Category Archives: Travel

PK after thodi si peeke

Have the reviews and counter-reviews for PK died down? Because, in that case, now would be a good time to write down my thoughts about the movie. For starters: I did enjoy the film and here I will try to delve a little into why I was motivated to do so, amongst usual blog-like meanderings.

On a side note (that did not take long), I have come to notice the stylistic aspects of Bollywood cinema: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opulent, colorful, glitzy sets, choreographed dance dramas, the earthy sounds of thumping dhol and bold matriarchs. The celebrate-your-Indian-family even outside India, Manish Malhotra-esque sob sagas, return of the prodigal sons of Karan Johar. The rustic, gutsy, dusty landscape of Vishal Bhardwaj, complete with ethnic sounds and dialogues, from globalize to lets localize. The friends, journeys, finding your own light in the midst of many others, the disco, urban accounts of the Akhtar siblings. The light-hearted, tropical, catchy beats, slick intertextual (references to other films) tales of Farah Khan, and, now I can add to that the social-phenomena-motivated stories of Raj Kumar Hirani. In a Hirani movie we must have a female media person, a down-to-earth funny hero who turns things around, a national chant for change and waltz numbers with scooters or cycles.

I enjoyed the meta texture in PK. For example, the picture of Gandhi only holds value when it is linked to economics; the only images – on calendars, notebooks, posters – are tossed away. While I’m no Gandhian like Hirani is, and I do understand the nature of currency and markets, I could see the inherent philosophical nature of that scene. That cultures develop to associate value to otherwise meaningless things – white for the bride, white for the widow – that it is indeed a human attribute to start constructing social rituals – it was intriguing, humorous, and ironical to watch it in the Indian context.

Jagat Janani, the meaning of that particular name intrigued me, who is Jagat Janani? Mother Nature or is this a reference to the Mother Goddess. She is female. In relationship to her is the alien character, a male, who questions the social formations – of religion and culture. The juxtaposition of the male as being otherworldly, and Jaggu as that which gives birth to the ‘jagat’ or world was quite a gripping proposition and if one were to explore this further I am sure we could work on a layered referencing to this within the text of the film. It is Jaggu who notices the odd one out in ‘her’ world, it is she who helps him understand strands (firki and otherwise) that PK has missed. And, above all it is she who is kind (gender trouble – ahem!). She is given an identity, a name by the ‘bad guy’ is this an urge to rethink (for who has dictated how the world should proceed) how we have thought and defined the origin of the world and the nature of living.

The music of the film is lovely. I have enjoyed each song on the track, the robust Rajasthani sounds in “Tharki Chokro.” I was repeatedly reminded of Parineeta while listening to the numbers – “Chaar Kadam” like “Piyu Bole” and “Bhagwan Kahan” like “Raat Hamari” and when I was looking up information about these two films I found that these songs shared the same music director Shantanu Moitra, same lyricist Swanand Kirkire and in the case of “Chaar Kadam” and “Piyu Bole” they were sung by Shaan and Shreya Ghoshal. Quite the coincidence!

As expats, and migrants, we meet Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, who are mistaken as Indians, or (unfortunately) clubbed together as Indians. Sometimes, (again very unfortunately) the larger section of the populace misses the point that these are countries with varied cultures, influences and they have rich, heterogeneous heritages. This point gets beautifully put across by Sushant Singh Rajput who plays such a subtle and lovable role. An Amitabh-loving, Urdu poet, studying, working a part-time job at the embassy, humorous, shy, well-mannered, respectful, what a wonderful way to re-think the manner in which we perceive. Finally, who betrays is not so much the guy who we have been taught to suspect but our own narrow-mindedness. Perhaps, it is naïve to think this way, maybe the third generation of Indians (for this is an Indian film) post the independence have softened their views on partition, however, and as part of that generation, and the descendant of grand-parents who have lived through the living nightmare that 1947 was, maybe it is time for a rethink. And, if we as human being lose the ability to challenge and question, to learn and move on, then maybe this “gola” is truly “lul.”

The question of religion or the religion question, whether within – worship the small idol, or the big one in the temple, is “daan” a fees, of gurus and their gyaan, or between religions – Hindu and Muslim is a tricky one to handle – given the matchstick-striker ratio that operates within the world’s largest democracy. To the credit of Indian cinema and Bollywood, it has addressed these issues in a manner that has been ‘acceptable’ – here acceptable means getting released with least (sort of) amount of disarray within makers of the film, audience and censors, here least is used in a rather liberal (sort-of) fashion – Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995), Shyam Benegal’s Mammo (1994), Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) immediately come to mind but I am sure there are many more. PK offers a critique of religious dogmas, giving a bitter spoonful with ample gloss and sugar. To make such a film you need a decent amount of conviction in what you want to say and how you want to say it – any imbalance could spell disaster. PK manages the tight rope well with the message of a direct contact with the maker and no wrong numbers.

I don’t view PK as a catalyst to change; I view it as the start of a conversation, quite in the manner that 3 Idiots and Taare Zameen Par required for us to at least glance at the education system that we have been put through. For change to come through it will take something far more intense, radical, and even bizarre, in the meantime, “Dil ko behelane ko Ghalib yeh khayal achcha hai.” For all the movies you could have made Mr. Hirani – you made a good one.

Links
Why is Bollywood film PK controversial? by Vikas Pandey
Parineeta (2005) – the movie
PK (2014) – the movie

YouTube has an extensive collection of “Making of PK” videos – a must watch if you want to see how the movie comes together.

Winter Sun and Yellow Things

Those who read this blog regularly know my fondness for Amstel Park. I have befriended each hidden corner, nook and cranny, secluded benches and ponds. I have read under its trees, played hide and seek between its bushes, ran through the maze, broken ice on its neglected fountains, eaten ice cream, bandaged scraped knees, criticized the name ‘midget golf,’ hugged the rabbits, patted the pigs, clucked with hens, balanced myself on the train tracks, exchanged intelligent conversations, random ramblings, drunken songs and dragged branches home.

To you Amstel Park: “Acquainted with the Night” – a poem by Robert Frost published in 1928 in his collection West-Running Brook

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

—-

The big yellow table with two chairs in Amstel Park look like something out of a Vincent van Gogh painting. They will be placed in Dam Square on May 4th and 5th. The table and chairs symbolize the Freedom Luncheon or Vrijheidsmaaltijd, which will be served to hundreds of tables in the city. The table was conceived by artist Arne Hendriks. Hendriks views the table as “an instrument of solidarity.” The table is designed by Stichting Stadshout. The wood used is a 155 year old beech. It sticks out, the yolk yellow in the middle of murky green.

Going away – a visit to NIAS

Our team at work went for an offsite to NIAS in Wassenaar. I wrote a small feature on the outing. I am sharing a snippet (the one which Purab made me read out again):

Autumn is an extraordinary season. The trees laden with orange, brown and red, shed their leaves. Ripe with the experiences of the entire year, this purging of excess is liberating. Autumn prepares for winter a time of silence and rest. Lest we forget, in this stationary season much work is done. Below the surface, life prepares, and waits. The reflective black waters of the fountain in the Persian Rose garden is stirred, from these ripples emerge messages, onwards we must proceed.

Read more: click here

The pictures are that of NIAS and the area around the building taken on my iPhone 5s.

Full text:

The act of going away is highly underrated. The cyclic nature of everyday routines coats like a fog. When we step away we are able to see details clearly, patterns emerge that our eyes would have otherwise missed.

On November 20, 2014, Thursday, the VU Literatures in English team – staff members, Research Master students, and Ph.D. scholars – visited the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS) in Wassenaar where Professor Diederik Oostdijk is writing a book while on sabbatical.

NIAS is an idyllic location nestled near the coast, with glorious beech, oak and horse chestnut trees currently in vibrant autumn colors. The building – quaint and a generous space provides valuable research time for international scholars.

The team enjoyed a walk through autumn’s bounty to the Persian Rose garden. Intricately painted blue tiles stood out against the white walls, a fountain, and roses saturated in white, in summer the same roses are pink. To grow, indeed, we must pay heed to changing climes and still retain some of that ethereal beauty that makes us unique.

Autumn is an extraordinary season. The trees laden with orange, brown and red, shed their leaves. Ripe with the experiences of the entire year, this purging of excess is liberating. Autumn prepares for winter a time of silence and rest. Lest we forget, in this stationary season much work is done. Below the surface, life prepares, and waits. The reflective black waters of the fountain in the Persian Rose garden is stirred, from these ripples emerge messages, onwards we must proceed.

Surrounded by this lushness, visible through large windows, the team members had their first session. Diederik Oostdijk talked about the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Tim Scheffe on the Spanish Civil War, Karin Diks on Grace Nichols, and Anita Raghunath on the creation of the postcolonial other. They were joined by Professor Arthur Verhoogt, also a fellow at the NIAS. He is the Professor of Papyrology and Greek at the University of Michigan.

A warm lunch with pumpkin soup (apt for autumn), meatballs, vegetables and salad, cups of coffee and banter about the journeys undertaken and work accomplished was followed by the second session. Allard den Dulk, a guest from Amsterdam University College, joined the conversation and talked about 21st-century existentialism in American films and novels. Subsequently Roel van den Oever spoke about reading and sexual desire, Dirk Visser about plays revolving around the AIDS crisis and Amrita Das about American ghazals.

The themes varied, the techniques different, yet common threads of memory, remembering, forgetting, commemorating, performance, cultural symbolism and a passion for literature emerged. As the participants walked back to their cars, heading back to Amsterdam to what awaited on their desks and in their rooms, one could sense that stepping away had been worthwhile. Like the Persian Rose garden in the middle of NIAS, in between teaching, exams, administration and preparation, our research lies, sometimes white, sometimes pink, and it is helpful to step away and notice we chose the academic path (and literature in particular), and to witness ourselves going through the process of creation and recreation.

—–

Unpacking Salzburg Global Seminar

My trip to Salzburg to participate in the Salzburg Global Seminar’s twelfth session “Defining America: New Writing, New Voices, New Directions” at the beautiful Schloss Leopoldskron comprised of many profound moments of learning. At our Graduation Dinner in St. Stephen’s College, way back in 1999, my happy batch-mate Siddarth Correya had said that his learning in college had been as much outside the classroom as inside. The Schloss provided me with the atmosphere I was hopelessly nostalgic about post leaving College Campus. You learn during the sessions, from what is said, but you learn as much from just being there, and from what is still left unsaid.

It has taken me awhile to unpack. Between laundry and reams of notes, I find stories, I catch myself smiling. At the Schloss, the rooms overlook the sprawling lawns, fountains, the lake, the mountains, sunshine, inside the discussion focused on the nuances of authorship, or, the symbolism of a wet sari in a Bollywood film. The generous meals were sprinkled with conversations: the political air of Malaysia, traveling from Calcutta to Berhampur, the paintings that denote seasons, is there music playing? The range of speakers and topics were mind-boggling. The mind danced. And, the refrain I kept returning to, what does this mean for American Literature and the ghazal?

But, let’s just set aside my emotionally charged pen, (erm keys), talking hard facts, this Seminar belongs to the rare breed where seamless structure and efficiently managed logistics magnificently merges with informal atmosphere. It is an intensive program and an immersive one; you are dipped in and saturated. And you leave knowing that your thoughts have been tweaked.

As I slowly return to reading and writing, I feel I have greatly benefitted from the experience for three reasons. Firstly, because it has managed to refuel my faith in this field – sigh, campus life, also there is so much work still to be done. I know, I do hear the dismal talk about the state of academics and funding, but, by golly there is so much research still to be done, and this field is so deliciously dynamic. Secondly, in the library, at the Schloss I found ghazals I had not read before. I carried back these gems with me to use in my studies, along with lots of notes that I will try to incorporate into my research. Lastly, bierstube. That’s all I can say!

Enjoy the pictures! You might notice a picture of a cactus that has flowered. While I away our resident prickles decided to shine in neglect.

More about the seminar: The seminar was hosted by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA).

It had attendees from 26 countries that included novelists, critics, Ph.D. candidates, academics, editors, professors, and performers. The speakers and discussion groups sought the definition of ‘new’ and aspects of it in American literature.

Seminar website: click here (spot me in the picture – black and white outfit, approximately in the middle row).

Edited to add: official pictures <— click

Drover’s Dog, Amsterdam

We went over to the Australian cafe Drover’s Dog for breakfast with our friends. It has a nice laid-back vibe. I could see myself reading the papers in a corner sipping a mug of coffee, the place is great to meet folks as well – warm wood interiors, soft and natural light and lots of vases with flowers. It is a bit noisy on the weekends.

The menu is not run of the mill and has a few interesting options e.g. corn fritters that came with a perfectly poached egg and chili jam. I appreciated that on asking for a glass of water they offered a pitcher of water with herbs and lemon. Small gesture that makes a big difference.

The service is friendly. Children were quite welcome.

We reached a consensus that we ought to give this place: 4 stars (out of 5)
Location: Heemstedestraat 25, Amsterdam Oud-Zuid.