Thursday, 6 November 2014

Finding Franklin

Every few months, I go on a Franklin's Tower listening binge. And since there are so many good versions of this song, I thought I'd try to list down some of the best.

Studio version
First time I heard this, I was stoned, nice and mellow, in Mapper's room. Blues for Allah was playing - and the cassette was slipped in when the first chew was being made. Most of Help/Slip was spent doing justice to the smokes, and by the time Franklin's came on, I was uniquely - receptive, shall we say?


September 1, 1979, Holleder Memorial Stadium, Rochester
For a long time after I left IIM, I wasn't listening to much music. The internet was fantastic, but it was a time of discovery of other sites - and most of my time was spent using Altavista's image search and waiting for the photo features from Danni's hard drive to load. Then, one day, I attended one of those informal quizzes.  The guy conducting it played Terrapin station and made a reference to Leigh Hunt and asked for a connection. The only thing  I knew about Hunt was "Lo, Abou Ben Adhem's name led all the rest" And I didn't get any points for the Terrapin identification, because the whole Lady with a Fan segment was linked to Hunt's "The Glove and the Lion". Anyway, I went home, fired up my modem and went looking. This was in the pre-wikipedia days - even pre-google, where directories like Hotbot and Yahoo reigned supreme. Anyway, from there, I discovered that there were a number of sites that allowed you to download songs and sets - and one of them was I'm not even sure if this is the version I downloaded - over several days and failed attempts - but I remember it was a concert from the seventies and that it was in Rochester. Anyway, here's this one, with a very satisfying mellow tightness to it.

March 30, 1990, Nassau Coliseum (Without a net version)

Another one from BITS. Here it's Brent Mydland's keyboards as much as Jerry's guitar that make the song. I really liked Without a net - and it was one of the first CDs I bought, trying to replicate the feel of listening to it one night in Pilani, sitting on the steps outside Macho's room in Mal - the last in the Pi wing. The notes would cascade out, complementing the light from a lone 40 watt lamp, the conversation would ebb and flow as we would look at the enchanter's cloak of the sky, velvety blue-black and spangled with stars like tiny silver sequins and let the music wash over us, washing us clean of the doubts and insecurities of young adulthood - for a little while, at least.

May 9, 1977, War Memorial, Buffalo

This one's a relatively recent discovery. No R & D done. This was when I had just started going to the gym - and I needed music to stop me from thinking how completely unfit I was - whether it was on the crosstrainer or the treadmill or wherever. I had a bar of fruitellas to keep the saliva in mouth and an IPod to stop me hearing myself pant. The in-gym music was mostly hip-hop - Akon's Right Now and Yankee Daddy's Gasolina and  a song which I always heard as "In the moonlight, all over India, We are the boss". It was a weird collection. To tune this out, I had Everybody wants to rule the world, a lot of OMD, Cale, Springsteen, Atho antha paravai, the Choral and other stuff. I also had this concert from 1977 - since it had a number of my favourite songs - Tennessee Jed, Big River, The Music Never Stopped, Bertha, Not Fade Away etc. But the Franklin's was always one of my favourites. I also knew exactly how long it was - and would measure how much breath I had left based on where I was in the song. Oh - and the bit at 5:11 was one of my favourites.

June 9, 1997, Winterland Arena
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner". In 1993-4, I was in IIM C and Kozhandai was in XL. He visited - either for some cultural thing - or just chumma. He brought with him a casette - it was, I think one of the green Meltrack C-90 tapes. On one side was the Jerry Garcia Band. On the other was this - Winterland 6 9 77. The whole thing just blew me away. Even with the cassette hiss and crackles, I knew I was listening to something special. Deal. The Music Never Stopped.  Estimated Prophet leading into St Stephen into Not Fade Away (fantastic) into Drums and back again into St Stephen. But the highlight was the fantastic Help/Slip/Franklin - especially with the high intensity ending and the orgasmic riff after "If you get confused, let the music play". I spent a long time trying to track it down - and when I did, it was every bit as good as when I heard first heard it.
Anyway - this is it. My favourite. And thanks, Ramki Muthukrishnan

And here's the whole concert

There are others, of course. Pembroke pines, off one of the early Dick's Picks
And this fantastic one from 1976, Alameida County Coliseum, the entire set is a thing of beauty.

Friday, 17 October 2014

On the Diablo hamster wheel

Just finished playing Reaper of Souls. So when I say "finished", I mean I finished the campaign as a Crusader - the new class that's part of the Diablo expansion, went into adventure mode, finished all the bounty missions for each act once and visited 5 Rifts.
Oh. I got through all this on expert difficulty.
For those who don't know much about Diablo - which is practically everybody I know, apart from two of my nephews - When you start playing the game, you can choose one of three difficulties. Normal, Hard and Expert. The you unlock the "Master" difficulty. Then, you are probably ready to play the game. Because after Master come the real difficulty spikes - levels Torment 1 to 6.

So expert difficulty is as kind of a misnomer. It stands for "at this level of difficulty, you probably know which buttons to press when, but you still haven't figured out which skill combinations do the most damage. Your gear is probably terrible, just a bit higher than 'disastrous' and 'abysmal'"

The game is divided into acts - the core game has 4, and the Reaper of Souls expansion adds a fifth.
I'm just throwing this in because of the sheer ridiculous amounts of awesome involved

The story is - well - there are demons, there are seven great evils, five of whom you already killed off in the previous game, and you take care of the two that remain, here. But due to a P2C2E, the titular baddie - who was killed once in the original Diablo and once again in Diablo 2 comes back and gets killed again. To get to him, you cut your way through hordes of monsters, elite monsters, unique and super unique monsters with a bunch of capabilities that range from the irritating to the deadly.
The demons, unsurprisingly, take their names from the usual sources. Since they kicked off the franchise by calling it Diablo - which is again a Spasnishification of the devil and comes from Diabolos - which is greek for The Daily Mail - sorry, its greek for slanderer, they're pretty much stuck with that. But the usual suspects are there from the Talmud - Lilith, Duriel - which is supposed to be Hebrew for "God is my home", Azmodal, Baal, Belial from the Lemegeton and Mephisto - either from Faust or from the 8th circle of D & D hell. And there are the angels - who either follow the "el" naming convention - Malthael, Tyrael, Auriel, Itharael or the Harry Potter curse convention - Imperius, Inarius, Cruciatus - oh wait - that one isn't there, so far.

But angels and demons are an aside. The original game defined the hack and slash genre, and since I'm playing this on the xbox, its now a button-mashfest.  You select a monster with the left trigger, and keep clicking 'A' to damage it. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can click 'Y', 'X' and 'B'. And squeeze right trigger while you're at it. And there are lots of monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.
Some mobs are even bigger - but thats how it looks. You can't even see your character

The key thing about the game, the thing that ensures your survival, is gear.
You have weapons and you have armour. Weapons and armour come in multiple categories. There's the normal stuff - which has one attribute: Armour for - well - armour, damage for weapons.

Then you have the magic items, in prefixed or suffixed, in blue text.

After that comes the rare stuff. The text is in yellow, there are more magical properties.
And then there's the stuff that you grind for. The stuff that you spend hours and hours on, killing the same monsters over and over again, hoping to see an orange spire of light rising from the ground, hoping to see an orange star on the minimap. That's a legendary. The legendary item is usually just a little better than the rare gear you have, but once in a while you get a beauty.
So, I found this sword - it was level 70 when I found it, and did around 2400 damage. But that wasn't the great thing about it. The killer was the "Chance to summon a demonic slave". Not only does the demonic slave pop up every now now, but he is linked to you by CHAINS OF FIRE, and those chains do massive damage. So you get your enemy - or mob between your demonic slave and yourself, and watch the chains BURN through your foes. With this, I was able to graduate from killing wimpy zombies on normal to Rift Guardians (really bad bosses) on Torment.

But the bosses are incidental. The storyline is incidental. Its about gear. Grinding for gear. Hoping that the next piece of equipment will be better than the one that you have. Raising the difficulty, fighting bosses, entering rifts and hoping you'll see that star on your minimap. It's the distillation of consumerism, it's the addiction reflex, and I've been playing the game more or less non stop for the last couple of weeks.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Facebook 10 books thing

OK. Facebook trend 10 book thing

The Enchanted Wood, Enid Blyton

Seetha got me the 1971 edition with the green cover when I was 6. I was enchanted. Jo, Bessie and Fanny discover the wood, meet the angry pixie and Dame Washalot, Moonface and Silky, the Saucepan Man and Mr Watzisname (Kollamoolitumarellipawkyrollo – I even remember his name) and climb to the top of the Faraway Tree. Dame Slap’s school, Silky’s clock, the Red Goblins and the Land of Birthdays – Hooray!

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

After reading the Hardy Boys from The Tower Treasure to The Firebird Rocket (with the exception of No 16 – A Figure in Hiding) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators (Up to The Mystery of the Magic Circle) I was looking around for another series.My cousin suggested Sherlock Holmes. I found the A Scandal in Bohemia very ho hum – there was no villain, there was very little in the way of action – but the next story was The Adventure of the Red-Headed League. Jabez Wilson, “It’s no use John Clay”. Ears pierced for earrings. “To look at the knees of his trousers”. By the time I hit The Speckled Band, I was hooked.

The Corfu Trilogy, Gerald Durrell

Seetha used to get a magazine called Finding Out. It was a Brit magazine, and appa must have got it for her. Sometimes, it would carry book extracts. One such was this. One day, Seetha came back from the British Council with My Family and Other Animals. I said “Oh. Gerald Durrell,” very knowledgeably. She asked how I knew who Durrell was. I said “He’s a commentator for the BBC”. She started laughing, and kept laughing until I showed her the copy of the Durrell story. She told me I should read My Family and I did. And all the others as well.

The Guns of Navarone, Alistair Maclean

“The match scratched noisily across the rusted metal of the corrugated iron shed, fizzled, the burst into a sputtering pool of light, the harsh sound and sudden brilliance alike strangely alien in the stillness of the desert night.” As a first line, this must rank up there with “It was a dark and stormy night, the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind…” But I didn’t care. Mallory, Miller, Andrea, Casey Brown, Louki and Panayis and poor doomed Andy Stevens, unafraid at last. I read it through the night, took it to school the next morning and finished it.

Salem's Lot, Stephen King,

I wasn’t a big fan of horror. I read King to fit in. That was until I finished the second chapter of Salem’s Lot – before the chills really kicked in. What pulled me in was Susan Norton’s mother. Mothers were either ignored – or reasonable authority figures – in most of the books I’d read so far, but Susan’s mother was petty, occasionally spiteful – and so goddamn real. Then there was the line about a father meeting his daughter’s boyfriend “a man who dangled his daughter’s potential defloration between his legs”. Then little Danny Glick comes back. Barlow ages in reverse. And anyone can die – and does.

Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett

“I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn't think anything of what he had done to the city's name. Later I heard men who could manage their r's give it the same pronunciation. I still didn't see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves' word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.” The Continental Op, Ladies and Gentlemen. Accept no substitutes

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

I woke up at around 11. I had a packet of Charms and half a T of smokes. I made some js and went down to Sky. For the rest of that golden day, I stayed there, surviving off chai and joints, and giggling helplessly to myself on the lawns. People came and went. Groups gathered and disbanded, but I was deep in the Heart of Gold, bistromathics, Infinite Improbabilty Drives, Frogstar fighters, Magrathea, Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts, Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, descendents of Genghiz Khan, the deaths of Agrajag and Wowbagger the infinitely prolonged. That day, everything else was an SEP

Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

This one is easy - I have at least four copies of this book, all in various stages of disrepair caused by constant reading. It's also tough because I'm using this in the place of Night Watch, Reaper Man, Moving Pictures, Soul Music, Neverwhere, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, American Gods, Ocean - in fact, most of the books by both pterry and Gaiman. But still, you have Aziraphale and Crowley and one of the best descriptions of eternity ever
“I mean, d'you know what eternity is? There's this big mountain, see, a mile high, at the end of the universe, and once every thousand years there's this little bird-"

"What little bird?" said Aziraphale suspiciously.

"This little bird I'm talking about. And every thousand years-"

"The same bird every thousand years?"

Crowley hesitated. "Yeah," he said.

"Bloody ancient bird, then."

"Okay. And every thousand years this bird flies-"


"-flies all the way to this mountain and sharpens its beak-"

"Hold on. You can't do that. Between here and the end of the universe there's loads of-" The angel waved a hand expansively, if a little unsteadily. "Loads of buggerall, dear boy."

"But it gets there anyway," Crowley persevered.


"It doesn't matter!"

"It could use a space ship," said the angel.

Crowley subsided a bit. "Yeah," he said. "If you like. Anyway, this bird-"

"Only it is the end of the universe we're talking about," said Aziraphale. "So it'd have to be one of those space ships where your descendants are the ones who get out at the other end. You have to tell your descendants, you say, When you get to the Mountain, you've got to-" He hesitated. "What have
they got to do?"

"Sharpen its beak on the mountain," said Crowley. "And then it flies back-"

"-in the space ship-"

"And after a thousand years it goes and does it all again," said Crowley quickly.
There was a moment of drunken silence.

"Seems a lot of effort just to sharpen a beak," mused Aziraphale.

"Listen," said Crowley urgently, "the point is that when the bird has worn the mountain down to nothing, right, then-"

Aziraphale opened his mouth. Crowley just knew he was going to make some point about the relative hardness of birds' beaks and granite mountains, and plunged on quickly.

"-then you still won't have finished watching The Sound of Music."

Aziraphale froze.

"And you'll enjoy it," Crowley said relentlessly. "You really will."

"My dear boy-"

"You won't have a choice."


"Heaven has no taste."

The True Believer, Eric Hoffer

The only non-fiction on this list. It may not be fashionable to read Hoffer anymore, and there will be critics who say that most of his stuff is anecdotal, not scientifically proved by carefully selected statistically significant samples, and is more truthiness than truth. But as far as I'm concerned, Hoffer was fucking amazing when it comes to hitting it out of the park. Eg: "The less justifed a man is in claiming excellence for his own self,The less justifed a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause." or "A free society is as much a threat to the intellectual's sense of worth as an automated economy is a threat to the worker's sense of worth. Any social order…which can function well with a minimum of leadership will be an anathema to the intellectual."

That's the trouble with lists. You have to leave so many things out. No Sam the Sudden or Right Ho Jeeves or Spring Fever, no LA Confidential or The Big Nowhere or White Jazz. No Big Sleep or Farewell My Lovely. No Storm of Swords  or Game of Thrones. No Pickwick Papers or Alice in Wonderland or The Four Just Men or The Saint or The Dark Knight Rises or Watchmen or V for Vendetta or Pride and Prejudice or The Razors Edge or Tintin or Asterix or The Toff or On Her Majesty's Secret Service or Goldfinger or Casino Royale or Captain Blood or Some Buried Caesar or And Then There Were None or Roger Ackroyd or Little Women or Jennings or William or Karamazov or ....

Friday, 22 August 2014


I'm dying. We're all dying, and I think I'm just doing it a little bit faster. There's this tickle in my chest, a familiar and unwelcome feeling.  I had a bypass three years back. But it looks the problem it was meant to fix hasn't gone away.
It's like being in a car where the brakes don't work and the accelerator is stuck. The tank is full and the road is twisty and you just hope you can hold on before things go boom.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and Me

Pocahontas has always been one of my favourite Neil Young songs. But when Johnny Cash sings it, it gets so much better.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Facebook and me

This is my Facebook life.

Minor differences. My life is even suckier than Scott's is in the video. I don't have a significant other or am I in relationship. My job has its dead end days - usually there are six of them every week.
But the video makes me wonder. Most of my friends on Facebook are my age, and they are in the two children, senior position at some company, and expensive vacations stage of life.
On this day, 26th of June, 2014, this is on my Facebook news feed.
  1. A post on frogs by a respected naturalist specializing in the little croakers
  2. One family photo of a friend in front of the Sydney Opera house at night, captioned "A Night at the Opera"
  3. One question from a quiz group a colleague enrolled me in
  4. One link from The American Conservative on the "Credibility Fallacy" in American foreign policy
  5. One link from the Atlantic titled "Children are taught too much about the importance of achievement and too little about the value of empathy"
  6. A post from Alan Moore saying that limited signed copies of his "Show Pieces" box set are available
  7. A link to a Kotaku story on bargain games
  8. A link to a Wired story on Google's new design language for devices
  9. A photo from a college mate's wife of their kids coddling in bed and watching X-Men
  10. Another classmate's post of a quote from Camus (""The absurd is lucid reason that sees its limits"), complete with a photo of Titian's Sisyphus
  11. A link to a Daily Show video clip
  12. A photo of two kids watching Frozen, taken by their father, an old schoolmate
  13. A video re-shared by an ex-colleague, showing two women shoplifting
  14. An old classmate's wife posts that she is watching a comedian perform at New York's Radio City Music Hall with her husband
  15. An old collegemate's selfie, eating doughnuts with his daughter
 So why am I even on this thing?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Martin Hipsteria

I like Game of Thrones. I have the T-Shirts. I have a replica of the Iron Throne. I have the map of Westeros hanging on my wall. I am a member of - a lurker, but not a poster.
I've also discovered that I hate GoT fans.
Let me qualify that. I'm not talking about the ones online. Atleast, not all of them. Most of the ASOIAF people have read the books better than I have, and maybe better than I ever will. The  hive mind is amazing when it comes to reading between the lines, discovering hidden connections, highlighting parallels between characters and situations across books and even the obligatory crackpot stuff is great fun to read. (Is Euron Dario Naharis? Did Lyanna run away with Rhaegar because Brandon Stark tried to bang her? (!!!) Was Tywin Lannister already dying of a slow poison when Tyrion confronted him on the shit-pot?) Is the valonquar a Lannister valonquar or any valonquar?  Did the Faceless men begin the Iron Bank of Braavos? Will Cleganebowl happen?)
What irritates me is the people who land up at places like the Entertainment Store, wanting the GoT merchandise - rich self-I found confident know-it-all kids - the guys ooohing about how awesome Tyrion is or the women aahing over Jon Snow. I listen to them talk knowledgeably about Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister - and there usually is one person, the one who has read the books up till Dance, who self-importantly tells the Unsullied to wait for the last episode of the season.
Fandom is about kinship, but I don't feel any kinship with these people. It's probably the hipster instinct.

/************************************* begin self-indulgence *****************************/

Back in 1998, I discovered Pratchett. I worked my way through The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, but it was only after Equal Rites that things started moving. I read the first few books in sequence, until Eric - which I couldn't find a copy of. But it was only after Mustrum Ridcully became the Arch-chancellor and Edward D'Eath discovered the Gonne that I became absolutely rabid. I raced through the books - and was one of the first in line to buy The Fifth Elephant (a play on Surprise, the fifth element in the Discworld?). At that time, I would have loved to talk to people about my Pratchett love, but I was in a place where nobody seemed to read anything beyond Java 2.0 Swing Programming and the like.
As I ran out of Pratchetts - getting them in India wasn't always easy in the early 2000s, and even Landmark didn't always stock them all - I think Night Watch was the first hardback that I got from there, so I cast about looking for other fantasy series. I tried J V Jones - but found her stuff kind of off.  Tried Robin Hobb - that didn't click either. Went through Anne McCaffrey and Ursula LeGuin, but found them OK - not something I would chase after. Then there were the Conan Chronicles - great atmosphere, great characters, but somehow, I found the payoffs curiously unsatisfying. Read the Lankhmar stories and liked Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (I'm delighted that I spelt Fafhrd right after all these years) - but there just weren't enough stories to go around.
Then I read The Eye of the World.
It took a bit to get going - and I could recognize the tropes even then (this was way before I discovered the timesink that was TVTropes was). There was the doomed hometown. There was the chosen one. There was the fighter/mage/thief combo of Perrin, Rand and Mat. It was slow going at first, but once the party got to Shadar Logoth, things really picked up. I was disappointed by the fact that nearly all of Emond's Field seemed to land up with Moiraine, and I fucking couldn't stand Nynaeve. By the time the gang got to the blight, everything was nice and moving along quickly, and the teaser for the next book, The Great Hunt, had me wanting more. Children of the Light. Baalzammon. Uncanny Valley Servants. The ballroom in the middle of nowhere for the Darkfriends social. Coool.
The series peaked with the next few books - The Dragon Reborn - where the Chosen One gets Chosen officially; The Shadow Rising - which introduced the Freme - I mean Aiel - and The Fires of Heaven, where we saw the first character death.
After that it was downhill all the way. And by the time I hit Knife of Dreams - the Last Jordan book, I was quite pissed-off. Okay, not exactly pissed-off, but tired. I wanted gore. I wanted the good guys to die. And I found most of Jordan's women completely unlikable. And most of his men, including Perrin and Rand. The only characters I liked were Mat, Tuon and Nynaeve.
I devoured most of the books in 2002-2003, in Sri Lanka, in Colombo. And then I was done. I think Winter's Heart was the last book out at that time and I went around looking for something else to read.
Those years were strange. I was drinking, heavily. When I left Sri Lanka after a year and a half, I had drunk Rs. 2 lakhs worth of vodka - based on the number of empty bottles in the spare room (I counted). This was supplemented by hundreds of bottles of cough syrup and endless cigarettes.

Then I found Martin.

I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking. I stopped the Corex. I went for long runs in the morning. I joined a gym.

Hah. I did none of those things. Well. I did some of those things, but reading back, it looked like I had found Jesus. And in a way I did. I bought my first Martin in around 2001 - and no it wasn't Game of Thrones. It was Fevre Dream, a book featuring a fat riverboat captain (who looked exactly like Martin, in my mind), the boat itself and battling vampire lords. I liked it. But I didn't really want to get into another saga, not after feeling let down by Jordan's books descending into 1000-page descriptions of women arguing and pulling their braids in displeasure.

It was one day in 2003, in the summer. I had gone down to Landmark - the one in Apex Plaza (its dead, but thats a memory for another day) - to escape from the sweltering கத்திரி that was Madras in May.  The airconditioning was heaven, and I lingered in front of the fantasy shelf, without intending to buy. There wasn't much choice. Tolkien was there, of course, complete with new covers featuring Orlando Bloom and Christopher Lee, as well as the old ones with the eye of Sauron encircled by runes saying (I imagine) "ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul". Then there were these two books by Martin. A Clash of Kings, a Bantam edition with a horrendous red cover - and A Storm of Swords, equally horrible in blue. I took one of them up, I think, and was reading the blurb when a woman spoke behind me.
Assuming that's Stannis, what the fuck are those creatures? Lion/goat crossbreeds? Winged goat-lion crossbreeds?  Mischimaerae? And why does Melisandre have a seagull on her wrist? Burn practice?
She was younger than I was.  I don't remember what she wore or how she looked, but she said "That's a brilliant book".
I think I said something like "Uh" or "Guk". I wasn't exactly used to strange women speaking to me. She gestured to the book I was holding and said "It's a really good book and the next one is even better. If you haven't read Martin already, you should buy them all."
I felt offended. I was a fucking great reader. I'd read Martin. Hadn't I read Fevre Dream? The Fantasy Masterwork edition? Didn't that mean that was the best thing Martin ever wrote? I tried to respond, angrily, but the only word that came out was "Guh?"
"It's better than Tolkien. And its much better than anything else on this shelf," she said.
Look. I'm not a great Tolkien fan. I liked Lord of the Rings, but Sam Gamgee grated on me with his devotion and I found myself screaming at Frodo to get a move on through most of The Return of the King, but I wasn't going to take this insult to Tolkien. I opened my mouth, hopefully to be more articulate, but the girl just flashed me an embarrassed grin and walked quickly away.

Well, I ended up buying both the books, but didn't read them for a while. Then one morning, I took Clash with me to the loo. (This was 2003, I didn't have a smartphone, and I still took books to help me draw out my dump) Began with Maester Cressen. Finished Maester Cressen. Finished the book by the next morning.
I went back to Landmark at 10:00 am that day, looking for A Game of Thrones. Couldn't find it. If this was a few years ago, I would have used Morpheus to download a pdf. But Morpheus was a bust in 2003 and I could never get a hang of Limewire. I'm not sure if BitTorrent was around then, but I didn't have any way of getting an ebook without risking a range of viruses. Anyway, went around to Higginbothams as well. No luck there either, nor at Landmark Spencers. Finally, I ordered it off Amazon UK.
Which basically means - I knew what the shocking twist in AGoT was. I was spoiled. But that kind of made me complacent. I was able to get an idea of what happened in the first book, though I didn't know the exact circumstances of Bran's crippling or how the direwolves were found or the tension between Catelyn and Jon.
So I started off on A Storm of Swords.

Jaime and Hoat.  Brienne and the bear. Arya and the Hound. "Is there gold in the village?" "Then we shall make new Lords" . Two weddings.  "The wall is yours, Jon Snow". The Red Viper. "Stannis! Stannis! STANNIS!" "Lord Tywin, in the end, did not shit gold." Mormont's raven and the arrowheads. "Only Cat." "Up and up and up"

So when Feast came, I read all the books, in sequence. Did that again when Dance happened. Spent endless hours on TV Tropes and

/************************************* end self-indulgence *****************************/

But it frustrates me to see so many copies of the ASoIaF books at Blossoms and elsewhere. It bugs me that all these fucking know-it-alls talk loudly about the books. They didn't have to wait for fucking six years for Dance. They didn't have to pay in fucking pounds to get a book shipped halfway across the world. They didn't have to slake their hunger with endless re-reads of favourite sections or Dunk and Egg.

I didn't feel like this about the Harry Potter fandom. The books were always available when I started reading - I started after Chamber of Secrets was published, and there wasn't too long a wait for Azkaban. By the time Goblet came out, my niece was reading the books, so it was fun to go with her to pick up a copy. (Malavika was interviewed about her HP love by some TV channel!) I didn't resent them the way I do the Martin fans.

Which takes me back to the girl who recommended them to me. And to Vets and Murali, who'd read the books well before I did, and with whom I had such good fun discussing Bran's visions and the ghost of High Hearts pronouncements - who first told me about R+L=J. I hadn't even worked that out, after several readings.

It's fucking irrational, I know, but it still makes me angry. Not only am I a hipster, I'm a hypocritster. But knowing that doesn't stop me from grinding my teeth whenever someone oohs about Tyrion at the Entertainment Store.

Friday, 9 May 2014

நிழல் நிஜமாகிறது

I’ve never been a big fan of the Tamil language. I hated learning it school. I still remember the howls of laughter – and a குட்டு on my head from appa – when I wrote “என்று குறளகம் சொல்கிறது” when talking about something in the Thirukkural. Sometimes I think Telugu is a sweeter language.
Maybe it’s a part of being from Madras. Madras Tamil is not really the most mellifluous of languages. But once in a while, I listen to something and I get what the poets talk about.
A couple of weeks back, I was travelling from Bangalore to Madras. We crossed Kanchipuram at around 10 pm and got hold of an FM station playing old hit songs. One of them was this.
Ignore the subtitles. The sound is crappy, but fuck, the song still works. The song - and the movie is completely set-bound, it manages to invoke 1970s West Mambalam tambram vibe pretty damn well. I know. I used to spend my weekends with my cousins in Umapathy street. They were all in their twenties, and the street was full of guys like them, with names like Murali, Gopal, Muthu, Nagu, Nachchu, Pacha... so many of them. They would come back from work and change into lungis, checked or tie-dyed green and blue against black, and hang out,  playing shuttle and carrom and chess and flying kites in the evenings, gathering to watch TV calling out the names of playback singers and music directors, talking about girls  or  sleeping on well worn mats on mottai maadis on those warm summer nights.
And the furniture. Those cane "easy-chairs". The "show-cases". Those lamps. Those glass/peengan flower vases with bright and ugly plastic flowers.The wash basins in the "hall". The calendar from Kodambakkam timber mart. The houses rented out room by room to multiple tenants.  நாடா ஜெட்டிs vs  elastic. The Shaw Wallace calendar.
கம்பன் ஏமாந்தான் was one of the first songs I recorded - on one of those C-60 TDK tapes that were so prized three decades ago. Must have been around 10 at the time. My chitappa mocked me gently, for my choice. The movie was, after all, about a master who bangs his servant and gets her pregnant, while his ice queen sister defrosts to the charms of an jerk-with-a-heart-of-gold Kamalahasan. I didn't really understand the lyrics - or maybe I didn't examine them too deeply. I didn't know much about women or love (not that I'm any better now)- nor was I very interested, but I liked the sounds of the words.
Balachander isn't Welles or Hitchcock. He isn't Resnais or Antonioni. He seems to be more about "social" than "style". In நிழல், he overdoes the Sumitra "imprisoned" motif with low angle shots through balcony railings, window grills and banisters. Thilakam's queen cuts are funny, but they don't need the queen costume, Shobha could have carried the conceit off even with her hand-me-down sarees. When I saw Arangetram -I cringed at the whole "Trap" play name. But Balachander was never about style. He was "social" and he was courageous. There is something that he did really well, in all those movies - he ripped up the tambram lifestyle and showed the hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness that often lay beneath. Even now, I have cousins who detest him because he is so "anti-brahmin".
Its easy to take that away. Tilakam is the most sympathetic character in the film. Kasi is the nicest.  but their happy ending doesn't change anything. And it's debatable whether losing Thilakam is any kind of punishment for Chalam's choothishness. Indu saying she hates men after one failed பொண்ணு பார்த்தல் makes her way too sensitive (Maybe that was intentional, but it seems off).  All it would have taken is just a few throwaway lines of dialogue to change one rejection to two or three. Or maybe Chalam is an unreliable narrator, and Indhu is really a stroing  minded woman determined to get ahead in the world without a husband. But for that, it really doesnt seem that bharatha natyam tuitions would be enough to handle such a big house without being supplemented by her brother's salary.
And Kamal is meant to be likeable because he doesn't fit the hypocritical brahm stereotype. 
And fuck, he was good - and he made smoking look so cool - especially in கம்பன் - which is filmed so much better than his sections in this - equally awesome - song.
I watched நிழல் a few days back. It holds up, and has a certain quiet charm. Maybe that's because I remember the time it came out. There used to be a huge poster of a shirtless Kamal in bell-bottomed pants (why do I remember them as being pink?) striking a Bharatha Natyam pose on Mount Road.This pose:

And its also because Sarath Babu's Chalam and Kamal's Sanjeevi are recognizable - but I'm not sure they exist any longer in the internet era,  they're probably at retirement age now, with children and grandchildren
I do find it odd that a woman brother's name is Venkatachalam would plaster her forehead with விபூதி, though.  

In some ways, the movie is unsettling, in terms of how much gender roles have changed in the 36 years since its release.  But that would be the subject of another movie, wouldn't it?

Friday, 25 April 2014

Lookin' out my backdoor

Here's CCR having a really good time. Obviously, some of the happiness is substance related - just look at Clifford's face at 0:59 - but still, you can kind of tell that this isn't staged.
And then came the fights, the breakup, the blame and all that


 I'd want to make some point about growing old, but all I'll say is "This just makes me so...sad"

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Writing about something you like, for someone else

It’s not easy writing about a book you love, especially when you are writing on commission. If you want to write for yourself, it’s a different kind of challenge. What you end up being is a cross between squeeing like a teenage fangirl – or disembowelling it with inexpert tools, like a sixth standard schoolboy doing a book review. But the other kind, the kind where you write about it for money, with fixed rules and predefined comparison points, is even more fucked.
Case in point. I was asked to do a George RR Martin story to coincide with the broadcast premiere of season four of Game of Thrones in India. I jumped at it, because it had been a complete shit week for me, workwise – to put it mildly – and I was wallowing in self-disgust. But there was a catch – since the audience is Indian, there had to be an Indian hook to it. OK, I thought. That’s not too difficult – I was able to get an idea of the number of Facebook ‘likes’ that came from India, the number of Indian IPs that had torrented the first couple of episodes of season four, the number of seeders from India and stuff like that. Plus, there were also the merchandise sellers who were stocking increasing amounts of expensive GoT merchandise, and I could get quotes from them. So far, so good.
But then, the story was also supposed to show that Indians loved GoT episodes/ASOIAF novels because of their similarity to Indian myth and history. That was harder. Not because you can’t show parallels between two long dramas with powerfully-drawn characters competing for a throne. But because it seems so artificial. Who really reads A Game of Thrones or A Storm of Swords and thinks that Ned Stark is like Bhishma or Robb Stark like Abhimanyu? It’s stuff that belongs to a Comparative Literature class, if there. It’s like a stoner version of the fucking glass bead game, with ass-pulls taking the place of analysis.
I submitted something which I thought wasn’t too bad. /* insert obligatory Dunning-Kroger reference here */ A few hours later, I get a mail asking me to make some changes – removing an introductory paragraph that I rather liked -  and add more comparisons. OK. It hurt to remove those opening paragraphs, but “kill your darlings” and all that, so I did. And I did it again. And again. Until there was so little of what I wanted to say left.
I know “it isn’t what I wanted to say” smacks of self-indulgence. But that’s the point. If I was writing about something I cared less about, then it wouldn’t matter. I’m happy to pull out comparisons and criticisms, drawn from authoritative sources like Wikipedia and Tumblr. But when it is about GRRM, whose books I've loved for more than a decade (and no, that's not a hipster statement. I started around the time A Storm of Swords was published, which makes me very late as far as the fandom is concerned), it just feels ... terrible

Original copy (and now, in retrospect, it seems pretty bad, but I think the rant helped)

In 1981, an American tourist visited Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland. It was his first time outside the United States. It was sunset by the time he got there, and the tour buses were leaving. The man stood on top of the wall and looked northwards as the dusk set in, trying to imagine the thoughts and feelings of a Roman soldier on patrol, guarding the edge of the world. The image would stay with him for a long time.
The tourist was a minor science fiction writer named George RR Martin, and a decade later, inspired in part by the historical fiction of people like Bernard Cromwell and by the real-life War of the Roses between the houses of York and Lancaster (sounds familiar?), he decided to write a three-book series of fantasy novels, the first of which was titled A Game of Thrones. It was to be followed by A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter. It was a “story about the people guarding the end of the world”.
Two weeks ago, the fourth season of Game of Thrones, HBO’s adaptation of Martin’s novels aired. The demand was so great that HBO Go, the channel’s online streaming service crashed. The demand for the first episode broke piracy records as well, when over a million users downloaded copies within six hours of the show being aired, and over 3,00,000 users were actively sharing their copies. A study by the torrent tracking site showed that Indians accounted for 4.2% of these downloads, seventh in the world. On Facebook, Indians were the seventh biggest fans of Game of Thrones, making up 2.9 lakhs of the 1.03 crore people who ‘liked’ the series. ”I would say Game of Thrones, being a period drama, and the love Indians have for mythology, makes it a fit and there is a connect,” says Monica Tata, MD, HBO South Asia in an interview with Indiatimes. ”Indians generally love drama and we see that on a much larger scale in the Hindi GEC space,”
The walls of The Entertainment Store in Bangalore are covered with posters. Posters from Game of Thrones dominate. Tyrion Lannister, his face half-shadowed, looks at you from behind the words “A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge.” Daenerys Targaryen sits in profile, a newly-hatched dragon on her shoulder, swearing that she will take what is hers, with fire and blood. “There’s a lot of demand for Game of Thrones merchandise, even though its more expensive than other properties” says Sunil Tekchandani, who runs the store with his brother Satish. “We ordered a dozen replicas of the Iron Throne – at Rs 6,000 apiece, and they sold out in a matter of weeks” he says. Even the Amul ad, one of the most reliable indicators of popular conversation, has paid homage to the series and its most detestable character, the privileged prince Joffrey Baratheon.
Multiple point-of-view, non-linear narratives and sudden detours into history and backstory make the saga closer to our epics than western narratives like Harry Potter or Star Wars. ”Western fantasy narrative is usually linear, based on the hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell,” says Eika Chaturvedi Banerjee, one of the organizers of Aakhyaan, a festival where participants discuss and interpret mythology. “Indian myth is much more pluralistic. If you take the Mahabaratha, you will find characters like Bhishma, whose adherence to the idea of honour has devastating consequences. Or take the tale of Shakuni, imprisoned with his 100 brothers. The prisoners were given one grain of rice a day to feed themselves. Shakuni’s brothers starved to death, so that at least one of them could survive, and Shakuni, the sole survivor, swore that he would have his revenge on the Kuru dynasty. If you look at the Kurukshetra, it was Krishna, the avatar of Lord Vishnu himself, who broke several of the rules of war. The characters are not purely good or evil. The Kauravas, even though they are ostensibly the villains of the story, end up in heaven ahead of the Pandavas. It is a similar kind of non-linearity that gives GoT its appeal” she says.
Martin’s storylines are notoriously complex. His characters are multi-layered, with shifting motivations and loyalties. The person who seems like a villain in the first book or season becomes a fan favourite by the third, and could easily flip back again. Arranged marriages have a better chance of working out, and love is dangerous. It’s also about clan, family and honour, subjects that are familiar to everyone who watches any of the numerous soaps that grace our airwaves.
Martin is sparing in his use of fantasy elements. There is magic in the world, but it’s not the Dungeons and Dragons kind of magic where wizards cast fireballs and lightning bolts. Here, there are dragons, but at this point, they are just dangerous pets that have the potential to be weapons of mass destruction – if they survive. And no one in Martin’s world is safe. There are giants and wights and shadows and the promise of an apocalyptic battle, but it’s all just background for a group of incredibly human people jockeying for power – or just fighting for survival in a cold world.
Nilanjana Roy, the critic and writer, counts herself a fan of Martin’s work. “It's tempting to look for resonances between India's tradition of fantasy and epic and the Ice and Fire books, but I’d suggest that sometimes, it's really the great storytelling that counts, whether you're looking at Narnia or Middle Earth or Westeros, or whether it's the equally culturally distant but compelling worlds of Garcia Marquez's Macondo, Alice Munro's Vancouver, Annie Proulx's Wyoming. Good storytelling has a way of travelling across national boundaries, and it's been such a pleasure to be a reader in the time of Rowling, Martin, Proulx, Munro, Morrison, Marquez, to have the privilege of seeing those books come out as you move through your own lifespan,” she says.