Monday, November 21, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Triumph of Will

A troubled childhood leaves the prince a stutterer, but nothing worse. He grows up to be a normal adult, a loving husband and father, and what is more, an intelligent royal with adequate understanding of the role of royalty in politics.

As a child the prince was being pinched by the nanny when presented before his parents, the King and the Queen of England, to show him in bad light. He also experienced his younger brother's long illness and subsequent death, and was made to undergo excruciating pain on account of the steel braces he had to wear to set right his knock knees. A very dominating father and a bully of an elder brother completed the picture of the young prince's growing up woes and erosion of self confidence.

It takes someone with a deep understanding of human nature to bring to the surface these early life episodes and to show them as the contributing factors for the Prince's speech impairment. The plot of the movie revolves around the lively tussle between the so called speech therapist, Dr Logue (Geoffrey Rush), without a formal medical education and the blue blood (Colin Firth), who finds it very difficult to shed his royal pomposity to accept the therapist as an equal. These moments of vacillation by the prince on the face of contrived provocation by the therapist, gives the movie its high points. Logue shows remarkable sangfroid in his moments of dejection and humiliation. The scene at Westminster Abbey on the eve of the coronation of the Prince as King George VI brings out the best in both Firth and Rush, who play out a protracted duel as vexation, anger and snobbery get a free flow. In the end the duel turns out to be the personal triumph for both the contestants, as both of them overcome great challenges.

I had started watching the movie with great hesitation, as I thought stammer is too insignificant a subject to knit a story around. But my fear was short lived because soon I discovered that stammer was just a peg on which hangs a great tale of trust, friendship, and of psychological triumph.

As to whether these factors are good enough to bring the movie all the Oscars it won, in the face of stiff competition from other good movies of the year, I have my own doubts. But then Oscar always loves the high and mighty. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Bend in the River: A Review

Heart of DarknessA Bend in the RiverNo writer understands the psychology of the uprooted better than V.S. Naipaul, who was directly affected by the tides of history that took his ancestors from some nondescript Indian village to the plantations of Trinidad. Struggle for assimilation and cultural conflicts are thus recurring themes in Naipaul's novels. When the master craftsman posits his rootless characters in a milieu shaped by the forces of neocolonialism, the plot gets really complicated and multifaceted.

Salim inhabits such a world of complexity, which is unpredictable, violent, confused and given to whims and caprices of the mighty. The locale is an unnamed country in Africa--which many presume to be Congo--writhing under the weight of its violent liberation from colonial rule. Salim, comes from a family of Indian descent, settled in the East Coast of Africa. He is out in search of his destiny in the war ravaged society. 

Salim's self-imposed exile takes him on a westward journey into the heart of Africa that is reminiscent of the slaves' march from central Africa to the eastern coasts in the 18th century. Like the slaves Salim is moving towards the great unknown, an area of bloody rampage, but unlike theirs, his journey is voluntary.
Colonialism and NeocolonialismThe Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (Borzoi Books)
We see the city where Salim comes to take up his business, with his alert and observant eyes. The narrator Salim is an intelligent and practical man, trying to settle down with his own entrepreneurship. He is hard working, sympathetic and judicious. But the ebb and flow of events in the fast changing post-revolution society rattles his confidence and leaves him at the mercy of the political developments. He reads the signs of things early on and takes a sensible decision to leave. When he leaves the place in a steamer, we see a land of utter chaos and hopelessness receding from his view.

Naipaul presents his views on African people and politics, their culture and mysticism through his sensitive narrator very deftly. The writer is not very optimistic about the people, who are perennially trapped in their ambivalence towards non-African or western society and culture. While on the one hand they destroy all the external trappings of the exploiters' culture, on the other hand the dictator shamelessly imitates the French ruler's symbols of power. While the western powers are labeled as exploiters, corruption in its most vicious form squeezes the society dry.

Naipaul shines as he paints the heart of darkness. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Plastic English

English as a Second Language  I was bewildered when a young junior colleague handed me an application for leave ‘for attending son-in-law’s marriage.’
“Correct this”, I said handing the application back to him.
“Sorry sir, the date has been finalised, it can not be corrected now,” he protested.
‘Er…I meant this, not the date,” I said, pointing at where “son-in-law” was written on the paper.
Indian English: Language & CultureLooking confused, he said, “What is there to correct, sir? He is my saala, the son of my in-laws”. What I presumed to be a casual slip, turned out to be a matter of conviction for him, backed by what seemed to him an unassailable logic.

Pidgin: Lonely Planet PhrasebookIndians and English: Facing Off in Early America            English language always lends itself to innovative uses by people for whom it is not their first language. But no one employs such ingenuity as do the denizens of Indian officialdom. Consider the predicament of the gentleman, single-handedly manning a remote outpost, when the condition of his ailing wife deteriorated. This was the text of the telegram he sent to his head office, `Wife serious, send substitute.’ Or imagine the shock the husband must have received when he called up the office of his wife, who worked as the head cashier in a bank. After a long wait he was politely informed, “Madame is giving delivery in the strong room, Please call after sometime.”

1984 (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)            These are not instances of Orwell’s `Doublespeak’, nor are they examples of double entendre employed by creative writers.  Forced to use a foreign tongue in a demanding work situation, the effervescent babus unwittingly produce these gems by the dozen.

             But the language does not always get the better of the babus. As the following example will depict, with some amount of ingenuity, the language can be manipulated to the best advantage of the user.

Beating the System: Using Creativity to Outsmart Bureaucracies            This was a time when license raj was still a way of life, and not a term of derision. The babus ruled the roost, then. A man came to an office to apply for, what else, a license. The babu demanded his pound of flesh. As the price seemed a bit steep, the man set out to explore other possibilities. The MLA of his area came to his rescue and took him to the minister, who turned out to be still more cooperative. The minister asked for the application and wrote ‘Approved’ on it. When the man came to the babu next morning to collect his license, the babu had already added ‘not’ before the word ‘approved’. Exasperated, the man realized his mistake and asked in a conciliatory tone if anything could be done at that stage. The babu reassured him that
nothing was impossible there, but only the price would be much more than what had been asked for initially. After money changed hands the babu asked the man to come the next morning to collect his license.  The man came the next day, and the babu showed him his application. The ‘Not approved’ now read `Note Approved’. The license was issued without any further delay.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Cat Must Live

Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter (Dixie Hemingway Mysteries, No. 1)There is a popular proverb "Curiosity kills the cat", which is used to warn
against being too curious, lest it may prove very harmful. But when it comes to being inquisitive about others, no one can beat us Indians, especially the middle class Indians. 

You meet someone after a long gap, or someone is introduced to you: what kind of conversation ensues? 
More likely than not you are asked about what your children are doing; where are they employed; what was the JEE rank of your daughter; where did she take the 
engineering coaching; where have you purchased your flat; 2 BHK or 3 BHK and so on and so forth. Your interlocutor is not satisfied until you are stripped bare of all your personal details.    

What is the purpose behind this trampling on your privacy? In my analysis, this is to compare his 'achievements' with yours. If,  in his estimate, he is ahead of you, his conversation suddenly turns smug and pompous, even a few theories are thrown in about where you might have 'gone wrong'. Thank you buddy, I am not interested.

If somehow your inquirer feels that you have 'surpassed' him in these important areas, he will proffer many uninvited explanations for his relative failure: What kind of postings I've got, see I could not give the attention to my children's studies like you all did, blah blah blah. Come on buddy, I'm not interested in this either.

Lalu Prasad Yadav once said that the people travelling in train are more social and they gossip a lot, making the journey lively, unlike the air travelers who remain tight-lipped throughout the journey. During train journeys you will often come across strangers, who are interested in your complete bio-data. All their conversation will point to unearth your material worth. If you don't measure upto him, he will stop the
conversation and find someone else.

I am not advocating the culture of 'stiff upper lip' by which the Englishmen are known. It is said that,  to avoid curiosity of a stranger they would hide their faces with the newspapers. No, not something like this, but please do not be nosey about others. Let a lively conversation ensue, and be happy with whatever 'information' you get from the context of the talk, without prying into someone's privacy.   

Friday, January 21, 2011

Telephone Travails

Panasonic Dect 6.0 Metallic Gray Cordless/Corded Phone with Answering Machine (KX-TG1062M)When Alexander Graham Bell invented telephone in 1875, did he have any inkling of the overarching influence his invention would have on the world of business? Now telephone stands as a golden mean between the demanding and wasteful physical contact and the cold and impersonal medium of mails. It has the ‘human touch’, the immediacy of the message and two-way flow of the communication, in addition to the fact that distance does not matter to it. No wonder modern business has lapped up the machine as the most ideal tool for furthering customer service.

Just wait for a second. If you unconditionally agree to whatever I have said so far, then in all probability, you do not use telephones, or its modern avatar, mobile phones. If you use them, like all of us do, then you probably have your pockets full of complaints about the use of telephones/ mobiles in customer service.
Vtech DECT 6.0 Expandable 2-Handset Cordless Phone System with Digital Answering Device and Caller ID (CS6229-2) 
Customer Service: A Practical Approach (5th Edition)Here is a sampling of my bitter tales. The toll free numbers starting with 1800 look very enticing till you key in the numbers. The number punching never stops: you are to make choice of your language, the service that you want, your identification, validity of your card, all these in numbers. Anything that can be represented in numbers is extracted from you. Due to unsteady fingers/ fading lights/ lack of clarity or your plain nervousness you falter and punch a wrong number and your woe gets doubled, you start the punching game all over again. If you are efficient and lucky enough to punch the right keys you reach at the doorstep of the customer service executive. Your whole purpose of the day was to talk to this gentleman/ lady with a golden touch, so why this clutter, you wonder.

One Night @t the Call CentreCustomer Service Training 101: Quick and Easy Techniques That Get Great ResultsWith your heart leaping in delight you wait for the executive to respond and right all your wrongs, when the mechanical voice reminds you “Sorry, our customer service executive is busy responding to other customers’ calls, you are in a queue, you will be attended shortly”.  Good enough, you comfort yourself as the computer switches on the piped music to relax your tensed nerves. After a while the music stops and you hope to hear the human voice at last, but no, the earlier announcement is played out once again: you are still in the queue,, some more music. This game goes on and on, and if you have not yet banged the phone out of exasperation, you hear a voice indicating that your saviour is at hand. But he does not accept you at your face value, he wants proof. You ferret out your mother’s maiden name, your date of birth, your PAN Card number and so on. On passing this identity test you speak out your problem to the executive. After a lot of Q & A you are told that you had to visit the City Customer Care Centre to resolve your issue.

"Is there anything else I can do for you? Thanks for calling.....Have a nice day", you hear the voice taunting you.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lost & Found

Lend Me Your CombThe Best Short Stories of O. Henry (Modern Library)You have probably heard the proverb "Experience is a comb life gives you after you lose your hair."

Or have heard The Beatles song (Originally Carl Perkins)   (lend me your comb 45 rpm single),

“Lend me your comb
It’s time to go home
I got to go past
My hair is a mess”

Or you must have read about the comb in O.Henry’s story ‘The Gift of the Magi’, in which both Stella and Jim give up their most prized possession to purchase a gift for the other – Stella sells her beautiful hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch while Jim sells his watch to buy a tortoise shell comb for Stella’s hair. Both gifts are useless on the physical level but priceless on the spiritual level for they have each received the perfect gift in that both of them know and are known, love, and are love
SHANY professional Comb set -10pcs - premium quality
I came face to face with all the three above recently. I was experienced with life’s lessons; my hair was a mess; and I was out of my comb, with which I had a strong spiritual bonding.

You can imagine how I felt the other day when I could not locate my priceless grooming tool. I was touring, so I rummaged through my suitcase to find my comb. It was nowhere. The sense of loss was intense, quite stronger than the one I would experience upon losing a mobile charger or a notebook. The reason was obvious: it was no ordinary comb for me, fond memories were associated with it. I didn’t want to let go of those memories, I didn’t want to lose the comb.

Fond Memories Of Frank RosolinoBut to launch a salvage operation for something as trifle as a comb...? My mind protested. My heart won’t let go.

I picked up the phone and connected to the hotel I had checked out the night before. Hesitantly I put forth my unusual request of locating my lost comb to the receptionist. After five minutes or so he called back, only to say that they had completed a thorough combing operation of my suite, and the lost article was nowhere to be found.

Revlon RV2526 Color Swirl Jumbo Comb (Colors May Vary)‘OK, Thanks’, I said with a heavy heart, and tried to disentangle myself out of the object’s maya. I was well into my mission when the phone rang again and the receptionist opened with a cheerful “Good evening Sir.” I knew what he was going to report. “Sir, your comb was found in a drawer. Please arrange to collect it from the hotel.”

The article is now on its way to me. Seems like I’ll remain under the spell of the comb for some more time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Missed Train, Not the Fun

Waiting for the Morning Train: An American Boyhood (Great Lakes Books)The early morning train starts to move in a languid pace. You see some passengers hopping on to the moving carriages, their sighs of relief too loud for you to miss. You are still some distance away, giving your best shot to get a grip onto the bar of the the last coach--you do not care if it is the guard's compartment. The guard is swaying a green lantern urging the driver to keep moving, but you feel as if he is mocking at you with every movement of the lantern.

The Great Indian RailwayConflicting thoughts crowd your mind, you look for The Scapegoat: the boy at the hotel counter could have been a little faster in completing your check out; the room service man should have posted the mini bar usage info promptly; if only the Hotel cab would have been at the door a wee bit earlier; why did the porter approach you at the station gate and offer his services--and you gave in--delaying the progress by precious seconds; why the hell did the train leave from platform no. two when you were told that it always left from one; and why the hell did the train leave dot in time, when delay is a way of life in India???? You never leave you out in the Blame Game, rather you take The Lion's Share.

The distance between you and the last coach keeps on growing. You are in two minds, whether to keep trying or giving your stressed system a rest.

You take a deep breath and stop. After all a train is not the only thing you've missed in life, the world is not going to collapse if you do not reach your destination today. You silently appreciate the power of your mind to rationalise things.

As you return to the hotel and enter your room, a realisation dawns in your mind: a whole day of relaxation and indulgence lies ahead of you.