Monday, July 23, 2012

Nothing Comic about The Dark Knight Rises!

One of the defining moments of The Dark Knight Rises, is in the climax when the Gotham Police force face off against The Bane’s men- The policemen, with only batons in their hands, while the outlaws are armed to the teeth with automatic guns and prototype Batmobiles. The policemen, with fear written all over their faces, walk shakily towards the outlaw army. It clearly is a mismatch of epic proportions. Suddenly, the Batman arrives in his Batwing, and destroys the Batmobile prototypes being manned by Bane’s Men. Suddenly, there is hope on the faces of the policemen and they start running towards the outlaw army....

This scene perhaps is the message Christopher Nolan wants to deliver in the concluding edition of his eminently watchable interpretation of the Batman Series (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises). That, there is hope even in the darkest and most hopeless of all situations. I could not help comparing the story with that of Aamir Khan’s blockbuster Hindi movie Lagaan, where a rag-tag team of villagers take on the trained team of English cricketers and defeat them in a cricket match.

Improbable in real life? But hey, how many times have we seen the human spirit conquer supposedly insurmountable obstacles?

Though essentially a comic strip from DC comics, the issues explored by Nolan are anything but child’s play. Again I found parallels with the great Bengali director, Satyajit Ray’s Hirok Rajar Deshe, which in the garb of children’s movie explored serious political issues.

However, while Hirok Rajar Deshe was primarily a comedy, The Dark Knight Rises is as dark as it gets, with characters inspired very much from real life.

The movie begins 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight, when Harvey Dent was killed. Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne is leading the life of a recluse. Gotham has been rid of organised crime, thanks to the Dent Act. However, the peace is soon shattered as Bane attacks Gotham City and takes over the city, cutting off all contact from the rest of the world, turning a fusion core device, originally developed to generate power, into a nuclear bomb, which he threatens to explode, in case any outside help is attempted.

The movie, besides the usual cast of characters, also introduces Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, a cat burglar, who though wearing a cat-woman type costume, is never referred to as Cat-Woman!
At 2 hours and 45 minutes, the movie is pretty long but after the initial 15-20 minutes, when the new characters are introduced into the scheme of things, the pace picks up and it is pretty much edge-of-the-seat stuff, culminating in the thrilling climax!

Batman has a new gizmo in the form of the Batwing, which looks really cool. The action sequences are really breath-taking, including the hand to hand combat between Batman and Bane in the climax.

Christian Bale as Batman, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, reprise their roles with usual competence which was demonstrated in the previous editions.

Anne Hathaway is cutely competent as Selina Kyle and adds the feminine glamour quotient and the much needed lighter moments, in what is essentially a pretty intense and humour less movie.

But, man to watch out is Tom Hardy as The Bane. If Heath Ledger’s Joker was unpredictable and sinister in equal measures, The Bane is perhaps a cross between The Hulk and Professor Moriarty!
With a mask on his face, and a soft voice in contrast to the body of wrestler, Bane is quietly menacing. But, the only drawback of the mask is that his words are not very clear, and one has to strain to understand what he is saying.

The movie explores issues like economic collapse, collapse of social structure due to disparity of wealth between the haves and have-nots and urban terrorism which are very contemporary and relevant in today’s world.

A movie which provides a very satisfying end to the first two episodes, The Dark Knight Rises is a must watch for any movie buff.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

O Nissar, Where Are You?

Has it ever happened to you?
Have you ever faced a situation where you were forced by circumstances to do something which was detestable to say the least? And you had to keep on doing the same, inspite of your protestations, inspite of your severe dislike for the task. And you had to do it week after week, month after month, year after year. And yet, strangely enough, as time passed the task became more bearable, and inspite of yourself, you find yourself actually liking the job! Though, you would rather give an arm and a leg, than admit as much! has happened to me.
It happened to me at the tender age of 5 or maybe it was 6. My father decided that I was old enough to accompany him to the local market, for the weekly purchase of vegetables and fish (Bengali family, right?).  This ritual would happen every Sunday, which according to him would help me learn an important element of household work, and also build my character!
 Now, for kids growing up in the pre-cable TV era, Sunday morning was the most looked forward to time in the entire week, for TV viewing. And my favourite was “The Famous Five” which used to start at 9 a.m. and of course, as fate would have it, I used to miss the serial every time. Boy, did I hate my dad for ‘conspiring’ to make me miss my favourite serial. And no amount of tantrums, pleading, cajoling would move my father, or convince him to my point of view- that it was more important that I watch “The Famous Five” than go to the market!
And for anyone who has not had the misfortune to visit any fish market in Calcutta, to parody the iphone ad.... if you haven’t seen a Calcutta fish market, haven’t seen a fish market!
No one has ever accused our markets to be clean, dry hygienic places and add to that a dash of monsoon, and you have a health hazard! Now, I have nothing against the rain or rainy season, but, call me un-romantic if you will, but getting wet wet wet with 2 heavy bags in two hands and an umbrella wedged between your neck and shoulder in a place where “mud is all around”....well, it’s not my recipe for a perfect start to Sunday morning!
Then there was the daily haggling over the price, for everything ranging from fish to figs!! A typical session would go like this:
Dad: How much for the rohu?
Fish-Seller: Babu, Rs.35 per kilo
Dad:  Thats extortion, max I will pay is Rs.30...
Fish-Seller: Babu that does not even cover my cost... Just for you, i will sell at no profit...Rs.33 only!
Dad: Rs.32 and not a paise more
And so on and so forth.....till a mid point was reached and the sale closed....
And of course, the sights and sounds and overbearing smells of a local market may put most people off food for weeks. But, after years of exposure, one kinda gets used to it, and it would not be too much to say, it even grows onto you.
And if you are in a place teeming with people, you get to meet with people (by that I mean the vendors) who, on the face of it, are quite run-of-the-mill, but prod a little, and their character leaves an indelible mark on you.
Take, Mr. A. He sells onions, potatoes, ginger and garlic. He used to work in a mill, which closed down. This forced him to become a vegetable vendor. It was a herculean struggle for him, to make the mental & physical adjustment to adapt in a totally different work environment. But, he persevered. Month after month. Year after year. I cannot imagine the quantum of mental toughness Mr. A would have needed to wake up every morning and go to the market to open the shop.. But, all through this struggle, he remained focussed in giving a proper education to his son, who presently is an ASM in a MNC pharma company. Every year he visits his son in Indore, and I am happy to say, he travels by air nowadays. He still sits in the shop, and my guess is, enjoys it too!
Or the elderly Mr. B. He migrated to Calcutta from Bangladesh in the early seventies, penniless and homeless. He settled down with his family of 6 in one of the slums for migrants. He bought the shop in the late seventies, with whatever savings he could manage. Every day, he would start from his home at 3:30 a.m. to go to the wholesale market and from there to his shop. If I recall correctly, he has 5 sons. While the father probably never had formal schooling in his life, 2 of his sons are engineers with good jobs. His sons built a 3 storied house, in which the entire family stays today. I learnt a thing or 2 about quality consciousness from Mr. B. Many a Sunday, he would not set shop, for the simple reason, that he did not get the best quality fish from the wholesale market. No wonder, he would always run out of all his stock within couple of hours of setting shop...Mr. B sold off his shop couple of years back, as he was too old to carry on....
But, my favourite was Md. Nissar, or Nissar Kaku (uncle), as I would call him.  Like thousands other, he had migrated from some small town in Bihar to Calcutta, in search of a living. He did not have his own shop in the market, and was one of the many illegal vendors setting up shop on the footpath outside the market, selling fruits. Of course, he was a favourite with the shoppers, because of his cheerful demeanour and for the fact that he never compromised on quality. And I was his favourite. If it was diwali round the corner, he would actually buy fireworks and crackers for me...If for some reason, I went to the market alone, and was struggling with the load of the bags, he would help carry them across the road, and help me get onto the bus.
He had 2 sons, and not wanting a life similar to his, he put them in a reputed convent school, which was beyond his means. But, the tragedy of it all was, his sons were not interested in studies. They would bunk classes and spend all their time playing. This would make Nissar very upset, and he would express his helplessness at not being able make his sons understand the importance of education. I wish I could say that Nissar’s struggle had a happy result. I wish I could say that Nissar’s economic and social condition improved. I cannot. I don’t remember the year, when the police temporarily intensified their action against illegal roadside vendors. And, just like that, one fine day, Nissar stopped coming to the market. Maybe, he did not pay the local policeman enough bribe to allow him to stay put. Maybe, he found a better location in another market. Maybe, he just decided to call it quits, and went back to his native town. I never found out...

But, then again, is that not true for life in general also. You meet people, for 2 weeks or 2 months or maybe 2 decades, you grow close to them, enjoy their company and feel this would continue forever. But, with time they move their own different way, as destiny deems right. But, they leave their mark, which time cannot rub away completely.....
Now, has that never happened to you?

photo source:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Déjà Vu

Oh, don’t worry I am sure I am going to fail.....the exams are 2 days away....and I don’t remember ANYTHING! ....thank god, I won’t need to show my face to those people again....
Alter Ego??? No no I have not read that topic the conversation turned technical...oh well yes I have checked the definition of all...I guess they are co-workers....oh have studied so much....I am sure I wont remember least you used to take notes in class....I have not done have memorised definitions of all 16 types!!! I cannot even remember the names of the types of behaviours!!!
Journal? What journal? Oh god...i have not written the journal down too....god only knows what’s gonna happen.....

And thus continued the conversation......

Just another teenager on the phone talking to his/her friend on the phone on the night before the exam? Probably such conversations take place across the world every time an exam is round the corner .

But, what made this conversation unique was the fact that it was between two ladies in their fifties and sixties!!!

Ok...I hate to admit it...but one half of the conversation was contributed by none other than Know-all’s Mom!

Taking into consideration the fact that my mom will never see sixty in this life again, you can imagine my amusement! It was as if the years of agony over school and college exams were floating in front of my eyes!

Déjà vu indeed.

To enlighten the readers, Know-All's mom, after her retirement had started taking some courses in training. This was the day before her exam in her institute.

The fact that, I had very reliable sources telling me that she was one of the best students in her class, and the fact that her teachers thought very highly of her analytical and presentation skills, did not matter....

After all, it was exam time!

So, is it really such a terror? Why is it that the very thought of any form of evaluation or examination strikes terror in the heart of most people...whether six or sixty-two!

I still remember the effect my tenth standard exams had on my family. As any Indian will confirm, for every literate and educated (I consider the two words to convey different meanings) Indian, the tenth standard exams are the first big ticket examination of her or his life. Partly because, it’s the first exam, in which the question papers are set by people who are not your school’s teachers, whom you know personally. Moreover, the people in charge of the education board in their sadistic wisdom decided to make it even more terrifying by having external centres for the exams. This meant, all students had to travel to another school for the first time in their life. At least, for my friends it was the first time.

And to add the proverbial twist in the tale, we had the cricket world cup bang in the middle of my tenth exams. And to add insult to injury, India kept on doing well in the tournament, and they set up the mother of all battles against Pakistan in Bangalore for a place in the semi finals. Of course, we had the science exam they day after. And of course, all our discussions were on formulating strategies to be able to watch the day-night match. The exams were the last of our worries!

I still remember, Mrs. Kutty, our English teacher, telling us, “Don’t worry, and watch the match. You will do well in your exams.”

I could not resist replying, “I agree madam. After all, even if we fail in the science exam, we will get another chance to take test, but there will be no second chance to watch the match”. This was in an era when Tata Sky and TV recordings were still 15 years away...

Of course, Jadeja took Waqar to the cleaners by hitting 40 runs in 22 balls, and India had a great win. For the record, I did pass my exam the next day and did not do too badly.

Then there were the side-acts which made this blog possible. I remember reaching the examination centre and finding my friends huddled together and going through last minute notes. However, one of my friends, Hrushikesh seemed unusually quiet and glum. On some probing, out came the truth. He had got the schedule mixed up, and come to take the science exam, prepared for the mathematics exam!  Of course, he came out with flying colours in the exam in spite of the mix-up.

The twelfth standard exams were much more serious for me. I was specifically petrified of physics and could not stop fretting before the practical exams. Finally, my friend, Sudip snapped,”Will you please stop this nonsense. Now, you are freaking ME out!”
Getting that from the best student in physics was no mean achievement!

Of course, i did not stop my antics there. During the viva the teacher asked, “Is LED a diode? “

“Huh?? LED? Ummmm..let me see...I guess....”
The teacher snapped, “What’s the full form of LED?”                              
“I know that. It’s...ummm....light emitting diode”
“So, is it a diode?”
“Yes’s a diode”

Looking back, I laugh at my antics...but believe me, in the hall, I was sweating...and not just because of the humidity.

Let’s fast forward to the present generation. Take the example of my next door neighbours. Their son is in the 9th standard. Often I meet the son at the apartment gate on my way to office while he waits for his car pool alone.
But, couple of days back I find that both his parents are waiting with him at the gate to see him off. Why? Because his exams had started...

Getting back to my mom’s exam. The day of the exam came and I was of course having the critical task of driving her down to the centre, and ensure that she reached ON TIME. And I know better than to mess up my mom’s schedule!

All through the drive, she kept glued to her notes, and kept flipping the pages, and kept repeating periodically...”I cannot remember anything. I will surely fail.” I could not help but thinking that she was behaving just like any other college going student before an exam. But, another part was admiring the fact that she was facing an exam after probably more than 4 decades!

But, that brings me to the question which is today a BIG debating point. Do these high pressure exams make sense? Do they really prepare today’s kids for tomorrow’s battles? Or is it that the fatigue of exams takes a severe psychological toll, from which many can never recover?

I don’t really have answers. But, let me give some food for thought.

Every professional will agree that that every time you enter a review meet with your boss; it is nothing short of an exam. And in this exam, the answers are not always very easy to find or provide. And in many cases, the right answers may not be provided!
Or, as any one working in a bank will agree, every time there is an audit, it’s nothing short of an exam paper on integral calculus, mistakenly given to a student of Arts!

So, it’s a scenario which is far more challenging and pressure cooker like, than any school-leaving or college exam. And similar situations may occur in your personal life too, with your wife, your kids and your parents.

Maybe the years of examinations day in and day out are meant to prepare us better, to face the daily examination called LIFE.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Night Time Ride in a Yellow Cab

This blog is for all those brave hearts who have experienced hailing and if lucky travelling in a cab on the streets of Calcutta.

For someone who frequently travels by cabs, I always have a feeling similar to the one I used to have in school when awaiting my results of Hindi (the only subject in which I have the distinction of failing once, in my life). Or, as Forrest Gump would have said if he ever had the misfortune to travel by a cab in Calcutta, it’s like a box of chocolates…you never know what you are gonna get!

And as majority of Calcuttans would agree, more often than not, the box turns out to be empty.

You see, in Calcutta, the tables are well and truly turned the other way.

Let’s visualize an interaction to initiate a cab ride in a Utopian world.

Person wants to travel to a certain place. He hails an empty cab. Cab stops.  Person hops on. States destination. Cab starts rolling down the road….happy ending!!!

Now let’s shift gears to Calcutta…

Scenario 1:
Lady hails Cab. Cab slows down but does not really stop. Cab driver looks askance at the lady with eyebrows raised one-eighth of an inch, which would make Jeeves the butler so proud!!

Lady (with a pleading look on her face): Jaaben? (Will you take a fare?)
Cabbie: Kahaan Jaana hain? (Where do you want to go?)
Lady: I want to go to Esplanade.
Cabbie: No, I don’t want to go north. I am travelling down south.

And with that, the cab picks up speed leaves the lady in distress in a haze of black smoke.

Scenario 2:
Know-All hails cab. Cab stops.

Cab Driver: Where do you want to go?
Know-All: South City Mall
Driver: No, there will be a huge traffic jam near the mall. I don’t want to go there.
Know-All: Ok, where do you want to go?
Driver: I am going towards Esplanade. If you want to go any place on that way, get in.
Know-all: Ok, drop me at the PAS Road crossing

Moral of the story: Life is full of small compromises! J

This is something which every Calcuttan has come to accept and live with. Of course, it’s very difficult if not down right impossible, to keep the Calcuttan down for long. So, you have the occasional memorable interactions, which ends up as a anecdote to add spice to many an evening adda.

Take for instance, my friend Yummraj who has this rebellious spirit which refuses to be cowered by the burly cab drivers and their tank like cabs. He simply refuses to state his destination before boarding the cab.  Of course, as a result, he usually has to hail not less than half a dozen cabs before he gets a cab driver who takes mercy and agrees to take fare without asking for the destination.
And then there was the rare occasion, when the cabbie was taken off-guard.

Yummraj to Cabbie: Wanna go?
Cabbie: Kidher Jaana hai?
Yummraj: Chand pe jaane ka soch raha tha! Aap chaloge? (I was thinking of going to the moon! Will you go?)
The cabbie had certainly not expected such a reply and broke into laughter: Chand pe?? Thik hai…chaliye…le chalte hain (The moon?? Sure thing. Hop on. I am game. )

Or take the case of my friend Mr. Sen, who in his day-time job goes around as a professor of history. But, come sun down, he puts on his mask and goes around bashing and beating irreverent cab drivers to pulp.

Ok, the last part was an exaggeration. But, believe it or not, he once boarded a cab, and stated his destination. The cab driver, not knowing whom he was dealing with, actually refused!
Mr. Sen, instead of getting out of the cab, quietly took out a book from his bag and started reading. The cab driver tried everything from pleading, cajoling to threatening, but to no avail. Mr. Sen kept on reading.
After some fifteen long minutes, the driver understanding the futility of his attempts pleaded, “Dada, ektu beshi kichu diye deben. Ami apnake nie jachchi.”(Sir, please pay me some extra tip, I will take you to your destination). And so, the cab driver lived to tell his tale to his grand children!

On another occasion, I have personally seen Mr. Sen get out and walk away in the middle of a busy road from a cab in fury, because the driver wanted to take a longer route to the destination. Nothing unusual there. But, Mr. Sen did not even bother to pay the fare, even though half the distance to the destination had already been covered. Even that’s not surprising, for people who know Mr. Sen and his fury. The surprising part to me was that the cab driver did not even attempt to ask for the fare.

Of course, it’s been 10 years since I experienced the event, and I make sure to tease Mr. Sen about the incident at every get together. Of course it helps, that god has been generous in providing nearly 4 stones of additional weight to Mr. Sen than what god gave Know-All! J
I learnt my lesson that day….size always matters! J

So, you will appreciate my concern when I left one of our showrooms near Jodhpur Park (an up market locality in South Calcutta) last Tuesday at around 11:00 p.m. I had to travel to my residence in one of the suburban areas of South Calcutta, a place made famous by a certain cricketer named Sourav Ganguly, who happens to reside there.

Now, it is a locality notorious for its traffic snarls and normally getting a cab in daytime to the place is nothing short of a miracle!

So, with some nervousness, I hailed a cab. And he did not disappoint. He refused point blank. After couple more refusals, I decided to cross the road and started walking towards the major junction of Jadavpur Thana, hoping to get better results.

As I was crossing the road, I noticed a cab standing by. I approached it, half expecting another refusal. The driver was an old man, in his sixties.

Muttering my prayers, I asked: “Chalenge?” (Will you go?)

The Driver, to my surprise actually smiled and said: “Sahab, chalne ki liye to baithe hain. Zaroor chalenge. Baithiye. (I am here to take people around. Of course, I will go! Please get in.)”

With mouth gaping in surprise, I opened the door and hopped on. And when I stated my destination, there was no sign of any displeasure, nor did he ask for any extra tip, a common practice, if you are travelling late at night.

I could not keep myself from blurting out: “It’s really such a nice surprise to find someone who agreed to take a fare without asking for the destination.”

The driver replied, “ Saheb, I ply the cab only at night time. How can I afford to refuse anyone?”

Know-All: You mean, you work all night long?
Driver: Yes Babu. I start my day, or night, at around 8 in the evening. I keep driving till about 5 or 6 in the morning. The owner of the car rents it to another driver for the morning period.

Know-All: Don’t you get tired? Working at night? And is it really financially worth the effort?

Driver: Well, it is tough, and I am not getting any younger. I am already 61. But, then again, I have a large family to feed. I have five sons and one daughter.  I have managed to marry off only one of my sons, and the daughter.  Financially, some days are good and I manage to earn even four hundred rupees (around 8 dollars). But, on other days, I am not even able to earn enough to pay the car’s rent. 3 of my sons have started earning. So, they discourage me from driving the cab. But, then again, I drive 3-4 days in a week. And, I believe one should keep working as long as the body permits. Keeps the mind alert.

By this time, we had reached my residence and it was time to get off. The fare was an exact 100 rupees. Even though he did not ask for it, I paid a tip of twenty bucks. He thanked me graciously.

As I went inside to the warmth of my home, the Taxi Driver drove off in search of another fare.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

5 Must Watch Movies this Christmas & New Year

There must have been so many different lists compiled by so many different people about everything under the Milky Way, be it list of best smart phones or lest of best lipsticks to use during winter!  But, sometimes its fun to simply jump onto the band wagon (Or would it be a reindeer powered sledge!). Of course, I am a big-time movie buff and ergo my list of favorite movies to watch this season. But, is there any diktat from St. Nicholas aka Santa Claus regarding the type of movies one should watch? I certainly am not aware of any such memo which Santa might have sent.
So, what type of movies should one watch? While compiling my list, I have tried to keep one thing in mind. Christmas is a time for happiness. So, all the movies I recommend are comedies, i.e. they have a happy ending. Secondly, all of them, and I might be accused of stretching the imagination, espouse some value or other of the spirit of Christmas.
So, watch the movies at leisure and let me know if you like them. And, I honestly believe, these are all evergreen movies, worth watching again and again. So, you can definitely watch them again, if you have seen them all!
In keeping with the trend of any list worth its salt, I will count-down from 5 to 1.
Number 5- One Fine Day

Starring 2 of the most talented stars in contemporary times, George Clooney and Michelle Pfieffer, One Fine Day is the story of two single parents (Pfeiffer & Clooney) whose paths cross one rainy morning in the city of New York, and keep crossing the whole day. Pfeiffer (Melanie) is a divorced single mother, who works as an architect. Clooney (Jack) is a divorced journalist who finds himself saddled with his daughter by his ex-wife (who has re-married and is going on a honeymoon) for the whole week. Melanie’s day starts off on a bad note, because of Jack’s forgetfulness, which causes her son and Jack’s daughter to miss their field trip. This forces both parents to take care of each other’s children, because of the extremely busy work schedule they have. At their respective workplace also, Melanie and Jack face crises which are potentially job threatening. The story beautifully weaves the different incidents the parents face both at work and in managing the kids through the day. Of course, what makes the movie eminently watchable is the wonderful performance by Michelle Pfeiffer, as the hassled mother who is trying to juggle her career and her personal life. Clooney is his usual charismatic easy-going self, as a father who is suddenly made to cope with unforeseen situations.

A feel good movie, it will definitely put a smile on your face, even on the coldest night.

Number 4- Milagro Beanfield War

Directed by one of my favorite directors and actors, Robert Redford, Milagro Beanfield War is one of those quaint movies which never quite make it in the box office. A mix of fantasy and reality, the movie deals with an issue which is quite relevant in today’s India. How do people react when development and big business reaches a rural community?

Set in the fictional rural town of Milagro somewhere in New Mexico, with a predominantly Hispanic population, it tells the story of Joe Mondragon, an unemployed handyman, struggling to eke out a living for his family. Mondragon rebels against the big corporation building a new township in Milagro. All the landholders have sold their land to the corporation except Mondragon. Due to water laws, which allow only the corporation to use the water, Mondragon is unable to use the water from the irrigation ditch running past his farm. A rebellion more impulsive than planned, as the story reveals, the film studies the different perspectives of the situation, without portraying any of the characters as completely villainous or heroic.

I say it’s a must watch this Christmas!

Number 3- Falling In Love

Ok, this one is probably the most intense of all the 5 movies I recommend. For Hindi and Sharukh Khan Movie buffs, it might interest them to note that the Karan Johar movie Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, is based on this movie starring the wonderful Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro. Watch this to decide whether KANK is anywhere near to the original!
2 married strangers meet randomly while shopping for Christmas gifts for their respective families. Their gifts get mixed up, and they again bump into each other on the train to New York. The meeting soon blossoms into romance, before either can realize the same. It’s a story which is makes outstanding viewing, due to the excellent performance of Streep and De Niro.
Why is it ideal for Christmas? Who gives a damn! It’s a good movie so added it to the list! J

Number 2- The Best Years of Our Lives

An absolute golden oldie, this 1946 movie directed by the great William Wyler, is one of my absolute favorites. I must have seen this movie at least 20 times!

Considered one of the greatest films ever by Roger Ebert, the film has a 97% freshness rating at “Rotten Tomatoes”.
Set at the end of the 2nd World War, the movie deals with 3 servicemen returning to their home in the fictional Boone City, and trying to adjust to the life after war.

Fred, Homer and Al meet and become friends while flying back home.

Fred, who used to be a soda fountain operator at a drugstore, became a decorated Captain in the war, He returns home to find that there is no job other than that of the “Soda Jerker” which he is not very keen to be. His wife also enjoys leading a social life, which the salary of a soda jerk does not permit. Moreover, it’s much more glamorous being the wife of a decorated captain than that of a soda fountain operator.
Homer had lost both his arms from burns suffered when his aircraft carrier was sunk. Homer and his family now have trouble adjusting with his disability. This even causes him to move away from his fiancée, as he does not want her to marry a handicapped man out of sympathy.
Al, the senior most of the three, was a bank loan officer, with a wife and an adult daughter, and a son in college. He is offered a senior position in his bank, as the bank expects many servicemen to approach the bank for loans, and having a serviceman would be convenient. Al also has trouble adjusting back into civilian life. To add to his troubles, is the attraction which develops between his daughter and Fred.

The movie is superlative in capturing the inner struggle of its protagonists and how it affects the people around them. Of course, it would not have been possible but for the excellent performance of all the actors.

The movie is about hope and the strength of the human spirit in overcoming any obstacle.

Number 1- It’s a Wonderful Life

Now this is a movie which always is a topper in any list made of movies, whatever category. So, watch it anytime, and you will know you have seen a classic. Of course, it’s something of staple for Christmas time movie viewing. Somewhat similar to the telecast of “Gandhi” by movie channels on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on 2nd October. This Frank Capra masterpiece stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who wants to commit suicide on Christmas Eve, because he feels he is worth more dead than alive.
The story is not new and has been dealt with in different ways in numerous movies and stories. It’s the story of a man who gets a glimpse of what life would have been, if he had not existed, to realize the difference he has made to people around him.
In this story, Bailey leads a life full of sacrifices to allow people around him to fulfill their dreams, be it saving his little brother from drowning in a frozen pond, causing loss of hearing in his left ear, or providing the money saved for his honeymoon to prevent a run on his bank.
It’s a story, which as I mentioned has been told many a times, but I am sure you will still love this one.
Honestly, there is not much to differentiate in the level of performance or direction in this movie or “The Best Years of Our Lives”. But, this movie somehow is just right in keeping with the spirit of Christmas. Hence, it is number 1 on my list of movies to watch this Christmas.

Watch them and let me know if you enjoyed them as much as I did.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Story of An Ordinary Indian Doctor- Dr. Nasser

Being a salesman has its rewards. The one which I treasure the most is perhaps the opportunity it provides to meet with people from varied walks of life during my visits to the various retail showrooms in Calcutta. Everyday, I keep meeting artists who want a smart looking phone, professors from USA holidaying in India, doctors in search of a high speed internet connection, army men enquiring if they can use the phone in Kashmir, rickshaw pullers wanting a low tariff recharge, foreigners asking for directions to the Victoria memorial, bus drivers wondering why their phone is not ringing, employees of foreign embassies requesting for service engineers who can speak proper English...the list goes on...and on...

I met Dr. Nasser, during one such visit to one of our showrooms. He wanted an internet connection for his laptop. We chatted while the transaction was being completed. I came to know that he worked in a well known city hospital. The conversation ended there.

Next time we met was few months later. It was in the same showroom where we had met the first time. He had come to pay his monthly phone bill.

We started chatting about the weather, literally, and before we knew it, he was telling me about his life...

Nasser is the youngest of 2 brothers and 2 sisters. A Kashmiri Muslim by birth, he grew up in the beautiful city of Srinagar. His father was a civil servant in the state government and mother a housewife. His elder brother is a Chartered Accountant. When he wanted to pursue medicine as a profession, his father was against the idea. He wanted his son to become a civil servant. But, sons seldom listen to their fathers, and Nasser completed his MBBS from Government Medical College, Srinagar. He followed this up with a master’s degree in Lucknow, before landing up in Calcutta to pursue his super-specialty course from a well known hospital.

Probably, there is not much to write about Nasser, which is unique enough. But, then again, I found his thoughts reflecting that of many young people including yours truly.

He still wonders whether he took the right decision to stay back in India. One would say, it’s the right decision to stay put give back to your country. But, consider this. Of the 8 friends in his batch who completed their MBBS, 6 went abroad and decided to settle down in the US. This made Nasser wonder if he was doing something stupid, considering majority of his peers were following a different path.

“I know, I will be earning a lot less than what I could have, if I had shifted to the US. But, then again, some of my teachers who inspired me have done just that. They are not just good, but great doctors and are world renowned. But, they have resisted the temptation, and decided to give back to society despite the various challenges”, says Nasser.
“I know, I may be a small fry in the larger scheme of things, but I am confident I can definitely make a difference, howsoever miniscule. Which is why, after completion of my studies, I want to go back to Kashmir, and practice there. I feel, I can make a bigger difference there considering the lack of facilities in the state.”

I asked in return, “Don’t you think that the environment abroad is more conducive to pursue your practice? Will it not provide a much better learning environment? Which in turn, will help you become a much better doctor?”

Nasser replied,” You see, the foreign hospitals definitely have far better facilities and they do provide much better work environment. But, the Indian system teaches you to become street smart, in a way which no first world country can. There is a very good reason for this.  Let’s assume you have high fever with certain x, y and z symptoms. In an US hospital, usually the doctor will have a set of tests conducted which will give very accurate results, and assist in good diagnosis and subsequent treatment. This is the way they are trained. But, in India, our teachers have taught us to approach it in a different way. For the same patient described before, our teachers would ask us, out of these 5 tests, which do you think is the most appropriate for a patient with x, y and z symptoms? ”

According to Nasser, there is a very good reason for this approach. In the west, most of the developed nations are welfare states. Hence, medical expenses are in majority of cases taken care of, by the state. So, conducting plethora of tests to get to the root of the problem is not a cause for concern, for the patient. But, in India, in most cases, the patient’s family would need to shell out the money for all the tests. In most cases, that would be a big burden on the pocket. So, the doctor has to go for the most effective and least expensive path. For an Indian doctor, learning to be street smart, is not just smart, but a matter of life or death.

This logic of Nasser was further corroborated by another friend of mine; Dr. Sajid. Sajid is a surgeon, who has many patients from the lower strata of the society. He told me the story of Iqbal.

Iqbal is a rickshaw-puller in his mid-forties. He has a wife and 2 kids at home. He visited Dr.Sajid with severe lower back pain. For a proper diagnosis and accurate treatment, an MRI was essential. But, an MRI would cost few thousand rupees. And Sajid’s experience told him, that a surgery was required, to treat the problem. That would cost more money and a period of complete bed rest. But, Iqbal is a daily wage earner and if he stays away from work, his family starves. So, what does the doctor do in such a situation, where the best option is not practical for the patient?

Dr. Sajid advised Iqbal to ride his rickshaw maintaining a certain posture which would minimise the damage. He also advised Iqbal to regularly exercise to strengthen the area.

Was it the best possible treatment? Definitely not. But, for doctors like Nasser and Sajid, it’s all about providing the “best fit” treatment.

And it’s because of doctors like Nasser and Sajid, the Indian medical system manages to carry the burden of over 1 billion people.

Note: Names have been changed to protect privacy

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Did YOU visit the Paraguayan Harp Concert?

For that matter, do you know when Paraguay earned its independence? And from whom did they win their independence? Don’t worry; even ‘Know-All’ did not know this fact, till he visited the Paraguayan Harp concert which took place in Calcutta last week.

I am a great believer in destiny. Some people would consider it just a coincidence that when I visited ICCR auditorium to watch the dance recital of Rabindranath Tagore’s dance drama, Chitrangada, performed by a friend, I noticed the information standee of a performance of the Paraguayan Harp, by Ismael Ledesma to celebrate 200 years of independence of Paraguay from Spanish rule. Not me. Now, we Calcuttans are always bending over backwards to proclaim our inclination for all things cultural. But, I am not aware of any performance of the Paraguayan Harp, which has taken place in Calcutta before.

Extremely curious, next day I showed up at the designated hour at the ICCR.

Paraguay is a landlocked country in South America with its capital in Asuncion. Small in size, with a population of mere 6.5 million people, it has 2 official languages, Spanish and Guarani. Both languages are widely used. Interestingly, 95% of the population is Mestizo or mixed (European and Native American). This, thanks to the rule set by the first Paraguayan president, Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia in 1814, which forbade colonial citizens from marrying each other, and allowed them to only marry blacks, mullatoes or natives! Paraguay has recently experienced one of the fastest economic growths in the world.

The most popular instruments of Paraguayan music, Ledesma informed the audience, are the Paraguayan Harp and the Spanish Guitar.

The Paraguayan Harp is made from wood and usually has 38 strings. It has an exaggerated neck arch and is played with the fingernail.  But, the interesting fact revealed by Ledesma, was that the Paraguayan Harp traces its origin to India!

Paraguayan music needs to be classified into 2 parts.

Paraguayan Polka or Danza Paraguaya( Paraguayan Dance), a style of music developed in the 19th century. It is different from European Polka, as the former combines both ternary and binary rhythms, which give it a peculiarity.
Guarania is a style of music created by the musician Jose Asuncion Flores in 1925, with the purpose of expressing the character of the Paraguayan people.this is accomplished by the slow and melancholic rhythms of the songs.

The Guarania enjoys great popularity in the urban areas whereas the people in the countryside prefer the faster paced style of the Polka or the combined genre of “Purahei Jahe’o”.

Ledesma started after a round of introductions from the Paraguayan ambassador to India, Genaro Pappalardo. The music was mellifluous and Ledesma had the audience spell-bound with his versatility. For those who have never heard the Harp played before, it is something of similar to the Indian Santoor or the Jal Tarang. But, the tunes played by Ledesma were a mix of tunes, of which some were Paraguayan folk based and some his own creations. But, the common factor in both was their ability to mesmerize the audience.
He was able to imitate sounds of nature, like the chirp of a bell-bird, which sounds like a bird or that of a waterfall, with equal aplomb! He even imitated the sound of a train and the various noises made by a bus.
Or, for instance the piece called “Happiness in January” which he composed during winter in Paris, which according to him gets very melancholic during that period.

Ledesma, besides being a Harpist par excellence, also showed his sense of humour, while interacting with the audience. “It feels like home here in Calcutta. The buses here are just like the ones we have back home in Asuncion. Also, most people here are of my height, so I don’t feel short!” The audience laughed out loud to show its approval.

After the hour long performance, the audience felt like chanting the Pepsi slogan, “Dil Maange More”.

The little man from Paraguay had won the crowd over, with his child-like smile, humorous quips and stunning performance.

The only disappointment of the evening…. The organizers were selling CDs of Ledesma’s music outside the auditorium. I rushed to the counter and asked the price. “Its only Rs.799 for a CD” I got the reply. Alas, I the great patron of credit cards had only Rs.600 cash in my wallet.

With no ATM in the vicinity, I sadly started walking towards the Maidan Metro Station, to take the next train home.

Footnote: Information about Paraguay and Its music is sources from and the pamphlet provided at the concert.