Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Man with no name

A person who I am a great fan of is Clint Eastwood. Some people say he couldn't act very well. Well, maybe not. But he was (still is) cool. He walked with abandon, he kept his head at an angle where he looked confident without being cocky and he used to look at everything through narrow slits of his eyes which I found extremely stylish, and the way he held that cigar in his mouth while he did everything added more class.

I have sketched many of his posters. But my favourite is the water colour painting below, which is a reproduction of this image from his man with no name series of movies.

I am not sure of the exact date for this one, but I think I did it in the summer of 1998 or 1999. This one is different from the painting of Jimmy Page (in the previous post) because I have used shades of gray here, to get more depth.

I actually got some real nasty comments on both these paintings from a visitor to an online gallery once. He thought that I was trying to pass these works off as original paintings. I don't make any such claims. These paintings are reproductions of existing pictures, and I have cited original sources. Still, I would like to pose a question here -- do you think reproduction of images the way I do it (or in any other way, for that matter) is acceptable under the aegis of artistic license or not? Fire away with those opinions.

Adios amigos.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Jimmy Page

People, I just wanted to share a picture of Jimmy Page with you all. Jimmy page was the lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin, which was the sexiest rock band ever. Yes, even better than Spice Girls. I really enjoy Led Zeppelin music. They did a whole range of music from classic rock to bluesy rick to folk music to rap to thumri. No, actually I added the last two to the list, but they were versatile.

Anyway, I like to pencil sketch and paint. The problem with painting is that there are too many colours to keep track of and I invariable forget to wash my brushes between colours, resulting in many a Warholic paintings. So I found the perfect solution -- use only one colour. So, here is my favourite art form. Black and white water colour painting.

This one is inspired by a photo at Jimmy Page Online. I hope you like it. Criticism, positive and negative, is welcome.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ten reasons why I am sure there is no God

Otherwise the following would never have happened:
  1. Hum aapke hain kaun
  2. Test cricket
  3. Daler Mehendi
  4. Weekdays
  5. Indian passport office
  6. Other government of India offices
  7. George Bush
  8. 9 to 5
  9. Pumpkin sabji
  10. Hum aapke hain kaun

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Buffaloes and five best brews

I actually wanted to write and complain about something today, but it just did not work out for me. I woke up early for a Sunday morning (8:30), shaved the first thing when I woke up (I am back to looking like a troll, from a hairy, unshaven troll), me and wife decided to go and have some coffee and sandwiches and-- this actually being the reason for maximum joy -- we found a parking spot on M G Road!!! Let there be celebrations.

Anyway, here I am, in geek heaven -- logged onto the internet through a Reliance cellphone connection, using my wife's laptop and running on the coffee shop's power outlet. It just is not possible for me to gripe about anything right now. Not even the buffaloes. "What buffaloes?", one may be given to ask, and rightly so. Buffaloes don't exactly fit into geeek heaven, not even if they use GPS for travelling between their stables and pastures. I am talking about this herd of huge, black hairy beasts (no, I am not talking about the traffic policemen) which ply every morning from stables near Sachpir street, via M G Road, to some unknown destination in the cantonment, and come back via the same route every evening. Their timing is impeccable; come rain or prime minister, they have to go their way when the tummy rumbles. In fact, it is quite a sight to see vehicles, which would normally not stop for ambulances carrying their own wives in labour, have to give way to twenty odd slow moving animals which keep on chewing their food while they walk home, oblivious of people's hurries.

The second reason why I don't feel like reflecting negatively on life's caprices is because I just had a very fulfilling cup of my favourite cappuccino. I have the same feelings for a good cuppa as Smeagol had for the ring. So, while I sip on my second cup, let me recall the five best bres I have tasted in life.

  1. I, along with Sam, went to Palghat for trainin a client on our software. Sam and I are both known to be eccentric, maybe him more than me, but that is my next post. We decided that life was not worth living if one did not taste the best filter coffee ever brewed South of Bombay, We stopped over in Coimbatore for a night and hit the streets in search for the elusive decoction. We tried a nice, swanky restaurant first, but were terribly disappointed. Then, using our combined wisdoms (and thereby reaching an average level), we decided to go to the most delapidated place with the largest crowd outside. Voila! It worked like a charm. We both had two cups each, and I still remember the taste, the atmosphere of the place, and the satisfaction of having succeeded in our endeavour. Number one -- filter coffee from the roadside dhaaba in Coimbaore.
  2. I worked at Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, in the fall/winter of 2000. Towards the end of my stay there, it got very cold and started snowing. I really used to enjoy walking through the falling snow, wearing my windcheater with the hood covering my head, one hand in a jeans pocket, the other holding a warm mug of my favourite Mocha bough from Pete's cafe. Pete's cafe in Evanston made the best Mocha I ever had. I tried the same from their outlet on Pittsburgh airport, but it was not very good. Number two -- cafe Mocha from Pete's cafe in Evanston.
  3. For a short while I was in Ithaca, New York. Stella's bar in Collegetown was where my short affair with cafe Latte began. Walking back to my apartment through the icy cold breeze, holding my steaming Latte (with whipped cream on top), enjoying the view of lake Cayuga, marvelling at the natural beauty (Ithaca is probably one of the most beautiful places I ever lived at) is a memory etched permanently in my head. Number three -- cafe Latte with whipped cream from Stella's bar, Ithaca.
  4. When I travelled to Brussels in 2003, I flew Alitalia (cheapest option), via Milan. The flight was marvellous, with a grand view of the Swiss Alps through the aircraft window. But the high point of the trip probably was the Cappuccino at Milan airport. If I am not wrong, Milan is famous for Cappuccino, and I know why. Number four -- Cappuccino at Milan airport. I have to try one in Milan city someday.
  5. This position is still vacant. Though I have at least one coffee at Barista everyday, I don't yet have a favourite. They make very good coffee, but it is not rankworthy. Sorry folks! If you read this, please don't spit in my coffee. Number five -- up for grabs.

Now, if you folks will allow me, I would like to go back to drinking my coffee. You've been such a lovely audience, I would have really liked to take you home with me.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Give and take? Or give and give?

Some American (or maybe an insignificant non-American) once said, "Ask not what your country has done for you. Ask what you have done for your country."

Undoubtedly, a very noble thought, but rather outdated, in my humble opinion. I grew up in a middle class home, listening to patriotic songs on Aakashwani on Independence days and watching Republic day parades on Doordarshan. Those were the days, my friend, when I believed the propaganda and actually thought our country was progressing; that we were soon going to be a force to reckon with, that the west with all its perverted philosophies was spiralling downward towards its doom. Those were the sweet days when I was patriotic to the hilt, when I used to wake up at 3:45 in the morning to cheer the Indian hockey team (only to watch them get thrashed by the Dutch team); when I knew that I was going to be a brilliant engineer when I grew up and would invent amazing devices which would be the final proof of superiority of our intellect as a race; when I was innocent. The point which I am laboriously trying to drive home, dear reader, is that a decade back I would have given up my life for the country without saying ouch. I didn't ask what my country did for me. The very thought never occurred to me. All that mattered was whether I was doing enough for the country.

The first time that I went to US, my company paid me a handsome salary in dollars. Despite spending lavishly on a tennis racket, numerous garments, gifts for every relative of mine ever conceived, flight tickets to San Francisco and Boston (and many other expenses which rather set back the amount of money I had intended to save before the trip, to cut a long account short), I managed to save upward of $3000. Most of my friends advised me to go the usual way and cash the exchange through some dubious havala dealer. But no, that would have been unethical and deceitful towards mine motherland. How could I? So I went to the newly launched ICICI bank where I had an account and exchanged dollars for rupees. Then, I went to State Bank of India and paid 30% of that money as advance tax (the money deposited in my bank was accountable as extra income). I walked out of the dilapidated SBI building with a crumpled piece of paper (receipt of advance tax paid) that the gruff government employee tossed in my general direction and, for a second, wondered whether people were actually squinting their eyes because of my halo. Not once did I feel that I had done something stupid. That, as you astute observers rightly observed, is innocence. I asked not what the country had done for me. I did something assuming it would make things better for some deserving souls (not knowing that the money probably went towards a corrupt official buying a motorbike for his son).

Would I still do that? Are you kidding me? No! Not if God himself descended in front of me as I sipped my black coffee at Barista and persuaded me, or even threatened to smite me with weapons like Brahmastra or tazer.

I have decided to ask. Ask what I have done for the country. And what the country has done for me. Let's start with me, shall we?

  • I've paid my taxes. All the time. Right to the last khota paisa. In fact, I didn't cash a tax refund cheque that the state sent to me (I was so surprised that they actually sent some money back that I wet my pants, I believe). I'm not saying I did that deliberately (forget cashing the cheque, not wetting the pants), but out of sheer laziness.
  • I abide by the rules to a ridiculous extent. If I am the first vehicle at a red light and the entire population of India is waiting behind me, impatiently, for the light to turn green, I wouldn't jump the light even if there were no policemen in sight. Both times that I accidentally broke the light I paid due fines.
  • I have (directly and indirectly) resisted the temptation to flee the sinking ship. I could have joined the rat race (actually I did, but eventually dropped out) and easily left the country. But I am still here, idiotically forcing myself to believe that the future is unbelievably bright.
  • I am generating employment and revenue for the country which, as I mentioned earlier as well, I regularly pay taxes on.
Before we move to the country list, let me spell out my expectations. Since I pay my taxes, I expect good infrastructure, help from authorities and other benefits of this kind. Here is what the country has done for me.
  • I live a kilometer away from my workplace. Even for such a short distance, there are not two consecutive meters of marked and well surfaced road. Municipal Corporation and other bodies keep digging the road up as and when they please. In fact, one of my greatest desires is to dress down someday, go to M G Road, and start digging the busiest intersection. I am sure nobody will question or stop me.
  • I went out for some milkshake with my girlfriend (now my wife) around 11:00 p.m. once, and a bunch of drunks tried to get into a fight with us, and started hitting the car with their hands. There was a police jeep parked in front of our car and all cops were busy drinking milkshakes. I attracted their attention and urged them to intervene. Showing utmost responsibility and courage, the police jeep just fled the scene. So much for my taxes paying their salaries (nothing happened, thankfully, since the goons were too sloshed to do any damage and I just drove away from that place. They tried to chase my Zen in an auto. Fat chance!)
  • MSEB, in the hallowed name of load shedding, cuts our power supply for three (yes, t-h-r-e-e) hours everyday. So much for my taxes going towards infrastructural development.

The list is endless and I could keep going, but you get the drift.

Verdict? I leave it to you, o revered visitor to my humble blog. I just wanted to vent some steam at your expense, so thank you for bearing with me.

Remember, ask not...

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Killing me softly with their voices

Many of us often complain about the mindless drivel churned out by directors of Bollywood in the name of cinema. I do. I think contemporary Indian movies stink. To high heavens. And beyond. If you still don't get the drift -- I don't like today's Indian cinema. I long for subtlety in acting. I wish an actor would convey emotions through body language and looks and not say what he / she is feeling. I wish they would not shine spotlights on subjects from all angles and shoot them in soft focus. I wish they would stop doing that. Not on top of all things I ever wanted in my ripe life of 31 years, but fairly high given the impact it has on my well being, I wish someone would make an original movie. Something which I would not, somewhere down the line, be reminded of while watching a movie from another country / age / director.

But one aspect which I personally find absolutely untapped in Indian cinema is voices. I wish they would start focusing a bit more on different intensities with which people speak at different time, different scales, different pitches, different tones. If you have watched an obscure movie called The Million Dollar Hotel, produced in 2000, you may remember that the soundtrack had a few songs sung by Bono. One song, which absolutely blew me away was Never let me go by Bono. It starts with some narration by Jeremy Davies (played the translator in Saving Private Ryan and an actor in The Laramie Project), where he speaks softly, taking his time to taste the words, almost feeling the emotion of what he says himself. I am in constant daze because of those lines, everytime I hear that song I get goosebumps.

This weekend I watched The ladykillers, a Coen brothers remake of a movie by the same name from 1955. Tom Hanks has given one of his best performances in the movie, where he plays a Southerner gentleman, well versed with ancient and contemporary literature. In one of the scenes he narrates To Helen, a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. I, personally, am not very good with poems. I take time to understand and appreciate them. Sometimes, time is not sufficient. Tom Hanks got around that barrier with his rendition of the poem. He speaks with ease, taste and music in his voice (and I personally never thought he had a good voice). That, my friends, is another facet of acting.

In Indian cinema there definitely are a few actors who can deliver vocally. Amitabh Bachchan, Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah promptly come to mind. I so wish they had found directors who could tap that aspect of their talent.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Emily, I finally found her

Back in the days when I was still single I used to listen to lots of music. When I say lots, I mean getting-up-in-the-morning-and-turning-on-the-music-before-brushing-my-teeth kind of lots. It would not be wrong to suggest that I lived on music. I breathed music. In those good old days when public file sharing was still a relatively unpopular phenomenon in India and such websites had not yet been shut down, I downloaded a huge amount of music. And, boy, did I experiment! I started with your popular music (Summer of 69, Hotel California and what not), but jumped from genre to genre with a frequency which, if genres were women, would have made Don Juan look like the most fidel man. However, even when I switched genres, I always maintained a list of favourites. Many groups and individual musicians have featured on my list of favourites.
  1. Led Zeppelin (terrific music, Jimmy Page is untouchable and they sang naughty lyrics with complete rocker sincerity -- ooh, babby, baby, you look good enough to eat from Candy store rock, with an amazing lead intro by Pageji)
  2. Jethro Tull (what a talented bunch of weirdos!!)
  3. Doors (oh, that voice, that dripping-with-lust-yet-detached-from-everything voice).
  4. Beatles (they are not all glazed-choco-love-donut-dipped-in-yet-more-love, have you heard Taxman?)
  5. Stevie Ray Vaughan (OK, Pageji was great, but this guy came very close and if you doubt me, go check his version of Voodoo Chile).
  6. Bob Dylan (he went off the list quite early -- he is music's equivalent of Ayn Rand, everyone goes through a phase where they identify with everything he says).
  7. Eagles (they had the smoothest voices around, I mean have you heard them mouth Raven hair, ruby lips...?)
  8. Dire Straits (how much talent could one person have? Why him???)
  9. Paul Simon. Please note that I mention Paul Simon, and not Simon and Garfunkel. Art Garfunkel had a lovely voice, impeccable, and with a great tone, but Paul Simon provided soul to their music through his poetry.
Now we take a detour. As I mentioned earlier, I breathed music and sports at that time. Inexplicably to me, I just couldn't find a girlfriend (I know, I know, hindsight is clear as freshly wiped windshield). Furthermore, I was tongue-tied in front of women. I mean I just could not open my mouth (I still can't, but now it is because I am married). A combination of my loneliness and the beauty of Paul Simon's lyrics made For Emily, wherever I may find her seem like it was written just with my life in mind. I was in complete awe of the lyrics, not to mention the flowing melody.

What a dream I had
Pressed in organdy
Clothed in crinoline of smoky Burgundy
Softer than the rain
I wandered empty streets down
Passed the shop displays
I heard cathedral bells
Tripping down the alley ways
As I walked on

And when you ran to me
Your cheeks flushed with the night
We walked on frosted fields of juniper and lamp-light
I held your hand
And when I awoke and felt you warm and near
I kissed your honey hair with my grateful tears
Oh I love you girl
Oh I love you

I also wanted someone who I could love with such complete devotion and who would validate my existence to such an extent that I would also kiss her hair with my grateful tears. I gave the future girl of my dreams a sobriquet - Emily. Someday I was going to find her...

I did. And when I did she was everything that Paul's lyrics say, and more. For her, I gave up things that would have seemed extremely precious to others. And I have never regretted doing that ever. This was my Emily -- I had finally found her. This is what she looks like. And she's married to me now.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Shot from our cottage on stilts in Goa

Just to clarify, the cottage was on stilts, not me when shooting the tree.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Life at half and six miles an hour

Our dude walks by, not in others' business poking his nose...
when he witnesses something quite unprecedented.
A man, against a wall his own head banging. (how gross!)
The banger is not a pretty a sight; in fact, he is bloodied and dented.

"Pray, why, tell me why, do you do this? I think it is mad and crazed.",
asks of the other man, our dude, trying to appear composed and sober.
The other man (who by now we know is not our dude) replies, amazed,
"Oh, you don't know how great it feels when this finally gets over!"

This is my version of the story of the masochist, narrated to me by a then close friend. The hairline of our friendship has long since receded from the forehead of my life, leaving me one friend shorter, which is a pity since he was great company. However, he did tell me a few things which I remember, and one of them I have tried to present above in my own words to convey the general idea people have of me when they come to know of one of my greatest passions in life -- distance running.

I have been running since I was 12 years old (not continuously, though, I hope you realize), when I moved back to my hometown after living in another city for three years, an introverted, shy boy without friends who didn't like going out to play with other kids in the neighborhood. My mom had to literally force me to make new friends, and one of them introduced me to the phenomenon of running (he was in class 12th at that time, and he seemed to me so old then, and I used to wonder how awkward it must be to be in class 12th. Then I reached that stage, and college guys used to seem so old. When I reached college, working guys appeared so old. Now I am working...). Anyway, getting back to the point (and we shall drift a lot from the point today, kiddos) -- I love running. I have been running since I was 12 years old (not continuously, though, I hope you realize, again) and it is quite an addiction. At that age, finishing 800 meters was quite an achievement. After all these years of running, the first half mile is still is an achievement! Yes, the first 800 meters is the toughest -- the body is still not warmed up and the mind is still thinking of that chair which the body idiotically got up from and put on running shoes. Anyway, after the initial disobedience shown by my mind, I usually end up running eight kilometers or more, depending upon how good I feel on a particular day.

I moved to Pune in 1996, started working in Koregaon Park in 1997, and have been running in this area since then (not continously, though, just to remind you). Koregaon Park, inexplicably more famous for the Osho ashram than me (even though I fell into the fountain outside the ashram while running one day, in full view of no less than 200 people) is a runner's paradise (except if you dislike fountains). There are five lanes (each being close to 800 meters long, very convenient for measuring the distance in miles) between North main road and South main road, and run parallel to each other. If you run up and down each of these lanes once, you end up running almost ten kilometers. All lanes are largely free from traffic of any kind, are lined with beautiful trees of various shapes and names, and are full of couples breaking up. That is another thing I have noticed -- couples always come to Koregaon Park to break up. More precisely, guys always bring their soon-to-be-exes to Koregaon Park to break up with them. I can't even count the number of times I have seen guys looking around consciously while the women weep into their dupattas / handkerchiefs / hands (or, on a few occasions, whack the crap out of the guys with their cellphones / helmets / hands) and that's not because I am bad at counting. Anyway, the point again, is that Koregaon Park is the best place to break up at. Sorry, wrong point. Koregaon Park is the goddamned best place in Pune if you are a running enthusiast and you want to know how many miles you have run on a particular day. So much so that, when I quit my day job and started out on my own, there was no doubt in my mind where to establish my office -- Koregaon yaaaaay Park.

Anyway, human beings are not happy without furthering their hobbies to absurd levels. I am no exception, and I decided to run the Mumbai half-marathon this January, something that I had been planning to do since 1996. I barely missed the Boston open marathon in 1997, when I was visiting New Hampshire (I am not sure of the year, in case you happen to be a psychotic statistician who just can't tolerate people mixing up the years) much to my own relief, because I thought I was not ready then. I was wrong! Running is like meditation, because.... Ummmm, I can't draw an analogy between the two right now, but just take my word for it. I started running four miles in the evenings, driven on by the unbelieveable natural beauty and because that was the distance to my friend's apartment who was studying at Dartmouth university at the time and who used to drive me back to my place in her car. On one of the days, she went out and I had to run back home. That's the first time I ran more than four miles in my life, and I never looked back since then (except for a couple of times when a car came up to right behind me and honked). No, seriously, I even ended up running 12 miles in New Hampshire during that trip. Yes, the point. The point is that I had been wanting to run the half marathon since then (running a half marathon is probably a runner's equivalent of losing virginity -- you just can't stop hoping people would ask you about it) and finally did, on 16th January. I managed 13.1 miles in just over two hours, and hence the title of this post.

In order to gear up for the half m., I started running in October 2004, after a long gap of almost a year (remember I told you that I had not actually been running continuosly since I was 12 years old?). I decided to run the h. marathon (and start running again, in general) for two reasons -- I wanted to quit smoking, and running is actually quite good to build the strength of back muscles (and mine had caved in after a rigourous game of Badminton in August, and I was hospitalized for a week, which was terrific because I was served food in bed, could watch TV the whole day, everyone I know was sympathetic, I didn't feel guilty about missing work, and didn't have to shave). I think I managed to succeed on both counts. I was smoking almost six cigs a day before I seriously started running again, and I haven't smoked since October 25 (insert your own halo over my imagined face here). Back muscles are not doing too bad, either.

OK, I totally have to go now. My wife's waiting to be picked up from Shisha where she had gone for a dinner with her colleagues and some guests from US, I ran quite a distance in the evening and haven't eaten anything since then, I am sleepy, and this post has gotten way too long. I will write about the marathon event some other time. Hope you enjoyed the post. If you didn't, quit complaining and get a life already!!!