Tag Archives: i ask questions

What Ho, Man Ho

“The first time I had sex,” he said, “it was so amazing we had to do it again! But I only had one condom on me, so I decided to reuse it. That didn’t go well.”

The problem with dating when you’re a mere child is that you don’t know it’s perfectly acceptable to stop your boyfriend right in his tracks and say: Gross! Nast! Shut it! etc. Instead, I listened to the whole thing in icked-out silence that didn’t deter him one bit and then proceeded to take out the full virulence of my feelings by passive aggressively mocking him about it, time without end. That, by the way, didn’t go well either.

Now why, you might wonder as I often have, would he tell me this story? Were we exchanging horror stories, first time faux pas, etc? No. As far as I remember, this was an anecdote that presented itself completely without context in the middle of a coffee shop. Polite cappuccino conversation for the 21st century.

In retrospect, I feel a bit of regret at having unleashed the full weight of my Mean Girl skills on him for this strange foray into intimacy – not because he wasn’t asking for it, but because age has made me realize that he was simply indulging in a strange-yet-common phenomenon of Indian dating:

Boy: Girl, I really like you.
Girl: *giggle*
Boy: In fact *blushes* I lub you.
Girl: I wuv you too! *starry eyes*
Boy: So. Did I ever tell you about this other girl I loved?
Girl: Er.
Boy: Okay! Let me describe her and our relationship in extreme detail.
Girl: o_O

Sometimes you don’t even have to be dating. You could simply be flirting. And all of a sudden you’re listening to some guy you met five minutes ago recount the tawdry nitty-gritties of his encounter with his neighbor, the widow, the girl he met at the club, his senior in high school, the highly inventive list is quite long.

What is. UP. with that?

I mean, what is the thinking there? Ha-ha, I told my guy friends about this totally fictional woman who can’t keep her hands off me and it went over really well; now let me repeat the story to this non-fictional girl expressing interest so she’ll… what? Be impressed? “Woo! I’m dating a certified manwhore!” Gratified? “Awww! This slut could have had any old auntie in his neighborhood but he chose me instead.” Awed? “Oooh! His DNA is like a substitute for Viagra.”

I must be missing some essential chip of Indian womanhood because I’ve only ever had two reactions to these stories: skepticism and “eww”. I need a bottle of wine and a degree of friendship to even care, much less participate in this game. “Oh, you’re jealous!” cooed one person with some delight when I mentioned that maybe he should save his war stories for some other time.

Uh, no. I don’t expect the men I find attractive to have lived their lives wrapped in protective plastic sheeting, waiting for that mystical One like a human-sized touch-me-not and I don’t know why any reasonable man would expect that of me. I know it works for some people (hey there, freakazoids! happy you screwed up the curve for the rest of us? hmmm?) but the very thought of ending up married to the first boy who ever asked me out makes me shudder – and not just because I’ve seen his Facebook page.

I just don’t understand why I must be regaled with tales of sexual prowess when I haven’t even hinted at anything resembling interest. Everybody has these stories, of course. Girls and boys. Some of them flattering, some of them cringe-worthy, all of them kind of hilarious in hindsight with the right company at the right time.

So the next time you feel the need to share, remember what your mother taught you and speak when you’re spoken to. Take it from a girl: The Excellent Adventures of Little You is not the icebreaker you imagine it to be.


Posted by on September 16, 2010 in Life, Personal


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Running Away

You chose to run away.

Everyday you came back home and unpacked that invisible satchel. In that corner went the regrets, the other one was crowded with complaints. Scattered all around you were the remnants of your failures; the true monsters under the bed, waiting to surprise you unwary.

You said nothing. Everybody asked you where you’d been – how was the day – what did you do – who did you talk to and what about? They meant it kindly, unaware that you lived in a world all your own that they could never enter. “Nowhere,” you said. “It doesn’t matter,” you said. “Nothing,” you said.

All day you listened to other people talk. A smile for them, automatic and correct. A nod in agreement, handshake for goodbye, wave for hello, frown for concern, shrug to pass the buck. Questions to signify interest. Cloaks of invisibility are neither rare nor fantastic – you know them as quite ordinary gestures.

One day, you told yourself, you would leave all that behind. The secrets, the lies, the safe silences that left you unsure of your words when you finally let them form in your mouth. The questions, the codes, the stock answers that became transparent bricks of the wall around you.

Then why, now, do you feel abandoned this day? The chains have been cut, it is a liberation, you know. The ropes have been sawn through, you were set adrift, you feel.

A bird in the sky or a lion on the plains – neither; you are you. Solitary magnificence is for other creatures. Human beings live tethered. In yourself alone are you free.

Free to run.


Posted by on September 9, 2010 in Life


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Answering for Lamhe

Answering for <i>Lamhe</i>

Sridevipalooza is long over and not even a hangover remains, but that doesn’t mean I can’t chip in at this late date. Here I am, anyway, whether you want me or not – and I come bearing Lamhe.

Yash Chopra’s favorite child that fell flat on its face during the race to the top of the box office at the mega-hurdle called “incest”, Lamhe is the movie that endeared Chopra to an entire generation of tender-hearted young girl children who’ve remained his die-hard base ever since. Nearly two decades after its release, Lamhe is the Chopra movie most likely to be called a “cult-favorite” or “overlooked masterpiece”.

As an unapologetic member of that cult which deems this movie its favorite (although, to be fair, I belong to a number of such cults so I’m probably not the fervent convert of quoteworthy fame), I have to say it is a gross exaggeration to call this movie a masterpiece. Overlooked, yes. Masterpiece, no.

Lamhe is actually the beginning of Yash Chopra Lite, the expression of a gentle sentimentality that would eventually devolve into the hollow shell of Dil To Pagal Hai (which recycled a number of this film’s lesser ideas) and the overwrought Veer Zaara. Conversely, though, Lamhe is thus the best of these movies and it shows its quality – in its performances like Anil Kapoor’s earnest confession at the climax or Anupam Kher telling his best friend off; in scenes like the one in which Pallavi’s husband gently informs her about Viren’s feelings and advises her to continue her friendship with him or when Anita first recognizes that Viren and Pooja aren’t exactly platonic.

In case you’re one of the few who haven’t seen this movie, here’re some things you should know:

Q. Is Lamhe really about incest?
A. Nooooooooooooo! It’s about this guy(Viren) who falls for the daughter (Pooja) of his first True Love (Pallavi).

Q. That doesn’t sound too bad. What’s up with the incest thing then?
A. Nasty imaginations at work! Okay, so Viren became Pooja’s guardian after Pallavi died in childbirth and she looks exactly like her mom. You know, the one he’s never stopped obsessing over. But! The thing to remember is that he never laid eyes on Pooja for those 18 crucial years when she was growing up into her mother’s double and all the day-to-day raising was done by his old nurse (Dai Jaan). Besides, she‘s the one who chases him, the hussy!

Q. Hmm.
A. Quite.

Q. So it’s like a Bollywood Lolita?
A. More like this awful thing but with 100% less rape and 100% more awesomeness like this:

Q. Moving on, what does Lamhe mean?
A. It means Moments. You see, Viren spends his whole adult life hoarding the few moments he spent in Pallavi’s dazzling presence and Pooja threatens to do the same with the few moments she spent in Viren’s considerably less dazzling presence, and then Viren realizes that all the dazzling moments he spent with Pallavi have been supplanted by Pooja’s dazzling presence. Razzle dazzle!

Q. You know, I don’t think I like the sound of Viren and Pooja.
A. On paper, you’d be right! Viren is a sentimental idiot who needs a good shake and a swift kick up his ass while Pooja is a total pile on with daddy issues that absolutely nobody is interested in addressing. But when Anil Kapoor and Sridevi play these two fuckwits, they’re impossibly aww-worthy.

Q. OMG is this the movie with the clean shaven Anil Kapoor?
A. Yes! It is how you differentiate between the callow youth who fell in love with Pallavi-who-looked-straight-through-him (Moochless!) and the fuddy duddy who falls for the fun and energetic Pooja-who-idolizes-him-even-though-he-ignores-her (Mooch!).

Q. How many times does he slap his co-star in this?
A. Just once but he makes it count!

Q. Who else is in this movie?
A. There’s Waheeda Rehman who is a total darling. Anupam Kher is great, especially if you didn’t know that this was going to be the character he plays in every single YRF movie from then on. Deepak Malhotra as Pallavi’s husband and Pooja’s father is hilariously wooden. And then there’s Dippy Sagoo as Anita the woman-who-ought-to-have-known-better-than-to-spend-years-mooning-over-a-wet-blanket. I’m very sad Dippy Sagoo’s career never took off. Too bad, Dippy Sagoo!

Q. Should I watch this?
A. Do you like happy endings, older men, spunky young women, Sridevi and Anil Kapoor? Lata Mangeshkar warbling in the background and warm woolens in England? Then this is the movie for you! Otherwise, not so much.

Q. You really like this movie, don’t you?
A. Do not judge me.


Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video


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Minus the Stripper Heels…

Okay, now she’s just fucking with us.


Posted by on July 23, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment


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Coz One Bout of Public Humiliation Wasn’t Enuff

Have you ever found yourself in a crowd of people thoroughly annoyed by one single rotten apple who does her oblivious best to ruin the day for everybody around her… and realized that said wormfood was you?

Sigh. I swear I didn’t mean it.

So there I am, watching I Hate Luv Storys in a packed house and my body up and decides that this is an excellent time to get rid of the five tons of phlegm it has apparently been hoarding for days. Does it leak out of my nose like all well-mannered mucus ought to? NO!

My mucus believes in a dramatic entrance. It chooses to erupt from my body in a series of violent sneezes that went on – I kid you not! – for a solid half hour at three minute intervals. At first, I thought I could employ the discreet and possibly medically-frowned-upon tactic of all people struck by inconvenient sneezes: pinch my nose and whuffle it.

[Yes, I said "whuffle". The next time you work up a sneeze, pinch your nose and force it to die inside your body instead of whistling out your nasal cavity. That sound you hear of capillaries bursting is called a whuffle. And if you want to prove me wrong, you come up with a term for it, smartass.]

I whuffled the first one and it hurt. My nose does not approve of whuffling. It believes in freedom of expression. I whuffled the second time with greater care and ended up with nosey on my fingers. Yech. I fished out a paper towel, which is what I use in lieu of handkerchiefs like all intelligent people who prefer to throw away any bits of material smeared with their bodily emissions rather than tucking it carefully back in their pocket to be laundered lovingly at home. When the next sneeze came hurtling out my nose, I caught it in the quilted, quadruple-strength confines of my paper towel.

HONK! said my nose. HONK! HONK!

Now, it’s true that I turn into a kindergartner when confronted by mucus but I was never the kind of kid who attempted an on-the-spot PhD on her goobers or ate them or anything bleurgh like that. But I too am a human being and there is nothing quite like clearing your blocked nasal passages of phlegm. Clear your throat, blow your nose, pick it clean – it’s like it massages some special nerve center in your brain and whispers, “There, there. It’s going to be all right now.” You breathe in, your lungs expand, nothing gargles inside your skull, you’re not swallowing gobs of matter with your spit – and whaddya know? It really is all right now! I perked up.

And that’s when the sneezing fit began. One sneeze, two sneeze, three sneeze, four. A sneeze there, a sneeze here, a sneeze-sneeze everywhere! Skeevy sneeze, steezy sneeze, snotty sneeze, snooty sneeze. Snooze a sneeze! Wheeze!

Sorry. Anyway…

My brain, being all jostled about, decided that this spasm couldn’t possibly last and what’s a few sneezes in a theater resounding with Bollywood cheer? Especially when muffled by my trusty industrial strength paper towel? I’d cleaned entire counters with a single sheet of these bad boys, so what was a sneeze or one million? So I crunched my abdominal muscles, crossed my legs, closed my eyes and hunkered down for the violence to end. A staccato series of sneezes later, I opened my eyes.

There, in my hand, I clutched the pitifully wadded remains of my damp and steadily disintegrating paper towel. FALSE ADVERTISING! Boooo! (How quickly I turn.)

Gingerly, I felt my nose. I couldn’t be sure without a torch to shine up my nasal cavity and a mirror to better study it, but it felt like I was missing skin. I’d definitely lost a few hairs by the root in the late struggle. Ow. I briefly contemplated opening up the solid mass of paper and mucus that I held to further investigate but as I mentioned earlier – I’m really not that kind of kindergartner.

However. It was really kind of dark in that theater. Maybe I could discreetly insert the tip of one finger to check the state of affairs in my nose? I cast a furtive look around to see if it was light enough for anyone to make out what I was up to.

… and met the eyes of everybody three rows deep to the front and back of my seat. It was like one of those scenes from Children of the Corn where individual parents turn around from their everyday tasks to be confronted by the phalanx of creepy kids except in this case I was the creepy kid and everyone staring at me was desi, grown up, and most definitely not expressionless. Thankfully, another significant difference was that nobody attacked me with a sickle. My people are so polite.

I quietly offered up a mumbled “sorry” to the universe rather than the uncle in front whose neck I’d probably sprayed with a few billion of my germs and did what I ought to have done 30 minutes earlier: skedaddled to the restroom to wash my puffy face, my germy hands and my poor tender nose. Then I bought myself a hot cup of tea to nurse and sidled back inside.

Coz I’m thickskinned like that.


Posted by on July 3, 2010 in Life, Personal


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Jane Austen Takes Bollywood

Jane Austen Takes Bollywood

The cringe-fest known as Bride & Prejudice aside, Jane Austen makes such a terrific fit for Bollywood, I find it surprising that Aisha – the upcoming remake of Emma starring Sonam Kapoor – joins rather thin company.

Besides, Gurinder Chaddha’s ode to Bollywood was only dubbed into Hindi and awkwardly at that.  The only successful adaptation so far that I can think of is Rajiv Menon’s Kandukondain Kandukondain in Tamil starring Aishwarya Rai and Tabu – and it laid an egg at the box office if I remember right. Maybe one of the other industries has had better luck?

The Brontes get a couple of Dilip Kumar (Sangdil based on Jane Eyre and the insufferable Dil Diya Dard Liya based on Wuthering Heights) and Rajesh Khanna movies (the yawnfest Oonche Log based on Dil Diya Dard Liya) while Austen can barely scrounge up a couple of Aishwarya Rai-starrers? The world is odd.

And now there’s Aisha, perhaps Abhay Deol’s most mainstream movie since his debut Socha Na Tha. Yay! I’ll admit to certain pangs after viewing this trailer right after the one for I Hate Luv Storys but I’ll give Sonam Kapoor the benefit of the doubt for now. After all, I’ve only seen two of her performances and one of them is invalid because Saawariya was all about Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In any case, there’s nothing wrong with being a one-note actor as long as you can find movies that cater to that one note. Please watch Knight and Day for a master class tutorial.

Meanwhile, thanks to Beth, I got a chance to have a little chat with Devika Bhagat (read my review of her TV show Mahi Way). Here she is on working for YRF, the benefits of having a woman in charge, how Abhay Deol makes things better, and – oh yeah – Matt Damon playing water polo. Ahem.

How much does the actual casting of your movies correspond with how you imagine your characters when you’re writing?

I have never written a screenplay keeping specific actors in mind. That would box the characters. (Once for a film that shall remain unnamed, the producer mentioned John Abraham’s name during the scripting stage for the male lead and after that whenever I would write the character’s scene, I would imagine him shirtless – not good!)
The only significant change was made in Manorama Six Feet Under. The main protagonist  Satyaveer, was meant to be a down and out 45 year old. But once Abhay Deol was cast, the age of the character was brought down to 30 and therefore changes had to be made to the script to fit a 30 year old in terms of the character’s cynicism and excess baggage!


Posted by on June 23, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Video


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The Englishman’s Cameo: An Interview

I’ve always considered historical detective fiction one of the hardest genres to pull off. Unlike historical romantic suspense, you can’t depend on the characters’ chemistry to take the heat off your plotting skills. Similarly, while historical fiction allows you to take interesting little detours into intriguing deadends as a writer, the “detective” part of this genre demands you hew to a certain pace that tends to cut out the excess bits, no matter how much you love them. It’s a bit like creating a whole another universe for a fantasy novel, complete with strange customs and languages, except you’re stuck with actual events and yet have to create a real feel for it in your reader.

I don’t know why anybody would ever sign on for such grief, but I’m always glad when they do. Especially when someone does it as well as Madhulika Liddle (filmblogistan knows her better as DustedOff)  in The Englishman’s Cameo.

In the book, Muzzafar Jang is a minor aristocrat in Emperor Shahjahan’s decadent, not to mention nearly bankrupt, court in Delhi. His taste for low company (read: commoners who do a bit more with their time than cultivate respectable vices like courtesans, opiates and pretty young boys) leads him deeper and deeper into the shadowy underbelly of a slowly rotting empire when he involves himself in the false arrest of a friend on charges of murder.

From its opening scenes at the Red Fort, or the Qila-i-Mubarak as it was called back then, to Jang’s hilariously furtive jonesing for a cup of coffee, Cameo had me hooked and didn’t let go until it was done. At the end, there were just so many things I wanted to know, I decided to ask Madhulika if she’d answer a few questions.

And she did! Thanks Madhulika:

Q. 1. What made you choose the last years of Shahjahan’s reign as the historical setting for The Englishman’s Cameo?

A. This was the result of a combination of interest and necessity—I’d decided I wanted to write a historical detective novel, so to make life easier for myself, I had to set it in a time period that I liked, and which wouldn’t be too difficult to research. Shahjahan’s reign in Delhi is ideal for this: it’s colourful and fascinating (the court at that time was probably the richest in the world), and thanks to contemporary travellers and diarists, there’s plenty of material available for research.

Q. 2. Was the research difficult?

A. Not for the broader aspects of the setting. The political background; how people lived; what they ate and drank and read—all of that isn’t difficult to find. The really tough bit was to figure out the obscure details. For instance, how much paperwork was prevalent in administration at that time (plenty. I discovered that the invention of paper was one of the technical advancements that enabled the Mughals, and the earlier medieval dynasties that ruled from Delhi, to control the administration of their empires). Other things that took me hours to unearth: how the Mughals drank coffee; what their boats looked like; what porcelain they used… and more.

Q. 3. In your acknowledgments you mention the historical walks you took with your sister. I grew up in Delhi and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t even know there was such a thing! Do you have recommendations or a favorite part?

A. Yes, there are people in Delhi who conduct historical and heritage walks, usually for a very nominal sum. The Delhi Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), for example, does fixed-route walks on weekends in areas such as Shahjahanabad, Mehrauli, Nizamuddin and the Lodhi Gardens. So does the India Habitat Centre, though they tend to explore some very obscure places as well. Among my favourite walks are in Mehrauli (Delhi’s oldest continuously inhabited area), Shahjahanabad (especially Katra Khushal Rai, Naughara and Namakharam ki Haveli), and Nizamuddin: all very historic areas where many of the buildings are fairly well preserved.

Q. 4. What drew you towards historical detective fiction as a genre?

A. I have to confess I’m nuts about history. And about detective fiction. So the combination’s irresistible! I read my first historical detective novel (Robert van Gulik’s The Chinese Maze Murders) when I was a kid, and I’ve been fascinated by the genre ever since: the exotic nature of a historical novel—a way of life that’s alien, and often surprisingly similar to our own—combined with a socio-economic and political scenario that one’s (usually) read about only in school or college text books: I think that’s so amazing. Used as a backdrop for a good old-fashioned whodunit, I think a historical setting can be both informative as well as entertaining.

Q. 5. I know from your movie blog that you’re a fan of noir. And I thought I could see the influence in your work. Was I just imagining things?

A. No, I guess not! I love mysteries, noir or not. Personally, I don’t think The Englishman’s Cameo is as dark as a noir film would be, but some of the elements are definitely there. Unintentionally, I may add. It just so happened that after the first draft was written, I realised the plot and the main character needed spicing up. The first thing that came to mind was to include noir-ish elements (probably because I’m familiar with them?), and so that’s what happened.

Q. 6. Speaking of film noir, as a Joseph Cotten fan struggling against the Humphrey Bogart juggernaut, I have to ask – who’s your favorite? Or what are your favorite noir movies?

A. Frankly, I’m not much of a fan of Bogart (great actor, but not a favourite of mine!) or Joseph Cotten. But yes, I do like noir a lot. Some of Hitchcock’s darker films—Rebecca, Spellbound, Rope—are among my favourites. Also Gaslight, The Night of the Hunter, Pursued (though that’s noir crossover, Western + noir), Crossfire, and the unusual The Crimson Kimono, which is noir + romance + anti-racism. Two of my favourite Kurosawa films are superb noir: Stray Dog and High and Low.

Q. 7. There’s something charmingly mid-20th century pop-fiction about The Englishman’s Cameo (and I mean that as a complete compliment because I love that stuff and constantly bemoan the deterioration of talent that has made barely literate trash rocket to the top of bestseller lists these days), and one of the things that struck me about it, especially given its title, was the way it took the standard “white man in exotic climes gets caught up in shenanigans” story and flipped it. I’m so used to reading novels in which Muzaffar Jang would have been the brownie supporting character in the story of William Terry, ace English gunner on a personal quest. Was this deliberate or did the story just naturally evolve to that point?

A. Another confession: the book had no white characters to start off with. From the beginning, I’d decided my hero was going to be a Mughal nobleman. Then someone at a publishing house, to whom I narrated the plot, suggested I bring in a European—for a mundane reason: it would make the book more attractive for publishers abroad. I was initially hesitant, but after I did some research and discovered that there were a fair number of Europeans bumming about in India at the time, I decided to give it a try, mainly because I thought it would make the book more interesting, foreign markets or no. Thus William Terry (whose last name, by the way, is the same as that of an English traveller called Edward Terry who visited India in the 17th century).

Q. 8. Are we looking at the first of a series? (You should totally do a series.)

A. Thank you! And yes, this is going to be a series. Right now I’m writing a set of short stories, all of which feature Muzaffar Jang, the detective of The Englishman’s Cameo.

Q. 9. One of the things that made me laugh was Muzaffar’s addiction to coffee. Was that a sly take on detectives with bad habits like House with his Vicodin and Holmes with his cocaine?

A. What’s a detective without a vice?! Muzaffar started off being too goody-goody: he had to be given some weaknesses. I didn’t like the idea of a hero who was an opium addict or partial to pretty boys, so (since I’m a coffee addict too), coffee seemed like a good option.

Q. 10. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this! One last question for those who liked The Englishman’s Cameo and would like something in its vein while they’re waiting for your next book: any recommendations?

A. There are loads of historical detectives out there, and some of them are really, really good. For a sensitive, warm style of writing and a detective whom I instinctively liked a lot, I’d suggest any of the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters. Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma series, about an ancient Irish princess/lawyer/nun, are excellently plotted; and Robert van Gulik’s novels and short stories about the medieval Chinese magistrate Judge Dee are fabulously rich in detail—besides being superb whodunits. Also check out Lindsey Davis’s Falco books, a series featuring a detective in ancient Rome. Excellent, and very funny.

Other writers who mostly write historical detective fiction: C J Sansom, Ariana Franklin, PC Doherty, Boris Akunin (look out for his Sister Pelagia series, in which the detective is a nun in Czarist Russia), Giles Brandreth (his detective is Oscar Wilde) and Jason Goodwin. In India, I’ve rarely come across these in bookstores, but they’re easily available on Amazon.


Posted by on January 15, 2010 in Books, Desipundit, Entertainment, Review


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“When Will I Be Blown Up?”

This is not how I expected William Faulkner to sound. [Well, I didn't expect that outfit either.] I thought he’d at least read a little better, you know? I guess I’m used to the modern day writers who hone their performance skills.

But then you read the text of his speech and realize that with words like that, it simply doesn’t matter. He could have croaked it out with a banjo and it’d still have had the same resonance.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

He said those words in December, 1950.

Whether you take it literally or metaphorically – and anyone who has ever written so much a comment on the internet can tell you they do so with one eye open for a flame war – the fear to express yourself remains by far the greatest one.

Whatever the context, be it a personal situation or a political one, the moment you put your thoughts into words is incredibly fraught. The vulnerability that comes with the knowledge that people now have a direct window into your brain is next to indescribable. They might not know that, but you do.

And yet, unless you can move past that moment, and express yourself honestly, all the words in the world mean nothing at all. There is nothing less satisfying than watering down your point of view for the sake of other people’s good opinion, than saying things you don’t really believe in because it’s easier, more convenient, safer, less risky.

You can hide your thoughts from other people, sure. But what are you going to do about yourself? With all those ideas rattling inside you?

[via James Fallows who really wants you to read the thing :mrgreen: ]


Posted by on December 12, 2009 in Books, Celebrity, Personal


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Needed: A Title


So every few years, I end up asking people if they have, by any chance, read this book that I once stumbled across when I was about twelve. Things get a little silent and complicated when I explain that I can recall neither its name nor its author and I’m a bit hazy about the plot as well.

Hey, it’s been a while since I was twelve, alright? What do you want from me? If it helps any, I read it in one of those Reader’s Digest condensed works volumes from 1970-something. It could have been 1960-something too. I wasn’t paying attention to the publication details.

It was summer, I was bored, this book was funny, it was there. I would like to read it again. Here’s what I remember of it -

The story is set in America, in a rural town. It centers around this eccentric family that’s not too bright. There’s an ornery old patriarch who shows up occasionally to do things like refuse to sell the family farm so the town can put up something in the name of progress in its place (my brain says “hydroelectric dam” but I know that can’t be true! Shopping mall, maybe? But did they have those in the 60s and 70s? What was progress back then? That thing).

Then there’s his son, let’s call him The Cutie, who’s beefy and hunky and completely dimwitted in an interesting kind of way – you know, the kind of guy you’d sit and listen to for hours because you can’t believe what’s coming out of his mouth? But he’s also a nice guy. Which is why a psychiatrist and the schoolteacher both want a piece of him.

Those two ladies come in because of the twins. The twins are the younger siblings (?) of The Cutie. Pre-adolescents. And they’re quite sharp so they leave him puzzled.They might be fraternal or identical, I don’t remember which. They might also be his nephews/ nephew and niece. Definitely not a pair of girls though.

Things happen and the mayor or somesuch sees an opportunity to twist the arm of The Cutie and the patriarch by threatening to take the kids away because the father-son duo are clearly too stupid to take care of them. The district attorney sends a psychiatrist to evaluate the living situation and after flirting heavily with The Cutie without getting anywhere (primarily because he’s too dumb to see a come on when he sees one), she submits a report that says he hates the kids.

The schoolteacher then comes to his rescue (there’s an entertaining passage that hints at the courtroom drama to come when she asks him why he said “kidnap” when he and the psychiatrist played word association and she mentioned the twins – and he says that the twins are kids and kids take naps so he said “kid nap”. Groan). She’s dazzled by the fact that he’s so darn cute and so darn stupid and finally decides to take things into her own hands and seduces him.

Next comes a courtroom battle which, if I remember correctly, left me screaming with laughter and the presiding judge with a bad headache. Things end well with Authority being defeated by the power of good old fashioned stupidity and the judge tells them never to darken his court again.

Does anyone out there know what I’m talking about? *crossed fingers*

Update: Well, you lot were a fat lot of help! Not only haven’t any of you read anything like it, you made me wonder if I’d actually read it myself. The nerve! So an hour of intense and imaginative googling later, here’s what I found out: there is too a novel much like what I’ve described above (except for the part where I totally blanked on major plot points or otherwise messed it up) and it’s called Pioneer, Go Home!

A full eleven people have read it on Amazon and concur with my opinion of it (to wit: awesome!). You can read it too for the affordable price of $145. Ahem. If that breaks your budget, then Elvis Presley made a movie called Follow That Dream! based on it (all together now: “WTF?!”), so…

It appeared in Volume 40 of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books’ Winter collection of 1960. I’m sending out a big kiss and good thoughts to whichever clever person at RD thought it might be a good idea to publish a list of titles. Long may your tribe increase.

It was written by Richard Powell who also wrote The Philadelphian which I vaguely remember reading. It’s a lot more memorable as the Paul Newman movie The Young Philadelphians though. The other book written by Powell that I can recommend is Don Quixote, USA which was almost as funny as Pioneer, Go Home!


Posted by on May 21, 2009 in Books, Personal


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The Phantom is a Menace

So I have a question that’s been percolating in my mind ever since the “Tintin is racist” fracas last year: why isn’t anyone similarly aggrieved over The Phantom? Maybe I’m just not up to date on my comic book critiques (enlighten me if you are! I’d love to read it), but it strikes me as a little odd that Tintin gets called out for basically one book in a long series, while another continuing series doesn’t get so much as a mention even though its very premise is loaded in all kinds of ways

The Phantom – for those of you who don’t know or may have forgotten – in addition to being the favorite fictional crimefighter of millions around the world, is a white man in purple spandex who lives in a skull shaped cave, guarded by African pygmies who defend themselves with poison-tipped arrows that his ancestor taught them to make after he rescued them from slavery (imposed upon them by a neighboring tribe of average sized Africans). He has a pet wolf, a white horse and a trained falcon (hey, he’s Amitabh Bachchan!) as well as a secret island named Eden that he stocks with exotic animals including a stegosaurus.

So many ironies surround the myth of The Phantom, I thought it qualified for a listicle.

Marriage – The original Kit Walker, victim of a brutal pirate attack, was left stranded with nothing but the rags on his back near what we now call The Deep Woods. He was saved by a pygmy tribe called the Bandar. So you’d expect him to have mingled with this population, maybe married there, assimilated their values, become one of the them, right? Wrong!

one early Phantom is known to have married Christopher Columbus’ granddaughter; another is known to have married Shakespeare’s niece; still another took a Mongol princess as his bride.

A Mongol princess, no less. Just not a puny Bandar. So the next time you come across somebody talking about the brown hordes colonizing the West without bothering to assimilate, remember – the Ghost Who Walks is on their side.

Family Business – “Phantoming”, to coin a verb, is a bit of a family trade. For 20 generations, the Walkers have been saving the world with the awesome power of not much more than the color purple, a face mask that blots out the pupils of his eyes, and two rings (one for friendship, another for enmity). The same helpful link above tells us we needn’t worry that any of this is in jeopardy because:

…succession is assured.
The current Phantom and Diana Palmer were wed in 1977, and today their scrappy young son, Kit, is in training to someday take the sacred “Oath of the Skull” and become the 22nd Phantom.

How nice. I bet his twin sister Heloise is very happy to hear that. You can have an accomplished mother and be treated as an equal by your cave-dwelling father and his little forest friends, but you still need a penis if you hope to don some purple spandex and drink out of an ancient skull.

Location – Originally, The Phantom lived somewhere vaguely Asian, full of dense forests where tigers roamed. This vague Asiatic place, now called Bangalla, was initially spelled Bengala. Gee, I wonder where that could be? Maybe this is why it’s carefully called Denkali in the Indian edition. Although how much of an improvement is it when you change “Bengal+a” to “Den+Kali”, especially when Bengal’s one great contribution to the Western imagination were the thugees?

In fact, one of The Phantom’s many titles, “Guardian of the Eastern Dark”, is centered around a plot that explains his connection to a mysterious and ominous land the jungle people call the Eastern Dark where (if memory serves me correctly) human sacrifices are routinely despatched by sinister priests to appease a hideous idol. If it makes any Bengalis out there feel better, I think the idol was male.

Names – Okay, so get this: The Phantom was partially inspired by The Jungle Book, the heartwarming story of a boy brought up by wolves, written by that lovely fellow Rudyard Kipling. In this geographically-challenged version of Mowgli’s story, however, generations of the Walkers have grown up in a quasi-Bengal amongst a tribe called the Bandar. Which, pronounced in an Indian accent, is what Hindi-speakers call monkeys.

A much more direct link is provided by The Phantom’s traditional nemesis – his version of KAOS. Which would be the Singh Brotherhood. The only thing he got right was the name of the current leader, a woman named Sandal Singh. I can totally see that name being bestowed upon an unfortunate little Punjabi (by way of Bengal) baby.


Considering Falk continued to write his strip right up until his death in 1999, and was very proud of his work – noting, without any irony whatsoever, that “The Phantom is a marvelous role model because he wins against evil. Evil does not triumph against the Phantom… He hates dictatorship and is in favor of democracy. He is also opposed to any violation of human rights.” – what does all of the above mean?

Oddly enough, even though I’ve been familiar with his work since I was a toddler – or perhaps because I’ve been familiar with his work since I was a toddler – none of the above actually struck me until I tried to explain the series to a friend a couple of years ago. As I listened to the picture I was painting (as a dedicated fan, mind you!) for her, it was hard not to be horrified.

Perhaps Lee Falk truly didn’t understand what he was doing when he created The Phantom’s origin myths. Perhaps by the time he did, it was too late to go back and change it. Perhaps he realized what it all meant but thought his readers could rise above it. Or perhaps his readers, like myself, have just never thought about it or cared about it if they have. I don’t know.

What I do know are two things:

1. Nothing can shake my fondness for the series, however tarnished its image might be in retrospect. It was a part of my childhood and if it could survive that godawful Billy Zane movie, it’ll survive this examination.

2. If I ever have a child, I will never do what my father did when I was three – sit by my toddler’s bedside and read her/him a Phantom comic in lieu of a bedtime story.

Cheer up, kiddies – there’s always Flash Gordon.


Posted by on October 13, 2008 in Books, Entertainment


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