Tuesday, January 29, 2008

To tell the truth...

Okay, I’m curious about something. How many of us folks (and I refer to Indians here) living abroad are actually honest when we talk about the motherland that we’ve left behind? In pretty much every blog that I’ve read – whether it’s a food blog or a “regular” blog – when there’s a mention of a trip back “home”, or returning from “home” (with home always meaning India), everybody waxes enthusiastic about how much they miss India - the food, the life, the people, the ambience, the weather and everything else they can think of.

Nostalgia is understandable - I occasionally fall for it myself - but to pretend that India is the embodiment of everything good and to bewail being exiled from it, especially when the exile is self-orchestrated... Aargh! (I would have said "self-imposed" except that I believe that to most people it isn't an imposition. Anything but.) I do not mean that EVERYBODY is a hypocrite in that way, so those of you who are sincere about your love for India and are raring to go back home, please note that this rant IS NOT ABOUT YOU!

Anyway, I’ll allow that some things are miss-worthy (to coin a phrase), and the wild variety of food you get in any Indian city is definitely one of MY top three, the other two being friends and family (and activities to do with the latter two, like travel). That’s pretty much it. I really don’t miss anything else very much… not the weather for the most part, not the crowds, not the nasty dirty streets, not the corruption, not the cheating auto/taxi drivers, not the lawless traffic, not the general lack of respect for humanity – the list is long and I’m not going to make it comprehensive.

So I find it difficult to believe people who write reams on how much they hate leaving India and coming back to the States or the UK or anywhere else in the West, after a holiday. (And then everybody writes in to commiserate with the same sentiments.) I’m willing to concede that students who have come to the West to study don’t have a choice until they finish whatever course they are doing. Beyond that, when they take up a job, or when women get married and go abroad with their husband and raise families there, utilising every facility and every convenience available while still wailing about how much they miss India – well, I’m afraid I don’t find that convincing. If they are pining for India quite that much, all they have to do is go back. Leave the Western countries that are by all accounts so sadly lacking in family atmosphere and household help and friendly neighbours and Indian culture, among other things apparently abounding in Bharat. Fat chance of that happening, obviously. So basically all of it is just hot air, merely the “in-thing” to say or do. I ask you – if they miss India that much, how difficult is it to go back home? Nobody is forcing them to live in the USA or the UK or Europe, nobody’s on their back to get the coveted Green Card or Permanent Residence.

Another thing related to this is culture. I find it for the most part amusing, but occasionally extremely annoying, that people who didn’t much care for Indian culture when they were in India suddenly discover it with a vengeance when they go abroad. Every religious occasion is celebrated with elaborate fervour, with many sighs and remarks about how much fun that occasion would have been were they only in India. Well, I beg to differ. Personally, whether it’s Pongal or Diwali or anything else, I prefer it in the UK. No irritatingly noisy firecrackers, no smog in the morning, no endless procession of “baksheesh” begging scroungers whom you would not have ever seen all year but who suddenly make an appearance and insist that they've simply SLAVED for you all along.

Sure, there are people who revel in all the elaborate preparations required to celebrate festivals and weddings and things, and who take all the accompanying hassles in stride. But I've never been one of them - and more to the point, I'm never going to BE one of them, no matter where in the world I live. No matter how long I'm away from India. In the same way, I love old Hindi film songs. Loved them when I was in India, love them now I'm in the UK. However, once again, I dont love them more by the mere fact of being in the UK.

I know I sound uncharitable. But there’s no point in romanticising what is NOT romantic. I love India, but to me it's more in the abstract than anything else. I love the idea of India, the idealisation of India... but unfortunately I'm much too grounded in reality, and have enough clarity of vision to not deceive myself into thinking that I want to go back there, or to pretend to others that I want to. For plenty of people, being able to travel abroad often while keeping roots in India is the best of two worlds. If I was forced to choose, I would take that option. But I'm glad I dont have to choose.

I left India for various reasons... but one of the top ones was to live somewhere that was more conducive to leading a peaceful, comfortable life. I am grateful that the UK gives me that opportunity. I'm relieved and thankful not to have to argue and fight and bargain and get frustrated and disgusted and annoyed over the simplest day-to-day transactions, never mind the bigger battles against corruption and the like. I didnt intend to end up here, but on the whole I'm glad I have. Do I want to visit India? Sure I do. I've got friends and family that I havent seen in years and would love to meet again. But do I want to live in India? Not if I can help it. And that, as they say, is the honest truth.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The best day of 2008 - or possibly even ever..

... and it's only two weeks into the new year!

Why the hyperbole, I hear you ask. Why this unseemly celebration where no celebratory event presents itself? (Other than Pongal, my inner Iyer reminds me). I'll tell you - aint nobody gonna stop me.

It's because today, I got The Book in the post. The book I've been waiting to own ever since I read an extract from it in my English text book, waaay back when I was in the 8th standard. Or possibly the 9th standard.

Two days back, while idly trawling through Ebay's book section, I came across The Book, listed at a price of one pound and a bit. Even with postage it came to less than £4, which is the bargain of a lifetime as far as I'm concerned. Two days I waited with bated breath, hoping that there would be nobody else who coveted it, nobody else who knew how brilliantly funny the author is, nobody else who knew just how difficult it was to source this book... and to my everlasting joy, I WON THE BID!

And today it arrived in the post - with a slightly damaged dust jacket, yes... but that's forgivable in a book that was published in 1953, isnt it? More than forgivable, I say!

So at last, here it is... Giovanni Guareschi's "The House That Nino Built"!

Khwaja - from Jodhaa Akbar

Hrithik Roshan looking STUNNING as Akbar.

Aishwarya looking stunning as Jodhaa.

A R Rahman's music sounding stunning in this song clip. (Link thanks to

What's not to love about Jodhaa Akbar?

I'm going to see this movie as soon as it's released in the UK, even if means travelling to Birmingham. Or London. Would travelling to Seattle (as suggested by my sister) just to see it be a tad over the top? Hmmm....

On Vinod Mehra and strings of pearls

I’m not sure exactly when I sort of gave up watching Hindi/Tamil movies. I used to be enthusiastic about them long back, but that was probably because in my teenage years, I was more indiscriminate than discerning in the heroes I liked. From Amitabh Bachchan to *shudder* Vinod Mehra (and pretty much anybody in between), they were all grist for my daydream mill, so to speak. I admit to Vinod Mehra with the greatest reluctance, and I honestly can’t imagine how I could have ever thought him personable. I mean, that overly hairy, pouter pigeon chest visible through the yawning gap of the shirt open to about the fifth button, not to mention the large showy medallion hanging there – eww. I totally blame my teenage hormones. They weren’t brainy. Or even classy. Sigh.

Anyway, the enthusiasm for Hindi and Tamil movies has long exhausted itself, mostly without my noticing, mostly unconsciously. (And by that I do not mean that I slept through the movies.) I only realised this after coming to the UK, when I discovered that I didn’t really miss not being able to watch the latest movies from India. (They weren’t and still are not available in my town – the nearest theatres that screen Indian movies are in Birmingham, about 70 minutes drive away.)

I guess I just don’t have the patience to sit through endless song sequences and fight scenes… plus the original Hollywood movies are easier to watch and take less time. But what really brought home the fact of my disenchantment with Hindi movies was watching “Lagaan” in Paris, four years after the movie was made. I hadnt even known what it was about! I don’t think I’d have watched it at all, had my friend and I not been too tired and footsore, after a day of relentless walking, to move a single step further than the movie theatre that we had come across. I’m sure we would have watched anything that was showing, and it was just happenstance that the movie was Lagaan. Four hours of bliss in a near-empty cinema theatre, without the need to move. That was one good movie!

Of late, though, I’ve begun to pick and choose movies to watch, after registering with a DVD-by-mail service. Mainly I’ve been picking out movies after reading their reviews on my favourite movie review blog - B Rangan's Blogical Conclusion. If he says it’s worth watching (despite the odd hiccup or few in plot or direction or possibly acting), I’m willing to give it a go. I have a list of about 20 movies so far, in both languages.

The first of the movies that Pete and I saw was Pachaikili Muthucharam* – not a bad movie, thinking about it. I was mighty excited to spot AND recognise Milind Soman (although confirmation was afforded only when the end credits came on).

So of course throughout the movie, in between telling Pete what was happening, I was going “Could it be Milind Soman? Does he even speak Tamil? Nah, it couldn’t be him. Or could it? Milind Soman? I think that’s Milind Soman. He LOOKS like Milind Soman. I wish I knew if it is Milind Soman” and so on, until I’m sure Pete was ready to throttle me. He didn’t, though. Possibly because he’s a patient man, and possibly because there wasn’t anyone else about to translate the movie dialogue.

And re not being entirely sure that it was Milind Soman, in my defence, he was so very hairy about the face and head that you couldn’t see much of his face at any given time. Actually it was his teeth (displayed in menacing smiles) that first made me realise that it might be Milind Soman, male supermodel. He also has the most gorgeous hair (on his head)! The facial hirsuteness I could have done without.

*Might as well confess that I didn’t even know what the movie title meant. I mean, I knew that Pachaikili meant “green parrot” but muthucharam was a mystery that was solved only after I asked a friend what it meant. String of pearls, apparently. I still don’t understand what “Green parrot, string of pearls” has anything to do with the movie content, though.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hello, 2008!

Hmmm… first rant post of 2008 – why do I feel as if it HAS to be a retrospective? There isn’t much to retrospect on, no resolutions that were broken, forgotten or otherwise ignored… mainly because I don’t think I made any for 2007. At least, none that I admitted to myself, much less to anybody else. There’s this thing in me that stubbornly and self-destructively revolts against living up to any expectations – even if the only person expecting anything is me. So any good intention that I might have has to be smuggled in through the back door of my mind, so to speak… and more often than not, its cover is blown long before any chance of sneaky implementation. Enough said.

So, getting on with the first post of 2008, it’s more a ramble than a single, coherent post on one important topic. For some people, 2008 hasn’t seen the best of starts. I’m thinking Britney Spears. I feel so desperately sorry for her – anyone but the stalking paparazzi newshounds would, I guess. I’m glad she gave them the finger when she was being stretchered out of her home. Glad that she had enough fire left in her to do at least that much. I don’t mean this to sound like an epitaph, but she’s such an incredibly talented, beautiful woman with so much going for her… and she’s making an absolute mess of her life. If only someone could help her. Preferably not publicity-hungry television therapists, but a proper psychiatrist/psychologist more interested in treating her privately than making press statements about the state of her mental health! I’ve seen/heard her latest single “Piece of Me”, and although she’s not the incredible, stunningly toned girl of the “Toxic” video, she’s still gorgeous – especially when you take into consideration that she’s had two children since then. Yep, I like Britney Spears. I hope she can get out of the mess she’s in at the moment and go from “Pop Princess” to “Pop Queen”.


What on earth is "child poverty"? Are there children who are poor independently of their rich parents? Doesnt poverty affect a family as the whole, rather than just the children? If you want to get rid of "child poverty", dont you have to work at getting rid of poverty in general, improve the living standards of the WHOLE FAMILY? Or is there some kind of improbable government plan to improve the fiscal situation of children while letting the parents stay poor? Man, I hate vague terms like that!


Just LOOK at today's random stat for the UK - "In the past year 25% of adults have not read a single book, according to a survey for the Office for National Statistics." Ok, so stats are usually random and extremely susceptible to all sorts of interpretations. Obviously the statement doesnt indicate if the entire adult population of the UK was asked about their reading habits. But I still find it amazing that there are people who havent read a single book in the entire YEAR. Sure, I know they're busy and taking care of children and working and doing god knows what else... but not to read even ONE book a year is something I. cannot. comprehend. Hell, if you read a book every time you went to the loo, and ONLY when you went to the loo, you'd still finish at least one book. Wouldnt you? I couldnt tell you, because I get through about five books a week and I read everywhere, as much as possible, whenever possible, including while on the can. (And if that was too much info, I can only say "oops".)