Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stock-Home Syndrome

A mother's love is unconditional. Usually.
Parents put their children ahead of themselves. Usually.
A father is a shelter, a port in a storm. Usually

But this blog is not about the parents. It's about the kids. Not those who are kids today, but those who were kids once. Who suffered...yes, suffered in the hands of their parents when they were growing up, not because their parents were evil people, but because they didn't know any better. If it happens outside, people call it assault. If it happens at home, people call it tough love.

Many of my friends have horror stories. One is about how his fathers whipped him with a belt for scoring less than 80 in maths. In his class 7 exams. There is a tinge of pride in my friend's voice when he recounts how the welts didn't disappear for weeks. Machismo. 'Cos that's what dads do.

Another friend once told me why she kept skipping classes every month. Her mother didn't allow her to get out of the bed when she had her periods. She was "unclean" after all. Mind it, we were both in college. The girl was effectively under house arrest for a week every month. Only allowed to go to the toilet, the rest of the time she was confined not even to her room, but in her bed. Month after month. Year after year. It was normal to her. A tinge of sadness, a bit of irritation, but normal.

These are not isolated stories. Many people I know have similar dark patches they try to blot out. I have mine. When the abuse isn't physical, its mental. Screams. Being locked away in dark rooms. Being treated like nobody. Humiliated because they cannot fight back. The only word for it is bullying. But it's not when the parents are doing it.

So many grow up to have terrible relationship with their parents. Those that don't have terrible relationships with their children, because they think bad parenting is the only way of parenting. Few have the courage to accept the truth - that their parents frequently screwed up. That parenting was the biggest test of their parents lives, and nobody really checked whether they were ready for it or not. A person isn't even allowed to be a security guard at an ATM without going through an interview and a background check. Yet he can be a parent, no questions asked. Creating a human being and nurturing him or her into a person somehow requires less skill and knowledge than sitting on a stool and blowing a whistle really hard.

The worst part is the expectations. Expectations that the parents know best. The unspoken rules that children don't have self-respect to bruise and parents don't have to say sorry. People who are barely 23,24,25 years old are somehow EXPECTED to know how to bring up a child. And because no one really corrects them, because no one really tells them "You're doing it wrong", few parents actually grow as parents. Even at 40, even with a teenage son, they still have the parenting skills of a 25-year-old. And the 15-year-old son rebels, like all teenagers do, but doesn't really LEARN any better. And when the time comes for him to become a parent, the vicious cycle continues. Even when the child knows what he is doing is wrong, he cannot change, because that would mean his parents were wrong. That is not something the Indian society allows us to believe.

So kids, even if you are a kid of 40 with parents in their 70's, accept that your parents made mistakes. Talk to them about your pain, your suffering, and how much it hurt that they never said sorry. Tell them that you can understand that they never meant to hurt you, but they made mistakes like every other human being does. It will be difficult. It will be difficult to say these words, and even more difficult to accept them yourself. But unless you do, you will be doing the same hurtful things to your children. You will make them suffer as you have suffered. And in the end, they will alienate you like you have alienated your own parents, in your own mind. I realize I am not talking to everyone out there. I don't care. I know you are out there. I know you cannot forget. You never will. Learn to forgive first, and then only can you forget.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Sherlock (BBC Series)

When it comes to fictional sleuths - he's the holiest of the holy, the mightiest of the mighty, the guru of gurus. Don't fuck with the formula because if you do, a thousand rabid fans will descend on you with the combined malice of a million Moriartys and tear you limb to limb. Don't you dare touch the deerstalker hat, the pipe, the bumbling assistant and the 19th century London setting - lit by its flickering gas lamps and defined by its shadows. Sure, Guy Ritchie made an action movie and called it Sherlock Holmes, but even he didn't dare change the setting. It would take a brave man indeed to overhaul the whole formula and survive.

Well, apparently Stephen Moffat is a very brave man. And a very smart man. Not only has he updated Sherlock to a Blackberry-using, internet-surfing, comeback-spewing, trenchcoat-wearing dude, he's also got the purists eating out of his hand. Because everything that made Sherlock, well, Sherlock, is still right here. In his reinterpretation of Sherlock, Moffat has created a character who is modern, yes, but also quintessentially the Sherlock Holmes we know and love, only born a hundred years later.

The number of homages, even the small ones, this series pays to the original books is staggering. If you play a spot-the-reference drinking game with the episodes, let's just say you will be in no state to drive even at the end of the first one. Much like the books, the stories begin with Watson, a veteran of the Afghan War (the new one), who walks with a limp and a cane. Unable to afford a flat in London at his army pension, he is dejected and depressed until a friend leads him to a potential flatmate, and a potential residence at 221 B, Baker Street. Before the first three episodes are over over the duo will face a strange serial killer, an international gang of thieves and murders and finally, a man who is very, very familiar to even the most casual fan, the quintessential arch-enemy, the original supervillain, the...you get the point.

As for performances, Benedict Cumberbatch does a fantastic job as Sherlock. Although the speaks-really-fast-because-that's-what-geniuses-do shtick has been around forever(most recently employed by Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network), Cumberbatch is brilliantly successful at bringing out the OTHER aspects of the genius personality, the obsession, the frustration at everyone being slower than him, mingled with a healthy degree of arrogance and of course, single minded focus. This Sherlock "prefers to text" because that we he clearly isn't a big fan of two-way communication; everything bores him unless its a cracking good mystery. And of course, his values are somewhat skewed - he shamelessly exploits other people, uses their feelings to his advantage and proudly proclaims he feels no empathy for the victims of a gruesome serial killer because it would help his thought process. This is not how the old Sherlock behaved, but it makes perfect sense here and you know what? Maybe the old Watson glossed over a few unsavory details for a more genteel era.

Speaking of Watson, Martin Freeman plays him as a man who is initially in absolute awe of Holmes' skills, then angry and frustrated at his lack of consideration and empathy, and finally, grudgingly accepting of the man Sherlock is. However, this Watson is no bumbling fool, and certainly knows his way around a gun when the situation calls for it. Yes, he seems like a rank amateur around Sherlock Holmes, but then again, who doesn't? He is the perfect foil for Sherlock and the perfect "straight guy", the everyday bloke who hangs out with a genius. In short, he is all that Watson should be.

The mysteries are heavily derived from the old stories, but feature twists where internet, cell phones and GPS systems feature prominently, without seeming like they have been shoehorned in. After all, the old Sherlock used the latest technology of the day to solve his crimes, so why wouldn't this one? Even if you have just read the old stories, the new series is highly watchable, because it's not about knowing who the killer is, it's about seeing how Sherlock gets there ahead of everyone else.

PS: Anyone who feels Cumberbatch is too young to play Holmes(it's the hair) should definitely hang around for a while. Yes, initially even I had the same reservations, but the way the actor grows into the role is a thing to watch.

PPS: Another detective, a favorite of Bengali's, has been modernized for a series of films in recent years. While the films have been of uneven quality, the "modernization" aspect has been ham-handed at best and awful at worst. Mr. Sandip Ray, please watch this series over and over and over again to understand how you can completely overhaul old stories and yet retain their authentic flavour we all know and love.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rewarding the Heroes

Let's have some perspective here, shall we?

On 2nd April 20011, 11 men trotted into the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, accompanied by the roars of over 30,000 people. For the next 8 hours, they played their hearts out, against an opponent who had handed them one of their most humiliating World Cup defeats. In the face of incredible pressure, they not just survived, but thrived, and finally, in an emphatic gesture by their captain, won the biggest prize in cricket and brought home the world cup after 27 long years.

For their heroic display, members of the team were showered with accolades. Cash prizes, swanky cars and luxury villas were theirs for the taking. Scant hours after the final match, each player was richer by a few crores, and money was still pouring in. Here's the list, for those interested

Now let's take a look at another story
On May 22nd 2010, 85 fire department personnel rushed to the Mangalore airport. Air India Express IC 812 had crashed while trying to land, and was lying in a deep gorge. The air was thick with smoke, flames and the screams of the injured and the dying. For the next 5 days, these firemen battled the blaze, rescuing 6 people from certain death as well as digging out 158 dead bodies. It was the worst air crash in India in a decade. Karnataka CM BS Yedyurappa, after the customary site-vist and sad-head-wagging promised a suitable reward for the men in uniform.

Well, their reward is finally here. And it's a princely sum of ...Rs. 100 each. That too, a scant 11 months after the incident. The reward has been given by the Karnataka Government...the same government that has promised 25 lakh rupees for every member of India's world-cup winning squad.

is wrong with you people???

Apparently, the reward is because of some mysterious "rules" that State Fire Department Officials are not ready to divulge. But hey, them's the rules. Apparently the rules say nothing about adding drops to the pools of money our cricketers are swimming in, a la Uncle Scrooge. But somehow, people who fight disasters and save lives are suddenly bound by these rules.

Funny thing, I don't really feel angry at the politicians for doing this. Politics, after all, is one giant popularity contest. Like yesteryear's zamindars and today's rappers throwing money at hookers, politicians shower cricketers with wealth to share some of the spotlight. Couple that with the warm fuzzy feeling fans get when their rich idols become richer, and you have the perfect PR exercise.

But I am angry at those who are not enraged by this. Angry at the blind idolatry that allows such things to happen. Angry at the humiliation of real heroes, most of whom will not see the kind of money in their entire lifetimes that the cricketers earned in a day.

I have no beef with our cricketers, and I do believe sporting heroes should be honoured. But there is something very wrong with the example being set here. Something very wrong with the message that winning the world cup gets you more money than you ever dreamed of, but saving lives gets you a slap in the face dressed up as a reward.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kolkata Snapshots (Photoblog)

Just some images from my gambols around office

Nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day

Sweet somethings

Doorway to Nowhere

O hai!!!

Camera shy

Capturing the frame

Fortunes told (with extra spice)

Going UP!!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sculpting with Spices

The heat haze above the skillet makes everything shimmer. There are little bubbles in the oil as I lean over and slowly upturn the small bowl containing a mix of spices. They hit the oil with a sizzle, the wonderful aroma of cardamom, cinnamon of nutmeg wafts through the air. Slowly I add the onions and stir until they are golden brown. Its time for the meat.

People often tell me I love to cook because I love to eat. I call bullshit. I love cooking because of the same REASON I love to eat...I love food. I love the preparation of it, I love the chemistry of two flavors mixing together to create something better than the sum of their parts, I love the process of taking different ingredients and forming a homogeneous whole, but most of all I love the expression on people's faces when they eat what I have prepared. Like most artists, good or bad, I cook for the reactions. In fact, I eat the least when I cook, because I want to spread the flavours around as much as possible.

Above: One Day, mai bhi....

Is cooking an art? I believe so. Of course that doesn't make me an artist, just a scribbler awkwardly holding a pencil and hoping that the chicken scratchings in the back of his maths testbook will someday lead to an object of beauty and innovation. And while I don't consider myself to be anything more than the lowliest student of this art form, I know I can be good because I cook out of love. Love for the food, love for the fed but most of all, love of the joy of creation.