Dear Zindagi, I was already sold, because I do like Alia. Especially after Highway (and that forgettable Two States, in which she managed to shine through the unadulterated crap somehow).  And Gauri Shinde had done enough in her earlier movie to merit a watch.

Did I like it? Yes. Was it a great film, no. I don’t think I was expecting great. But what works here, are a couple of very good performances. Alia just seems effortless as Kaira, totally owning the character, to use a contemporary phrase. SRK as Dr. Khan is closer to Kabir Khan of Chak De than his usual over-the-top character portrayals. Yes, he cannot entirely let go some of the exaggerated head nods and the likes, but I’d rather see SRK like this than when he is running that stupid rat race with Sallu and co.

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The story is quite straightforward. Kaira, a cinematographer, is living the coveted modern life, unmarried, with career aspirations, affairs, and partying. Her relationship status, in Facebook style, would be “it’s complicated”, as she’s involved with her co-worker Raghuvendra (Kunal Kapoor), even as she is dating someone else — the relationship does not survive, and as she doesn’t want to take the other affair to a more serious track, Rahuvendra decides to move on (in a rather strange, unconvincing manner, for the convenience of the plot), just after she has to move back to her parent’s house in Goa for a month thanks to her landlord evicting her on short notice. It’s there, post the breakup (that really wasn’t, because there was no real relationship, just a possibility), that she has to confront the demons in her past/mind, as she , something the hatke psychologist Jug — Jahangir Khan — helps  her identifying, and coming to terms with.

Shot beautifully, with teasing glimpses of South Bombay and quite an eyeful of Goa, the story unfolds at a nice languid pace. Alia is as perfect casting choice for Kaira as could be. Significant part of the movie is in the counseling sessions (indoor and outdoor) with Jug, and those are its better moments (yes it’s a significant violation of “show don’t tell”, but still). The biggest success of Dear Zindagi for me is that it even attempted to chew into this territory, and did a decent enough job with it. Besides, the drama genre in Bollywood is typically filled with melodrama, and there is no space for a more nuanced dialog, which is abundant here. Kaira’s character seems very real and very contemporary. And there is no KJo style gloss to smooth out every hint of texture. Okay, not a lot, just some.

Of course Gauri Shinde is no Anurag Kashyap/Tigmanshu Dhulia. The script is rather weak. Last 20 mins or so really adds nothing, even undoes an otherwise mostly-relate-able/believable narrative. The side characters are quite of the cardboard variety, serving a purpose, or just about it. For those used to better “serious” (not necessarily in content, but intent) cinema, even from Indian directors (Kashyap/Bharadwaj/…) it does seem a little hollow or scratching the surface, while those used to Sallu style instant gratification (I’m assuming, because I frankly don’t understand that shit at all) will find it a little of a drab drag. But between the two ends lies a not-so-narrow niche where some directors seem to be making a play (Zoya Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar, Imtiaz Ali, to name a few), with varied results. And Gauri Shinde surely has the eye on that niche, with two of her films, and deservedly, I’d say.

The thing is, this could have been something really really good with some tight editing, some more depth, a little less pulp. But as it stands, it’s still quite good — worth a watch with all its shortcomings.

What works: lead performances (specifically Alia), cinematography, feel-good, flow, little touches here and there, subject.

What doesn’t: over-closure (I’d say just stop 25 minutes to the stop line and you’ve got a much better movie), weak supporting characters (and hence performances),  a bit shallow (the side effect of feel-good at all costs), the script could have been tighter, a bit preachy. Music is utilitarian, nothing I’d listen to again.

Overall: 3.5/5.


PS: The featured image is a still from the film, and not my own photograph as usually is (with the exception when I borrow one from Atul Sabnis).

Save Me!

sos

I want to send an SOS
just to see
who comes to rescue me;
but the childhood stories
of the boy who cried wolf
hold me back

What if I used up
the one shout
that I had earned
to break the trust?

But I’d be lying
if I said, that is what
stops me,
for these stories
with their obvious morals
always hide something,
the sub-text, if you will
a covert message for those
who really want to see

For what we worry
is not, wasting our
one real chance
but finding out
that no one will come,
that you we never
had a chance

The Thin Ice of American Dream

Dear America,

I guess you’ve realized by now that the rest of the world cares far more about you than you do about it. Yes it’s unrequited love on most part, except for the cases where it actually has seemed like getting reciprocated, only to find out in due course, that love isn’t same as being used. Our dear neighbor, for instance, knows how that feels. Being used, being owned. But then I digress.

You must be wondering, in those few moments when your narcissism is dampened by some internal crisis — everyone is supposed to have those, right? — what have you done to deserve this interest? On a remote chance that you actually have wondered, let me spell it out for you. Again, I not being you, I could actually be wrong. But let’s use the trick that one uses while watching movies: suspended disbelief.

It’s strange. I give you that. From the vantage point of any neutral observer from distant lands, the choice you have today is curious: xenophobia, racism, sexism, authoritarianism, pathological dishonesty, every-kind-of-bigotry, combined with the exact same virtues of capitalism — incompetent fool inheriting wealth and using every trick in the book to serve self-interest — on one end; and systemic corruption, political establishment at it’s ugly best,  a will to get power-at-any-cost, on the other end. Yes, I give you, that the choice is not pretty.

And consider us, sitting outside. A part of us should ideally be saying: “God knows, they deserve Trump. Why should only the rest of the world suffer? Let ’em Americans suffer a bit too. Or a LOT”. But seriously, you know what, we still wish you well. I know you’re baffled about that, so let me, as I promised I would, help you with that.

For the greater world out there – especially the non-European world, which you guys fondly call third world, and which you guys sometimes bomb into the stone-age, in an effort to make lesser humans there understand the value of western democracy, which is on trial today (or tomorrow, for I still haven’t adjusted my mind clock to account for your DST); America is land of dreams. I know, I know, it’s not your fault, that we choose to believe in a myth that you beamed into our bedrooms, via your terrifically talented media, that sold us this post-racism, post-sexism, post-feminism, post-religion, post-xenophobia, land of equal and abundant opportunity, where everyone has a chance to move up, and reach the top. You even had a serial about a white guy with a white girl adopting two really cute black kids, and another one about a quaint little town of Rome, Wisconsin,  where an ethical and upright white police chief, a Jewish defense attorney, a black public prosecutor, a white judge, all lived happily ever after, dealing with issues of prejudice, and ethics, and morality, and religion with adult, almost saintly, composure. You had your legal dramas, where the underdog won, more often than not.

You had your first amendment holding up a mirror to the third world, which could not even dream of that. You had your non-hierarchical, talent always prevails, kind of corporate setup with written ethics, and all. You had your diversity programs, and anti-hate-speech laws, and what not. You made us believe, that maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to create just societies by creating right legislature, and by making sure it’s enforced correctly, by sticking to democracy at all cost, because, in the end, it will help in the triumph of the right (not the political, or religious, just the right), and the just.

And for this, we looked away when your foreign policy made sure that much of this dream is denied to parts of the world where your “strategic defense interests”, or oil, or ideological interests, mandated you to start and sustain wars, which your non-privileged foot-soldiers fought, while the privileged dunked drafts and became Presidents, and trumpeted glories of American penchant for freedom in the larger, third-world. When your unholy alliances supported or replaced with another/worse dictators, provided weapons for most wars fought anywhere on the earth, killed unarmed civilians and tagged them “collateral damage”, supported dangerous religious extremists/terrorists, supplying them with  weapons and intelligence, all for balance of power in your civilized world, then killed some of them and made America safe again. We looked away, because, in this seriously screwed up world, we needed to believe in a myth, to survive, and to become better.

If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach
Of a million tear stained eyes
Don’t be surprised, when a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
With your fear flowing out behind you
As you claw the thin ice

The Thin Ice, The Wall* by Pink Floyd

Today, you’re an inch away from taking away even that myth. So you see, why we care?

We care, because we don’t want the thin-ice to be broken, and for us all to fall into an abyss from where there is no return. We care, because we want to believe, that a better, more equitable, more just, more humane, less suspicious, more embracing, world is possible, if we all, to borrow Rushdie’s words, concentrated a little. But then again, don’t let our expectations of you hold you back from the path of self-destruction. Maybe we need to see that abyss under the thin ice, and to find new beacons, more worthy of that title. Maybe you showing the world your real heart is what the world needs — for its been blind to it so far, despite all you have shown us. Maybe you need a president that truly symbolizes you. Maybe you really need Trump.

With Love,

from the-third-world


[*]: Not that Wall

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Tools Are Us: aka “The Frankenstein Chronicles”

Louis Sullivan, considered by many to be the father of Modernist architecture, is attributed to be the originator of the phrase “Form follows function”, although the principle itself is quite ancient. Just like Architecture, and Industrial Design, “world wide web” has gone through waves of design philosophies, and thanks to Google’s groundbreaking clean design when it landed on the scene, that seemed to be following the modernist adage to the letter, look and feel of web-pages saw a major shift to more utilitarian design rather than (most of the times) one based on gaudy aesthetics (or anesthetics, really) that the early visual web (anyone remembers the grotesque Altavista and clone pages?) epitomized. But forgive me if I’m erring on (or overly simplifying) the web design history, as I’m sure I am, given that I’m no expert there (or anywhere). The point is, from Yahoo/Altavista to Google, and ironically from Google’s own (although acquired, not created) Blogger to WordPress (ha, couldn’t resist that!), and so on, blogs/webpages have been moving to a cleaner, efficient, functional designs.

Yes, there is a point that I’m actually driving at. We’ll come to that. Recently, Atul Sabnis at Gaizabonts, who has been responsible for many posts on this blog — by providing subject matter directly/indirectly — wrote a post (yes, Atul, I’ve been very careful with blog and post differentiation lately) which I read on my phone. Then, in the usual blogger’s spirit (a, no doubt, vanishing trait, for better or for worse), I wanted to comment on the post. Now, remember this: I’m actually quite used to browsing, even reading short-to-medium length pieces on my phone. And still, I found it not very easy to find a way to comment on this post. Also remember this: Atul isn’t exactly a “form over function” kind of guy, rather the opposite, and is much more likely than the average Joe (including yours truly) to choose templates with a consideration for things like “ease of doing comments” (ha! couldn’t resist that, either.) So I don’t think it’s a problem with that one template problem. Yes, I went and checked my own blog and a few others, just to be sure. Yes, it’s not very difficult to do, but the thing is comments section isn’t in the prime real estate of the posts anymore. They have been relegated to the afterthoughts section.

Sign of times, yes. The fact is, these days, most people do not read blog-posts on original blogs, but are led there from twitter/FB/. Which means that, a lot of time people comment right there, if they do comment that is — because not many have time to write comments these days (except for those who we wish rather didn’t have the time for that: a human derivative species identified with a mythical animal that has brain the sign of peanut and body the size of gorilla, whose name starts with a T). So much better to RT/forward, press the like/love button. Yes, I’m a bit of an old-fashioned guy in these matters. While FB comments are good to have, if the alternative is no comments,  the problem with them is that they are for a subset of blog readers. Yes, point could be made that it’s thanks to FB/SM that those comments are even made and/or visible to more people than would be possible in the pre-SM era of blogs. Fair enough. Still, I prefer those comments on the blog, where there is a common audience, possibly interested in those comments. But maybe that’s just me.

***

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Our relationship with technology is interesting, to say the least. We crave for the fruits, however forbidden, but are always afraid that they may come with a hidden price-tag (or snake, to use well understood imagery). Scientists, especially those in love with gizmos are rarely presented as dependable, responsible, members of society. They are, at best mostly harmless geeks, and at worst blind-to-anything-but-the-possibility-of-innovation mad scientists who are tools at the hands of someone who wants to destroy something, or rule everything. Basically, unwitting, or uncaring agents of the power hungry. This, of course, gets worse if the object of their creation is capable of wielding power by itself (himself? herself? do anthropomorphic machines have gender?) and not through human proxies. That explains the obsession with the concept of Frankenstein, that has been portrayed in various incarnations, in popular literature (and even cultish, dystopian science fiction) and movies. We live in the dread of the Frankenstein. Even a more benign one, that may just take away our jobs, not necessarily our lives.

***

Still, we love tools that these inventors, technologists, mad-scientists invent. We adore them. We need them. But tools use us just as we are using them. They change us. Tools are like memes. They need to change us for their survival.

How we think, how we write, how we speak, how we express, this all is shaped by the tools we use. Even how we read, how we consume, how we listen. Between the stimulus and response is you, say some of the self help gurus. I agree. But sometimes between you and the world there are tools. And they change your response. They can even change the stimulus, in route, to get a different response.

Our fear of Frankenstein is both paranoid-ly unreal, and almost instinctively right. Frankenstein isn’t one machine turned rogue. Frankenstein is every tool/machine that changes us, by bits and pieces, even imperceptibly. It’s through us that tools rule us. By making us constantly aware of the here and now, social platforms are making us turn away from the sublime, and the timeless. By making us aware of the power of likes from complete strangers, social platforms are making us conform to the standards of faceless strangers. By making it easy to like a post, and harder to comment, blogging platforms are changing us into hit-and-run readers.

The lunatic is in the hall
The lunatics are in my hall
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more

— Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon (Brain Damage)

The Frankenstein is here, and now. And it’s us, not the tools and machines we invented.

***

The origin of the “Frankenstein” is curious. The first novel, by Mary Shelly, has Frankenstein as the creator of a “monster”, not the monster itself that it later started to be associated with – to the extend that Cambridge Dictionary has this entry:

Frankensteinnoun 

something that destroys or harms the person or people who created it:

Example: “In arming the dictator, the US was creating a Frankenstein.” 

Wikipedia entry from Frankenstein (novel) has this interesting tidbit:

Part of Frankenstein’s rejection of his creation is the fact that he does not give it a name, which causes a lack of identity. Instead it is referred to by words such as “wretch”, “monster”, “creature”, “demon”, “devil”, “fiend”, and “it”. When Frankenstein converses with the creature in Chapter 10, he addresses it as “vile insect”, “abhorred monster”, “fiend”, “wretched devil”, and “abhorred devil”.

And so the nameless creature,  has actually managed to steal the identity of its creator, and in all probability will outlive its creator — who has become nameless, identity less. Because now the creator is any man, while the creation is Frankenstein.


PS: This curious inversion, is an apt parallel to what I said up there: “[Frankenstein] is us, not the tools and machines we invented”. Till I looked on Wikipedia for origins of Frankenstein, after I wrote those words, I was blissfully unaware of this inversion — I assumed that Frankenstein is actually a fictional monster, not its creator!

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Between the World and You

Son,
they will tell you never to lie
that’s the biggest lie
but you’ll learn that soon
you’ll learn
that the most important thing
in a grown up world
is to learn when to lie
and how to lie
without being called out
because the only thing
that civil society does not like
is someone caught lying
because that requires us all
to repeat the lie
about never lying

Son,
you’ll learn soon
that one choice
you’ll have to make
again and again
is between
the others hating you
and you hating yourself
and how you make that choice
will make you.
no, I will not
influence it one way
or another
because I’m already made
by those choices
or unmade
the way you look at it

Son,
you’ll learn soon
that personality ethics
trumps character ethics
more often, than not
and hollow victories
seem sweeter
than honorable defeats
that we humans
are addicted
to hollow victories
and that all the books
you read
history and fiction
will try to tell you
otherwise
because we need
those myths
to endure
honorable defeats

Son,
you’ll learn soon
that that
which you thought
you couldn’t live without
is probably something
you’ll not even miss
in years, months, weeks
yes
people, things,
even ideas …
especially ideas …
but that does not mean
you should live
as if
there is nothing
you cannot live without

or maybe you should
who knows
what will work
for you

Son,
you’ll learn soon,
that the world is not
what it tells you it is
and that it’s a good thing
maybe
just don’t let it
hurt you a lot
maybe a little
for if you never
shed a tear
over such things
you’ll never know
what it is
that you really want
what you lost
or found


[1] Title inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s poignant book “Between World and Me”, that I blogged about recently.

[2] Character vs Personality ethics: From Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

The Festive Conundrum

Festivals always make me pensive. I think a lot of it has to do with the time I first started on my road to atheism, when festivals meant conflict. Yes, I know atheism is not incompatible with festivities. In fact, if one thinks dispassionately, festivities have less to do with religion and more to do with society. But in a society that is predominantly, and overtly religious, it’s hard to disassociate festivities from religion — even the “theological” part of religion, of untenable beliefs, and anachronistic rituals.  

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In a sense, all social customs, overtly religious or not, are potentially anachronistic, because they are all rooted in specifics that either have, or could, change with time. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig (or was that in Lila?) has a very interesting take on this. He introduces a static vs dynamic “quality” differentiation (while refusing to define quality, but that’s another matter). Static quality is all social customs, beliefs, with their inherent “stickiness”. This comes from early initiation, and unquestioned obedience (okay he may not have said it, as it’s been years since I read it, but …) This static quality is really what makes society society. Because in its absence, there is no continuity, no sense of “belonging”, no common identity. One can’t identify with a constant flux. You need static quality to survive as a group. Dynamic quality on the other hand, is by definition, threatening this very stability. But without dynamic quality, you cannot adapt to changing situations. It’s like there is no “cultural evolution”. So memes are like static quality, and mutations are dynamic quality, one can say.

Back to the “conflict”, then, as an atheist, one is fundamentally disconnected to the religious rituals, for them to make any sense — especially for oneself. And yet, these rituals seem to bind people around you into a quasi-happy group. I mean, random people seem to be more gracious to each other during festivals. But to perform a ritual without identifying with it seems like a cop out, especially in the early days of atheism, when one still hasn’t acquired the escape velocity, and is likely to be mindful of being pulled back. Not participating in a ritual is like breaking a social contract. Suddenly you’re rejecting that communal (in the social, not religious, much maligned sense) experience, that so many around you seem to share. And depending upon the level of their involvement, they get hurt, angered, dejected, frustrated … The very same people, who are your world up to that point.

The thing with any conversion (and renunciation of religious belief is one) is that the recently converted are more zealous about their newly found faith (or lack of it). And so, it’s sometimes difficult to see, in that phase, that those people around you, who are actually participating in the religious rituals aren’t necessarily believing in them any more than as a long standing communal activity — like a tea club. It’s the ritual that matters — participating in the ritual, with others — not what it was intended to be, once. And in a sense, what is anachronistic, is what one thinks people following it think of it.

Years later, as I’m much far more settled in my lack of belief, and as I raise a child of my own who, by all the leading indicators, is getting prepared to tread on a similar road, the issue of rituals takes on new dimensions. As we enter an era where life is turning more cosmopolitan, multi-religious, and multicultural, the “communal” has its different dimensions as well. But there are still the traditional groups — especially in Indian context where lot of families are still predominantly non-cosmopolitan, uni-cultural, uni-religious — and their sense of belonging, and identity, that’s on offer as a default “first” club. And like it or not, it’s a heritage that is for the taking, for the next generation. And which means, by refusing to participate in the shared rituals, one is risking estranging this next generation from those identities. It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with that estrangement, but ideally, that should be their choice to make. And so the conflict continues.

So what exactly do festivals mean to me, now?

[To Be Continued]

Review: Litanies of Dutch Battery

The first thing you notice about the book is this weird title. What does it even mean? And as you start with the book, trying to get a grip on random set of things happening, you realize that Dutch Battery is actually a place (also known as Lantham Bathery). And as Madhavan takes us on a whirlwind tour, anchored at this (imaginary: wikipedia entry tell me) island — which is a, and I understand it’s a cliche but, microcosm of India, in one sense, and yet very very individual/eccentric place with a personality of its own — it’s like a Jigsaw puzzle taking shape, with colors and contours forming abruptly, shapes materializing out of nowhere, and you start to have some bearing on the place — just as it happens in real life, as you spend time with a place, with its people.

img_20151218_220411But the anchor point, imaginary as it may be, is vividly painted, and soon, you’re there, in the middle of it all — the tiny little dreams, the puny little political battles, the local Church and the communists trying to establish themselves, the grand political figures from distant lands, the crazy fears, the biryani feasts, and hundred little stories. While “Dutch Battery” tends to stay local, its aims are much grander, as Madhavan tries to weave in the history of Kerala, from the time of Vasco da Gama, to the battles fought on the shores of Kochi, to the post-independent scene, when Communism started to take a hold there. In many ways, the book reminds of Marquez’ classic, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, as it goes about telling intimate histories of a region, while creating quirky characters, with difficult names.

The narrator herself, named Edwina Theresa Irene Maria Anne Margarita Jessica, and it could have been longer, if not for the Priest being impatient about his need to wash his hands (off? a not-so-subtle allusion to …), an OCD of sorts, is the keeper of all these stories — some she witnessed, right from the time in her mother’s womb, to before and after. Jessica is herself a quirky character, and so is everyone around her, it seems like, including her grandfather who (spoiler!) materializes suddenly, after being assumed dead, lost at sea with a capsized boat, blinded and old, but sharp of mind and memories.

Mixed with a dose of history, is a delightful telling of the lives of common people, their cinema obsessions, their longings for an operatic drama form called chavittunatakam, their love for Kundan Saigal’s songs, their fear of smallpox vaccine …

Few writings are so evocative, so enthralling, and completely satisfying. This is an English translation of the Malyalam book Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal. A disclosure: I know the translator, Rajesh Rajamohan, as he and I were a part of a group of bloggers who shared a few “blog-homes”, so as to say. Although, to be fair, I don’t believe that would have had any impact on this review, the only thing it counts for is that I picked up the book to read, in the first place. The rest, I’d say, is my objective assessment, as objective as such things could be.

Highly recommended, to anyone who loves good writing.


PS: Oh yes, how could I forget: humor! There is an undercurrent of tongue-in-cheek humor throughout the narration that is so difficult to get right — but done absolutely right here.

 

 

 

Day Breaks, and Norah Jones Shines Again

I loved Norah Jones’ fabulous debut album “Come Away with Me”, with her unreal composure (for a debutant, that is) and intoxicating tone. I’ve listened to it countless number of times. Then came Feels like Home, which mostly felt like Come Away with Me. And I was already wondering if that’s pretty much the last of hers that I’d listen to. Still I checked out Not too Late. Nope. It was too late for me, and so I didn’t follow her for a decade, and more. I haven’t even heard her “country/pop” albums in those years, not even a track.

norahjonesdaybreaksLately, I started my trial of Apple Music which is finally available in India, and today, it suggested her latest album, with a positive blurb, and I thought, what the heck. Little was I expecting to be stunned!

With Day Breaks, Norah Jones seems to be finally delivering on the promise she made with her debut album. What we have here, is a strange concoction of original singles, that do remind — but not in a “repetitive” sense — of the singles from her early days, and some covers, from big names like Ellington, Horace Silver, Neil Young. Also, added to the fleet are names like Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci, as needed. The whole album has a polished, mature feel to it, as you would expect from a now veteran, and with the exception of “Tragedy”, almost everything else resonated with me.

The opening track, Burn, sets tone for a “different”, but same Jones, as she experiments with a very different rhythm, while sticking to her guns — her fabulous voice, and piano underscoring, rather than overriding. The fourth and fifth tracks (It’s a Wonderful Time for Love/And Then There Was You) are vintage Jones. And it’s here that the Album starts to break free, living up to its name. The title track that follows ventures into a more energized zone. A little heavy ensemble gives it a gravitas that’s not what one’s used to, with Jones.

Peace, a cover of Horace Silver standard (which I must confess, with shame, I hadn’t heard before, for all my Jazz explorations over last few years),  is remarkable, to say the least — with a beautiful synergy between Jones voice and piano, and Wayne Shorter’s solos. And it just gets better and better from there, with a playful “Once I Had a Laugh”, with Jones now venturing into a classic vocal Jazz era, and returning to a soulful Carry On after a track — which seems like the right ending note. This track, above all, shows Jones’ almost casual mastery, and poise that comes after one and half decade of journey.

But Jones had other ideas. And she ends it on a glorious cover of Duke’s “African Flower” that I for one am going to go back to, along with many others in the album. Again, it’s Wayne Shorter adding a lot of meat with his exquisite playing, and is given a well-deserved long runway, with Jones taking a back seat, adding some flourishes with piano.

Recommended. Especially if you were enthralled by her earlier works, the way I was.