Arivu – A parable about an endangered culture

Once upon a time in the present day there lived a Retriever named Arivu. Arivu was a smart mongrel that was owned by a wealthy human who sheltered him in a plush kennel.  The dog would walk about the bungalow and flop down at will. His master was a man who had travelled the world and knew a lot about many things. Often times, Arivu would snuggle down at his master’s feet while the latter would softly stroke his head while discussing animatedly on a wide range of subjects with his visitors. The master would often take his visitors to a large room filled with books, and Arivu would perk up and follow the conversation intently.

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One day, a visitor had brought his German Shepherd along to visit the master. As they entered the study, Arivu darted in lest he missed the conversation. But in no time he was attracted to Naasha, the Shepherd. The latter was a tease. Both the canines started chasing each other and soon were lost in merriment.  Before long, it was time to part. But to Arivu’s delight, she was back the next week. It was a new found love for Arivu. As they rollicked around, they fell outside the bungalow. Both were so lost in their world that they didn’t realize that they had long left the house and beyond reach. They never bothered to find their way back either. But their love barely lasted a day.  The following  afternoon, Arivu woke up to realize Naasha had given him the slip. The Retriever couldn’t manage to stay alone however. In no time, he found himself gate-crashing into other canine settlements and picking up bitches.

A week later, Arivu started missing his master. He was sauntering about when he saw another Retriever being taken for a walk. He started following the dog and its master, whose left hand held the leash and the right, locked in the arms of a woman. The woman turned and saw Arivu and got excited. She wanted her companion to take him too. In a few minutes, Arivu was riding an elevator, up 15 stories, and presently entered the apartment the couple lived in. The house was all of five rooms, none of which appeared to have held a book ever.

It was one month now since had moved in. He ate well and stayed put, save for a customary morning walk.  One day, a lady came visiting. She looked at Arivu curiously for a minute, and then asked him “Arivu, run and fetch that magazine, will you?”  The dog looked at her with a blank expression, and yawned!

-A reader

‘From Hell’ – disturbing and awe-inspiring

‘Jack the Ripper’, the one with the conveniently ascribed name in the wake of a set of horrific killings in Victorian England, the one with bloodied hands and a knife to the cadaver of an unfortunate woman he won’t rest till he’s mutilated every inch of, finds himself transported to a scene at a place of work in the midst of the next century.  While going about his slashing and ripping, he looks around and expresses his consternation at the sights he gets, and utters a soliloquy: “Dear God, what is this Aethyr I am come upon? What spirits are these labouring in what heavenly light? No, this is dazzle, but not yet divinity. Nor are these heathen wraiths about me spirits lacking even that vitality. What then? … Are these the days my death shall spare me?… shall man be given marvels only when he is beyond all wonder?.. with all your shimmering numbers and lights, think not to be inured to history….how would I seem to you? Some antique fiend or penny dreadful horror, yet YOU frighten me! You have not souls, with you I am alone!”

This bit of monologue in Alan Moore’s ‘From Hell’, should serve to summarize the indifference of the generation that ushered in the new century, to the likely legend of the fiend that terrorized late 19th century England. Given the identity of Jack the Ripper has never been established, the question of his relevance may raise more eyebrows when we witness an exotic dancer in the year 1998, slipping out of her thong at a downtown club in London, and swinging to a techno beat ‘Jack Jack!!’

Despite himself, why is the serial killer discussed in literary circles to this day? If the scenes above ever so slightly attempt to bring vividness in the reader, then one must wait till they finish the 576 page reflection on the monstrosity that occurred in Victorian England towards the close of the 19th century. ‘From Hell’ by Alan Moore is easily one of the greatest achievements in the medium of graphic fiction, and a painfully researched one at that. Throughout the book, the one recurring thought in my head was ‘it is a ‘graphic’ novel alright’! Moore’s ‘V for Vendetta’ and ‘Watchmen’ are more accessible and universally revered. His retake on superheroes and vigilantes appealed immensely to the sceptics in us and gave a most plausible interpretation of anarchism. ‘From Hell’ however posits itself on the other end of the spectrum, so to speak.  We are not even presented with an anti-hero, but the utter lunacy of a deeply meditative mind. The perpetrator was never apprehended and no one had claimed with conviction to have seen him. What Moore serves us is one of the several versions of the legend, which appears palatable to the reader given the involvement of the royalty in the messy affair. A word on the research. There are exhaustive notes explaining the rationale behind each chapter, and they are anything but blind assumptions about the events.

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In Moore’s version, a member of the royal family is smitten by a shop-keeper girl and fathers a child from her. The queen intervenes and gets her surgeon to ensure that the woman doesn’t ever squeal, and save the throne from embarrassment. However one of the woman’s friends, a prostitute who’s creaking under a huge debt, decides to make fast money by blackmailing the royal family with a letter threatening to make the affair public. When the letter reaches the queen, she summons the royal surgeon, William Gull, again. What follows is a series of murders of unprecedented gruesomeness, perpetrated by an individual with deep surgical capabilities. The victims, all belonging to London’s East End, are chopped to pieces, their abdominal organs plucked out. Coupled with varying theories about the identity of the murderer and a largely incompetent Scotland Yard, the menace becomes palpable across Great Britain.

Eddie Campbell’s black and white artwork accentuates the grimness of it all – blood in black still gives the shudders. The lines are sketchy, and for me, they served to heighten the expectation of sombreness from every plate. The language in the book couldn’t be more apt.  Queen’s English, cockney accents, colloquialisms, you have it all. As for the narrative, any self-confessed anglophile will be sure to relish the proceedings, though he or she could so much as even begin to realize that a romantic Victorian England is but an illusion.  Dr. William Gull’s character is brilliantly crafted – a wretch who talks the most sophisticated language, who displays a keenness for history and the arts,  but doesn’t ever let things happen other than on his terms! Some character study this!

While the theory of the identity of Jack the Ripper may be suspect, the story effectively mirrors the moral depravity that was so rampant in the London underbelly during the late19th century.  Jack or no Jack, the commentary on evil and politics will continue to be relevant for a long time to come.

HARDly Content!

Heck, the Internet seems to have spread its legs real wide!  It’s a digital whorehouse, and a free one at that! And I’m as guilty as everyone of you ‘Johns’ and ‘Joann(?)’s, I’ll admit! Well, almost free, given that, as some wise ‘observer’ commented ruefully that ‘we have come to live in an age where WiFi can be cheaper than water’, probably after scratching their head in desperation about getting people to retrospect and decided to do so with an ‘insider view’.

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A real beauty, the Net, I tell you, but it tosses me in my bed to think how everyone’s having a go at it, willy nilly. Facebook and its ilk, I tell you, have made Wikipedia appear a scholarly journal. Anything goes. Like recently when dating app Tinder decided to conduct a social experiment to check on men’s and women’s biggest fear while dating someone online. Say, worrying they might hook up with an ‘overweight’ lady, or a stalker on the loose? Yeah, the results of the ‘experiment’ should be tabulated in a report for the department of social justice. And while they are at it, how about developing an app to gauge excitement levels of couples on their date? Closer home, there was this lady sweating it out on the streets of Mumbai  asking men how many times a day they thought of sex. This one has got several thousand ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ on Facebook and other sites. OK, so you proved that men are not forthcoming about their basic instincts, or they couldn’t articulate their feelings, or better, aren’t sexually charged. But none of that was published. We are expected to draw our conclusions from it. Sure, that you could have put the camera battery and editing time to direct use, say, to see if people can do without FB videos for a week.

These experiments and videos are still bearable at some level, as they can be regarded as short films by character, if not more. But the written word I tell you (OK, I’m bracing myself here).  Websites of questionable parentage have mushroomed all over and are humping the Internet (read ‘Web’) with crazy vigour and no let up. There’s this website, which piggybacks FB than walk about itself. Without  naming it, this one’s mostly known for ’10 things’ or ’15 reasons’ series of inane realizations, syndicated from the darkest corners of the Web. Easy way out, who doesn’t like bulleted lists. Wish it were more though.  ‘9 differences between life at 16 and life at 25’. Presumably written by someone who’s feeling geriatric at 25! ’14 struggles of being in a long distance relationship’, with the subhead ‘in a nutshell, long distance relationship sucks’. So you know how insightful the list will be, and why didn’t it occur to us all these years? The 9 and 14 are curiosity inductors no more. And Deepika no wonder entered the Forbes 10 list this week; her face is all over their website, which  I visited to see what their mission and vision statement were. Their About Us page assumes I’m either trying to nominate them for ‘TIME Person of the Year’ or being plain curious! I take this, but they still don’t give me any dough. Ask me to check back sometime later.  A couple days later I was almost ready to forgive and forget because a ’15 reasons’ list caught my eye. ‘15 things you will get when you have a South Indian friend’. With an air of triumph, I opened the list and what followed was bunkum! Sample this: ‘Bharatnatyam is not Kathakali’ and ‘Their Hindi has a funny accent’! If it’s all written by the same individual, again presumably a North Indian, then forget having a South Indian friend, they have not got their basics right! But I’ll hold myself, as they do conclude saying cool things about South Indians.

Agree, online content won’t remain fresh for more than a day, but can they help ‘not serving us oily and tasty stuff over healthy and bland ones, please’?

Orgiastic tendencies – Compulsive screwing, mindless gorging!

Us and Them

Baradwaj Rangan takes us back to our days of Floyd worhsip!

Baradwaj Rangan

With a new Pink Floyd album out, Baradwaj Rangan reflects on the band’s longstanding popularity with kids across college campuses in India.

So Pink Floyd have a new album out. It’s called The Endless River, which sounds about right for a Pink Floyd album. It’s the kind of name the band is so fond of, suffused with new-agey imagery from nature. I mean, just look at their discography. There was Delicate Sound of Thunder. There was Obscured by Clouds. There was The Dark Side of the Moon. There was The Wall (okay, not exactly nature, but you build walls on the earth, and that’s surely nature). There was The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. There was Atom Heart Mother (which sounds like a greeting card Schrödinger would send his mum, who was surely made of atoms, as is all of nature). There was Animals

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Damned if Rajini knew, forget others!

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Pray, what do I do? I haven’t made the film, but I want it to succeed. I don’t know how it will be, but I know how I want it to be. It shouldn’t be the best, but it should be the best yet. If it’s got him, it has to be real good, but not in the real sense of good. It should be nothing like what has come till date, but should have everything we have come to expect.

Pray, what is it about? Is it progressive? Does it have a human touch, or only his touch? Does it portray women well? Will it glorify the alpha male? Will it have punches aplenty, a swagger too many, and Chicken-soup advices candy-wrapped in tunes? Is it a story of against-all-odds or is it about getting even? Does that even matter?

Pray, will it win? Alpha male or betta’ female, the film should win in which he should win. He should win, because it is the person in him and not the actor in him. I want the punches, because no one else pulls them like him. I want the odds and evens both, because he tags style to victory. His style. He should win, because he has shown that the bizarre can win too, and how!

Pray, is there anything I can do? While I await the answer, let me do what people do best.

Pray

Nice, the new mean?

How does a writer go from good to popular? Write better, of course – something you and I would agree readily. But most often than not, one would have ended up writing very well, only to end up as a ‘good’ writer, and not necessarily a popular one at that! Who then gets the ‘popular’ ‘vote’ or ‘like’, if you will? Let’s guess: a. someone who has done monumental deeds – lot of them, a lot more than they could finish writing about. They can spend the rest of their glorious lives cherry picking delicious episodes from their adventures and serve them up hot and spicy to drooling readers;b. Someone who has clout, and can have the parliament ducking for cover when the individual sneezes. They will have a cohort of faithful who will drum up enough noise about their idol’s writing, that the world is gifted with real-time updates of the said individual’s literary pursuits;, c. Someone in whom resides the most deadly triumvirate of an illusionist, a hypnotist and a tantric. They need no one to endorse their writing, but only need to have the air of a conscience keeper of the masses, with a grave tone and a graver promotional line. In short they are all set to become the next messiah in their part of the world; and finally, d. someone who had a swell marketing career and then decided to take a stab at creativity.

What about the writers who aren’t attracted by any of these categories and those who choose to repel from them? They’ll probably be eagerly joining up fraternities that deride and ridicule members of the aforementioned classes of individuals aka writers.

Naturally, because they are mostly at the mercy of people who are ‘nice’ to them. The ‘nice’ brigade. Make no mistake, this is a dragon rapidly growing in size, and will start treading mindlessly over our magnificent structures. This is very much akin to the massive army of sentinels that awed us in ‘The Matrix’ trilogy. What do the nice ones do? They want peace on earth, which we all do too of course. But, while it’s unclear if they are doing any bit for the peace that’s eluding the geopolitical hotspots in this world, they will certainly praise our writers to the skies and avoid the remotest possibility of conflict. Here’s a poor chap who has lost sleep over a critique of the growing popularity of visuals in social media, and goes about urging people to read his piece. The first chap who comes along – just our writer-critic’s luck – is from the nice brigade. The latter, as he begins reading, has a benign smile plastered on his face, which remains static till the last line of the essay. He looks up at our writer and says it was absolutely fantastic and his vocabulary was exquisite, and that he has style. Keep writing, you’ll do great, he says. Er, what about the critique? Oh, he just remembered he had to rush for a meeting. See you around buddy, keep up the good writing. Never the one to give up, our writer continues hawking his thoughts to other likely buyers.

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The nice guys, if one were to think, are probably striving to grow their social network (including the virtual one). Their elating feedback is bound to lift anyone’s spirits up, and bingo, they have collected another ‘friend’. The next time the writer comes out with a piece, they’d have chosen to ignore, as the writing would do anything but boost their social status. So our writer waits up for a while – their readership has remained as low as their toddler’s age-, and decides to knock on Nicey’s door. Nicey is at their effervescent best. Hi there, how do you do? But of course I will read your stuff. I thought you had stopped writing these days. Do show me no, quick. Nicey does a quick scan through. There you go, brilliant as always. Writer says, ‘c’mon you are being nice’. Nicey says, naah, you know I never believe in complimenting people for the sake of it. Wish I could write like you. This is followed by an abrupt silence. Our writer, being the sensitive sort, decides to change the topic, and Nicey all but hugs the opportunity tight.

Our writer by now knows better than to expect any real connect between the world and their writing. People, he reckons, will make time for ideas, but only from certain people, a privileged lot at that!

-Metafore

The Admirable 10

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  1. MK Gandhi – Forget non-violence, truth, the freedom struggle and the other points of reference associated with the Mahatma, it is just that at the time of extreme moral decadence as this, we can always hark back to our history and feel blessed that a great soul who lived very much in our midst walked the earth. Its nigh impossible to get another Gandhi, because people will have realized by now that, as GB Shaw says, ‘it is dangerous to be too good’!

 

  1. John le Carre – A book critic had once wondered in one of Le Carre’s book reviews, as to why he hasn’t received a Nobel Prize for literature. The critic’s rumination is not unfounded, at least for me. Le Carre is at once a spy master and a high priest of language. His plots are apposite to the state of the world, and never miss the human element which we do with such abandon in our real lives.

 

  1. Rajinikanth – The first individual, and the only one so far, whose autobiography I cannot wait to read, whenever it comes. So great is this personality, that I lie in perennial doubt if he’ll ever let the story of his life be trapped within covers. He should though, for this world is always full of inspirations, but never full with.

 

  1. AR Rahman – My appreciation of his music will probably do injustice to his divine talent, as I am aware that it requires an extremely discerning ear, even for ovation. But I also know that beyond his music lies love, which really is the sum of his life’s achievements. A true saint he is.

 

  1. Alan Moore – A comics  writer, Moore has beaten hollow some of the greatest practitioners of non-graphic fiction of our time. V for Vendetta and Watchmen are more than testimonials to his literary genius. His writing leaves me amazed at the unfathomable depths the human mind can go to, in unravelling the complexities of the its own psyche. Little wonder then that he is regarded the greatest graphic novel writer of all time.

 

  1. Jimmy Wales – He founded Wikipedia. I don’t need any other reason to celebrate him. He was on Time magazine’s 2006 list of 100 most influential people in the world. When knowledge is offered free, spare a moment for the giver before grabbing it with both hands. I will take this opportunity to urge you all to contribute to Wikimedia, and do your bit to make Earth more accessible to its own denizens.

 

  1. Sir Tim Berners-Lee – One can’t mention Wikipedia without mentioning the Internet. If there’s a Briton I have consciously reminded myself to start admiring, it is most certainly Berners-Lee. Hell, he invented the World Wide Web. I can bet my bottom dollar that many of you know me because of what this individual came up with in the summer of ’89.

 

  1. Robert Maitland Bereton – The Indian rail route from Bombay to Calcutta is touted to be a part of the inspiration for Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. This line was the result of the rapid expansion of the Indian Railways from 1857. And the Robert Bereton was the gentleman who was primarily responsible for building the complex network of railroads in our country. Can we doff our hats for the Brits this once?

 

  1. David Gilmour and Roger Waters – The soul of Pink Floyd. Their regime on the rock stage was colossal. Their sound to this day is most distinct, as are their lyrics. Waters and his profound lyrics, and his equally plangent, resonant, deep-toned and silken voice, Gilmour with his amazing dexterity on the guitar, Gilmour with ‘his’ guitar, and a ‘feathery’ voice, along with steadfastness that saw him till disbanding (never in spirit though). Pink Floyd and its stalwarts had to be on this list, no two ways about it!

Who are your admirable 10?