Saturday, September 27, 2008

Much Ado about Nothing

I just finished Ian Rankin’s The Naming of the Dead. It was my first Inspector Rebus crime novel, and regretfully, it will be my last. This much hyped about character is mentioned with reverence in the British newspapers and websites and, I am sorry to say, I was let down by DI Rebus. I want my money back.

The story is set in Edinburgh and, much to my delight, during the G8 meeting in July 2005. Now it so happens that I, with my family, was haunting the streets of Edinburgh in the last week of June 2005, and we escaped just before the security clamp down preceding the G8 meet. So lots of streets, and locations, came flooding back to me nostalgically. I even checked out wikimapia to refresh my memory, and to locate the novel’s more important locations. But apart from this serendipitous timing, there is little to say about the book. I want my money back.

The story line is extremely light, and demands the reader be excited about local events and personalities. Just because the G8 meet is thrown in the background to artificially set a stage , does not make the storyline any more gripping. It is not what a crime novel needs to be - a page turner. It lacks in tight narrative, and refuses to seize the reader with anticipation. The chapters stagger into one another, and some of the characters are just plan redundant e.g. Siobhan’s (for God’s sake) parents. Not only are they the most uninteresting couple I have ever read about, any attempt to make them interesting by thrusting a hippie look on them just does not work. There are a myriad of dubious characters, and DI Rebus seems to have an ambivalent attitude towards them. For instance, the chapter in which Rebus is forced by the goon, Cafferty to visit a local politician’s speech comes through as a iffy kind of thing; Rebus did not want to go, but he went, because he was forced to and the story demanded it, and in any case we need to fill out fifty pages, so that the buyer can get his money’s worth. Utter crap. The author churned out this book to sell to the gullible British people who just love DI Rebus. I don’t and I want my money back.

I will not bother to reveal who the killer is. Or maybe I should. It will save the readers money in case they are thinking or buying this book. Aww! Forget it. Just pass this book.

Did you know that J.K. Rowling , as a struggling artist, wrote the first Harry Potter book in a café, The Elephant House, in Edinburgh? We went and had coffee there, and the girls just loved it.

Odds and Ends

A map of South Delhi taken from Fanshawe’s book shows Delhi early 1900s. Interesting stuff. Notice Lado Sarai in the middle, and a few water bodies one does not see now.

Delhi Chronicles

The Whiff of Autumn

September 22 was the autumn equinox. Happy Equinox! When I got up and went to the garden for a cup of tea, I could smell the weather change. The temperature is down a bit, and one is glad to see the summer off. Although this year the summer was mild; in fact milder than I have ever experienced in Delhi. It is a delight to see the autumn come on us suddenly. Unlike in the west where the autumn creeps in gradually, it is an epiphanic change here. The leaves do not change color here, but the trees and the shrubs are greener than ever. The ennui of the summer and the mess of the rains seems to be forgotten in this moment. The atmosphere takes on pleasant hues, and one feels much invigorated. Long drives are a definite thing to do now. If only, the traffic jams sorted themselves out!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do you get it?

I was not about to write about this movie ( The Last Lear), but the review in the Times of India got my goat. The reviewer obviously did not get it. He obviously prefers the less cerebral, leave your brains at home, numbingly loud movies, and any form of subtlety is lost on him. In fact, I don’t think he is any different than the numerous college students around me, who had difficulty sitting still and just keeping quiet. They, too, just didn’t get it.

You can read the storyline in Mr. Kazmi’s review.

The movie is amazingly sensitive, and a refreshing change from the normal Bollywood fare. It is a director’s movie, where each scene is thoughtfully crafted, and subtly layered, so one has to pay attention. Of special mention is the hugely riveting relationship between the three women spending the night, almost as a wake, for Harry. I found the nurse’s role especially meaningful, as she is able to bridge the obvious social divide between the roles played by Zinta and Chavvi. The sparks between Arjun Ramphal and AB are engrossing in pieces, but the strength of the story is not in the ultimate betrayal, but in the (un) questionable drivers for the role played by Arjun. AB’s character is incidental, a tool, and a diversion to the essence of the storyline. Unfortunate, but true. AB is used to sell the movie, not be its main character, which undoubtly goes to Shifali Chaya, while Preity Zinta does a competent job. The parallel storylines nicely mesh and wind around each other, a credit to the editor. On the whole, a pleasurable experience and… more than Paisa Vasool!

Odds and Ends

The Booker shortlist

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

Delhi Chronicles

How green was MY valley

The streets around my house are incredibly crowded, but it wasn’t like this when I was a kid. Ours was the last house on the street, and unexplored fields stretched beyond. For an eight year old this meant hours of pleasurable wandering around, collecting dirt and grime, and stealing and eating the sugarcanes which the farmers grew. There never was any shortage of playing fields for a game of cricket or hockey. Vacant plots were aplenty, and, depending on the size, were converted into a hockey pitch or a cricket stadium. Despite this, there were quite a few windows broken, when we got too lazy and played the smaller version of cricket in the garden or, worse still, in the house. My dad was quite generous with his hands, and we did get some unjustified thrashings, whenever things went wrong. The dining table could be converted into a table-tennis table when it was raining outside. The streets were uncluttered by cars, and one could drive a cycle while eating a mango with considerable dignity, safe in the knowledge and there was only one more car in the colony, which was standing on bricks for the last two years in any case. We did raid that car once and managed to get inside. The treasures we looted from the car would still be around somewhere in my house. I think I took a piece of chrome which looked like a spoke of the steering wheel.

I feel sorry for today’s kids, and myself. Their only hang out place seems to be the malls, where they will spend my money.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Books Under The Stars

Last week I went for THE walk at 7 pm ish, which is after sunset nowadays. Gone are the days of bright sunlight in the evenings and one can feel the autumn creep up on us. In parts the walking path has some trees- not the tall, straight ones, but the smaller ones whose foliage spreads generously out, giving plenty of shade on a hot day. The leaves on both sides of the path meet in the centre, and one feels one is passing underneath a green arch. The trees also shade the traffic cacophony across the walled boundary. The crescent moon hung on an inky sky, with some stars splattered on the dark canvas. The high lux city lights did not, as yet, overwhelm the beauty of the early evening vista. As I passed a bush full of them I got a whiff of the smell of chameli flowers blooming in the evenings. A perfect evening to read Graham Greene.

In circumstances, the next best thing is to listen to an audio book. Martin Jarvis reading out The Third Man. After the mental gymnastics of Salman Rushdie it was a welcome change listening to the clean, straight lines of Graham Greene. Set in Vienna after the war, when the city was occupied by four powers, it is ostentatiously a murder mystery. But as is the case with many Graham Greene’s novels, it is also a tale of betrayal and loss; a story of flawed men and gods of clay. An unpleasant journey of discovery which on the way also becomes a search for meaning of one’s small and irrelevant lives. Graham Greene does not bother with much elaboration of the complications of lives, but instead tends to put the city and the characters in complimentary settings. The story starts with the harsh winter when Harry Lime is being buried with help of pneumatic hammers, and ends with another burial, this time when the snow is melting, and which in some ways also concludes a matter of some heart ache for the protagonist, Rollo Martins. Graham Greene, I think, has come up with one of his best characters in Rollo Martins. An ordinary writer of cheap westerns, somebody who likes to “mix his drinks” in more than one ways, and a person of some courage who refuses to cow down to threats, Rollo Martins is a reflection of an imperfect person. As in a true classic, the character easily transcends generations and centuries, and perhaps will remain the quintessential human being in all times.

It was a pleasure listening to Martin Jarvis narrate the novel, and the music used in the beginning and end of chapters did much to bring out the atmosphere of the locale.

Odds and Ends


I still shudder to see the Buddha statues at Bamian pounded by rockets. How easy it is to destroy a work of creation. And have the people who destroyed those works, replaced it with another of equal merit? The urge to destroy and control others is so strong with some, and the idea of perceived prosecution and hurt is easily spread by self serving political class, disguised as religious leaders.

It is easy to look the other way, or to condone such acts and thoughts in difficult times, but accepting such ideas is abhorrent. So, here’s another voice for peace in that troubled country.

The artefacts of the Kabul museum, thought stolen, were hidden away by the staff in a vault during the years of strife. These have now been recovered, and are a showpiece in the Washington National Gallery of Art. It is tragic that Afghanistan needs outside help to display its history. Oh! When will they ever learn?

Delhi Chronicles


I visited my ENT specialist, who also happens to be a child hood friend. We met up after decades, and I guess I do not remember him much after all these years. He did remember me, though, and after some prodding of my rapidly degenerating grey matter, I could keep up with the conversation, which mostly revolved around people we knew as kids. Not a surprise that all of us have now grown up, married, have children of our own, and, hence, have not met up since school. I did get a bit nostalgic about this, but I guess I will get over it.

Anyway, it turns out that this guy is the founder of GODS. No, not the head honcho of the celestial cabinet, but of the Group of Delhi Superbikers. Apparently these guys meet up every week on their jazzy super bikes and go for a spin. A group of about twenty people come from various back grounds- doctors, professionals and businessmen, and ride their bikes in open empty spaces around Delhi. Not that there are many open empty spaces- most of these are converted to open empty malls. The Greater Noida expressway was one such haunt, till some other kids met some nasty accidents there. The cops now keep a good look out for offenders, and GODS did not feel like getting caught in the wake. Nowadays they go to NH8 expressway, which is open enough for a superbike, though I do not think it is safe enough. I was impressed by one of their entry criteria- minimum age twenty five. Not that one’s hormones are depleted by that age- but it does show some responsible biking intentions. Hope the crazy kids racing down the Dwarka streets pick up something here.

They have an impressive website at, which has great many photographs, one of which is attached. Dr. Arun Thareja, the founder, does look neat in the GODS T-Shirt, and the rest of the gang look cool too.