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A long indefinite break from the blog

January 5, 2010

I will not be blogging for a while. This means that this blog will be going on a long hiatus and I am not even sure whether I will be returning to blogging. This decision has been a painful one for me as this blog has given me so much. A platform for free expression, a wonderful group of online friends and dear commentators who have been such a huge motivating factor for me to carry on blogging. However it is not possible for me to find time anymore due to professional and personal commitments. In fact life has become far too hectic for me to continue to devote time to this blog. I don’t like to do things by halves and I certainly do not want my blog to bleed to death. That is why this decision. It will hurt me I know, and in fact writing every word is painful for me.  This is certainly not a goodbye, certainly not to those who correspond with me by email occasionally. And it is also not a goodbye for those who own blogs because I hope to drop in there once in a while.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all those who have given me awards over the past few years. Awards from readers and fellow bloggers have meant a lot to me and I am thankful for the love I have received from them.

I will not be deleting this blog, at least not as long as there are people who come here to read something about India.

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Avatar – a movie with a green message (Movie Review)

December 21, 2009

This film is Science Fiction with a difference. The aliens are not evil, but perhaps the human are. Humans being evil is not an uncommon theme as there are war films which veer towards this idea. But Avatar tackles other complex issues as well. It talks of the Balance of Life. That is why this film moved me, very deeply. The movie is appropriate in these times. It is time that we humans thought about the Balance of Life.

I do not want to talk of the spectacular technology (CGI – Computer Generated Imagery) employed in this film because that is what people are mostly talking about. In fact when we went to buy the tickets we found that people were desperate to see this film in 3D. When the tickets were not available for 3D they were turning back. “What’s the use of seeing it without 3D?” they asked each other. We didn’t see it in 3D because no tickets for the 3D version were available. We saw it on a normal screen and well, it was fine. True, the jungle scenes, the spectacular animation of the aliens, the animals, and the action scenes would have made it very exciting to watch on 3D…but the movie is more than that.

What moved me was the meaning behind the movie and the story. The movie takes place on the planet Pandora, but as I was watching the film I was transported to a time before humans arrived on Earth. This is how our Earth must have been like. Lush jungle, all kinds of gigantic animals, and the Life in tune with Nature. Sure, there were humanoids at Pandora, but they worshipped Nature. The director, James Cameron, wanted to try and communicate to the audience that this was okay, that this was beautiful, that this was natural. He made the good characters say that is not a blind meaningless pagan thing, this worshipping of nature, because the trees and the plants and the animals are actually connected, that there is some sort of magic in the Sacred Tree. The bad guys in the film sneer at the “pagan” nonsense and it is their greed which blinds them to the truth.

The director tries to get across the truth that the Networking of Nature is a good thing, that it really does exist even though not in the way he showed it in the movie. Movies are always larger than life, always for effect. The reality is that all living things are dependent on each other. That is the message. One thing goes out of balance and the balance of nature shifts and leads to a slow destruction of the Earth. That is what we are seeing today on our precious Earth.

Early humans were wise. In the Indian subcontinent they used their love of nature to build one of the world’s greatest religions. Hinduism worships nature and animals. You see, unless you worship, you destroy. Because of greed. That is the nature of man. I have written about this (Why weren’t large mammals exterminated in India like they were in many parts of the world?) A way to protect Nature and Life other than human is to build a halo around it. This stops the greedy from getting at it. The Bishnois of India do exactly that. They worship Nature and Animals. Anyone meddling with it becomes Evil to them.

As I watched the movie I didn’t think it was Pandora, a planet six years away from the earth, in another galaxy. I thought about it as Earth. I didn’t think that the aliens were aliens. I thought of them as humans. I didn’t think the humans were human. I thought of them as monsters and aliens.

Photo credits: The first is a movie poster and the second is from 3news.co.nz

Related Reading: Tigers in India down to a thousand??
The vanishing sparrows of the world

What is the best way to choose your future mate?

December 17, 2009

Humans they say are attracted to each other because of some sort of “chemistry,” call it pheromones, a sense of smell, instinct, infatuation, love or just plain physical attraction, but what it boils down to is that two people can be drawn together even though they hardly know each other. That’s because Nature doesn’t really care whether they get along or not, as long as the two procreate.

But today this is not enough. We live in a highly individualistic society and couples are thrown in each other’s company far more than they were earlier. So we need to get along or poof! End of marriage compatibility! But if our instincts don’t tell us who the right partner is, then what can? We don’t want to leave it to chance. So we try to ensure that the partner is suitable. That is why we try and choose someone with the same interests as us, someone from a similar background, someone with the same values, someone with whom have a lot on common. Does it work?

One theory says that marrying a partner with a similar temperament works to some extent. This theory, based on research, says that couples with similar temperaments tend to get along better, and that similar attitudes and beliefs were not an important factor. The characteristics that were taken into account in the research were Extroversion, Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Openness, Positive emotions, Negative emotions, Avoidance, Anxiety, Fearful–secure, Negativity of self-model, Negativity of other-model, Dismissing–preoccupied, Ego-resiliency and Disinhibition. Let me quote a little here:

People may be attracted to those who have similar attitudes, values, and beliefs and even marry them – at least in part – on the basis of this similarity because attitudes are highly visible and salient characteristics and they are fundamental to the way people lead their lives,” explain the authors. Personality-related characteristics, on the other hand, take much longer to be known. However, once people are in a committed relationship, it is primarily personality similarity that influences marital happiness because being in a committed relationship entails regular interaction and requires extensive coordination in dealing with tasks, issues and problems of daily living. Whereas personality similarity is likely to facilitate this process, personality differences may result in more friction and conflict in daily life.

True, the research sample is small (291 couples) and limited in the sense that it was marital happiness within the year that was considered. However I believe that the first year of marriage is an important indicator of future happiness although there may be exceptions. I think that the exceptions generally arise when some external factors (like interference of in-laws) is playing a role in the couple’s unhappiness, not their personalities.

I wanted to test this theory so I checked to see if it applied to my own marriage, which I consider a very successful one. I always felt that my husband and me were different but when I checked against the factors mentioned in the research I was surprised to see that we were pretty close in 13 of the 16 factors! And in the three factors in which we were not similar, we were certainly not opposites! I had always thought we were different because he loves exercise and I don’t, he is a gourmet where food is concerned and I am not, he is mechanical minded while I am more artistic…but if measured against the personality indicators in the research I realised that were were not that different all….quite a strange thing to discover after so many years of marriage!

Related Reading: Math tips on when to stop looking for a better partner!
10 + 5 ways to have a happy relationship and a healthy marriage
Arranged marriage vis-à-vis a love marriage – which is better?
Checking out the other sex
Do children affect the health of a marriage?
Why is the divorce rate increasing?

Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year – Movie Review without spoilers

December 13, 2009

What’s it about?
Rocket Singh has an unusual and original theme for a Bollywood film. It’s about ethics in business. The film sends a strong message that ethical business is the only kind of business worth doing. A less important theme which runs concurrently through the movie is that a poor academic record doesn’t mean that you are a duffer. Very relevant themes for India today which is battling with corruption in all aspects of life and with a  poorly designed educational system as well.

And the movie is a comedy.

Even better, the story and the dialogues are original. But why should we be surprised when the director of the film is Shimit Amin, none other than one who directed other unusual Hindi films, like Chak De! India (2007) and Ab Tak Chhappan (2004). The writer of the film, Jaideep Sahni, has written some good movies like Chak De, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Bunty Aur Babli and Company.

The story in brief without spoilers
Like the promos tell you, the story is about an ordinary boy, Harpreet Singh Bedi, a Sikh, who decides to become a salesman because he doesn’t see many other career options after a poor academic performance. He is quite sure that he is intelligent enough to succeed, despite his low marks. The movie tells us about his adventures after he joins a computer assembling and marketing company called AYS. We are entertained by a myriad interesting and amusing characters like the humble office peon (Mukesh Bhatt) who is so used to being humble that he has developed an inferiority complex, the smart office receptionist (Gauhar Khan) who is treated like a bimbo even though she isn’t, and the porn addicted employee (D Santosh) who is not as laid back as one assumes.

The story focuses on the theme and does not deviate, even for romance. The romance between Harpreet or Rocket Singh and a girl he meets is almost an aside. And well, that is what we want!

The acting
Ranbir Kapoor’s acting as Rocket Singh is alright but more important is that he comes across as a genuine and believable sardar. D Santosh stands out in the role of Giri, and Mukesh Bhatt and Naveen Kaushik as Nitin are good too. Prem Chopra does a decent job as Harpreet’s grandfather. Overall I thought the cast did a great job. Shazahn Padamsee, is supposedly the female lead but she has a small role and her acting comes across as stilted. I didn’t see any chemistry between the Ranbir and her and this adds to the disconnect. Shazahn seemed to be present for the glam value because in any case romance had little place in the story.

The setting
The movie plays out in office settings and is shot mostly indoors. The office chosen is an ordinary one, that of a small computer assembling company. There is no glamour here, and the realism adds weight to the movie. Audiences are able to relate to the characters much better in such settings. I think many of  us are super fed up with stupid dream sequences happening in the most unlikely of stories. Inserting brainless fantasies into a movie shows a lack of confidence on the director and I am glad this movie has none of that. Not resorting to stupid gimmicks to sell the movie shows honesty on the part of the directors and producers.

Overall movie experience
We caught a late night show of this movie and the cinema hall was packed. The audience clearly loved the movie. We enjoyed it too although we felt that it dragged in the first half. At least 20 minutes could have easily been cut from the 2 hours 38 minutes!  The movie does pick up in the second half though. The movie is funny and serious. Worth a watch.

(Photo is from glamsham.com)

Related Reading. Movie Reviews

Infidelity in the West and in India

December 10, 2009

The media in America is going beserk over Tiger Woods’ infidelity. Jokes, videos, news reports and blog posts are flying around faster than you can blink. The Indian media has jumped in too, and India’s leading English daily, the Times of India, is reporting the news on the front page! It doesn’t take much imagination to come to the conclusion that our Indian media would not get this hyper if the news had been about the extra-marital affair of some revered Indian sports star. Sure, there was a scandal about Mohammed Azharuddin some years ago, but his reputation had already suffered because of allegations of match-fixing. Most of the time our media seems to give us the impression that our sports stars all lead divine lives!

Which is quite impossible because infidelity is as old as the hills. Poor, rich or middle class, infidelity has always existed amongst all kinds of people. Rich people might get more opportunities and they can afford to keep several women too. That is probably why in most societies (including Indian),”… Kings, landlords, rich men and merchants had many wives, just as today rich and corrupt politicians have many mistresses some even bear them children.” I have heard some fairly lurid stories about some top Indian businessmen and ofcourse, actors. However, when it comes to actors, the Indian media does report it freely, like they did in the case of Aamir Khan. The story died down quickly though, apparently because Aamir denied it. Amitabh Bachchan’s affair was Rekha was also reported by film magazines (not the mainstream media) but then slowly the reports died down. Amitabh has gone on to BBC’s Hard Talk and firmly denied the affair.

Music maestro Ravi Shankar’s string of affairs with different women while attached to one is well known and he hasn’t denied it. Why should he, when it surfaced once it was all over, when he was old and well past his prime, the women long gone? Can one really believe that no one knew of his infidelity? Why, self muzzling of the press happened even in the case of  Tiger Woods. His promiscuous behavior was known to some people, some of them from the fourth estate, but it was kept under wraps. Maybe money was exchanged, maybe it was pressure or because Tigers are more good to them alive rather than dead! It was only when he had his famous accident that it attracted every kind of journalist and became a widely reported scandal. If it was an Indian sports star, it would have quickly died out and denials would have come thick and fast. In a day or two the story would have died.

Denials can obfuscate the truth when hypocrisy and prudery rule. It’s some sort of pretend game that people play, pretending that sex doesn’t exist. It’s not as if sex scandals can ruin careers. Not in India. It may hurt their personal life perhaps, but it’s doubtful that any politician’s career will suffer if an extra-marital liaison comes to light. The voting public in India  vote even for people with murder cases against them so I think an affair would pale in comparison.

In any case, it’s all covered up. One hears of politicians’ romps with prostitutes and bar girls, hidden mistresses and the like, but no names are ever given out. Stories about Tarannum’s (night dancer) trysts with well known people have surfaced, but while some names were given out, others were swept under the carpet, particularly that of  the “dapper son of a prominent Maharashtra politician…”

Prominent personalities in Europe who are caught red-handed do not usually deny their infidelity, and even when they admit it, it doesn’t ruin their career. It’s a little different in America and Britain, and public knowledge of  their infidelity has given sleepless nights to some, from America’s Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer to Britain’s John Profumo and John Major. The media is quite merciless though, unlike in India. Denials fall on deaf ears. Careers do get stalled and even end, although according to a Wall Street Journal article, new winds may be blowing in the US, with infidelity influencing voters much less than before:

Though adultery was, and still is perhaps for a minority of voters, an automatic disqualification for political office, the fact is that the moral rules by which American politicians are judged are complex and changing…

The article goes on to say that politicians who admit their transgressions and ask for forgiveness are more likely to be able to resurrect themselves.

In India we are a long way away off from people, particularly politicians, from owning up. In any case, the media helps them keep things under wraps. This gives them impunity and the freedom to live the way they want in private while continuing to lecture others.

This post was chosen by Blogadda as one of its Spicy Saturday Picks:

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Is Shashi Tharoor’s speech real and relevant?

December 7, 2009

A recent speech by Shashi Tharoor is a feel good speech and I would say Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul. Sure, it’s bound to  arouse a certain amount of cynicism because of well, a certain amount of hype. Despite that it’s a speech that can fill one’s heart with hope. It’s not as if  Tharoor has lied about anything. He has just give us a sugar coated pill, and it’s a pill that we all need to take once in a while.

Tharoor, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, is clever enough to admit that India has a long long way to go when it comes to economic development and acknowledges that unless India’s vast human capital is underdeveloped, as long as  India is “superpoor”, it cannot call itself a super power.

The speech focuses on how much India has developed, and he talks of telecommunications. I could not help but relate to his anecdotes of  20 years ago when one had to wait for years to get a telephone connection and the times when one had to place a “trunk call” if one had to call someone from out of town. A trunk call which could take hours to arrive and what you did in the meanwhile was hang around waiting for it. Unless one placed an expensive “lightening call” which took half an hour! I remember that I grew up during the time when telegrams were the order of the day and one of things which made my parents happy was when they could book a telegram on the phone! Well, as Shashi Tharoor mentions, those days are long gone. Today even the working classes in India own telephones. Something that has greatly aided them in their business activities.

But it is not this which Tharoor really talked about. He talks about India’s soft power and mentions how India has put itself on the world map because of this. He talks of India’s soft power in terms of its music, its movies, its cuisine and disciplines like Yoga, Ayurveda which have spread all across the world.  And also about India’s people, the scientists and doctors to mathematicians and software gurus who have made the world over sit up and take notice of India. Tharoor also talks of India’s rich heritage of 23 languages, innumerable scripts, its diverse culture and religions.

He emphasizes India’s democratic traditions and openness which go back hundreds of years. “India has been an open society since millenia,” he says. All this, Tharoor feels, has made a difference. The image of India as a land of fakirs and snake charmers is gone. The richness and diversity of India’s story “rests on a fundamental platform of political pluralism”.

He feels India is one-up on the United States, which had a President of another race for the first time in its history when it elected Barack Obama. India on the other hand has had diverse leaders, from all backgrounds and religions. Ofcourse it’s not as simple as he makes it sound, but it’s good to hear. What is true is that India is a diverse plural democracy. I am more sceptical when he says that India is a place where we ” don’t have to agree, just agree where to disagree” or when he says that the people of India have “learnt to survive without consensus.” But if the key word is “survive” I guess he is right. We are surviving without consensus, but we do have a long way to go.

At the end of it all, we need to remember that India is being respected more than earlier because we are now a “market” and have some amount of economic power. That is what a commentator of this blog had pointed out to me once. This is what he said:

From an every day perspective your culture traditions etc will matter to a man on the street more as your economy grows and with that how you touch western lives. Notice how Japanese culture went from being joked about in the 1950s to being respected by the average man on the street in the early 90s as their economy caught up with the west. India too has in concert with its economic progress increased its image greatly from a land of maharajas and snake-charmers to well.. something better.

Related Reading: Five Things I love about being Indian
India’s democracy has its flaws but it is still a democracy
Multi-cultural, multi-racial India
India scores badly on the Global Peace Index

FRANK AND FUNNY

December 4, 2009

What is intriguing about signboards from Pune (Puneri Patya) is that they are so explicit! If there is something that can make people laugh it’s the absolute truth told in no uncertain terms. But one cannot help wondering if these signs actually work!

Take a look at this signboard for instance. It says:

THE BUNGALOW IS EMPTY
THERE IS NOTHING WORTH STEALING HERE. DO NOT UNNECESSARILY TAKE THE TROUBLE

And this one says:

YOU CAN ONLY WASH YOUR HANDS AND RINSE YOUR MOUTH HERE AND WHILE DOING SO PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU DO NOT MAKE ANY SOUNDS.

There are people who use the toilets carelessly and the next one one spells it out for them, although in a sarcastic manner. It says:

WASHROOM

AFTER YOU GO INSIDE PLEASE DON’T DO YOUR HOMEWORK ON THE DOOR

The fact that signs extorting people to be clean are becoming frequent is a good thing as it means that people are becoming increasingly conscious about keeping their washroom areas well maintained. It’s a change from days past. I remember when we were in college we had to search for a decent hotel if we wanted to use the loo, as the college loos were too filthy. Traveling by bus anywhere was a big problem as it was difficult to even step inside the toilet. Today I find that at bus stations one finds not one but dozens of toilets in a row and yes they are reasonably clean. Even train toilets are much cleaner. Sure, this change has not taken place all over India, as poor children in municipal schools still have no place to go. There is a top South Mumbai college with filthy toilets as well. So the lack of funds is not always the reason. It’s the lack of will. On a recent trip to Matheran we found that the toilets at the parking lot (where you have to park your car before climbing up to Matheran, which takes about an hour) were stinking and filthy and impossible to use. However, there is a noticeable change in commercial complexes and on important travel routes. Providing toilets makes good business sense I guess.

While there is an improvement in infrastructure, old habits die hard. Recently while traveling from Pune to Mumbai we had stopped at a washroom along the highway and saw a busload of passengers troop out. About half a dozen men from the bus got down and headed straight for a row of thick bushes. I was a bit puzzeled, thinking that perhaps some accident had taken place. It never ocurred to me that they might be going there to pee, as the washroom was just a few feet away and a clean one that too! But these shameless people stood in a regimented row with their backs to a row of parked cars and did their business. If it wasn’t so disgusting it would have been funny! We were sitting in our car munching on a burger but had to pull out. We have stopped parking there nowadays. Perhaps a shop-keeper should put up a signboard there. It could say in Marathi: Hya jhadanna pani dilela ahe. krupaya andkheen tras karun gheu naka

These people have decided to be aggressive, but in a sarcastic way!
The sign says:

OFFICIAL PROCLAMATION
THE PERSON WHO HAS BROKEN THIS POT PLEASE COME FORWARD AND WE WILL HONOR HIM IN THE SHANWAR WADA!

PRABHAT TALKIES

A change in attitude might be visible when it comes to toilets but there are some attitudes which do not show any sign of changing! Prudishness for instance! The sign says:

NOTICE
AFTER SWIMMING PLEASE WEAR YOUR CLOTHES AND COME OUT, NOT WITHOUT THEM.
BY ORDER

The Rain Dance itself maybe culturally new to India, but there are certain rules to be adhered to!! Not that I knew that one took off one’s clothes during the rain dance! The sign says:

NOTICE
WHILE DOING THE RAIN DANCE WEARING ALL YOUR CLOTHES IS COMPULSORY
BY ORDER

And here is a piece of advise for those “errant” boys and girls who dare to cross the line! I wonder if anyone has been caught!
NOTICE:
IF BOYS AND GIRLS (COUPLES) BEHAVE IN AN OBSCENE MANNER IN THE AREA OF THE GAMDEVI TEMPLE THEN THEY WILL BE BEATEN WITH A HOLLOW BAMBOO STICK

I like the following one the best. I think the shop-keeper was fed up giving directions to people, but I really doubt that the sign deterred anybody! The sign says:

ASKING FOR ADDRESSES WILL COST MONEY
FOR AN ADDRESS WITHIN 10 KMS 50 PAISE
FOR AN ADDRESS BEYOND 10 KMS 1 RUPEE
THANKS.

Considering that he tagged on another sign shows that his sign hadn’t really worked. He had underestimated the innate curiosity of Indians! He must have been forced to add a second part:

ANYONE WHO ASKS WHY I HAVE WRITTEN THIS SHALL HAVE TO PAY RS 2000
HOWEVER IF SOMEONE CANNOT READ, THE ADDRESS WILL BE PROVIDED FREE.

The sign below is not a Pune sign, but one which I discovered while surfing the net. It is from a site called tvmtalkies.com and like the Puneri Patya is quite frank and funny.

Hope you enjoyed these Patyas as much as I did! And for any lapse in translation, I apologize.

(All photographs are from Puneri Patya except an imaginary one which I made myself, the one in red with a white background and ofcourse the last one)

Related Viewing:
This is another post on Puneri Patya: Pune signboards (Puneri Patya)
This is a post on some Funny Signs which I’ve spotted
This is a picture of A funny battered car which was still being driven around the city and these guys actually waved at me when I took their picture with my cell phone!
These are Bal Thackeray’s election campaign ads which should be serious, but are funny instead!
These signs are not funny, but are Interesting signs from Europe

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