Sunday, December 30, 2012

Waiting for Rahman

“Kumbudra saami onnu dhaane, avangala mattum ulla vidraanga?” The Paati standing behind me was losing her cool as she saw the VIP pass holders being let in while us paying ticket holders, a mass of Rahman fans, stood in the mud, desperate to get to our seats. The official reason for the wait was that the organizers were still setting up chairs for our section, but as the wait time grew to an hour, the Paati’s sentiment found more and more support. “Neenga sollunga Paati!” yelled a miffed member of the youth generation. Chants of “Down, down India” erupted, mixed with deeply felt rhetorical questions like “Rahman’a paakarthukku indha naayadi thevaya?” The policemen stuck to their ‘setting up chairs’ line, while disillusioned fans demanded that the organizers show up and explain what was taking them so long to arrange the seating. “Dei, naanga chair podarom, ulla vidunga da!” shouted the guy standing beside me, accurately foreshadowing what was to happen. The shoving force of the pissed off crowd eventually got too much for the policemen to handle, and so they opened the gate just a little. People slammed against each other, curses rained fast and furious, and the guard’s unheeded requests to the crowd to show their so called smartcards before entering added to the tragi-comic nature of the affair as the line snaked painfully through the small opening.

Murphy was probably high-fiving himself in his grave as the rain, which had threatened earlier in the day, made an appearance again. It wasn’t a light drizzle, no, this time it was a full-on shower. Umbrellas rose out of nowhere, collected the rain water and deposited them on the people sitting right behind as the wielders tipped them back every few minutes to get a better look at the dark stage. As we sat, drenched, in the chairs we had picked up from the VIP section and brought back to our own, we were forced to watch on the big screen Jaya TV’s numerous ads, the mind and mood made to suffer most by the oft-repeated ad of a serial where a daughter promises her father that she will never forget him, even after she is sent to live with her husband’s family.

But, in spite of all of this, the crowd waited with a patience specially reserved for that one man and his music. “Our capacity to wait is limitless, and we reach for the stars!” Aaron Sorkin might have yelled had he been part of the audience. But even this patience can wane. Just when it seemed liked the excitement had been dampened, just when it looked like the crowd’s energy was all but extinguished, this earnest voice arose: “Unthan desathin kural, tholai dhoorathil adho, seviyil vizhadha?”

So worth it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Those Bright India Blues

I walk into my room in Madras and it’s as I left it in 2006, when I moved to the US for college. There are stickers of him stuck on my desk, newspaper cutouts from his best games kept inside drawers, and Sportstar posters of him on the walls. As I look around my room, I find a placard I’d made comparing him to the Don, a placard I’d carried to the India-Pakistan game that took place in Madras in ’99, yes that game. When I look out of the window, I see the street where my friends and I used to play cricket after school. At the best of times, a tree was the stump, and a big Onyx bin marked the boundary. But even when things were less than ideal, we adapted. Our rules morphed to suit the state of the street. Underarm cricket, overarm cricket, French cricket. Cricket with a rubber ball, cricket with a tennis ball, cricket with a cork ball. Cricket in the thumping rain, cricket in the searing heat, cricket under a streetlight. We tried ‘em all, but there were some things about the game that were not open to interpretation. Things that stayed the same irrespective of the format. Things that we considered sacred, that we followed without question. When it was our time to bat, we may have stood in front of a tree but that didn’t stop us from asking for a leg stump guard. We didn’t have to find the bowler amongst a sea of fans, but that didn’t stop us from squinting. We didn’t wear abdomen guards, but that didn’t stop us from doing the crotch-adjust. We had to share our pitch with motorists, flower sellers and cranky old uncles, but that didn’t stop us from ‘gardening’, halting whoever came in front of us with one quick raise of the hand and then tapping the tar road with our bats. I walk into my room in Madras and it’s as I left it in 2006, but till this morning I could look at the stickers and cutouts and posters and know that while I was no longer that kid playing cricket on the street, he was still going to be around in those bright India blues. Till this morning. 

On Sunday, at Chepauk, India will take on Pakistan and that special madness will be missing in the crowd, that unavoidable outpouring of joy and gratitude, that undeniable excitement from knowing that he’s padded up and about to walk on to the field. On Sunday, at Chepauk, India will take on Pakistan but Sachin Tendulkar will not.

Anyone else need a hug?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Backpacking through Prague and Budapest

I spent my Thanksgiving break in Central Europe with my too-heavy backpack, the people I met along the way, and myself for company. I landed in Prague’s Vaclav Havel airport at 9AM on the 22nd and made my way into the city using their awesome public transport system, much like the public transport system at every other major European city. I got out of the subway and headed towards The MadHouse, the one hostel whose address I had written down. The confident strides I’d started my journey with quickly switched to a halt as I realized that I had no idea where I was going. If it weren’t for the kind citizens of Prague who noticed my situation (illustrated by a huge, unwrapped map in hand, and an utterly lost look on my face) and pointed me in the right direction, I would have tired myself out walking in circles around the subway station.

One of Prague's many cobblestone streets

“Are you checking in?” asked Jess at The MadHouse. “Well… I haven’t made any reservations,” I said before explaining that I was visiting for three days and that I was thinking about spending one of them in Budapest. “You’re in Europe for 3 days… and you want to visit Prague and Budapest? But Budapest is 8 hours away by train...” “Yes,” I replied, settling into the chair across from Jess who looked at me like I was a crazy person, “I’m planning to sleep on the train.” After confirming out loud that I was indeed not of sound mind, she suggested I pay for a bed on Saturday and leave my bag in their storage room while I walked around Prague and Budapest for the next two days. This was really nice of her; most hostels wouldn’t have let me keep my bags lying around two days before my actual check-in. I signed up for Saturday and received a welcome beer in return. Nothing like cool Czech beer at 10 in the morning.

Old Town Square

Enjoying a morning buzz, I bought overnight train tickets to Budapest at the main train station (Praha Hlavni Nadrazi) and then made my way towards the city square. The weather was chilly and gray, just in case the miles away from Seattle were to make me feel home sick. I spent a couple of hours walking around in awe of the narrow, curved streets (I’m a sucker for cobblestone), stopping every few minutes to take multiple pictures of beautiful buildings hoping at least one would stick. Lunch was pizzafood isn’t one of the highlights if you’re a traveling vegetarian in Central Europe. People had their oh-you-poor-thing face ready whenever I asked for their vegetarian options. After pizzait was fine, just like pizza in any other cityI headed to Old Town Square. It didn’t better Venice’s St. Mark’s Square for me, but it was still pretty special. All I need is good street music to romanticize a city, and there was this happy quartet lighting up the afternoon with the ‘Church of Our Lady before Týn’ as their backdrop.

The Jewish Quarter

Cal, our walking tour guide, was an Australian who had recently graduated from Charles University in Prague. Over a couple of hours he gave the group a fascinating account of the city’s history as he led us through the public square, Josefov (the Jewish Quarter), Namesti Republiky (the Republic Square) and the Wenceslas square which houses the National Museum. The Jewish Quarter with its incredible synagogues and various architectural styles is the most affluent part of Prague today. “Luckily, the buildings in the Jewish Quarter were left untouched during World War II,” Cal said before adding, “Well, luckily is a strange word to use. Hitler wanted it to be a museum of an extinct race. And so he let it be.”

The John Lennon Wall

You, you may say 
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one

As I rounded the corner to the Lennon Wall, Prague’s most colorful expression of love, hope & freedom, a street musician was kneeling in front of it, guitar in hand, singing Imagine. His earnest cries of “Imagine all the people” just made it a perfect, perfect moment. I had asked Cal if it was worth checking out the Lennon wall in the night and he said, “Actually, it’s strangely better when there’s little light out.” The wall is different every day as artists, good and bad, let loose with their spray paint to make their mark on this awesome canvas. Great artwork does get painted over, but then there’s always the promise of something newer and better. I scribbled on it too, an unimaginative “Hey Jude”. It felt pretty good.

Waiting at Praha Hlavni Nadrazi for the train to Budapest 

“We’ll reach Budapest next week,” joked Bela, a man in his mid-fifties, sitting across from me in the second-class compartment of the train from Prague to Budapest. It was 3AM and it seemed like almost half the people in the train were getting out. “This is just Brno, long way to go,” he confirmed with a smile. I nodded my thanks, and stood up to stretch. I had fought terrible jet lag the previous evening by forcing myself to keep walking through the streets of Prague. The plan was to catch up on sleep on the train ride to Budapest. No suck luck. There were no sleeper berths in second class. Each cabin consisted of 2 rows of 3 seats each, and there was an elaborate feet shuffle to ensure that you didn’t step on the shoes of the person across from you. I was beyond frustrated when I first saw the seating, jetlag beating the shit out of my mind. In hindsight, the poor seating was the best thing that could have happened.

The hallway of nocturnal chatter

“The Wire is the greatest show ever,” declared Sandor, a fellow passenger who also couldn’t sleep, towards the end of a two-hour long conversation that amongst many topics covered the similarities and differences between train systems in Ukraine, Russia, India and the Czech Republic, the various film and T.V. adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, the economic struggles in Hungary, and how Baltimore stood out the most for Sandor when he visited the US (“And this was even before I saw The Wire!”). He teaches English (Neil Gaiman and Agatha Christie, in particular) in a city north of Prague called Liberec and was on his way to Budapest to meet his girlfriend. “Budapest is a poorer city, a tougher city than Prague,” he said when I asked him what to expect. “I used to live in a college town in Finland when I was working on my Ph.D., and I met more assholes within minutes of arriving in Budapest than I did in all my time in Finland.”

Budapest, by the Danube

A grim, gray air hung over Budapest, the fog obscuring the tremendous buildings lining up by the Danube. Bela, the friendly Hungarian from my train cabin, was kind enough to show me the way to the Parliament, the huge Gothic landmark I’d decided to use as my starting point. Bela, who had lived in LA for six years, added to what Sandor said, about circumstances being dire in Budapest: “I’m going to the hospital today to give blood because my friend’s brother needs it and the hospital has none. This is 21st century Europe, and a hospital in Budapest has no blood.” I walked along the Danube, and maybe it was because it was Saturday, but there was hardly anyone out on the streets. I checked out the view of the city from atop Buda Castle, walked a bunch to shake off the jet lag, took breaks from walking to rest my feet which were in pain due to my terrible shoes, and then had to walk a bunch again because sitting down meant falling asleep on a bench. The only thing that kept me up at the station that night as I waited for the train back to Prague was the really cold weather.

The tram ride up to Buda Castle

I was sure I’d sleep on the train ride back to Prague. No such luck, again. I gave up on sleep at around 11PM when a Slovakian cop came in to fine the four Greek girls in my cabin for smoking on the platform. “Now that we’ve paid,” said one of them handing over 10 euros to the cop, “can we smoke?” They were from Crete and were visiting their friend in Brno. At Brno, I moved to a cabin occupied by four college students and a really cute musician who had quit college and moved to Prague. She spoke about her travels, about how she once hitchhiked her way to a town in Southern France, and played music on the streets to pay for the trip. “There’s no way you could have seen the old Yugoslavia,” countered one of the college students at one point as she was talking about her childhood. “You’re far too young for that,” he asserted, and then started a tangential conversation about how he's doing a Bachelor’s degree in Peace at Brno. A Bachelor’s in Peace. “It’s the toughest program ever,” he said. I don’t doubt that.

Early morning Prague

I looked out at rooftops and church spires, at streets and bridges, at the sun attempting to peek out from behind a curtain of clouds. It was about 6:30 in the morning and I was atop the Prague Castle, with only two silent guards at the castle entrance for company.  I had arrived at the Prague train station at 4AM with time to kill as the hostel’s reception opened only at 9. After spending a couple of hours writing, it struck me that I had the perfect opportunity to see the sunrise. I took a train to Prague’s castle district and walked up the Old Castle Stairs (Staré zámecké schody). I looked over the railing every few seconds as I climbed up and struggled to believe that I had all these incredible sights around me, all to myself. There was no one around and this was tourist packed Prague. Finally sunrise, and I felt shivers running through me. As I headed towards the hostel, I walked through side streets and tiny walkways, a slow wander through a city whose citizens hadn’t risen yet to meet the day’s demands. The opportunity was rare, to walk unhurriedly and in silence through one of Europe’s most magical cities.

The Charles Bridge, built over the Vltava River, seemed to be the most popular tourist attraction in Prague, and with its numerous artists, baroque statues and photo-ops, it wasn’t hard to see why. I went for a late afternoon walk on the bridge, my final few hours before heading back to Seattle, and was struck most by the lovely music on display. I crossed the bridge and entered Nerudova, a street packed with stores, hotels and restaurants. I took a random turn at an intersection and somehow ended up in front of a church. In a city full of tremendous buildings, this church wasn’t out of the ordinary. But that was the crazy thing, that this magnificent building, with its imposing scale and incredible attention to detail was not out of the ordinary. At this point, I was exhausted, my body beaten up from the walking and the jet lag, and I was far away from anywhere I could call home. But I had this moment where I realized that I was surrounded by beauty, by structures that reminded me of the strength of the human will, the capacity of human creativity, and I thought to myself: I don’t know if I’ll ever be here again, but at this moment… I’m here. I sat down on the pavement, pulled out my notebook and jotted it all down, with the hope that long after the fact, I can read about it and relive a wonderful trip.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

உந்தன் தேசத்தின் குரல்

உந்தன் தேசத்தின் குரல்   
தொலைதூரத்தில் அதோ 
செவியில் விழாதா?
சொந்த வீடு உன்னை வா என்று அழைக்கிறது தமிழா

The percussion, the pauses, Ann Marie Calhoun from 3:54-3:58, the transition to the Tamil lyrics, the part where Rahman goes செவியில் விழாதா

Music at its best, here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dám si jedno pivo prosím

My thanksgiving breaks are usually meh. Friends head home to visit their families, restaurants are closed and the weather is dreary.

A friend once told me that every woman he saw in Prague could have been on the cover of a fashion magazine.

This thanksgiving break might not be so meh after all.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Cheque please

"Do you read a lot?"
"Street signs, mostly. What about you?"
"I like reading so much I took a job at the library."
"That's a bit excessive. What's your favorite book?"
"A Farewell to Arms."
"Sounds painful. Does it have pictures?"
"Only on the cover."
"Who wrote it?"
"Ah, Hemingway."
"You've read him?"
"You've never read Hemingway?"
"No, but I saw him in Midnight in Paris and he was pretty darn good."
"That was an actor playing Hemingway."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Hemingway's dead."
"Was it because he lost his arms?"
"Question. Do you think Hemingway was so serious in the movie because he wanted to live up to his first name?"

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

SPOILER ALERT: Don't read on if you plan to see the movie and haven't yet.
Heroes by David Bowie is playing as Patrick drives Sam and Charlie through the Fort Pitt tunnel. Charlie climbs to the back of the pickup truck and in a voice over that brings the story full circle says:

I don't know if I will have the time to write anymore letters because I might be too busy trying to participate. So if this does end up being the last letter, I just want you to know that I was in a bad place before I started high school and you helped me. Even if you didn't know what I was talking about or know someone who has gone through it, you made me not feel alone. Because I know there are people who say all these things don't happen. And there are people who forget what it's like to be 16 when they turn 17. I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We'll all become somebody's mom or dad. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening, I am here and I am looking at her. And she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you're not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you're listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.

I keep thinking back to the part where he says, "But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening." Time doesn’t stop but you get those moments where it slows down just enough for you to look around and be thankful: for the friendship, for the music, for the ride, for those moments where a smile is the most organic thing ever.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Café Tales VIII

So I walk into the office of this guy, this Indian guy – he’s new to the company, but here’s the thing – he was a chess grandmaster back in the day in Calcutta. And this intimidates me. The chess thing, the way it stood out on the newspaper clipping he had pinned to his board – ‘Youngest Indian Grandmaster at 13 years, 4 months and 22 days'. And, he may be big and wide and tall but it’s the chess thing that makes me uncomfortable, you know what I mean, anyway I walk into his office to convince him on a design that I’d come up with, and it’s a good design let me tell you, but I slipped into that mode I slip into when I need to convince someone that I’m smart and that I can come up with good ideas, and I start by making polite conversation with him – it’s getting chilly, eh? – stupid, inane shit and he’s nodding and nodding, not really saying anything, not even looking up at me from his computer screen, and I feel like I’m losing him, part of me has already started working out excuses to explain to my manager why I couldn’t convince an entry level engineer to implement her design, fine it was her design but I helped refine it, and… I’m intimidated by this guy right now, the fact that he’s a couple of seconds away from forgetting that I’m at the door talking to him, making shitty, small talk, and just as I decide, to hell with it, I’m just gonna get to the point, he turns his computer screen towards me and I see that he’s solved the problem, the logic’s different to my manager’s, but it’s simpler and gets the job done... and so I say “Hope the sun comes out soon.”

Motherfucker was always five moves ahead of me. 

Inspired by the punchline delivered by this awesome story teller. More tales this way.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Flight, turn & bowled.

It's not been the greatest season of cricket with the ball for me. I haven't been as economical with my spin bowling as I've needed to be what with my trademark half tracker or two per over ruining spells that were looking pretty darn good till that point. Yesterday, just when it looked like the usual story was playing out, loose balls getting smacked out of the (tiny) park, I bowled one that was just right.

The delivery prior to the one I'm gushing about was full, outside the off stump and driven over the covers for four. It was a shot contrary to the cross-bat hoicker impression given by the batsman's stance - his front leg was covering the middle stump and his back leg the off. I decided to risk it and toss the next ball up as well - it's how I got most of my wickets in Austin - with the hope of tempting him to go for a big heave. As soon as I released the ball, from the way the seam brushed against my fingers, I knew I had him.

He went back and across just as the ball began it's descent and then, deceived by the pace, pushed forward with his bat. Too soon.

The ball drifted in, pitched slightly outside off, gripped the surface and spun in just a bit to beat the bat-pad gap and meet the top of off-stump.

Flight, turn & bowled. Just a perfect feeling.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cricket in Pullman

I play in the North West Cricket League and most of our games are within a 20 mile radius of where I live. Yesterday's game was, well, not quite. We set off from Redmond at 5AM and drove 288 miles to the town of Pullman to play the students of Washington State University in a 40 over game. I was able to escape the driving duties on the way to Pullman, and slept through most of the drive - except waking up at one point to talk about my frailties as an opening batsman and then falling asleep immediately after assuming I had made my point. Last season, we'd driven 5 hours to play a cricket match in Spokane where we were greeted by a ground that was so small that we had to play with 2G rules (2 runs granted, like if the ball hit the baseball batting cage behind the keeper). It also didn't help that the matting pitch at the ground in Spokane was 11 yards long. So it was surprising in a wonderful way, like when you trap a batsman plumb in front and the umpire is competent enough to agree with you, to see that the ground in Pullman had an all-weather pitch and a freshly mowed outfield.

We lost the toss and I was made to wonder if I'd dreamt my discourse in the car about how I'm not a good opening batsman when I was told to pad up and take first strike. When one is in doubt of one's batting abilities, it's always good to have an attacking batsman playing alongside - he'll get the runs while the nervous batsman does his best to 'well left' the ball and bring down the run-rate. My opening partner was this guy, who as a rule walks down the crease before the bowler has reached his and tonks the ball, when it arrives, over the mid-wicket boundary. Either he has scant respect for the new ball or a severe allergy to the batting crease.

Ever since I moved to Seattle, my batting performances haven't been great and the quiet college town of Pullman turned out to be the ideal place to let loose. The first ball I put bat to sped to the point boundary, a shot that would have got me 0 runs on our home ground. The shot should have got me 0 runs on this ground too but the fielder missed the ball completely and used the oft quoted 'bad bounce' excuse. The 'bad bounce' card, much like the 'preserving Indian culture' card, can be used whenever by its wielder and cannot be disputed. The wicket was a bit tricky to bat on when the ball was delivered on a good length - it tended to stop a bit - but the WSU bowlers bowled at least 2 hit-me balls every over and I was able to find the gaps. Things were going so well that at one point the keeper told the umpire to signal a four in spite of the fielder claiming that he had stopped the ball before it had crossed the mid-wicket boundary. It turned out to be a simple case of the keeper misjudging the sound of the fielder hitting the fence to be the sound of the ball hitting the fence.

When you haven't played a significant knock in a while, getting close to a 50 can make you yearn quite a bit for the milestone, for the shouts of "bat up!" from the 'pavilion' so that you can act like the 50 is no big deal and that you're raising your bat only because the 'pavilion' insists. I'd reached 47 in around the 13th over and the bowler bowled a widish delivery that I went after. The ball hit the bottom of the bat and lobbed slowly towards the point fielder who ran towards it as if he wanted to obliterate it with his chest. His hand, following his forward momentum, pushed the ball away but the force of his desire was so intense that he stumbled and enveloped the ball on his downward passage towards the grass. He rose with the red cherry in his hand, surprised and delerious, and I walked back to the 'pavilion', surprised and dejected.

We finished our innings with 297 in 40 overs, the highlight of which was the final over which read '4 6 4 4 4 4'. The batsman, getting to his century in the process, ended the NWCL bowling career of the bowler who commented at the end of the carnage that such big hits were only expected in the last over of the innings. The WSU team, though, never got to the 40th over of their batting innings as they folded for 128 runs - the highlight of which was the 16 runs they smacked off my third over. One of the sixes in that over went so far out of the ground that it took ten minutes to find the ball, causing the fielder who chased after it down a never ending slope such pain that he told the captain that he would never field in the deep again.

The 16 run over probably won't end my NWCL bowling career, fingers crossed, but it did end my spell for the day as I was summarily dispatched to the deep from where I witnessed the rest of the WSU innings. 

Saturday, June 09, 2012

On the Road

I read most of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ while road tripping across the state of Oregon – a 1300-mile trip that took my friends and I to Portland, Crater Lake, Crescent City and Coos Bay. It was a long drive – six of us in a mini-van – but a comfortable one, and hardly comparable in scale to Kerouac’s, or should I say Sal Paradise’s epic trips across the American continent, like the time he journeyed from New York’s “cloud of dust and brown steam” to the “fog and whiteness” of San Francisco and then back east, punctuated by numerous pit stops along the way, some by design – meeting with his Denver crew of Chad King and Tim Gray but most importantly the insane and incredible Dean Moriarty who becomes in a way Sal’s muse and whose character is best captured by poet Carlo Marx who says when asked of Dean’s whereabouts:

“Dean is in Denver. Let me tell you.” And he told me that Dean was making love to two girls at the same time, they being Marylou, his first wife, who waited for him in a hotel room, and Camille, a new girl, who waited for him in a hotel room. “Between the two of them he rushes to me for our own unfinished business.”

– and some by accident, like when he falls in love with Teresa, “the cutest little Mexican girl” who is introduced to us in a passage that would make most readers stop and reminisce their own love-stories-that-could-have-been:

She was in one of the buses that had just pulled in with a big sigh of airbrakes; it was discharging passengers for a rest stop. Her breasts stuck out straight and true; her little flanks looked delicious; her hair was long and lustrous black; and her eyes were great big blue things with timidities inside. I wished I was on her bus. A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.

On our way back to Seattle, driving east down the 38, we hit a stretch of road where we were accompanied by a dark green river, misty mountains and nothing else. The road winding like the river, a path paved through a land that I imagine was once all forest but there was still beauty that’d been left alone; the clouds descended and obscured in a translucent haze the peaks of the mountains giving the area an ethereal feel, and us a lesson in smallness. As I settled back into the book in hand, the trio of Dean, Sal and Marylou too stumbled on a winding road, albeit navigating it a bit differently:

Then we started down. Dean cut off the gas, threw in the clutch and negotiated every hairpin turn and passed cars and did everything in the books without the benefit of accelerator. I held on tight. Sometimes the road went up again briefly; he merely passed cars without a sound, on pure momentum. He knew every rhythm and every kick of a first-class pass. When it was time to U-turn left around a low stone wall that overlooked the bottom of the world, he just leaned far over to his left, hands on the wheel, stiff-armed, and carried it that way; and when the turn snaked to the right again, this time with a cliff on our left, he leaned far to the right, making Marylou and me lean with him. In this way we floated and flapped down to the San Joaquin Valley. It lay spread a mile below, virtually the floor of California, green and wondrous from our aerial shelf. We made thirty miles without using gas.  

We passed through a bunch of small towns, stopping over at a few for coffee or gas. The Picnic Basket Delicatessen made it seem like all that the people of Shady Cove do is fly-fish. It looked a tiny shop from the outside but as I made my way towards the restroom, I realized that at some point between dodging fishing equipment and walking down stairs I'd entered someone’s house. The presence of fish ornaments everywhere but mostly the unfathomably animatronic fish surrounding the toilet added to the strangeness of it all. Nothing like the cafes in San Francisco that Dean and Sal rejoiced in, consumed by the blasting and booming jazz:

He’d go from “ta-tup-tader-rara … ta-tup-tader-rara,” repeating and hopping to it and kissing and smiling into his horn, to “ta-tup-EE-da-de-dera-RUP! ta-tup-EE-da-de-dera-RUP!” and it was all great moments of laughter and understanding for him and everyone else who heard. His tone was clear as a bell, high, pure, and blew straight in our faces from two feet away. Dean stood in front of him, oblivious to everything else in the world, with his head bowed, his hands socking in together, his whole body jumping on his heels and the sweat, always the sweat, pouring and splashing down his tormented collar to lie actually in a pool at his feet.

I would find myself sometimes skimming through portions of the text before landing on an adjective so unusual but apt in a long, rambling sentence that it’d make me go back a page and read slower, and noodle over the craziness that Kerouac zoomed in on:

Marylou was watching Dean as she had watched him clear across the country and back, out of the corner of her eye—with a sullen, sad air, as though she wanted to cut off his head and hide it in her closet, an envious and rueful love of him so amazingly himself, all raging and sniffy and crazy-wayed, a smile of tender dotage but also sinister envy that frightened me about her, a love she knew would never bear fruit because when she looked at his hangjawed bony face with its male self-containment and absentmindedness she knew he was too mad.

We drove through Oregon to view the tremendous blue, a road trip that revolved around Crater Lake. Sal Paradise’s trips though were in quest of the people who inspired him, whose insanity, self-love and joy of living kept him on the road: 

and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Kerouac’s prose, oh how it crackles!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Café Tales VII

From atop one of the mountains that contain the lake, I sight the water through a rare gap between the trees. It reflects the white cliffs and the clouds above, but its color isn’t the beautiful turquoise seen on the cover of my travel brochure. The chills, though, arrive as advertised. It’s the silence, the wonderful absence of human chatter. I push past icy branches and shrubs, and as I sense the “wide, magnificent view” approaching, my right foot slides deep into the snow, jerking me forward. I fall to my side, and instinctively push against the ground to pull my leg out only to send myself tumbling down the slope. My eyes shut in self-preservation as the snow slams my face. Plants and rocks try in vain to get in the way of my gathering momentum. There’s a second of nothing but air journeying with me, and I open my eyes. A blue wall appears.


More tales this way.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Bicycle Thief

Antonio slaps his seven-year-old son; it’s an act triggered by an innocent question and the stress caused by hours of searching unsuccessfully for a stolen bicycle that is his key to survival. He asks his weeping son to wait by the bridge as he continues his search. Shouts of “drowning boy” reach his ears and the fear that the one drowning is his grips him. He runs towards the water to see men bring to shore a boy he hasn’t seen before. The look on his face as he turns around and sees his son, sitting doleful on the steps, adds layers to this tremendous film. Antonio is tired, hungry and desperate for a second chance, but at that moment his son is alive. And nothing else matters.

P.S: It’s on Netflix Instant.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Café Tales VI

He stares out through his window, the music in his ears transporting him to a place where no one is ordinary. He walks down streets that aren’t concrete but are stream-like paths of flowing, changing colors - blue, purple, streaks of orange. Young men and women glide past while older folk talk loudly with each other, sipping tea on their low hanging balconies. There are no bare walls - each one being splashed with paint by children – young and the not so young – eager to tell their stories to the world before their canvases are painted over by other eager storytellers. Zip lines crisscross the immediate sky, middle-aged men with brown fedoras zipping back from work, their grips sliding off the wires as they near their respective doorsteps. Potters offer their pots and bakers their baguettes as gymnasts somersault over him and dancers twirl around him. Merry-go-rounds entertain the littlest ones as the oldest ones rejoice in their joy. As the sun slowly sets, tiny lights hanging from wires light up the immediate sky with even tinier lights visible at the further end of the vastness.

He hits repeat.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Coffee, aaraamale.

I visited one of the Philz Coffee stores in the Bay Area recently. At Philz, the barista grinds the beans only after you select the coffee you want, waits for you to taste it and fixes it if you don't think it's just right. I had one of their dark roast blends, Aromatic Arabic, and it was pretty fantastic. One of my friends wasn't a huge fan of the medium roast she got but didn't feel like going back to the barista to tell her that it tasted a bit off. It's hard not to disappoint though when you name the drink, 'Ambrosia Coffee of God'.

I've wondered for a while about the kind of coffee shop I would like to run. I can't distinguish one kind of coffee from another with the articulation of a coffee conoisseur. But I have been to many coffee shops and absolutely love how the very best ones can be inspirational. The smell of coffee beans, the chaotic rhythm of people chatter, lighting so artful as to tempt a photographer, music that sets the tone and sofas to wind down on. There's a wonderful warmth to that atmosphere.

In my coffee shop, a small library is a must. The bookshelves will be filled by books donated by customers (and me, of course). Anyone can pick up any book and read it in the cofee shop, or if it's not a book that can be finished in a couple of hours can borrow it for free to read at home, the understanding being that they return it in a reasonable amount of time. A community driven library that runs completely on the goodwill of customers.

Filter coffee is definitely on the menu and will be served in a steel tumbler accompanied by a steel dabarah. There will be a make-your-own-coffee section with a press, a small grinder, a selection of different types of beans and a barista to guide through the process. 'To go' cups will be compostable and people are free to draw on the mugs they get their coffee in with permanent markers.

There will be a few seats outside for people-watching on a warm day. A little stage inside, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering a glimpse into the city as the backdrop, will host nights of poetry and music, book readings and interviews. Local artwork will occupy the walls of the cafe with one wall devoted to display this quote, my favorite, by Picasso:
I'm reading the paper; sitting around; I'm chatting; going for walks. But all of this is just perception. I'm actually working. Or rather: something is spinning around in my head and I'm just waiting to grab it and form it.
And finally, the cafe will bear the name, 'Aaraamale' (pronounced aa-raa-muh-ley) which in Tamil means 'warm forever'. @lavsmohan tweeted it as a play of words on AR Rahman's 'Aaromale'. Coffee on the house for her if she'll let me steal that name.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thoughts on Certified Copy (Copie Conforme)

"I know you hate me. There's nothing I can do about that. But at least try to be a little consistent."

Can you like a movie when you can't fully grasp it? You know the director, Abbas Kiarostami, is trying to tell you something, he's being all too subtle about it, but he's definitely trying to make a point. You've spent a couple of hours watching him use two wonderful actors and the beautiful Italian village of Lucignano to bring to screen his thoughts through conversations that vary a ton between small talk and opionated discourse and that jump up and down an emotional scale.

The first time the characters played by William Shimell and Juliette Binoche meet in Certified Copy, you take it for granted that it really is the first time that they're meeting. But soon you realize, through very well picturized scenes of them interacting while driving through, walking along and sitting in cafe's and restaurants that what you took for granted is defintely up for debate. Are these two characters really meeting for the first time?

Shimell's character, James Miller, is an art historian who's written a book called 'Certified Copy' in which he proposes that there is no such thing as a copy as even the Mona Lisa is a reproduction, a Da Vincian take on Lisa del Giocondo. There is no point in questioning the autenticity of a piece of art if every piece of art is a copy. He then poses the question, why should the question of authenticity detract from the emotional connect between a viewer and the colors that bring to life an empty canvas or the painstakingly chiselled statue that anchors a piazza. The connection between this truth of Miller's and the relationship between the characters is what has got me thinking about the movie long after the credits rolled. Is theirs an authentic relationship? And what determines that authenticity - the perception of the strangers around them or their own point of view of what brings them together and keeps them apart?

To answer the question I raised at the beginning, can you like a movie that you can't fully grasp, yes I think you can. The act of searching for the truth in an open ended story - whether it be in written or visual form - is extremely rewarding. And when you have an actor of Juliette Binoche's caliber, expressing vulnerability with stunning ease and honesty, guiding you through that journey, oh boy it's worth it.

P.S: It's on Netflix Instant.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Play Kohli

Photo courtesy: Royal Challengers Bangalore
I remember a brash shot Virat Kohli played early in his ODI career against Pakistan. He was batting at number 4 with Rahul Dravid holding anchor at the other end. India needed slightly more than 6 runs per over with around 30 overs to go. Kohli hadn't spent too much time at the crease but went for a lofted shot anyway, only to find the long on fielder. It was an unnecessary shot at that stage but one that could be attributed to his inexperience and inability to gauge the right way to play the middle overs of a chase. Over time and with the confidence that constancy in a batting line-up can provide, #3 when Sachin or Sehwag were rested and #4 otherwise, he's become a player you can count on. He looks for the singles early on and a large percentage of his boundaries flow along the carpet. He's got the hang of pacing an ODI innings.

In the past two years, he's scored runs with consistency and class. He's contributed to a world cup victory, his place is assured in the ODI setup, he's confident of his abilities and in the limited amount of first class cricket that he's played runs have come at an average of almost 50.

There is no doubt in my mind that he is a test cricketer in the making. Sure, he failed in the away series against the West Indies and he's struggling right now in Australia. But we absolutely have to play him in the remaining two test matches. Even if he fails to put bat to ball, we have to play him. Slot him above Laxman in the batting order so that he has the cushion of wickets in hand. It'll allow him to spend more time in the middle with Sachin who is in beautiful touch. He will have the luxury of playing out deliveries because Sachin and Laxman will score freely. By the time he has to bat with Dhoni, Ashwin and the tail he would have seen off the early nervousness.

Kohli can potentially be the glue that holds the top and middle order together. He's repaid the Indian cricket team's faith in him in ODI cricket. The team now has to be prepared to let him fall a few times in test cricket before he finds his footing.