I feel like I’ve come back to a room I locked long ago. The lock creaks as I try to turn the key. The door groans with disuse. The room is in darkness and I’ve forgotten even where the light switch is. I can make out the outlines of windows all around but they are locked and I can’t open them – others hold those keys.
I stumble around the room, banging into this and that, till I turn on the light. It is a dull sort of glow that comes on – surely it wasn’t so before? But, time has passed and much has changed. I walk around the place – looking, touching. The absence of light from the windows is striking – the views used to be wonderful and varied.
I lock myself in and stay for hours. I thought perhaps I could find some way to go back in time. I find nothing but I have the pleasure of wallowing in the certainty of the past. I lock up – knowing I will be back, the next time I seek to escape the present again.
I love animated movies and I think in the recent past, we’ve had quite a few lovely ones. Pixar, Dreamworks animation and Fox animation share the credits for the ones I liked. There have been toys, monsters, animals of every kind, superheroes, villains and the occasional ordinary folk too. I suppose one reason why I love these movies is that these characters are built from imagination – various actors give them voice of course, but the face is completely new and the best characters have very realistic personalities and a story behind them.
• How to train your dragon – Hiccup was a lovely character and the slight sarcastic tone in his narration just gave it a perfect touch. Toothless was almost like a pet puppy – only, he was a dragon :-D
• Monsters Inc – I loved the monsters at work and Boo was adorable! I could almost see Billy Crystal playing Mike instead of just lending voice!
• Ratatouille – A traditional story of dreams and hardwork. But, I could love this movie just for that dialogue on the critic and the creator.
• Toy story – Can anyone resist this one? I just found myself replacing characters with my own toys. The only movie where I enjoyed all the sequels.
• Finding Nemo – There was a story at both ends – in the ocean and in the tank. Besides, clownfish are so cute :-P
The ones that almost made it?
• Up – I loved the initial part of the movie, but the second half wasn’t as good.
• Ice Age – The setting is great, but I think the multiple sequels are an overkill.
• Megamind – A super-villian story, but apart from Megamind, the other characters were not as well developed.
• The Incredibles – A good superhero story, but not much difference from the many flesh and blood versions.
• Wall-E – I think they had a great character, but not that memorable a story.
• Shrek – Yet another where the first movie was good, but the sequels totally killed my liking.
Settings have ranged from ice age to space age. The stories have got more imaginative – A monster city powered by children’s screams? A robot that falls in love with another? A rat that cooks up a storm? Sometimes, there are deep messages tucked into this seemingly childish medium – a villain who realizes he has no meaning without a hero to fight? A panda who understands how some things can become special because people believe them to be so?
I do hope the industry will stop banking on sequels so much and concentrate on original creations. But, I already see plans are on for 'How to train your dragon 2', 'Monsters University' and 'Despicable Me 2'. Sigh!
I have been reading the english translation of Volume 1 of Kalki Krishnamoorthy's Ponniyin Selvan - 'The First Floods'. The book is translated by C V Karthik Narayanan and looks to be a literal translation rather than a work of paraphrasing. To someone very ignorant about various parts of Tamil Nadu, this book was a very informative and thoroughly enjoyable read. It has certainly increased my curiosity about my state and its history (a lot of googling to follow :))
The book is a historical fiction set in the Chola dynasty in the 900's AD. I am not sure where the history part ends and the fiction begins - however, the characters of the royal dynasty atleast are as per history. I could easily compare this book to others written by authors like Alexandre Dumas - there is a basis in historical facts, a swashbuckling hero and a rollicking adventure follows.
It isn't an easy book to read - the characters do get carried away with the similies and metaphors they use, the translation of the poetry quoted throughout probably does not convey the same feeling as the original tamil versions and for a few chapters, I did struggle to keep track of the various names and titles of the royal family members. However, the book holds you rivetted with beautiful descriptions of the historical setting and the characters develop over the chapters rather than being described at one spot. Kalki is a very considerate narrator to provide enough background to every situation and he shifts scenes fast enough to keep the reader interested.
The translation is no doubt a wonderful effort - I specially enjoyed the detailed introduction that helps us understand the life and times of Kalki. One flaw would be that the tamil names and words did not use any stress marks leading me to pronouce things wrong.
Though the title of the book is in reference to Arulmozhi Varman (aka Rajaraja cholan), atleast in the first book, Vallavarayan Vandhiyathevan is the hero we follow - a brave warrior on a mission entrusted by the crown prince who wants to deliver a message to his father and sister. Vandhiyathevan encounters multiple dangers along the way and meets many interesting characters - scheming politicians, unlikely spies and various members of royalty to say the least. However, his valour and wit help him escape each situation while providing us an entertaining account to read.
A little googling led me to find out that the tamil text is available online in wikisource here and audio recordings of the first book is available here. I can't wait to read the other four books now!
This story is my entry to the Short Story Contest being held by 'The Banyan Trees'. Details here. The theme is 'Light and Dark'. What do you think? :)
He sat on a stack of thin cardboard sheets at the entrance of his hut and watched the river flowing below him. Last year had been particularly dry, so they had not worried about the river. This year, the rains had come early. He wondered how long it would be before they'd wake to find the river inside the house.
His hut would be among the last to be flooded, he thought. It stood amongst others which were even closer to the river. Poor constructions - materials ranging from brick and cement to wood, tin, asbestos, mud, straw and woven coconut leaves. It was what people called a slum. But it was, somehow, more wretched than most slums and had grown in the slope that led to the river, just below a bridge.
It had been a very long day at the construction site where he worked alongside his wife. Now, he heard her rattling the almost empty vessels inside as she cooked dinner.
When they came, she heard the conversation as well. They spoke about the temple they were going to build - on the roadside space just after the bridge. Every house was expected to put in as much as they could spare. 'I'll let you know' he muttered and saw them off before going in to eat.
As they ate, she wondered aloud – ‘Why are those boys doing this? They are a bad lot, you know. Drunk all the time! Hardly ever work - living off their old parents and relatives. Why are they suddenly enthusiastic about building a temple?’ 'Maybe they have changed?' He volunteered after sometime. Some answer seemed to be expected of him. She shook her head, looking very worried. 'They are up to something.'
A few days later she rushed home in excitement after a chat with a neighbor. 'I told you, didn’t I?' she said triumphantly. He looked at her inquiringly and she went on – 'Those boys, they are getting everyone to pay for the temple. Then they'll just place the money collection box there and guess who'll have the key? Oh! They are clever. Not a penny from them and they'll earn out of it.'
He smiled at her excitement - 'Calm down. We can't do anything about it.' Her face fell. He was right. She couldn't go around telling people what she thought was the real reason. Everyone would pay. No one wanted to offend the gods.
Over the next few months, the temple slowly took shape. It was made from bricks and cement. It had a proper roof and a much decorated entrance. Threatening figures were molded all over, painted in heavy colors. A statue of a many armed and frightening goddess was installed. There was a money box too and one of them put the key in his pocket.
At the opening ceremony, people prayed fervently. She stood in the crowd and watched as the hired priest recited prayers and waved a camphor flame. People parted willingly with their coins. Devotional songs blared from loudspeakers set up outside.
When she returned, she sat in silence beside him at their hut’s entrance for awhile. 'I don't understand,' she said finally.
‘What happened?’ he asked, turning to look at her.
'That is how every temple is built, isn't it? Someone decides a place and brings bricks and cement and makes a building. Then they paint it in the right colors, add an idol and a temple is made.'
The song from the loudspeakers was audible still. The light of the decorative lamps looked beautiful from the distance.
'Yes. But, why is it bothering you?' he asked.
She turned back to him after gazing at the temple for a few minutes. 'Doesn't it seem wrong to you? See how temples are made - a bunch of drunks want to make some easy money and they make a building in the right shape. That’s all. It’s just a building. Nothing more. I used to think I was in the presence of God when I went to a temple. This can't be right. This isn’t about God.'
He frowned thoughtfully. ‘Those boys worked on something and kept out of trouble these few months. However selfish or crude their intentions may be – we have a temple nearby. Now you need not go to the other temple 3 miles away. They will pocket some money while they arrange for festivals. But for the first time, we will see the festival being celebrated here. Some good will come out of this as well.’
Two weeks later, they woke up to rising flood waters in their hut. Their shelter for the next three weeks was the temple. It was the only structure nearby with a proper roof, brick walls, open doors and of course, the money box.
You remind me of a poem
That I worked to memorize.
I liked the idea of it first.
It spoke of things I had always felt,
but never found the words to express.
So, I read it again and again,
exploring its meaning and
enjoying its rhyme and rhythm.
I knew the words by heart soon
Could recite them in my sleep
But it took a while to get
my voice and poise right
to fit those lovely words.
It had been one of those days. Yet another. The night bought no rest or peace. How could it, when the day had been as unproductive as it had been for the past many months? He tossed and turned and agonized over it every night. He knew he had to wait. The gift came with a curse. He had to be patient. But it was so hard. So hard to see the bundle of blank paper undiminished day after day. So hard to make himself eat each day so that he would live another and hope. So hard to walk through the library dreaming of the day his name would smile down at him from one of the shelves.
He went for walks. Long ones, where he watched and listened. Somewhere in all the chaos around him, was a story. A story that he would write. He only had to keep looking till he found it. So he looked and looked - wandering around the market, loitering on the railway station platform, waiting on the park benches, riding random buses around the city. He would hear snatches of conversations, note the environment, study people's features and mannerisms, capture their emotions and then imagine their circumstances. To the masses rushing past, he was some kind of still life he supposed. They presented a slice of their life to him and he tried to create a past and future to the moment.
When he went back to his room, he made notes in a large worn out notebook. It was like a diary that he spoke to - telling it all that he saw and thought and felt. His imagination took him far, but just not far enough and not often enough. And so he waited. You do understand, don't you? He was close to his breaking point. Maybe one more day would do it?
He dragged himself out of bed again. When he stepped out, you could see he was different. He carried a bag. His eyes were mostly fixed on the ground and he walked with no direction or end in mind. He walked till his legs ached and then found a place to rest, settling down leaning against a large tree. The notebook rested on his lap. Maybe he ought to burn it up, he thought, caressing the dog earned edges. He had tried enough and it was foolish to waste more time on this.
All the same, he couldn't resist opening the notebook. One last time, he told himself as he began reading. He was soon lost in the tiny splashes of life that his notebook was full of. Time passed and the sun climbed the sky and began dipping towards the west. When he was done, he closed his eyes and sighed deeply - so many story lines, so many characters, so many beginnings...it was endings that he didn't get. Ending - well, that was life's job anyway. She chose when and how and where things ended. All one could do was begin.
He had almost applied the match to notebook when he paused. His hand shook, the match fell harmlessly to the ground and his mind exploded in chaotic thoughts. Beginnings. That was the answer. All the people he watched, all the pain he had seen and all the possibilities there were but which only he could imagine. He would show them the fork in their road.
'New Beginnings for Sale' reads the little board outside the room. It is a clean, empty space with a desk and a few chairs. He sits there and waits. He doesn't mind doing that, you know. He has had enough practice.
He woke up again in the dark. Sleep visited only in tiny spurts now that dreams constantly interrupted it. Dreams that started elsewhere, yet somehow they twisted around in his mind till they found her buried in his consciousness. Every time her smiling face filled his mind, he woke up - just as he did now. He wondered how long he would last this way. His mind did not seem to fade things out. His memories were razor sharp - not like faded sepia photos that brought on nostalgia.
He sat staring into the darkness for awhile before turning on the lamp. He opened the drawer on the bedside table and took out a small bottle. The bottle was three quarters empty - a honey coloured liquid danced around at the bottom as he idly swirled it. He had lasted almost a week without it, but now he needed to sleep. He opened the bottle and tipped a drop of the precious liquid on her pillow. Lights off and he let her perfume lull him to sleep.
When he woke again, the room was full of sunlight. He could still smell the mild fragrance of the perfume drop. It would linger for awhile. It was the only thing that helped – that made her presence real, fought away the nightmares and brought blissful sleep. He picked up the bottle and read the name – ‘Bliss’. He remembered where she had bought it – it was almost two years ago – in a quaint old market place in a city that had stood still in time. He had to go back there and find the shop again. Something wasn’t right about the scent today – something was missing. He needed a new bottle. He wondered if he could find the place again – they had found it when they lost the way on one of their rambles.
He made the long journey to that place forgotten by time. It took him some time, but he found the shop. The perfume maker was an old man. His face was serene though wrinkled; his thin body was topped by a thatch of grey hair. Years of bending over his fragile instruments and ingredients had left him with a slight stoop. Tiny bottles lined the numerous shelves around the shop. Boxes and jars of every kind held ingredients. Glass cases enclosed the bottles of perfume that were for sale.
He laid the precious little bottle on the counter. ‘I want to buy a few bottles of this perfume’, he said. His voice sounded hoarse and unused. He felt like he hadn’t spoken in a long time and maybe he hadn’t. ‘I remember you’, said the old man staring at him keenly. ‘You came with a young lady then. You were both so happy to have discovered my shop by accident.’
He winced at the last word and simply said ‘I’ve lost her’. ‘I know,’ said the perfume maker gesturing him to sit down. ‘No woman would want to buy the same perfume again. She would want something new and so would you if she were still here. You lost her to death and you are not willing to let go.’
‘This is the only thing that helps me. If I close my eyes, her presence seems real. Please sell me a few more bottles of it’ he pleaded. The old man sank down in his seat and looked sadly at the troubled young man. ‘I don’t make it anymore’, he said finally, ‘I make one batch of every perfume I create and I never make it again. You can look around if you like.’
He looked devastated – clearly the thought had never occurred to him. ‘Why?’, he asked softly. ‘Can’t you make it again? You surely kept the recipe?’ The old man shook his head ‘Perfume is not sold for the sake of the one wearing it. It's sold for the others who will learn to recognize their loved one's approach by a whiff of that scent. Every story does not have a forever. When there is a forever, it will adapt the new flavor of the season. When there is none, I spare some pain to the hearts that ache. Believe me, I am trying to help you.’
‘Besides, there is something more, isn’t it? Why did you come here so soon? There is still enough left in that bottle for another 6 months’ the perfume maker questioned gently. He looked up into the old face and tears stung his eyes as he murmured ‘It seems different these days. Maybe the perfume is too old. Not by much, but something is still different. I thought maybe a new bottle would help.’
The young man looked up at him after a lengthy period of silence. ‘There is something missing in that scent you inhale these days’ the perfume maker said finally, ‘Every individual affects the liquid differently, creating something new that I can’t ever hope to replicate. She is missing. The last ingredient for a perfume is the person wearing it.’
The young man closed his eyes for a moment and let the meaning sink into his mind. He opened his eyes again and slowly stood up to go. ‘Thank you. You know exactly how much you have helped me.’ On the glass counter, the bottle of 'Bliss' cast a long shadow in the evening sun's rays.
I watched the last Harry Potter movie today and came away with such a satisfied feeling. This one is definitely the best movie of the lot – especially, the first half. I watched the movie in 3D, but there wasn’t much impressive about that. I could have watched it in 2D and come away with the exact same opinion.
The story begins where the last movie left off – at Shell Cottage. With Griphook’s help, the trio break in to Gringotts to look for a horcrux in Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault. Then they make their escape on a dragon and reach Hogwarts to look for the next Horcrux. From now on, the battle of Hogwarts begins and what a battle it is! Sparks fly when jinxes and curses clash as the two sides fight it out on the grounds of Hogwarts. All the magic in the air seems to trigger atleast two love stories Meanwhile, Snape’s true colours come to light and Harry’s accepts his fate as the last Horcrux. It is a war that claims many lives and there is no triumphant roar at the end – only a sense of things being ordinary again.
The screenplay is terse and cuts out the unnecessary side stories – the focus is clearly on the hunt for the horcruxes and the battle of hogwarts. We have seen child actors\actresses grow up through the different movies and with age, some of them have become better actors. Daniel Radcliffe looks much more comfortable in his role in this movie, Emma Watson has always played a rather tense character – she loosens up a bit in this, Rupert Grint is faintly better somehow, Neville’s character is stronger. Alan Rickman seems a lot older in this movie and having him act the scenes from the past didn’t work out well. Somehow, the makeup on Ralph Fiennes has always made me feel they got Voldemort wrong. I wish they spent more effort on the villians.
Looking back, I have a feeling JKR wrote the last book knowing how awesome it would be on film. While part 1 of the Deathly Hallows was not this exciting, part 2 is a fitting finale. Do watch.
At some point, I became fascinated by a the sight of a fluttering kite against Chennai's cloudless blue skies. All the kite flying around our apartment was done by the boys in the slum nearby. It was very entertaining to watch them at it and I must have watched them a lot - I do have so many memories.
They didn't require much to make a kite - a couple of long twigs from a broomstick, a light polythene cover and some string. While the first two ingredients were available in plenty to them, the last one needed much more care. That was the first time I heard the word 'Maanja'.
A bunch of boys would be huddled around an old paint can containing an evil mixture. This strange concoction was said to contain everything from glue to ground glass pieces. At least three people were needed for the work - at least five more stood around watching and providing advice. One boy would deal out plain string from a spool, the second would help it pass through and get coated with the mixture in the paint can, the third would wrap the coated string back on to another spool. Once dried, the string would be a deadly weapon attached to the kites. It wasn't a matter of flying the kites - it was a matter of pulling down others' kites while not losing your own and the string greatly helped there.
Making the kite itself was a much quicker process - A square piece of light polythene bag would be cut out, a couple of coconut leaf twigs would be make the frame around which the polythene was held taut and the much-fussed-over string would be attached. It was all done in a jiffy and such a joy to watch!
The kite fliers chose their location with care and the games started in the sky. One person would come out to fly his kite and his lone kite would be joined by three or four others pretty soon. The ones who wanted to save their kites quickly left and the rest fought to cut the others' string - the power of each 'Maanja' coated string would become apparent here. Most of the trees and the TV antennas in the area had broken kites tangled up in them. Some people managed to rescue their kites and sometimes a random stranger would be lucky to have a kite drop out of the sky into his hands.
Since I never had such luck, I decided to make my own kite. Perhaps, I hadn't studied the process much then and I had no idea how to make one. So, what does a girl do when she wants to make a kite - she goes running to Dad, of course. Soon enough, Dad and I sat on the floor with newspapers, twigs, string and gum strewn all over the place. We didn't just make a kite - we engineered it. :D The shape was perfect, the frame was solid and we were pretty pleased with ourselves by the time we were done. The kite was left to dry overnight and the next day we set out triumphantly to the terrace to fly our masterpiece.
I held the kite and stood some distance away from dad, who held the string. There was a strong gust of wind and I let go of the kite, pushing it up as much as I could. Strangely, it refused to stay up in the breeze and fell back. We tried again. And again. And again. It was quite puzzling. Finally we gave up and went home, defeated. The kite stayed on my table for a few months, gathering dust till Mum probably threw it away. Much later, I realized that we had made 'too solid' a kite and used too much gum, string and paper in our enthusiastic efforts. It was just too heavy to fly!
Outside, the boys continued to fly their polythene bag kites. 'Manja' ruled the skies, I watched them with interest but I never tried making a kite again.