Friday, August 25, 2006

chhe degree de bichra (di gaddi)

Read this article on the NYT website and my head spun in circles with the rapidly recurring deja vu it generated! Anyone who has spent - at the very least - an hour on Delhi roads will know what I am referring to. Read on, and be the best judge:

In Italy, red lights come in many varieties. A rare few actually mean stop. Others, to the Italian driver, suggest different interpretations. At a pedestrian crossing at 7 a.m., with no pedestrians around, it is a “negotiable red,” more like a weak orange. At a traffic intersection, red could mean what the Florentines call rosso pieno, or full red, but it might, with no cars coming, be more of a suggestion than a command. It all depends.

The red-light mentality, as the journalist Beppe Severgnini sees it, explains volumes about Italy and the Italians. “We think it’s an insult to our intelligence to comply with a regulation,” he writes in “La Bella Figura,” his witty, insightful tour of the Italian mind. “Obedience is boring. We want to think about it. We want to decide whether a particular law applies to our specific case. In that place, at that time.”

This principle applies to traffic regulations, taxes, solemn laws and personal behavior. Everything is personal and open to discussion. As a result, Italy totters along in a state of amiable chaos, its situation desperate but not serious, which is more or less the way Italians like it, those in charge and those, in principle, being led. “Controllers and controlled have an unspoken agreement,” Mr. Severgnini writes. “You don’t change, we don’t change, and Italy doesn’t change, but we all complain that we can’t go on like this.”

Mr. Severgnini, a columnist for the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, turned a fond eye on the United States in his last book, “Ciao, America!,” but this time around, on his home turf, he bites harder and deeper. The paradoxes of Italian life engage him. They bring out the reflective wit that, he argues, is native to most Italians and may be their most potent weapon in the struggle with bureaucracy and social dysfunction. Intertwined with native wit is a strong sense of self-esteem enjoyed by even the humblest Italian, as well as a fatal weakness for beauty and surface appeal, “la bella figura.”

Italians, in other words, would just as soon look good as be good. The country suffers from an ethics deficit, most clearly visible in the attitude toward taxes. Lying outrageously about one’s income is considered normal. In the United States the public regards tax evasion as morally reprehensible. If he were to cheat on his taxes in Italy, Mr. Severgnini writes, “two neighbors would come round to ask me how I did it, and two more would loathe me in silence.” No one would report him.

Mr. Severgnini presents his guide as a tour that is partly geographical and partly conceptual. Over the course of 10 days, he travels from Milan to Tuscany to the far south: Sicily and Sardinia. But the places are merely excuses for little treatises on beaches, restaurants, cellphones, airports, condominiums, piazzas, gardens and offices, all sprinkled with clever observations and telling statistics.

The differences between Italian and British flight attendants, illustrated in a hilarious vignette, help explain the Italian sense of personal drama and the national talent for creatively responding to small crises. Italian flight attendants are poor at serving you coffee but good at cleaning it up and sympathizing when you spill it. Some of this is merely glib. Mr. Severgnini, himself no stranger to the lure of la bella figura, would just as soon turn a beautiful phrase as make a point, and he might do well to heed one of his own points about the restlessly fertile Italian brain: “you can’t amaze everyone every three minutes.”

At the same time, Mr. Severgnini, as he skips lightly from one topic to the next, manages to sneak in some revealing statistics. One in three Italians finds a job through a relative. One in five has moved in the last 10 years, half the European average. Telecommuting is virtually nonexistent, engaged in by only 0.2 percent of the work force — in part, Mr. Severgnini theorizes, because it deprives Italians of the social drama of the workplace.
The Italy that Mr. Severgnini describes seethes with frustration. Government works poorly. The legal system barely functions. Too many Italians are crowded into too little space. Fear of failure stymies innovation. Mr. Severgnini is dismayed at the national genius for enjoyment and the Italian inability to plan for the future. “Our sun is setting in installments,” he writes. “It’s festive and flamboyant, but it’s still a sunset.”

Yet in many areas Italians have jumped at modernity and thrown over tradition almost casually. Cellphones are a national mania. They allow Italians to be Italian in new, entertaining ways. The shopping mall (but not Internet shopping) is popular because Italians pretend that it’s a piazza. New nonsmoking laws, widely predicted to be an absolute failure, have been accepted without a fuss. They created new gathering places and new forms of conviviality. One young man cited by Mr. Severgnini started smoking as a way to meet girls. Restaurants go in for all sorts of newfangled gadgets in their bathrooms, and Mr. Severgnini has a field day with the automated sinks, concealed light switches and baroque flush technology that challenge the Italian diner today.

There is one rule, by the way, that cannot be violated. It is wrong, and possibly illegal, to order a cappuccino after 10 a.m. This is worse than eating pizza in the middle of the day. It is nonnegotiable. Discussion over. Rosso pieno.

..and if you try to read the title of this post aloud with a(ny) foriegn accent, hey, it sounds italian! anyone have contacts with the Genome Project guys?

You are FIRED!

…and this doesn’t seem to be restricted to us lowly humans anymore! also was vaguely reminiscent of this issue

(sounds like something straight out of Onion, doesn’t it?)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Still crazy...

...after all these years about these guys.

One of my favourites. here goes.

Its a still life water color,
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference,
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.

And you read your emily dickinson,
And I my robert frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what weve lost.
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.

Yes, we speak of things that matter,
With words that must be said,
Can analysis be worthwhile?
Is the theater really dead?
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow,
I cannot feel your hand,
Youre a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation.
And the superficial sighs,
In the borders of our lives.

Dedication: To all my (so-called?) friends who once were...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Some Travel (and allied misc.) Myths busted

So, my first day at Columbus, OHIO just got over and here's a couple of things that happened and which lead to this post.
  1. Non-stop/direct flights are more psychologically overwhelming than in reality - they don't feel any more/less than say the typical eight-hour stretch (the ones with stopovers in Europe). I flew by Continental and I LOVED the airlines services per se. (Of course, after the nightmare of the Lufthansa experience, ANY airline would do better!)
  2. You do actually save good time on these flights - I left at a very-decent-for-an-international-flight 10:45 pm and landed in Newark Airport at 4:10 am. Hell, even US Customs hadn't opened shop then! What could better that! (Of course, I was HELL lucky to have scraped the new terrorist threat by minutes and so, didn't have to bear with extra-suspicious looks for being brown skinned.)
  3. IGI Airport has spruced up security since the Mumbai blasts - It took me precisely an hour and a half just to get to the wait-to-board stage and even while I was boarding, they stopped to question me and check my hand baggage again! At any rate, I was altogether too enthusiastic about any checks which could be construed as super suspicious. (Of course, my uber terrorist looks could have something to do with that...)
  4. It is always good to double check with Americans about the simplest/most seemingly obvious of matters - I had specifically booked a smoking room in my hotel and after they hand me the keys, I just thought I would check and hey! it was a non-smoking room (and of course, as any smoker who has not smoked in the last 18 hours would tell you, the blasphemy of this beats any terrorist threat any day!)
  5. Never wear fawn colored trousers and eat a huge tuna melt sandwich and be greedy about nicotine at the same time - the results are three huge splotches of tomato juice mixed with mayo and half a workday with tsk! tsk! any country really! (Of course, you could just pretend to be from Pakistan at this point)
  6. If anyone tells you "you speak very good English (for an Indian)" - just smile smugly and do not offer any explanations about the general standard of the language being infinitely better than these insular people would like to believe...especially if you are about to be introduced to some Indian techies in the same office soon after. (Of course, this is the perfect opportunity to lend credibility to the 'I-am-from-Pakistan' story.)
  7. Columbus is oh-kayy - I am guessing the New England area spoiled me and so the Midwest looks like bleak farmland in comparison. Though, I have to admit, things are MUCH cheaper here than over there. (Of course, the view from my window is anything BUT farmland...every great store you could think of is all within arm's distance. Now, if only I had the money...)

...and now for day 2...

(PS: I have a feeling my blog is going to disappear of many a country's blogosphere at this rate...ah well)

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Once upon a time there was an Italian,
And some people thought he was a rapscallion,
But he wasn't offended,
Because other people thought he was splendid,
And he said the world was round,
And everybody made an uncomplimentary sound,
But he went and tried to borrow some money from Ferdinand
But Ferdinand said America was a bird in the bush and he'd rather have a berdinand,
But Columbus' brain was fertile, it wasn't arid,
And he remembered that Ferdinand was married,
And he thought, there is no wife like a misunderstood one,
Because if her husband thinks something is a terrible idea she is bound to think it a good one,
So he perfumed his handkerchief with bay rum and citronella,
And he went to see Isabella,
And he looked wonderful but he had never felt sillier,
And she said, I can't place the face but the aroma is familiar,
And Columbus didn't say a word,
All he said was, I am Columbus, the fifteenth-century Admiral Byrd,
And, just as he thought, her disposition was very malleable,
And she said, Here are my jewels, and she wasn't penurious like Cornelia the mother of the Gracchi, she wasn't referring to her children, no, she was referring to her jewels, which were very very valuable,
So Columbus said, Somebody show me the sunset and somebody did and he set sail for it,
And he discovered America and they put him in jail for it,
And the fetters gave him welts,
And they named America after somebody else,
So the sad fate of Columbus ought to be pointed out to every child and every voter,
Because it has a very important moral, which is, Don't be a discoverer, be a promoter.

- Ogden Nash
…but America did name a city after him, and that is where I am headed sometime next week.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Yay! I finally watched the movie and how (I sneaked out of work to do this!) I was REALLY hoping that all the expectations I had built up would not lead to a resounding crash (as they often do). I studiously avoided reading any reviews by friends or otherwise But, I am happy (as hell!) and relieved (phewww!) to report that nothing of the sort happened! It did take a while to get used to the dialect (and that’s where being brought up in North India FINALLY paid off!). A few thoughts on a few things:
  • The Plot: brilliant juxtaposition – the seamless ‘fitment’ which was much in evidence even in Maqbool. And I never thought I would say this, but Omkara actually improves on the (few-fewer-fewest) flaws of Maqbool even…this one is an even truer adaptation if that were possible.
  • The Casting: Each actor’s physical characteristics are as much part of the casting consideration as is the play on their probable strengths wrt acting per se (with the sole exception of one). Examples of this abound but, of course, primary examples are Ajay Devgan and Kareena Kapoor.
  • Ajay Devgan: The most unidimensional actor manages make his sole talent work in his character and like how.
  • Kareena Kapoor: From topping my list of A-nnoying celebrities (she would still feature there) to this movie is a long way indeed. But, at least there is some redemption for Ms All-hype-and-zilch-to-show-for-it in this movie.
  • Vivek Oberoi: Perfectly sugar-sweet and oh-so-gullible. I generally hate the guy for the sam,e reasons, but these were so perfectly suited to the role! (Oh and I couldn't care to spell his name in his latest numerogically appeasing combination, and is turns out, neither does wikipedia! hee! hee!)
  • Saif Ali Khan: I have quite run out of adjectives to describe this man’s talent. He just wants to make me scream “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU DOING ALL OF THESE YEARS?!” This is clearly his film all the way. And WHO would have expected this London-returned royal to be feeling the feel, expressing the expression, and bluddy acting the act with the (seeming) ease with which he did. I don’t think the Bard himself figured all the nuances of Iago as well as SAK.
  • Konkona Sen Sharma: She has, arguably, the best lines in the film, and really, you think she was born in that village in U.P or something when you see/hear her. Just like you believed she was a Tam-Brahm and an urban journo and a mentally unstable Calcuttan….etcetera…
  • Bipasha Basu: The woeful stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb misfit of the movie. For GOD’s sake, anyone with a face and body like that (and WOW to both!) who can still manage to pour cold, freezing, chilly water over songs like ‘Beedi’ and ‘Namak Issak da’, make you crane your neck to (rather) see the audience to the songs (in the films) enjoying it, has GOT to be punished! Like, her face and body should be confiscated and granted to someone more deserving of it or something! She can stake zero clainm to any form of dancing/acting abilities AND she has NO passion - this is CRIMINAL if you are doing an item dance! (thus spake a veteran who knows ALL about the art)
  • Gulzar: need I say more? Ok, Sampooran Singh. Thats all.
  • Oh! and I loved the lady who played Omkara’s mother!

And, of course, for me, the hero of this movie is hands-down Vishal Bharadwaj. He should be made king of something/somewhere, I think!