Saturday, June 25, 2005

Travels, travails and fun: 14 June - 9 Aug!

From Atlanta, June 25!

This summer I will visit India after a gap of two years. The excitement is fizzling through my blood, and has lend a new tang to my voice. Mera Gaon, Mera Desh beckons me, as I let numerous filmi songs run through in the background of my excessive anticipation. "Ghar aaja pardesi tera desh bulaye re", "Aa ab laut chalein: Rajkapoor's timeless classic", "Jahan daal daal par sonay ki chiriya", "Yeh desh hai veer jawano ka", "Yeh joe desh hai tera, swadesh hai tera", "Hai preet jahan ki reeet sada" and so on. This blog is going to be like a series of short notes on my trip, and that would happen if and only if my net connection at home works!!

14 June -20 June was a trip that started as a conference, where I talked about my research to a full house in Amherst, MA. Amherst is a small town, (the town of Emily Dickinson), still more British than American. The "valley" was beautiful, like most places in New England are. A friends' birthday celebration was the highlight event till I travelled to New York city with another friend. We finally landed up in Princeton, seven friends from college days, and what followed was an evening of grand fun, where we giggled and grinned to all sorts of PJs and memories and cocktails made sure that the happiness was complete. Next day was dedicated to site seeing in New York city; reunited with another few old friends as we took a cruise on Hudson to hear about the history and architecture of NY city. This was followed by a risque but funny Broadway show "Chicago". Next day we found time to drive around Princeton, do kayaking and canoeing and watching Mr and Mrs Smith. Canoeing was most fun as we three novices rowed hard, but in somewhat zigzag fashion in a stream; thus we spend a lot of time in the bushes and trees on the riverside and everyone else on stream that day must have carried memories of us three stooges making our way through water. By the time we came out of the river, we were totally wet, not because we fell into water, but just due to our over-exciting friends who decided to splash water on us. Watching Mr and Mrs Smith, sitting in wet pants and tired arms was such a relief: the movie is a must watch for couples, as it shows the tiffs and tangles and squabbles quite well!

Back to Atlanta meant return to research and reality. My reality is trapped in unsolved problems, incomplete projects, research committments, and so on. In fact like my canoeing, I have been trying hard to row well, and repeatedly find myself travelling in that zig zag path, repeated crashing into the bushes on the riverside. So till today it has been quite a week of work, and I am yet to decide what I will do when I reach Amsterdam.

Ah! All work and no play makes Vivek a dull boy. So the work has been supplemented by occasional respite provided by cinema. We watched Paheli yesterday, an Amol Palekar movie, recreation of a folklore through beautifully crafted cinema; the movie is like a stream of picture perfect frames. The pace of the movie is slow, the plot is not as profound as reviewers on rediff and claim, the Shahrukh is not as great as reviewers rave, Rani is great, and overall movie is more memorable for its amazing cinematography than anything else.

I fly away tomorrow. My friend and apartment-mate is also flying away. I will stop in Netherlands, and he will go on to India; leaving US for good!! He is happy to be back and I guess isn't this life all about parting, meeting, parting and meeting again?

Lets part till I add more at my next stop:)


July 2, 2005 at Utrecht, The Netherlands!

I have been in Holland for about a week now. The most striking aspect of this country has turned out to be the phenomenonal number of cyclists on roads. The cycles seem pretty ordinary, in fact resemble Hero jet, and dominate the roadways and walkways of both Amsterdam and Utrecht. Cars are almost as rare or as common as elephants on our Delhi roads!

Our flight arrived a bit early, and I heard all the information about Amsterdam on plane in the wrong language. Essentially we need to chose the channel from which we hear the announcement, and I somehow had Dutch on, and kept grinning at the thought that the Dutch were stupid enough to describe their country to foreigners in this way. As it turned out, the studpidity was entirely mine!

Coming out of the Airport, I headed to the train station, and boarded one going to Amsterdam central. I was told that it would arrive there in 15 minutes.... well all I saw after 15 minutes was grass, horses and cows... and soon realized that I was on the wrong train (for irrespective of all the dope stories I hear about Amsterdam, I did not expect the city to be a countryside)!

The hostel was at an amazing place (a great find by our fellow blogger), close to a place called Liedsplien which basically had lots of resturants around this "chowraha" (crossing) and the place was full of roadside performers... including two girls with hoop, who perhaps made more money due to the length of their dresses than due to their antics, a guy who could dribble a football hanging downwards from a lamppost (and called himself Maradona; but Maradona in Holland would have been acceptable, for soft drugs are allowed here); a nude person who was doing something with a rope (that I did not stop or care to watch), all kinds of dancers, street guitarists and so on!

The city is a city of canals, and of course any stay here is incomplete without taking the canal cruise, which I did and though it was quite boring compared to the canal cruises in Chicago. Well, the lady had to speak the same lines in four languages did not help me much:). Anyways, later a visit to Historisch Museum revealed the history of how and when these canals (which happen to be like concentric arcs) were constructed, how the Amsterdam airport happens to be 5 meters below sea level and survives with help of dykes and canals, how Dutch had managed to become the world's biggest superpower before British overwhelmed them everywhere and so on. The canals are quite pretty, and are like lifelines of the city. These also give Amsterdam its peculiar air, which is very romantic in the evening when all the lights fall and make yellow streaks of beautiful reflections on river surface. There are restaurants along the canal that provide ideal setting for romance, people are seen drinking and singing on the canoes or small motorized boats as they stream by in a very charming, enchanting setting. Of course, all this glory occurs only in the summer months. That the evening or sunset occurs at 11 pm is just a coincidence, as the fact that sun returns at 5 am!

Amsterdam without museums is like Agra without pagalkhaana (madhouse)... err I mean without Taj Mahal. I visted every possible museum, except Houseboat museum (it looked to pricey for the area it stood on, and that area was fluid anyways) and the Heineken museum (it had free beer but closed at 6 pm, so was pretty useless!)

Van Gogh Museum, and Rijks Museum deserve a special, separate blog: I was overwhelmed by Van Gogh (once again!!) and other masters... But it seems the Dutch have no sense of beauty left in them. The paintings were displayed in the world possible illumination possible.... in fact it was really tricky to look at many of them... there were open windows and so the buildings outside got reflected oof the pictures... and there were green exit signs that seemed to color every other painting! With such rich and beautiful paintings at display.... the least the museum curators can do is higher someone who knows how to light these places properly. Museums in US are much better in this regard. But the paintings themselves are masterpieces, and I will harp out the most interesting ones in a separate blog!

I visited the Red Light district, where flesh was at display from every window, and the streets were as crowded as in Chandani Chowk in Delhi or railway station at Bandra. I inhaled the holy fumes of what makes Amsterdam as paradise for dope-lovers. I visited Delft, where three hundred years ago potters had learnt to paint porcelian to provide closer at home replacement to Chinese competition, I went to see mini Holland where all major buildings of Holland are remade on scale 1:25 and spread on a park area, I visited the Hague, the capital with all the beautiful palaces and embassies, I also went into the sex museum (and what I saw there can be found by simple google search, using key words sex or porn, so I won't bother u with the details), I went to the flower market, sat in the DAm where they have the old city hall (now called the Royal Palace), visited Begijnholf, where they have a beautiful courtyard with flowers and church enclosed between houses), went to The PArk they say is Amsterdam answer to Central Park of New York... and so on!

I walked and walked and walked through the streets till I knew them so well that I was giving directions to other travellers. I made some great friends, who treated me to drinks and coffees. But best of all, I had my first vacation where I was completely on my own! A strange solitude had gripped me and I enjoyed it to the fullest. In fact my sole guide was the printout from which turned out to be very helpful.

Another museum had deserves special blog is Anne Frank's house, the girl who wrote one of the most telling stories of the effect of Nazi repression. Apart from these, I found one of the finest desi food joints outside India (a place called Swagat) and returned there again and again!!

I came into Netherlands carrying a copy of Don Quixote by Cervantes in my arms, like him I went chasing the windmills.... that place Zaanse Schans, was one of the most beautiful place... rural setting, near another river or canal, with beautiful gardens... and windmills.... ah I fell in love with at place... its like an idyllic setting where I would love to live! River, garden, flowers, ducks, grass and small huts: can it get any better?

Now I am at Utrecht, attending a conference, listening to talks about science, describing what I have succeeded in doing and what I dream of doing, and I feel quite at home here:), back with my blood brothers who live their lifes chasing some answers in labs or on computer screens!

Next update: maybe from India, there is lot more to say about here, butmy hands are tired, u are bored, and I am hungry!:)

to be contd;.....


Utrecht, July 6, 10 am!

I leave the city today, and will fly to India tomorrow. Last few days were spent hobnobbing with the past, present and future great scientists of soft condensed matter physics, and I can share the excitement for science:)! That being said, Utrecht has been a great host city, and shares the characteristic canals and cyclists with Amsterdam.

A couple of days I chanced to eat at a restaurant Passage to India, situated on the canal side, with lots of other restaurants likewise, abounding in a very blissful junta! So we ordered Chicken Makhani and it turned out to be sweet.... and the waitor had the nerve to tell me that Butter Chicken by definition is sweet!! Anyways, yesterday we went to another place, Namaskar and ordered the two dishes that said "hot" and just to be sure, asked for "hot"curries. The guy said its already very hot sir, and the only way we can give you hotter stuff is by handing over chilli... We thought he was just kidding, but soon found out that what they served burnt embers in our mouth. We drank like fish, and spat fire like dragon, and ate with such relish; for it compensated for lack of spice we had suffered for days, and through repeated sighing, puffing, teardrops and sips of beer had a gala dinner.

Adieu for now...


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

To the lighthouse by Virginia Woolf!

Full of paragraphs of absolute brilliance!

In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf accomplishes a feat that every writer hopes to accomplish in his/her lifetime: she creates out of the ordinary humdrum of the daily life of an English family of Ramsay's characters and paragraphs that will ever be part of the best of English writing produced in last century. In my opinion, several paragraphs in this novel are like jewels of English prose, that must be prized, possessed and displayed likewise. Woolf settles for a very subtle narrative, though which she presents innermost thoughts of her characters, especially women, and in the brilliance of her words, romance and life are captured like snapshots labelled thoughtfully and carefully!

The book is sort of divided into two parts, separated by decades. What was most intoxicating part of the book was the description of this change, as was the description of the nightfall. Be it secret thoughts of women or their admirers, or the doubts and uncertainities of a professor-father or the feelings of children (in both times separated by more than a decade) or the simple description of nature, Woolf shows a talent that must make her as important to twentieth century literature as Joyce and Lawrence. She is in my opinion one of the finest (if not the finest) female novelist to have ever existed! Maybe my hyperbole is uncalled for, but my admiration stems from the deep admiration of an exquisite piece of creative writing! Like every classic, this one must be savored with slow speed; deep thoughts, few pages at a time and remembered by the beauty of the sentences and emotions they capture or arouse; and not by the turn of events or unfolding of drama, which even though interesting, is incidental to this incredible piece of literature!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez!

Of bitter almonds, timeless love and of magical GGM!!

Love in the time of cholera is yet another brilliant work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez tells the story in a style where every sentence is pregnant with metaphors, every other phrase is a pinnacle of poetic expression, every lie is a truth seen in a new light, every experience is picturized in a magical realism of which he is a master painter! To use such talent in his masterful way requires a genius apparent in all his works!

The story revolves around two main characters, Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, and is spread over three hundred and fifty pages that describe nearly half a century of love in its various forms!! A love between a school girl and a nervous suitor to the love between them at the dawn of their second childhood: and everything in between that takes the reader through lifes, loves, escapades, and homes of several protagonists. The maze is as charming as in his other novels, with profound insight on love strewn, as if nonchalantly between spreads of interesting digressions that keep one as glued to the book as the fancy wordplay. To me Marquez represents a writer whose each word is born out of multiple layers of thoughts and complexity, that must spring from his acute insights and multitudes of experiences.

One must wonder what role cholera plays in the novel. It plays the same role as love, presents similar symptoms and likewise leaves people dead in its wake. This is a saga of requited and unrequited love, of social and ethical love, of moral and perverse love, of greedy and hungry love as well as sensual and vulgar love. It is a love story with a happy ending, but like any real love story had characteristic mishaps and trauma, pains and predicaments, joy and sorrow. Hell sir, what do you expect in a book titled "Love in the time of cholera" if not the paraphrasing of a plague that inflicts the characters of this saga?

Leaf storm and other stories is full of shorter and more tangile words; The Autumn of the Patriarch is about a dictators life; his rise and decay and is incredibly (difficult yet exquisite) read while the Hundred Years of Solitude is I guess the best of the lot. I found Love in the time of cholera more accessible than his other works, allowing faster assimilation a grand buffet of Marquez' visions and an endless servings of vignettes. Never for the fainthearted readers, I believe Marquez' works are excellent exhibition of the glory of the written word and the timelessness of great writing! His novels move through space and time with amazing fluidity, capturing the essence of people living for maybe a whole hundred years, and providing the detail and drama that accomplies life with words that interweave lie and truth, imagined and real in a similar fashion as our own heads do!

Oh! But you wanted to know what the novel is all about, and its story or how good it is? Well then, stop looking at this review for an easier way out, just go and read the novel!:)

Read in June 2006
Review also on amazon!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Parineeta and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi!!

Two movies. Both set in sixties. Both quite good.

Parineeta: Vidya Balan is good actress, and rather ravishing protagonist! Saif is revelation; the dude from DCH and Hum Tum makes elegant transformation into sauve Bengali. Sanjay Dutt is a misfit in role. Rest of the cast is good enough, the songs are beautifully written and actually are picturized best. I will be a little vague in expressing my views, for I will love to do so only after people have watched it. Watch it you must, for in spite of its flaws, this is one of those movies that we will look at with pride when we get old;). The sixties are captured very well, romance is subtle and very ethnic, and colors and dresses are rich, flourishing, picturesque!

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi: Quite easily the best movie of this decade. Yes sir, I can say that with conviction. This is a story of three college students: a south India female, a son of a rich father, and a son of a freedom fighter idealist. Two guys are in love with the same girl. Ah! Don't worry, it is not simply a love triangle, but a story that progresses with lives of these people: the idealism of student movements, Naxalite movement, Emergency, corruption, and the complex romance of real lifes is captured as beautifully as can be. The movie is so real that I was kicking myself on having missed it so far. As a college student, I had firebrand ideas myself, that had then melted in the summer heat of 2000, when I trudged through slums in Delhi, trying to teach kids alphabet, and "seeing" from close quarter what reality had to offer. The gandhians, the wifes of IAS officers, rich kids bitten by social service bug, and sincerely honest and good people and officers: that movie captures so realistically are all part of complex ritual of Indian social disasters and changes: in my own pursuit I had encountered them too! The rediff review does a good jib of describing the movie!

The music of both the movies is great. Seeing both these movies convinces me that the Bollywood is still full of creative people. HKA surely is cinema at its expressive best. Watch it to see for yourself the grand drama of social revolution that many of us idealists dream, talk or write about. Both movies are serious cinema, hard hitting and deeper than usual masala stuff Bollywood serves so often (and I love masala and gossip and tea:)! Parineeta is good, not great, but good enough; HKA beats me: its too good; its great!!

Monday, June 06, 2005

A cup of Tea - VIII (Parental Wisdom)

My Mommie says, "Judge a woman from her cup of tea
A cup of tea is enough to reveal her true identity!
How its served tells you of her thoughts, her emotion
And a few sips can elucidate her sense of proportion!
A cup of tea reveals her character, her personality
Even how she holds it, reflects upbringing or vanity!"

My dad reflects, "Tea and women are quite like whisky
Bittersweet, addictive, their effects on men legendary
Maybe a cup of tea does all secrets of woman contain
Trust me, they can never be revealed to a male brain:)
Just like this cup of tea, hold the woman you love close
(Sips) Revel in her sweet warmth, before her warmth goes!"

My mommie smiling, savors the words of my dad silently
And then clears up the empty, cluttered cups, elegantly
I visualize her metaphors, think back to old cups of tea
How one had hated them, how the other spilled endlessly
How mommie's choice stylishly brought in and held my cup
In simple teatime talk, cobwebs around my heart cleared up!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Women in Love By DH Lawrence

Women & Love: Two Complexities together!

Women in Love by DH Lawrence is a mature drama, where four characters live and love, debate and denounce, hate and revere each other. The Bragwen sisters (also starring in Rainbow:)) represent two remarkably different women: Ursula is a small town, reserved, schoolteacher kinds; Gudrun the artsy one who hops from city to city. Both are complex characters, as I guess all women are, and the masterful Lawrence explores their love and passion for Rupert Birkin and Gerald Grich respectively.

Like any other Lawrence novel, the beauty is not the story, but how it is told. The heroes are human, feeling the whole array of emotions we feel. The relationship of Birkin and Grich is a relationship of two friends, tied together not only by the women they love, but an essential urge for find the meanings of their lifes. Birkin shuns materialism, Grich revels in it. Their exchanges, their conversations are beautifully captured.

As always, Lawrence gets beneath the skin of his characters, divulging their thoughts, hopes and dreams, echoing their fears and faults to the readers, echoing them through the words and deeds of characters, through sort of trifles and commonplace conversations and combines the disparities and eccentricities of human beings.

While the essential play is between four characters, Lawrence has conjured well developed group of support cast: Hermoine, the enchantress who is rhapsodical in her words, but shallow in self; Gerald's father, whose presence provides remarkable pretext for father son relationship; Loerke, an artist whose appearance in novel makes it multi-dimensional (read to find out why) and Winifried, Possum and so on.

The novel is very different from other Lawrence novels I have read so far. Sons and Lovers is most easily readable, and his autobiographical piece; Rainbow is Lawrence at his best, and so the novel is very rich and complex reading; Lady Chatterley's Lover (as its infamous for) explores human sensuality in a very poetic and honest way. Women in Love does not enchant, does not embellish facts or emotions, does not rely on suspense or sensuality of romance, does not attack moral fiber; what it really does is, it gives us a video camera and constant feed about thoughts of people that we are watching and we see, hear and enjoy according to our own perception! Women in love is sort of heavy read, one needs to labor through the labyrinth's of "words, philosophies, thoughts and ideas", and hence perhaps should not be first Lawrence you read. Start with Sons and Lovers or Lady Chatterley's Lover or his short stories! If you know women, if you think you know love, if you really know Women in Love, you will figure why this novel must be so!:)!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A cup of Tea - SEVEN!! (Arranged Marriage Part 2)

But life! Oh life! A storm in a cup of tea
We walked out to find a visitor: my spill bee!!
"Oh! My spill bee, what buzz brought you here
Oh! Theres many a slip, 'tween cup-lip, dear
Spill all your tea, but keep my secrets close
Please, my past passion, don't my past disclose!"
She read my thoughts, she smiled with her charm
The gold bangles just adorned her married arm
"Hello Vivek! Pretty surpised to see me you must be
But you know, we both are best friends since class three!"

Ah! I stared into my emptiest cup of tea
There were stains, and dregs and history
There was emptiness, there was only void space
My mouth was still superfluous with the aftertaste
But she was kind, she took my cup away
And winked as she cleared our tea-tray
And turned to spill bee, and smiled so softly
And blurted out my words, with a touch of glee
"Oh! Those real life experiments of my creative aspiration"
Two girls happily clobbering me as amazons in collaboration!

Together we three walked down the stairs
Girls both grinning, and I with red ears
(Our parents were amused, in their duets they smiled
Their dreams were fulfilled, their traditions had survived)
Only I knew what real drama behind scenes had occured
The girls smothered their laughs, I stammered, simpered
Her mother frowned, but aloud said, "She is happy, just"
My mother concurred, "He too never is so joyfully nervous"
It was getting late, we parted, but fixed up an exclusive date
In heart I knew, if spill bee was good, this one was just great!