Monday, March 10, 2014

Why It's OK To Hate Mondays

Aren't we supposed to love what we do? At least, that's what all the ads and the motivational speeches and the strength-of-the-human-spirit lobbies seem to advocate. No one should ever dread Mondays but instead look forward to them: "Ah, another glorious week of achievement coming right up ahead!"

Every second is precious and none should ever be wasted earning a living. Rather, live your life, do what you love, and the rewards you're entitled to will come. Life is too short to spend 8 hours everyday doing mundane stuff you hate.

As this song elegantly puts it (or maybe it's putting something else, but I'm mentioning it anyway)

Oh, when you were young
Did you question all the answers
Did you envy all the dancers who had all the nerve

Look around you now
You must go for what you wanted
Look at all my friends who did and got what they deserved

So much time to make up everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away

But then again, as this other song puts it much more succinctly

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive
In sixty-nine I was twenty-one and I called the road my own
I don't know when that road turned into the road I'm on

The latter's the way of the world: so many things to do, many of them tedious or unpleasant, just to survive. We can't all be dancers, story tellers or Thought Leaders. We just don't have the skills, so we settle for what pays the bills. Most of us aren't cut out for anything other than the ordinary (if we were, the word wouldn't exist): and if you disagree, you should watch "Inside Llewyn Davis." It's the mundane, the bricks in the wall, that keeps life ticking. But this world-view does not lend itself to dramatic cinematography or music with rocks in or words brimming with fire and steel*: it sort of trudges muddy and sad like a river near the sea. Which is also why the movie I referenced didn't exactly run to packed halls or scoop in the awards by the dozen; that was left to the more "meaningful" films.

To put it in perspective, hark back to a less complicated time. I'm sure if you asked the ordinary caveman, he'd have preferred to sit all day by the pond, an improvised-from-hay bag of chicken by his side, watching the grass grow. But the truth of the matter is, the chicken wouldn't get in the bag by itself, and he wouldn't even live to see the sunrise if he didn't take turns with the other plebs to stand guard against jaguars (or whatever) outside the cave every night.

Sure, he'd spend hours listening to the grunts of the Thought Leader on the stone ledge, exhorting him to live the life less ordinary, to "howl at the moon and follow his dreams." He'd gaze enviously at the chap who patented fire and was now paid a chicken leg for every flame lit in the community; the artist with the long, graceful locks, who spent his day in the safety and comfort of his cave, doodling stuff on the walls with deer blood and the newly-invented Tapering Rock With Sharp Edge, who had all the cavegirls flocking to him of their own accord and who didn't even have to spend his evenings raiding nearby caves and dragging them out by the hair...

While all these people presented ideals to aspire to, the truth of the matter is that there was always a small voice in his head which said that he just wasn't cut out for that sort of thing, that he didn't have the vision or the talent. And an even smaller voice which told him that it is he and the multitudes like him who kept the world running - after all, if everyone were a CTO or an artist or a Thought Leader, starvation would set in soon enough and someone would have to relinquish their titles and do the stuff that needs doing. Or the only thing outside their caves one morning would be a huge pile of bones.

Has the world really changed all that much in the millennia since?

*Would even Robin Williams, saddled with, "Let the day be, boys; make your lives very ordinary" manage to get the cash registers ringing?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Thought Leadership Mondays

Just because I'll soon be takin' it easy, enjoying home-cooked meals and long walks in the land of my birth, it doesn't mean that I've forgotten my brothers and sisters - siblings, if you prefer - who work.

Here's a devil's dozen ways (and another few for the road) to creatively employ "thought leadership" in your next meeting, thereby expediting that climb up the corporate ladder:


  • Could you thought leadership me the salt, please?
  • Now, just where is my thought leadership? I can never find the darn thing when I need it!
  • If I thought leadershipped this unauthorized charge onto the expense report, d'ya think anyone'd notice?
  • I'll have some thought leadership with the chips, please.
  • Do you have change for a 100 thought leadership note?
  • You threw the baby out with the bathwater?! What were you thought leadershipping?!!
  • Did yesterday's thought leadership taste a bit off to you? This is my fourth trip to the loo.
  • How many programmers does it take to thought leadership a light bulb?
  • You see, when Beethoven thought leadershipped the Ninth...
  • What we've got here is failure to thought leadership.
  • Brother, can you spare a thought leadership?
  • That thought leadership on your nose doesn't look too good. Have you shown it to a doctor?
  • Does this thought leadership go well with my Lederhosen?
  • I'll take my thought leadership to go.
  • Watch out! There's a thought leadership coming right at us!
  • That was one heavy lunch... Time to grab 40 thought leaderships.
  • Thought leadership me up, Scotty!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

I've whinged before about the frustrations of the unappreciated artist. Whether he's unappreciated because he has too much integrity or simply because he's mediocre is not really the point - the pain is just as real either way. There are posts I've sweated over for days on end, only to garner two-and-a-half "likes" on FB - the half because that click was really meant for the picture of the cat adjacent. The cat, meanwhile, has 2700 likes and 550 comments, as opposed to the one "lolz" on my post.

But this post isn't a whinge; it's just a tip of the hat to the Coens. These are guys who've never really known failure - apart from "The Ladykillers" I can't think of a bad film they've made. You'd think they'd be the last to know what it's like to stare through the cage at success - of watching the geniuses as well as the truly god-awful fly high above them. And yet, here's this pitch-perfect film about a struggling singer.

How they manage to do this film after film, I don't know. "Miller's Crossing," "The Big Lebowski," "The Man Who Wasn't There," "No Country for Old Men," and now "Inside Llewyn Davis;" what do they have in common? I don't know. Definitely not tone. And much as I love their earlier films, I can't help feel that they keep on improving as film-makers. Their plotting and characters have always been top-notch - as is their ability to write great dialogue without being showy, fitting their characters to a T - but this one and "A Serious Man" have something else about them, some magic dust in between the frames. With these two very understated films, there aren't as many individual stand-out scenes or violence or overt humour... or even a clever plot... and yet they're utterly riveting start to finish.

All that said, in this city of 9.6 million people, there's just one cinema screening the film (and only one show per day) - and that in the very first week of its release here. It's a fucking disgrace, that's what it is. Maybe the Coens do know what it's like to be on the fringes - I bet they're gazing at the makers of "Dhoom 3" with unconcealed jealousy.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Childhood's End

Yet another Tendulkar post? Why? Why? WHY? I'll tell you why. You see, when people say stuff like, "There'll never be another like him," they're usually full of shit. If there is, or was, already one like him, then why can there not be another? It makes no sense.

Which is why, when there is one chap who can say with complete honesty (and accuracy) that there will never be another like Tendulkar for him, you should listen to him.

***

So many people talk of childhood as something idyllic, a glorious period to which they would return in a jiffy, if only they could. In some ways it is true. I think my imagination was more active then. And I didn't have to file income-tax returns. But in all other ways it was a total wet blanket. I didn't own my time. It was ruthlessly cut up by humans and gods (who never asked my opinion) into calendars, seasons and terms; and into various 30-to-45 minute periods, on a variety of subjects, most of which I found a complete bore.

I would get bundled out of bed at an obscene hour. I would then lose the majority of the day with folks to whom the only thing I had in common was that we endured the same classes together. I would get a couple of hours for myself in the evening, watched over broodingly by The Clock, but right after that it was on to the homework, then dinner and bed. No one would ever listen to anything I had to say because no one listens to kids, really. I didn't have any money of my own, so I couldn't have the things I wanted. On Sundays, they even dragged me to church. Seriously, what kind of a life is that?

Imagine a seven-year-old bearing the crosses described above. A kid just discovering a sport that everyone around him is crazy about. Imagine then, that just as this kid is learning about life a little and the disappointments therein, a curly-haired imp breaks into the national cricket team. The kid can empathise with the imp - the imp is just a few years older than him, and looks way out of place amidst the stiff, serious saps that constituted the Indian cricket team then and the moustachioed men they played against. But the imp is good... really, really good. Little though he is, he makes his dour team-mates look like the journeymen that they are and even, in very un-Indian fashion, takes the fight right to the opposition camp. There is much of the bully in the imp. When they pull a knife, he pulls a gun. When they send one of his to the hospital, he sends one of theirs to the morgue. Etc. Pretty soon, one of the moustachioed men is heard whispering to another moustachioed colleague, "This little prick's going to get more runs than you, AB."

Tendulkar was a hero in ways that no words can describe and in emotions I can never again recapture. Because I will never again be seven. I will never again bestow loyalties and friendships like I did then. I will never again be as trusting or so free of cynicism. Above all, I will never again need a champion. And that was exactly what Tendulkar was: he spoke for us little ones. If you knew anything at all about the Indian cricket team of the 90s, you'd know that "shambolic" was a kind word for it. If ever a team was made to make other teams feel good about themselves, this was that team. It was an almost exact metaphor for my general dissatisfaction with the world I lived in.

But there was Tendulkar, shining in the midst of it all! From amidst the squalor of that disgrace of a sporting team, he conducted endlessly, effortlessly, symphony after the other of backfoot drives and counter-punches. Of course, he would inevitably end up on the losing side but what of it?! That's how life was - kids never knew any permanent victories; they would win their little battles but would get caught at the end, or even if they didn't, the next day life would go on exactly as before. But still, Tendulkar... he showed us that the little ones were indeed better and cleverer than the oldies, held back only by circumstance, by an implacable fate that ruled over an unfair world. His batsmanship was more murderous rage than textbook grace - and that appealed to me, too. In a world of unending routine, of textbooks, rules and where The Clock reigned, Tendulkar stopped Time itself. He showed me the possibilities.

I don't know how many people have had this experience. Of having a genuine all-time great not only introduce them to a sport but also grow up along with them. Tendulkar took his first steps on the world stage just when I was starting to be aware that there is such a thing as a world stage. Since then, I've watched him grow from the Promising Kamikaze Kid into, first, a contender for the Best Batsman In The World to, later, an Immortal Of The Game. And while I watched he would even hold my hand or give me a leg-up now and then: corny as it may sound, you really had to be there to know how much of us we had invested in him. His disappointments were our tragedies, his successes - be they the occasional miracle or the more frequent belligerent defiance - elevated us with him. He carried not just a cricket team but a whole generation, and who knows, maybe even a nation.

Thus the thumping hearts when the master blaster walked to the crease, the inevitable crescendo of strokes around the park, and the agony and the chair through the television set when he got out. I remember sitting in the library one day, reading a Sportstar article on what Tendulkar would be like in 10 years time, when he was all grown up. No, it could never happen! Sachin would never grow up! Cricket wasn't a sport for me back then, it was a boy.

We have a great team now: bowlers capable of bowling out the opposition twice, a fielding side no longer the laughing stock of the world, and a top order lined with genuine batting gems - all of them as good as each other, and none the obvious lynch-pin of the batting; there is no Tendulkar amongst them and they have no need of one. And for all these reasons this team is a lot less interesting than the Indian team of the 90s, the one atlased by Tendulkar. But the unforgivable sin was committed by the man himself: he grew up. He became less impetuous and more calculating in his game. And as the imp grew into the senior citizen I gradually lost interest in the game, for my allegiances have always been to individuals, never to teams.

Not that I blame him... not too much anyway. After all, the kid - the one with treasons, stratagems and spoils jostling about in his head - he too grew up and disappeared without so much as a by-your-leave. In his place is now another of the big ones, so despised by the kid back then. And one who never did change the world the way the kid once intended to. So who am I to blame the imp? Everyone grows up.

The one sadness, if that is the right word, I have about Tendulkar is that in a way he has been too successful. Statistically successful. Already, people have him buried under a mountain of numbers and I guess, as time goes by, that is the element of his game that will be remembered the most. He will not be remembered the way V.V.S. Laxman will be. His career will be analysed and dissected by numbers. And for a guy who hates maths, and for whom Tendulkar was once a ticket to a world away from numbers and rules, this is more than just irony - it pushes dangerously close to tragedy.

So... if I may reuse (slightly edited) something I wrote a while back:

I watch less and less cricket these days, and the day is not far when I stop watching it altogether. The memories that top the list should a stranger tap me on the shoulder and, in answer to my enquiring eyebrow, break the silence with "Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?" will not be of Dhoni holding aloft the World Cup, or any number of trophies won in Australia or South Africa. It will be of Tendulkar in the 90s, caught in a floundering team but all the more magnificent for it. Tendulkar the record breaker, Tendulkar the accumulator, has his place but the real legend is the Number Four forever walking in at 10 for 2 on foreign shores and yet who never took a backward step; the batsman who carried a side not with dour defence but with the most dazzling array of strokes in world cricket.

I hope that when his career is remembered, it is the imp that comes first to mind; before the icon, before the record books, before the scalpel, there was the curly-haired bully and his cleaver. Tendulkar is so much more than just some numbers and Indian wins.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ruminations on werewolf flicks and post-apocalyptic road movies

I have the sneaking suspicion that movies of these two genres aren't epidemiologically well researched. Consider this. Zombie movies (variations of which constitute a large percentage of post-apocalyptic road movies) depict multitudes of zombies, with a few ragged survivors fleeing from place to place in search of a mythical haven. Werewolf movies, on the other hand, have one (or, two or three, at best) werewolves at loose amongst a terrified population. The safest place to be around full moon is at home, all shuttered in.

Why this discrepancy? In both genres, transmission generally happens through bites, so there is no reason why zombies have such a numerical superiority over werewolves in the demographics of Reelworld. Is it because zombies are slow and steady and just one can be easily avoided by walking around it? That would, admittedly, make for a pretty boring horror movie. Does the speed and agility of werewolves mean that film-makers can scrimp on make-up and special-effects costs by having just one on the screen? Or is it more of a mood and world-view issue? If it's the former, writing a few strong letters to the editors of newspapers and weeklies seems to be the appropriate course of action. The latter, though, is more vexing and could cause large-scale reordering on the movie-shelves of aficionados.

Most real cineastes order films taking into account various factors such as director, age, genre, language, budget and the like. And this has thus far had me placing post-apocalyptic road movies and werewolf films side-by-side on my shelves. However, new thoughts, hitherto hidden deep in my subconscious, have risen to the surface, prompting a re-evaluation of the Algorithm.

Post-apocalyptic road movies in general, and the zombie sub-genre in particular, are pretty gloomy. They represent the end of the human race, of everything that we know and recognise. Sure, the stamina (and lethargy*) of zombies makes them ideal cross-country hunters and allows film directors to cover vast distances and show us breathtaking vistas, but this gorgeous photography is usually presented as a requiem. They serve merely as indefinably sad reminders of all that we once had and have lost. There is always the sense that The Road, our most enduring symbol of hope, is either ending just round the bend or carries us on relentlessly through the heart of darkness.

Werewolf movies, on the other hand, have a vitality and a humour to them that belies all the talk of a disease or a curse or whatever - the characters have a transformation more akin to Buck's in The Call of the Wild: painful at the start, but for the better in the long run. Sure, these too are themes of change and an end to our current ways, but in a positive sense - lycanthropy is a metaphor for a return to our roots. Plus, werewolf movies have the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Julie Delpy and Jenny Agutter in sexy roles, while folks in zombie movies generally give the impression of having crossed off sex and showers as relics of a bygone era. And you know the world has serious issues if sex is no longer foremost on everyone's minds.

So... do these genres belong side-by-side - in the sense that they are the opposites that give meaning to each other? Or is a re-ordering called for; with zombies next to Michelangelo Antonioni and werewolves mixed in with Terry Gilliam or Federico Fellini? Do reflect deeply and write in.

*Much as I like Stake Land, I don't approve of films showing zombies as having superhuman speed and reflexes. Come on, they're the undead! They don't have the metabolism for all that leaping about.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Isak's Tale


A young man journeys down an endless road in the company of many others. The road leads across a rocky plain where nothing grows. The sun's fire burns from morning to evening. They can't find shade or coolness anywhere. A harrowing wind stirs up huge dust clouds. The youth is driven forward by an incomprehensible anxiety and tormented by a scorching thirst. Sometimes he asks himself or one of his travelling companions about the goal of their pilgrimage. But the answer is uncertain and tentative. He himself has forgotten why he ever set out on his journey. He's also forgotten his native land and the journey's final destination.

Suddenly, one evening, he finds himself standing in a forest. Dusk sets in and all is quiet. Perhaps the evening wind sighs through the tall trees. He stands amazed but also anxious and suspicious. He's all alone, and he discovers his hearing is weak, since his ears are inflamed from the merciless light of day. His mouth and throat are parched from the long pilgrimage. His lips are cracked, pressed together around curses and harsh words. So he doesn't hear the ripple of flowing water and doesn't notice its reflection in the dusk. He stands deaf and blind at the edge of the spring, unaware of its existence. Like a sleepwalker he wanders unaware between the sparkling pools. His blind skill is remarkable, and soon he's back onto the road in the burning, shadowless light.

One night by the camp fire, he's seated near an old man who's telling some children about the forests and the springs. The youth recalls what he's been through, but faintly and indistinctly as in a dream.

He turns to the old man, skeptical yet courteous, and asks, "Where does all this water come from?"

"It comes from a mountain whose peak is covered by a mighty cloud."

"What kind of cloud?" the youth asks.

The old man answers, "Every man carries within him hopes, fears and longings. Every man shouts out his despair or bears it in his mind. Some pray to a particular god. Others address their cries to the void. This despair, this hope, this dream of deliverance, all these cries, all these tears are gathered over thousands and thousands of years and condense into an unmeasurable cloud around a high mountain. Out of the cloud rain flows down the mountain forming the streams and rivers that flow through the great forests. That's how the springs are formed where you can quench your thirst, wash your badly burnt face, cool your blistered feet. Everybody has at some time heard of the mountain, the cloud, and the springs, but most people anxiously remain on the dusty road in the blazing light.

"Why do they stay there?" asks the youth in great astonishment.

"I certainly don't know," replies the old man. "Perhaps they've convinced themselves and each other that they'll reach their unknown destination by evening."

"What unknown destination?" asks the young man.

The old man shrugs his shoulders. "In all probability, the destination does not exist. It's deception or imagination. I myself am on my way to the forests and the springs. I was there once when I was young, and now I'm trying to find my way back. It's not easy, let me tell you."

The next morning, the youth sets out with the old man to seek the mountain, the cloud, the forests and the rippling springs.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Misjudgement

They shot Jones in the head, then threw Belloq in with him. And amid mighty celebrations, the Ark was brought before Hitler. The pause was heavy while Jehovah drummed idly on the kitchen table. It was said later that the Nazis may not have thought things through.