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A tale of two temples

I am an Indian that lives in a small mid-western town with another 1000 people of Indian origin. I am guessing, like most mid-western towns, the town has its Tamil Sangam, Indian Association, Telugu Sangamam, Indian Students association, and other nondescript associations.

Most of these associations are created by the older IT / H1 crowd that is not “settled” down in the respective towns. The main purpose of these associations  are typically to celebrate festivals, and inculcate some sense of culture for their children, who, other than the occasional friends, grandparents that visit once a year, and glimpses of India watched on the Indian channels through Dish TV, are on their path to become the quintessential ABCD. The whole idea is to make them just be ABD by making them C the light. Ok the last part was lame.  The celebrations are in some public convention center of school, that is summarily messed up with a healthy serving of authentic Indian food, the main attraction at these events. The Tamil sangam then competes with the Telugu sangam, who then compete on the format of the programs and food, not realizing that in a town with limited Indian,  even more limited talented Indians, the same set of folks tend to perform the same kind of programs, Bharathanatyam, Kuchipudi, Khathak, one dude or dudette that knows to play an instrument, and then unavoidable bolly/tolly/kolly wood dance, visited, critiqued and enjoyed in equal measure by the same populace.  

Cynicism apart, in this context you would think that one temple would suffice for the whole populace, never mind that the nearest temple is only a 45 minute drive. The town had a “part-time” gurudwara for a long while though.  These temples evolve over a period of time, starting as converted barns, with the priest and their family living in the farm house next to the barn. Eventually when the population grows and the revenues of the temple grows, it gets to afford the whole mandir construction, gopuram, haloed steps and all.

One such temple started in one part of town supported by mostly north Indian and some Tamil families. All good intentions, over the past two to three year period, the temple had grown and was financially sustainable.  Then, interesting events unfolded that makes you wonder which form of Krishna is more powerful, and which one should. A competing temple (I guess competing temple committees, as temples themselves do not compete) was started in another part of the city, by folks that feel unrepresented and unincluded (read politics). The second temple is still a little fledgling, however, both to me provide equal doze of solace and  sense of divinity, I believe that is the point.

The sole proprietor that managed the funds of the first temple bet on some wrong investments, I guess gods are not immune to the economy either. Commonsense dictates that you merge both the temples, and move on. But hey, we are Indians, neither temple’s management is likely to consider this option. The first one has significant investments in idols, and other such sacred property that is anyone’s guess where they are going to land up.

I eagerly await the events that are likely to unfold. I hope the temples merge, and in a utopian thought, maybe brings the people together. But seriously, how did we get here? How did we get to have so many versions of the same deities??? Could it be that Krishna statues in the north are made of marble and the south made of black stone?

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For over a decade, I have maintained the irrelevance of the Oscars, shunning it as a fofoshishilala extravaganza with little or no consequence to the movie industry at large. The declining viewership of the Oscars was a comforting factor that I was not the only one thinking this way. The last time the Oscars had an overwhelming audience was the 1970 Oscars when Midnight Cowboys won the Oscar.  Tonight was different.  I watched my first Oscar in 10 years with the sole intention of wanting to know what happens to Slumdog?

What I think of the movie is irrelevant. I loved it. lets leave it at that. I am happy that ARR, a talented musician from my state won, though not at his peak, and certainly for work that is far from his best, and far from original. This discussion is not even about whether slumdog is poverty porn. This discussion is about the Oscars, and how the so called media and entertainment elite view the world.

My theory is simple :  The west is predominantly disposed to art, movie and literature that panders to the stereotypes that have been created in their mind. Quick, if you are from North American or Europe or Australia, What are the three things that come to your mind about India? I can almost guarantee that you will have one if not more from this list

  • Poverty
  • Weird religious festivals
  • Bollywood
  • Cricket
  • Heat
  • War with pakistan
  • and if you are higher in the education ladder : outsourcing

You can certainly guarantee that any piece of mass comm that does not follow the above stereotype is doomed to be an also-ran. Allow me to present further evidence

  • Crouching Tiger hidden Dragon : Sure China is all about mysterious Kung Fu fighters, no wonder this thing had so many Oscars. How come Beijing Bicycle had not takers?
  • La Dolce Vita: Eccentric loud Italians, sure won a bunch. How about Malena, my favourite movie of all times (Monica Belucci in the movie has nothing to do with it), the best it got was 2 nominees.
  • Gandhi: There is no way this could have missed the Oscar

This is predominantly in the category of the Best Motion picture. If you look at Best foreign motion picture, it is quiet disenchanting.  Almost 90% of the movies either pander to the stereotype or worse, peddle political violence, bloodshed or poverty.

Dont get me wrong.. most of the other Oscar winners deserve some type of an award, the movies, actors and actresses have done phenomenal work, but when it comes to judging a winner, just those ingredients don’t seem to be enough.

Another movie based in India won the Oscar tonight, this was for the best documentary – Smile Pinkie. Guess what the story was about : A real-life tale of a poor child with cleft lip in rural India, who gets a new lease of life when an India doc does plastic surgery. Touching story and a great documentary. But should this be the only recourse to win?

Anyway, I predict Bollywood making a few more of them India based movies, stories are plenty : Kashmir, Riots, Kargil War, the Partition, Poverty, child-workers, sex-workers, diseases, infant mortality, the rare practice of sati…….

A more home truth : this does not apply to foreign movies alone…anyone care to guess why Akheela and the Bee did not make it?

For the intellectuals, who wish to discuss this topic further, Orientalism by Edward Said, is a prerequisite.

Dhin-chak chants

A few hundred yard from the sanctum sanctorum of the Guruvayoor temple, are a line of music stores. Over the years that I have been visiting there, very little had changed.  The music that blared for those stores in questionable yet colorful union was either Yesudas’s melodic salutation to one of the gods, or Balamurali Krishna, and a very rare Bombay Jayashree.

All that changed with this trip. Just as I got out of the temple there was this groove akin to Buddha Bar, delirium, Cafe Del Mar or even Sarah Brightman. Hmm… what a disgrace, I thought to myself. As I walked further the grove beats, apparently just a long prelude, turned into a full fledged chant. I have heard chats mixed with western beat before, but this was different. This was hardcore stotras and slokas that form the very core of the Hindu scriptures, they were chanted to the beat of bars in Paris and Ibiza. How dare they…sacrilege.. screamed part of my brain …my feet stomping and enjoying it simultaneously. Very confusing state of mind..indeed.

So I decided to go into the store and take a look. There were 7 volumes (wow). Here are the links where you can buy the CD’s or listen to samples.

http://www.kosmicmusic.com/do/product/KIN-10019

I bought four of the 7 volumes, just to listen analyze, put my 2 cents of thought. Three weeks later, I am hooked. There maybe a niche that this music has unearthed. From a cognitive point of view,  the Indian mind has not been traditionally trained to appreciate the purity of sound and take it for exactly what it is. This is a major reason why jugalbandi’s and fusion had very little takers.  Also prayer was not considered a genre of music to tamper or experiment with. This CD series though has lent credibility to mixing prayers with and different family of music. The westerners figured this out with Gospel rock long time ago.

From a “share of the ear perspective”  music, drive music and lounge music did not mix until now.

One of the reasons why I think this mixture is pleasant and will find takers is the subtility of the mixture, the beats are “in the back ground” preludes, and interludes complement the prayer and do not take a life form of their own. the mind does not feel  impious, impure or like there is a breach of sanctity.

Further research lead me to the musician behind this series, found here:

http://www.hindu.com/lf/2005/06/12/stories/2005061213120200.htm

Amazing what a 23 years old from a tiny town is capable of doing.  Something also to be said about the state where the two most popular Hindu prayer singers are Christians.

Thank you Stephen Devassy for introducing me to  some of the finest prayer chants…and also adding prayer into my regular life…the girls singing the vocals could do a much better job.

I bought 4, am off to the store to buy the remaining 3 CD’s.

Mumbai – Now what?

Its quiet an irony, 15 years ago I spent a whole evening with a bunch of friends and acquaintances, kickoff a drink at Leopold, movie at Regal, dinner and drinking at the Taj and chat in Marine drive till the am, followed by breakfast at the Oberois. We were a bunch of management trainees from a bunch of cos, who spent a good portion of our months salary that night. I do not really remember each of the participants, in fact I almost forgot about that evening (I shouldn’t since I was the designated driver and did not consume alcohol that day..or ever) till one of the partners in crime brought this up to me on facebook. What an evening, I wish the generation next has the same opportunity to have so much fun and go broke by the send week of the month. Hey you were a mgt trainee, its all ok. There are a good bunch of stories from that evening, two of the participants who are now married laid the foundation stone (literally) of their current marital bliss that evening, or so we are led to believe. 

In any case, half a billion opinions have been written on why, why not, what do do next

  • Some hard core right wing conservative who want to get the “Muslims” who are not with “US” to go Pakistan
  • Some pessimists who think this whole thing is a lost cause
  • Some armchair generals who believe pakistan “should be taught a lesson”
  • Some lampost intellectuals who try to link the whole chalta hai and jugad attitude of India to this mess
  • Some frustrated rebel rousers that do the predictable politician bashing (Shoba De included)
  • Some confused flag wavers whose minds are thinking patriotism, body is saying nationalism
  • Some insensitive southy prick that says – why don’t we give up Kashmir in exchange for eternal peace
  • Some too numb to know what to think

Most of these opinions depend to a certain extent on who they come from:

  • wannabe mumbaikars (I probably fall under this category) , I believe to be a “true” mumbaikar you should have spend at least a decade, there, sounds like New Yorker to me..whatever,
  • fake mumbaikarsfolks from other parts who have haven’t made up their mind to live here, but are mumbaikars depending on the topic, and a whole lot of
  • true blue mumbaikars..who I salute. For all the economic awakening, Mumbai is still India ONLY city and
  • vicarious mumbaikars, rest of the country, world, who think they know and understand Mumbaikars.

Well none of these opinions come close to what i value as an opinion on this issue. Only MJ Akbars http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/dec/02mumterror-pakistan-will-have-to-pay-a-heavy-price.htm came somewhat close, but even he gradually shifts to the right lane. So hey, I decided to join the melee and put my point out there.

Firstly, the islamic angle to the whole thing is undeniable. I also do not quiet believe that delinking Hindu-Indian-Muslim relationship from that of Pakistan supporting such acts is silly. They are all sides of the same prism.

Secondly, the fact that there is enormous strategic thinking that went into this act of terror is quiet evident. Look at the activities that followed, Condi Rice, Patreus, John McCain come calling (dint happen since Kargil), politicians heads rolled ala Patil, for minimal cost (probably 10 Lakhs all put together) they inflicted billions of rupees of damage, Pak was wondering shifting 100K soldiers from the western front, new ATS department etc…

Lastly, the fact that this could not have been done with local help is to me fairly clear. I am no anti-terrorism expert but unless you are james bond, there is no way you can get into Taj Mahal Hotel without local help.

Lets look at the stakeholders and who lost and gained

  • Pakistan state : Already maligned as the Varsity of the Jihad for Asia if not the world, has little to gain politically, economically, strategically or financially. Sure it sends a message that we have a soft underbelly that they can strike at a time and place of their choosing, But we already know that. 100% security is a myth.
  • Mumbai Underworld : have little to gain form this, they cannot afford to face public wrath and increased police pressure.
  • Indian Muslims : out of the 150 million muslims 99.999 % do not benefit.
  • 0.00001% of the disenfranchised muslim : retribution , payback and a demand for percieved respect.
  • BJP / Right wing : Win the next election on the basis of security?? Even they are not that cheap.
  • Terrorist in NWFP, have a huge amount to gain, their on reprieve is to get Pak to take its forces off of the western front.
  • NSA / Raw : Sure they have lots to gain, increased funding, increased personnel, authority etc… But they are not sophisticated western three letter agencies to pull this off (This is a possibility if you listen to the analyst on Pak TV)
  • LeT : Yeah, shows their might, but its completely against their cause and may loose support from their loyal support base

It is clear that the 0.000001% of the muslim population and the terrorists in NWFP are clearly to gain from this whole thing. I can only ask you to imagine if the minuscule India muslims start increasing in number what the result would be….. There was NO India muslim related violence till Babri Masjid. I mean, look at the hindi movies, till the 80’s these guys were paan chewing, red haired, sher-shayari loving, qawali listening, namaazing dudes.

There is little that India can do about the NWFP. All we can do is to take care of the muslims in India and try to diminish the lost section of the Muslim society. This is certainly less expensive, and less complicated than some of the other social engineering experiments I have been reading in the perss from so called “experts”.

Lets look at some well kown issues / facts about the Indian muslims: Majority of them live in poverty, have little education and are the fastest breeders. The fastest breeders actually being a result of the first two. If you are poor, your odds of getting taken care in old age greatly increases if you have 10 kids and hope one of them makes it in life. 

India is a land of immense unpredictability, a small minority of Muslims feel that same is the case with their civil rights, social liberties and justice. Take Godhra for example, the man with his hand folded pleading for his life, on the cover of every magazine across the country sending one message “When the rubber hits the road, the state, the mosque, the community, the security apparatus…nothing will protect them” and there stems the real issue. For this section there is every reason to turn this belief into the truth, Babri Masjid happened, Mumbai Riots happened, Godhra happened, along with a plethora of incidents that just cannot be swiped off as “exceptions”. For this section of the populace the man with the golden gun is indeed the never wavering saviour or a perpetual succour.

A long systemic cleansing of this feeling is the only true liberation that can make our Intelligence agencies intelligent, our security apparatus more secure and out politicians irrelevant. How can this be done?

  • Continual appeasement and over the top embrace of the marginalized muslims. Yes, I said it. It is time to go out of the way to ensure that every muslim feel safe, secure and Equal. Job quotas for Muslim, federal and state loan for muslim small businesses, education funds, education systems, the works. Remember poor muslims are in real danger of becoming today’s schedule casts.
  • Unified civil code, Most reports indicate that even Muslims want this. Ask the muslim women who have been divorced, they will tell you.
  • Encourage cross-religious marriage: The govt. should offer three years of no tax, marriage allowance etc…to promote such marriages.  There is no integration like marital integration. (for a similar case study refer to the Sikhs that migrated to California in the late 1800s, Chinese rail road workers in early 1900s and current african and Hmong immigrants to the United States. Also according to the latest census Muslims have a better female to male ratio compared to the national average. SOme cross pollination could help.
  • Form a joint task force with Pakistan to eradicate terrorism: Come on,  they got their Marriot blown up. Do you think they have any control on who operates on their land and who does’nt?

and someone please tell Advani to apologize for the Babri Masjid that started this whole nightmare.

Healing is a tough process. My friends had close calls when this happened, a friend of my wife died. It takes time to heal, this time it may not completely heal at all. Calling Mumbai a resilient city that will march on is like  saying that a hurt Whale continues to swim close the shore in the pacific…neither has a choice…that’s why. With 20 million people looking to make ends meet, pay rent, mortgage, credit card bills, food and an occasional movie, there is no time to stop and cry. Shit happens…move on.

Ta.

This book was sold last year, but somehow was prominently displayed at most book stores in my recent trip (from the US) to Hyderabad and B’bay. I had not heard about the book. I bought it just cause the author was my namesake…nothing else.

I must confess, this was the best Rs. 195 I had spent in a while. I finished the book in one sitting, on the flight(s) back, something I hadn’t done in a long long time.

The book is gripping, maintains a steady pace, belongs in the genre of Erich Seghal & the more modern hindi movies like Corporate and Page 3. For one, the language, a la sentence construction was simple, in line with what New York times calls “easy to be read”. Rarely do you get to read an Indian author who does not make you refer to a dictionary every third page or uses plentiful adjectives or superfluous prose as a part of “literary license”. The book is also efficient, every line makes sense, in the right place and forms a distinct thread that weaves the overall story. No waste of space, no waste of words.

The target audience that is most likely to “get” this book are the MBA’s or aspiring MBAs. Anyone one who was a management trainee in the early 90’s in India (your truly belongs to this category) can relate to this story pretty well. I think its one of the best times for management grads as this period was when the fruits of liberalization was creating avenues and opportunities unheard of in the past. The world was really yours to take. This generation has many many “firsts” like retail banking, retailing itself, centralized media buying, media explosion, service industry culture, information technology, H1 visa and mass immigration to the US, birth of Indi-pop, chummaries, and ATM’s.  

Ravi explores one such first , the world of retail MNC banking in early 90’s. He writes the story in a quasi flashback way – takes you through two decades by following the the careers and actions of two management trainees –  Swami, a quintessential south india tambram brain and Sandeep, a sassy smart north indian. At a philosophical level the story is good vs evil, resulting in the obvious victory for the good. Ravi explores the interpersonal dynamics of a typical young team, and how their early experiences and their own convictions shape them as leaders. He brings in many characters to lend an authentic backdrop for the book, names are well chosen.

The story illustrates the sharp tactical thinking and the fine ethical line that corporate execs are required to tow to achieve unprecedented success. It explores how power & money can corrupt young managers, how sass and savvy can take you to the top , but how unwavering integrity keeps you there. Ravi also successfully portrays bonds of true friendship, relationship and family life in the wake of a successful MNC career. There is also a realistic but heavy doze of women and how someone in power can abuse them, this forms an important but background thread of the story.

My highlights of the books are

  • Character build ups: The way each character enters the story is amazing. For example : Swami sitting on a bench outside the office early in the morning memorizing every line in the economic times 
  • Action description that portrays emotions :  This is where Ravi really scores. Here is an example. There is a line which says roughly says Sandeep hangs up the phone on his wife when Swami walks into his office, almost glad that he had a reason to hang up – This totally sums up the relationship between Sundeep and his wife at that point int he story
  • Numerous charecters yet distinct place for each of them: There are over 35 charecters in the book, each having a disctinct personality and playing a very specific part and none of them redundant. Its amazing how with so many charecters you never confuse one with the other.
  • Simple story well told: The story is fairly simple and so is the delivery : that combination has a certain finesse to it that makes it an enjoyable read.

What I did not like was that the ending was quiet predictable, but the curiosity of how the author would present the ending kept me reading. 

IGWAB is one of those books that will make a great Hindi movie : Akshaya Khanna for Sundeep and Madhavan for Swaminathan, Preity Zinta for Natasha and Vidya Balan for Kalpana, Music in typical Indian groove with ESL doing the score..super hit man!!!

I am a die-hard Suneeta Rao fan, so this blog is likely to have a major bias. So much so that I am still waiting for her autograph per my sister-in-law’s promise (she worked with Suneeta). I know the readers are going to kill me here, but I would easily consider her to be India’s Sting (Gordon Sumners that is). Look at the similarities, both are time tested (over a decade and a half to two), both evolve with time (80’s pop to soft rock to alt rock / tempo of 90’s and 2000’s) and both have amazing vocals.

I must say her latest release, Waqt is vintage Suneeta, very unlike some of her mid-life experiments

http://www.suneeta-rao.com/index1.htm

Suneeta gets the indi-pop formula right. Firstly she sticks to the basics that created her fan base:

  • Popish vocals interspersed with powerful indian classical accents “Note this is so unlike the retro fitting fusion artists”
  • Consistent across the scale moments, hitting the low and the high octaves
  • Innovative beats
  • Folksy rhythm accomplishments
  • Great use of the base guitar
  • Memorable preludes

Secondly, she does not hard to blend to a genre like the indian rock bands, read my previous blog on the review of Rock On, you will know what I am talking about.

Third,  she stops at the right now. She makes sure all aspects of the music are tempered, no extra alaap’s (other that the prelude for India Girl.

Here is quick review of the songs

  • Aaj Mohe : average, nothing major to write home about
  • Indian Girl : Decent vocals, innovative chorus,
  • Ishq Da : Not an original song, but the song has awesome vocals, a little bit of Qurbani movies influence. Other than the ISHQ word this song is pretty good
  • Lage More nain : Vintage Suneeta, you can see the RnB influence when the “pop” part of the song comes into play, very well interlaced instrumentals. Gori tera gaun bada meets colonial cousins
  • Sun Zara : this is a song gone wrong, funny lyrics,  questionable beat, reminded me of those songs that Nirupa Roy used to sing to God to get her sons bask..only this time there are english chorus
  • Waqt : Pretty funky and haunting, melange of good aspects of indian modern rock feel, some powerful indian classical, some Hip-Hop, chants, my favourite in the album

But Suneeta, seriously next time please get a better lyricist. Its high time we stop using word like Leherein, Pyar, Mohabbat, Barsat, parvana, dil, etc… come on I am sure we can find a great story without using those words …you have already proved that with Kesariya !!!!

 

Awesome preludes, great lead riffs, questionable lyrics, substandard  chorus,  unoriginal score, poor drumming, zero consistency – somehow music does not all come together.

Given the hype and lead in, I really had really high expectations for the music of Rock On: Maybe one reason why I am fairly disappointed. The music and the movie epitomize the struggle that India Rock music is facing and likely to face for a while to come : Brilliant Talent, poor execution.  The sheer might of the talent comes right at your face in the lead riffs of Sindbad the Sailor and Socha Hai, the lyrical genius is apparent, then why oh why is the music substandard? What makes rock music rock? (Also refer to my previous blog on musical orgasm) Let’s go back to a few classic Indian rock sound tracks (in my opinion)

·         Ground Zero : 13 AD

·         Indus Creed : Rock N Roll Renegade

·         Strings : Anjaane

·         Most songs of Junoon

The underlying theme is easy to detect even for the musically challenged musically orgasmic chorus, unique lead, temo that perfectly paints the lyrical canvas and perfectly laid interludes. While it is difficult to create, you cannot go wrong with your audience with this pattern. Music of Rock on fails in all these categories. Even in comparison to a recent comparable score of Life in a Metro, Rock On does not rock. The song, Rishtey of Life in a Metro had many a good attributes going for, while not all perfect, songs were decent, well directed and composition well executed.

Here is what I think about some of the songs:

Sindbad the sailor : prelude is great, then comes the average rest of the song

Socha Hai : Great prelude, great lead riff, surrounded by below average lyrics and an unimaginative chorus

Pichle Saat Dindon – Come on, someone actually believed you  could make a live version of this song,  Shankar Ehsaan, Loy, what were you guys thinking???

Zehreelay – Looks like a pretty pointless song that ESL added when they are really tired of working on this movie. Beta grunge to abhi door ki baat hai, pehela, garage ka soocho!

Tum Ho – a corny attempt at being an anthem / ballad song in the rock album (a la Poison’s Every rose has its thorn)

Ye Tumhari – What is this song?  I didnt get it.

The movie preview in Yahoo (http://in.movies.yahoo.com/upcoming-detail.html?news_id=170 ) is pretty hilarious, the Synopsis reads “In 1998, rock music had a shot in the arm with the emergence of Grunge. The voice of teenage angst found an audience across the globe and rock music seemed like it was on the threshold of becoming the leader in mainstream music.“ Dude, whoever you are, you must be stoned when you wrote this. Here are some fairly basic info on the characteristics of grunge

·         Grunge started in late 80’s, peaked in the early 90’s (Nirvana 1990-91) declined / stabilized by 1998

·         Altered chords, heavy distortion, feedback

·         Slow, complex and altering tempo

·         Mostly Baritone (heavy) serrated vocals

Music from Rock On is anything But.  Other than Zehreelay (which sucks!!!) nothing in the play list even comes close to grunge.  At best its pop-rock with some good lead thrown in.

Music directors, musicians et al. your current generation is fairly advanced in term of taste, exposure and understanding of Rock music…please grow up.  I also have this nagging feeling that (ESL) Ehsaan, Shankar & Loy are having creators block. Reminds me of the time in the late 90’s that the famous ARR created some pretty bland music. Whack pack time people!!!

Then again, the Indian movie audience is pretty unpredictable, given the insatiable appetite for “rock” this movie may have its short moment in the sun with metro youth audience.  A few months down, there is nothing in the music that will make me remember it.

I hope the movie is much better, I look forward to watching it. In Mid-west America that means a wait for 3 or 4 months before the DVD releases or my begging and pleading with the local grocery to rent the theater and play this movie sooner.