Monday, September 5, 2011

Against Sainte-Beuve

"The beautiful things we shall write if we have talent are inside us, indistinct, like the memory of a melody which delights us though we are unable to recapture its outline. Those who are obsessed by this blurred memory of truths they have never known are the men who are gifted ... Talent is like a sort of memory which will enable them finally to bring this indistinct music closer to them, to hear it clearly, to note it down ..." 

                                                                                                                   -Proust

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The First Step

I write because I cannot help it. Writing and sculpting are similar. They both begin with nothing- a block of stone or a nebulous mind and both work to chisel a precise image out of formlessness. The human mind and its innumerable shades can never be unraveled through words. But like the troubled lake that apprehends an imperfect moon, words can stumble over visions. Graffiti is a platform to chronicle my writing endeavors and to keep my lazy, petulant mind from falling into wordless slumber. Hopefully there is more activity on this front in the days to come!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

So this is how it is

The summer haze diffuses through the window,
The lonely cock crows noon again,
I grope for my glasses, put them on and find
Another photochromatic day-
So this is how it is.
You're sitting on a cloud, you say you're unmoored,
I am on the ground while you evaporate.
From where I stand, if you were rock
And I was paper, you'd cut through me for air.
You scuttled my paperboat with your philosophy,
It floated for a while and sank,
But these still waters run rather deep
And the journey to the bottom was real.
So this is how it is.
The last thing I remember-
I had a map and no destination,
The colourful houses, trees and the tar
Looked like the ones I had left behind
Each street corner, face and bougainvillea
Whizzed by stroboscopically
That's when I realised- the new was more of old
And the old was, well, just older.
So this is how it is.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Echo

Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.
O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.
Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again though cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low
As long ago, my love, how long ago.

Christina Georgina Rossetti

A Grain Of Sand

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
'Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.
Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.
For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life's mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

Robert William Service

Full Moon

Above the tower -- a lone, twice-sized moon.
On the cold river passing night-filled homes,
It scatters restless gold across the waves.
On mats, it shines richer than silken gauze.
Empty peaks, silence: among sparse stars,
Not yet flawed, it drifts. Pine and cinnamon
Spreading in my old garden . . . All light,
All ten thousand miles at once in its light!

-Tu Fu

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Appointment

Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009. I recently had the opportunity of reading her novel called 'The Appointment' and it struck me how keen and perceptive people can still be in spite of having suffered mind-numbing violence. The Nobel Laureate is a Romanian born German writer whom the Swedish Academy described as someone who "with the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed." In 'The Appointment' she describes life in Romania under the oppressive regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. The narrative is so skillfully woven that the fabric of violence unfolds itself without the need of graphic description or a fast paced gripping plot.  Müller's litotic style thrives on understatement and it is perhaps in the seeming banality of her descriptions that she poignantly captures the devastation of violence. "Müller scatters narrative bombshells across a field of dreams" commented the San Francisco Chronicle. It is perhaps only Müller who can write in a way as to take on bombshells and dreams in the same stride. Her words are latent with the pain and the irreversible damage caused by violence to the spirit of being human.
Nicolae Ceausescu, who was imprisoned countless times during his youth for anti-fascist activities and for being a part of the then illegal Communist Party, had already established a firm base for a life in politics even as he became a protege of Gheorghe Gheorgiu-Dej, his political predecessor. Later Ceausescu went on to become the Secretary General of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989. He also became the Council of State and the President of Romania from 1974 to 1989. His first decade in power was marked with a pro Western policy; in fact Romania was the first Communist country to recognize West Germany and the first to receive a US President, Richard Nixon. Romania and Yugoslavia were also the only East European countries that became part of trade agreements with the European Economic Community before the fall of the Communist bloc. However,
his tactics became increasingly totalitarian after the proposition of his July Theses which marked the reign of terror and ushered in the coercion of ideology with violent authoritarian measures that resulted into massive killings and torture of thousands of people.

'The Appointment', first published in 1997 and translated into English in 2001 by Michael Hulse and Philip Boehm, takes place as an interior monologue of an unnamed female narrator on a tram ride to an appointment with Major Albu, an arm of the dictatorship. She has been summoned, not for the first time, under suspicion of being an informant as she has pressed notes in the coats of Italians asking them to marry her. She claims however that she did this only to be able to go out of the country by marrying a foreigner. The narrative has a structure similar to, what comes first to my mind, R K Narayan's 'Guide.' The themes and issues concerned are poles apart and even the style is very different but the technique of narrative alternation between the present and the past is a common device. Müller describes the passengers of the tram, a man with a gash on his head indicating that he too has seen violence at close quarters. His child licks window panes and digs noses for snot but the man does not reprimand or scold him; cultural etiquette is perhaps not so important in a time when living itself is painful.

Müller intersperses the description of the other passengers getting on and alighting the tram--an old lady, a man with a briefcase, even the driver-- with memories of childhood, a crippled boy with whom she used to play in the dust in her childhood, her first husband and her father in law who wanted to replace him during the war. She remembers her beautiful friend Lilli who was caught trying to escape the border with her old lover and shot, her body torn to pieces by hounds. Her lover who could have been her father, did not share Lilli's fate. He was imprisoned.  She describes him as someone who "saw too much and was blinded. He risked Lilli who meant more to him than reason can bear." Müller also describes her sessions with Major Albu, who always begins interrogation by slobbering over her hand-- a thing which she detests wholeheartedly and which wrecks her nerves so that she has to eat a walnut to calm  herself whenever she has been summoned. Müller's unnamed heroine works in a clothes factory and lives with her lover Paul at his apartment which is under constant surveillance by the dictatorial government. Even her moments of intimacy with Paul, her bike rides on his red Java to the bean fields, and her time of "ass backward happiness" as she calls it, is full of undercurrents of the violence that invades their lives and makes living so bare and skeletal.

The bare, sparse emotional landscape that is described throughout the novel is intense and heart wrenching even as Müller achieves the miracle of never breaking into lamentation or graphic description. Even the few lines of songs that she quotes add to the poignancy of her world and end up seeming tragic even when she catches a rare glimpse of happiness. Even the gruesome episode of Major Albu slipping a human finger with a blue nail "wrapped like a candy" in the narrator's bag when she has gone to the washroom, is full of understatement. The protagonist finds a parcel that does not belong to her and, on opening it, she spots a severed human finger. The horror of such an experience is related almost in a staccato manner as if the narrator found it too painful to dwell on it, even for a literary purpose. Her father's affair with another woman at the bus depot, her mother's attachment to her dead son because of whom she wanted a second child, her first husband who almost strangled her to death on a bridge above a river, all add up to create a kind of ghost world, where people don't really live but only deal with the pain of existence. As she says: "I have frequently forgotten how to sleep, and have had to relearn each time." Everyone has suffered and everyone that she thinks of or remembers has had his or her own share of horror. Even the communist officer, whom she calls the Perfumed Commissioner, distributes wealth from the rich and give it to the poor, but breaks down when his white horse is poisoned. Communism seems to be replete with an austerity that strips a human being of the  necessity to love. It inflicts pain on the commands of one man's whim and a whole society of people become nothing but ghosts of their own selves. They do not live lives but memories, memories of the past, of loss, of mindless terror and devastation that leaves no place for any human warmth or fellow feeling. 'The Appointment' is a very beautiful book in spite of the ugly terror it deals with. Müller's keen perception into human thought and feeling is insightful at every step and commands immense admiration for the sheer breadth of its vision.

Rain Man

Rain Man would certainly seem an ancient movie today given the fact that it was released in 1988 but it nevertheless earned an 8 upon 10 on IMDB. Rain Man starrs a dashing Tom Cruise in the pink of his youth and although I am a fan more of his looks than of his acting, I must say this movie completely blew me over. Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic protagonist and it is because of his brilliant performance that the movie works on a different level altogether.  Hoffman slips into an angst driven, existential lad (The Graduate) to an autistic and metathesiophobic character with the ease and grace of one of the best actors in Hollywood. Directed by Barry Levinson and written by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass, the story takes on various themes and weaves them all into an open ended but richly textured cinematic space, a space, it would seem, which is devoid of the need to satiate audience desire for happy endings and family reunions. It is starkly realistic and the characters are portrayed in all their humdrum routine complexities, their mixed ethics and values, frustrated ambition, necessity and awry relationships. The movie has a very captivating score that brings the whiff of the late 80's. Also, because the major part of the movie happens on the road and during the journey, the music is charmingly apt and beautiful with haunting beats and pipes.

Cruise plays the character of Charlie Babbitt, an egotistic yet charismatic Los Angeles car bookie who can go to any length to rope in customers. He is the perfect product of all that is the worst of capitalism. He is a brilliant talker and wears his confidence as easily as he slips on his shades. He has the walk of a self made man, whose complusions and necessities end up glorifying his despair rather than crushing him. Charlie left his home as a teenager after a quarrel with his father about a 1948 Buick convertible which he used without permission and as a result, spent two days in jail because his father did not bail him out. It is only when his estranged father dies that Charlie comes to the funeral, more for claiming his share of the will than paying his last respects. Charlie's materialism in the way that he uses people for his own ends is also seen in the way he treats his love interest Susanna, played by the charming Valeria Golino. Charlie comes to know that his father has left his money to a trust fund for the care of a stranger while Charlie's only share is a dying and withering rose shrub. Charlie loses his wits about his inheritance especially as he is in dire need for his car dealings and sets out to find out who the real beneficiary is. He discovers that he has an autistic brother, Raymond. The money in the trust had been placed there for his care. Charlie kidnaps Raymond in order to coerce the fund authorities into transfering the funds to him. The entire story unfolds on this road journey as Charlie grows from an impatient and inconsiderate and opportunitic businessman to a caring and loving brother.

Raymond's repetitive speech and nagging including repeated talks of "Abbott & Costello", "Four minutes till Wapner", his neurotic fear with changes in his routine, his naive incomprehension of notions of privacy and intimacy, his stubborn refusal to travel by air because of flight accidents whose dates and casualties he remembers with astonishing accuracy, drive Charlie insane. However, this cross country journey becomes for Charlie a way to bond with his brother who is "the rain man" from a childhood song that he remembers. Charlie finds what it is like to have family even in the form of an autistic brother who apparently cannot understand brotherly love. The journey is also an adventure for Raymond  who ends up doing things he would never have done if he was institutionalized. He learns dancing, dresses up for a date, kisses Susanna who is kind and gentle towards him. He also reveals, through his fear ( "the hot water will burn the baby") that he was institutionalized because his condition posed a risk for the younger sibling Charlie. Out of a road trip arises a new understanding between Charlie and Raymond although the film leaves the question ambiguous whether Raymond is really capable of remembering Charlie as a friend or family. But Charlie becomes a more sensitive character. Although his journey began with kidnapping, his decides to take responsibility for his brother. But this decision is defied by the authorities who take Raymond back to Wallbrook Institute to his life of familiar routine of books, walks, and television programmes.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Demain

Demain dès l’aube dans le jour blâfard,
Je partirai à ne jamais revenir,
Je poursuivrai l’horizon qui dépasse le regard
Là, quelquepart au delà des souvenirs.

J’irai écouter le murmur des eaux,
Seule, sur les bords de la béatitude
Là, dans le silence ignorant des mots,
Je demeurerai un instant en solitude.

Et quand le vent bohémien des vastes prairies,
Sifflerait cet air des choses lointaines
Je volerai sur les ailes d’une pensée chérie
Pour frôler les herbes hautes des plaines.

Puis la lumière s’effacerait du monde,
Le crépuscule y viendrait, il ferait soir
Je partirai dans mon voilier sur la mer et ses ondes
Pour cueillir les étoiles du noir.

Mais la nuit berçerait mon âme rebel,
Lasse, heureuse, doucement je pleurerai…
Dans mon coeur encore cette voix, cet appel
Et devant mes yeux, une ombre de l’éternité…

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Temple Of Samara

The temple in the valley of Samāra
Is more than a home to me-
I have borne its myths and histories
In the furrowed wrinkles of my brow,
In the folds of my widow’s garb
I have treasured the dust of another time,
For I am old, old like the wind 
That never dies even with ebbing.
Beside my begging bowl,
Where shadows crumple against the wall 
I think about the years- ah! So many years
Behind me.

In the silence of the sanctum sanctorum,
The evening lamps begin to flicker
I see your form in the green darkness
Your shriveled body and your vacant eyes.
Ah my child, my poor cursed child!
My daughter, my bane!
Panting I bore you in my arms
I shook you and coaxed and whispered
And beat my breast, but you never cried
Nor opened your eyes-
My blood in you was cold.

At dawn they wake the sleeping mendicants:
Bangles, fragrance and a feminine haste-
The rush of veils and whispers,
Hennaed hands and silver anklets
That fill my white head with colourful thoughts.
"Old Hag!" the wives grimace and shudder,
Profaned by the sepulchral stench
Of age and exiguity.

With her kohl-rimmed eyes and vermillion,
The new wife is the last to arrive,
Her walk is slow and she falters
Under the weight of her swollen belly.
Gently she stoops to drop a coin
In the hollow of my coconut shell
And as she climbs the temple steps
The others look fondly upon her.
One by one they reach for the bell
And strike its tongue in a loud clear sound.
With gold thalis decked with flowers,
They sing for their Lord in unison.

I wrapped you in velvet and silk,
Soft and limp like your own body-
Cursed child who left me barren!
I buried you with my own hands!

Here in this corner where shadows sleep,
Squatting among the mendicants,
I see you glide like wisps of smoke,
And curl around the temple bell.
The night outside is soft and starry,
And this is my home and my grave-
Beggared of all, all that is dear,
Let me rock you in my arms, my child,
And sing about the years- ah! So many years
Behind me.








Saturday, February 19, 2011

Epic Culture

Adishakti's Ramayana Festival held from 16th to 23rd Feb 2011 included some stimulating talks and discussions wtih a wide range of acclaimed thinkers and scholars ranging from Ashis Nandy, Romila Thapar, Rustom Bharucha, Sarah Joseph and several other artists, performers, researchers and academicians. Today's session was with Ashis Nandy whom Bharucha introduced as a 'cultural thinker' rather than the conventional 'social scientist'. At first sight, the 73 year old Nandy appeared like a very affable french bearded grandfather, fair and balding with twinkling eyes. His gold rimmed spectacles hardly gave him the academic air that I had associated with him through the many articles that I had read.He was not the bleary eyed intellectual attempting expession as if words were brittle but a casual and confiding almost chatty mentor talking freely without dropping names or using jargon.
Candidly, he opened his talk by a confession in an English thickly accented by Bengali, that he was going into a digression first. His purpose he said was to try and locate epics in the civilizational context of India.For this aim, he first expounded existing traiditions that have located Indian cultural unity in the ancient scripts like the Vedas and the Upanishads. India as it is today and as it is defined is seen to be a product of a sacred and authentic scriptural past that is closed and fixed. Nandy denounces this and takes the stance, taken both by Tagore as well as by Gandhi, that Indian unity is located in the medieval times and the sects and epics developed during the Bhakti movement. This period has been a period of innovation and literary fertility. Nandy sees Tagore as the anti-national nationalist poet because of this new or rather conflicting way in which Tagore defines Indian unity.
The reason that Nandy takes this stance, the second point that he makes, is because he believes that Indian unity is a product of an open-ended past and not of a remote inceptual point that defines our cultural identity. The past modifies us and is as open as the future, he claims. He gives the apt example of the original 10000 couplet gathas of the Mahabharata to which 90000 couplets were added over the centuries. Epics in India were thus completed over the years and were not sacrosanct and unchanging products of a pristine past. An interesting comparison that he made was with the medieval times of the Western societies which are seen as the dark ages and which see the  past as closed as their utopias are always imagined in the future. Furthermore, while Homer's epic is closed, Mahabharata has been open ended. The Indian medieval age has been an age of great productivity.
Thirdly, Nandy also denounces the modern tendency to historicise the past. By historicisation, he means reducing epics to legends to be examined by history. In other words, to analyse epics according to present categories of ideology and schools of thought whether they are Marxist, Freudian, or Structual/anthropological. He rejects the mythification of epics. With the tendency to historicise also comes the tendency to demystify and demythisize which Nandy finds to be a hypocritical endeavour in which critics have only replaced myths with their own schools of thought and philosophies. At the same time, while they have been engaged in trying to decipher myths, they are caught in a sort of ambivalence which is based on an insecurity that they haven't really totally figured out 'hows epics work.'
With this significant digression, Nandy poses the relevant question: "How do we locate Indian unity in the medival domain which encompasses a gamut of poets, writers, innovators etc ?" He continues by affirming that there are other ways of constructing the past as is shown in the postcolonial context by countries like Africa, Latin America and many others. As it is now history is a discipline which is necessary for managing 'the chaos of human memory.' It is based on the theory of memory rather than on forgetfulness. Nandy posits a method of constructing the past through what he calls principles of pricipled forgetting.The past can be a reconstruction of what we can forget and what we can remember. But history as it is now, is a 'totalist' discipline that is a space conflicting with ethics as it cannot include forgetfulness in its documentation of the past. Nandy proposes a more humane approch for reconstructing the past.
Interestingly Nandy quotes figures that he admits no other academician would have looked for. In his studies on the Partition, Nandy observed that 40% of the people during that time of violence and turmoil were either helped by people on the other side or knew others who had been helped. On the other hand, during the holocaust in Europe, the figure was close to 1%. These figures are indeed never included in a history of a place or a people. Nandy conceives of a non-hierarchical domain in which history is located so that all the different Ramayanas whether they are by Tulsidas, Kashiram, or Valmiki are inclusively present without any one gaining more authenticity over the others. He sees this plurality built in inevitably in an epic culture in which 'gods and demons are both necessay.' He extends this coexistance of plurality to an inextricable interdependence between a self and its anti-self or its disowned selves.With such an inclusive vision, the sacredness of a place or a text is justified in itself and not by a hierarchy. 
The epic hero or heroine is thus not just a paradigm of the good and the just, he/she has also within him/her his/her anti-self. The epic hero is a whole character who is a culmination of his self as well as his antonym. Heroes have always come from outside their cultures and have had deviant births, remarks Nandy. Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt, but he was himself groomed and brought up as an Egyptian Prince- his antonym. Hitler, although hardly considered a hero, but taken in the sense of a protagonaist at a cataclysmic time in history, was himself never a German although he massacred Jews for German 'ideals.' In the Ramayana, Rama is not only the divine incarnation and the righteous king, he is also an insecure man who takes arms in his exile even as his wife protests against the futility of arms in a forest. Exile, incidentally is seen by Nandy as a confrontation with the self. It is not geographical nor historical but psychological.
Furthermore, epics offer 'hermeneutic rights' for interpretation. In other words, their significance is not etched in stone but is reader oriented and open to interpretation within the context of the reader's present. Eventually, the epic becomes nothing else but another way of constructing the past. Ashis remarks insightfully: "The past can be captured neither through  history nor through human rights activism. It is located in the consciousness." While historical methods of documenting the past have heavily depended on words, language and categories in which we wanted to accomodate the past neatly, Nandy calls for the creation of new domains of dialogue in the way that we access and reconstruct our pasts, epics being one of these domains of engagement.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Introducing Russian

Pondicherry is certainly waking up to the potential of foreign languages especially with languages from countries which are hosts to various lucrative post graduate courses. Recently Mr Adikesavan of the Japanese Language Institute, the first language institute for the Japanese language in Puducherry, has expanded to include a fully functional Russian Institute under the directorship of Ms Tatiana at Pondicherry. The Japanese Institute was inaugurated by the Japanese Consulate and is supported by the Japan Foundation. According to the Director, there are 250 students currently enrolled for several years in order to complete various levels of learning Japanese. They are eventually prepared to write the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) conducted by the Japan Foundation. The question can be raised as to how Pondicherrians really benefit by Japanese by investing so many years for these levels of study. Mr Adikesavan promptly replies that he is working on a tie up with Japanese Companies and that placements for these students are guarenteed at the end of the course as they would be able to work in Japan. What he is further looking to do is to introduce foreign languages into schools and engineering colleges so that students can have a foreign language at the end of their enginnering courses and use it to study further in the country of that language. While Japanese is already underway in several schools and some of the best engineering colleges, a new plan has been designed to also integrate Russian into these colleges and schools.
Today's trip to Rajiv Gandhi College of Engineering and Technoloy was for a promotional presentation made by Ms Tatiana Perova, Director of the Institue of Russian Language at the Russian Council of Science and Culture (RCSC) in Chennai. As a Russian student from EFL-U, and as one among a total number of 2000 Russian language specialists in India, I tagged along not only to benefit and get utterly intimidated by the rapid banter of Ms Tatiana Perova and Ms Tatiana, Director of Russian at the Japanese Institute, but also because I thought it was a great opportunity. Ms Tatiana from Chennai was well informed about Russian recourses and teaching centred in South India. She listed some places in Kerala and Andra Pradesh as existing centres for imparting education in the Russian Language even as she acknoledged Hyderabad's EFL-U and Osmania University as the strongest teaching centres in terms of rigour and quality in South India. For further information on Russian Language courses, which are also offered by the RCSC, one may look up the following link http://www.ruscultchennai.in/lang.htm

Rajiv Gandhi College of Engineering and Technology has a sprawling campus constructed in an area of 30 acres located 30 km from Pondicherry on the Cuddalore road. It has commendable facilities in terms of infrastructure, a large auditaurium, a well maintained and rich library with facilities for video conferencing and learning through distance which was shown to us by the Principal Dr. E. Vijaykrishna Rapak himself, a doctoral graduate from IIT Madras. First, we were directed to the Principal's office as Ms Tatiana gifted him with a colourful calender from Russia as a token to appreciation. Then we had a short meeting with the various heads of department and the Principal as Ms Tatiana briefed them about her subject of presentation and what she expected them to contribute for a clear partnership. She was very clear that in order to have any joint ventures or projects, which were immensely facilitated by the RCSC, she needed to know the needs of the college and what they were looking for with educational scope in Russia. The following presentation by Ms Tatiana Perova was aimed at a brief introduction to Russian culture and educational opportunities for the students. While the packed hall listened to her rapt with attention, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm and maybe even knowledge when Ms Perova asked simple questions about space history. I got the impression that this was perhaps the kind of education that was a burden rather than emancipatory. Forebodings aside, in our college tour after the presentation, Ms Tatiana from Pondicherry asked the very pertinent question that if the students lead such a hectic life and study for such long hours a day, how would they have time for Russian. She was promptly told that they would work hard for Russian too! We saw a fully equipped chemistery lab with pictures of Avogadro and Madam Curie smiling from the walls and also took pictures in front of a dozen monuments. As this was my first trip as a Russian representative to a college, I carefully observed formal etiquettes and customs. This was the first time that I was covered with a shawl and honoured as a Seminar Guest. After the tour the Principal and the Course Coordinator took us out for a sumptuous lunch, making sure that the dishes were less spicy for the Russians. On our return we made a short stop at the Japanese Language Institute and the Ms Tatiana, the Director from Chennai was delighted at the class and the software used as well as other teaching resources. She checked out possibilities of video conferencing classes and finally we took pictures again. This was probably the first day that I have heard so much Russian continuously and although I could understand a large part of it, I still feel handicapped at speech. However, this trip with Russians was a great one and indeed showed me how MUCH I have to brush up when it comes to spoken Russian at a native level. As for Russian in engineering colleges, while it does not seem to be a distant reality, inquisitive students would definitely want more clarity as to how Russian is going to make their futures better. While Russian is a leading country when it comes to space technology, oil, gas and energy related fields as well nuclear studies, the question that persists is whether learning Russian for three years on every weekends would actually equip students with adequate skills for these areas and whether these language skills are actually dispensable or not. Several universities have had ties up with foreign countries and arranged exchange programs without really investing into the language of those countries. In the end subject expertise would count a lot more than language skills although these skills would definitely be useful. The bigger question however is that in  a country like India, which is mesmerised by the US and UK, will Russia have any substantial takers?

Kaleidoscope 2010

With the season for film awards, we can hope to watch some acclaimed international films in the fray for the most prestigious awards in the film world. The Golden Globes in January had interesting results. The Best Actor’s award was given to Colin Firth for his brilliant performance of a stammering King George VI in The King’s Speech. The Best Actress Award was clinched by Black Swan’s leading actress Natalie Portman, who stunned the world with her versatile performance of a timid and nervous ballerina transforming into her haunting and seductive alter-ego symbolized by the black swan. The Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture - Drama was given to The Social Network with its fast paced narrative and its excellent editing that straddles various time frames in a linear sequence without losing clarity. While Inception was hugely popular in 2010, it remained only a nominee for all the major categories and failed to impress the Golden Globe critics. The BAFTA awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) went largely to the same films as the Golden Globes, revealing a vein of similarity with its American counterpart in its taste for celluloid art. The King’s Speech was a sure winner in the category of Best Film even as Colin Firth swept away a BAFTA award in the Best Actor category. The King’s Speech also won Supporting Actor and Actress award for Geoffrey Rush as the King’s speech therapist and Helena Bonham Carter as the queen. The Best Actress BAFTA award was given again to Natalie Portman for Black Swan. Inception received the Special Visual Effects and also the Best Sound BAFTA award while The Social Network got its share of recognition through the Best Editing award.

The Academy Awards better known as the Oscars are known to be every actor and director’s dream. The recent ceremony had largely predictable results, with Portman and Firth winning Best Actress and Actor categories. Some critics rated the The Social Network as a more skillfully crafted film than The King’s Speech however, they noted that the theme of a social networking site taking off globally would hardly be one fit for an Academy Award. Again, The King’s Speech reaped its share of glory with an Oscar award for Best Picture.
The 36th annual César Awards known to be the French equivalent of the Oscars were held on February 25th. They were presented by the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma. The Best Film winner was a 2010 French drama directed by Xavier Beauvois called Of gods and Men (Des Hommes et des Dieux), starring Lamber Wilson and Michael Londsale, who won a Best Supporting Actor award. The Best Actor award was clinched by Eric Elmosino for his performance in Gainsbourg while Sara Forestier won Best Actress for Les Noms des Gens. Best Supporting Actress went to Anne Alvaro for Le Bruit des Glacons.
The two films The King’s Speech and Black Swan which have been the most acclaimed films of the year, have some of the best performances when it comes to individual talents. Here is a little background into these films:


The King’s Speech: This is a film about King George VI of England who has no choice but to assume the throne as his elder brother abdicates in order to marry. George ‘Bertie’ suffers from a deep rooted inferiority complex because of his stammer and dreads the office of the king which requires meeting people and making speeches in front of large audiences. His stammer becomes a matter of concern to his loving wife Queen Elizabeth I and she sets out to find someone who can help him. She finds Lionel Logue, an unconventional speech therapist, who helps Bertie overcome his fears and to find his voice. In a memorable scene from the film, Lionel asks Bertie to read a passage aloud as he simultaneously plays loud music. Bertie cannot hear his own voice and is overwhelmed with pessimism halfway through the passage although he does not know that not hearing his own voice has made him read the passage flawlessly. The unconventional speech sessions which involve the king spewing a long string of swear words in order to relax his muscles are some of the funniest scenes of the film. In conclusion, this film is not only an original take on a piece of history, it portrays with skill the mutual dependence of a king and his subjects. It gracefully acknowledges that kings are also human.



Black Swan: As the title and the image suggest, the association of ballet and swan brings to mind nothing else but Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. This is a film about a ballerina, Nina Sayers played by Portman, who is a dancer in a New York City Ballet company run by Thomas Leroy (Cassel). Ballet is her only passion and she lives her life under the vigilant and controlling eye of her mother and former ballerina Erica Sayers. Things start to change in Nina’s life as she gets selected to play the lead in Leroy’s new season production of Swan Lake. However, she has competition in the form of Lily, a new dancer. Swan Lake in an original interpretation requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side - a recklessness that threatens to destroy her. In a sequence of surreal events whose reality is left for the audience to decide, Nina glimpses her dark side through tangible reflections that are independent of her in the mirror. She hallucinates and commits murder as the black swan consumes her only to fight with her own dark side. As the Swan Lake performance comes to an end with the death of the white swan, Portman herself succumbs to the black swan as her purity and innocence are forced to die with the white swan. This is also a veritable cinematography masterpiece as the director explores the various relations with white and black.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Faustus

Je l’ai perdue dans les ténèbres d’une nuit sans sommeil
Dans un rêve doré qui était au mirage pareil
Dans le silence gelé qui chuchote dans un cimetière
Dans la froideur d’une rancune des mots amers
Parmi les cendres et la poussière d’un monde noirci
Pesant sur ma conscience comme un fardeau alourdi
Dans une volute soudaine d’une bougie étouffée
Dans le débris d’un champ de bataille déserté
Entre les haleines glacées d’une haine intense
Dans une tempête de rage, sans but, ni sens
A la bifurcation du chemin de la vie
Dans un instant sceptique et de désespoir dans l’esprit
Au fond d’un abîme dans le royaume des ombres
Dans un labyrinthe sinueux d’un enfer sombre
Je l’ai perdue à un petit moment de sourire…
J’ai perdue mon âme à la recherche d’un désir.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Something..

Something about your eyes reminds me
Of dim candlelight that leaps in flecks
in the white silence of a church,
the sad quiet air that settles in the calm of twilit streets,
the kind hands of my grandmother withdrawn  
in the recesses of her lap.
Now the shadows come out in bouquets,
monochrome flowers in a monochrome memory...
Like wisps of a dream edging on the verge of reality,
Dark, unknown, patient, groping for existence
like unborn children.
Something about your eyes
Brings to mind that waking state between
language and cognition,
where words hinge not on concepts
but flashes, images, colours and life
that is lived in the mind..
something about your eyes,
lives independently of you
like a dream half dreamt
that leaps and takes flight
from the boughs of your mind.