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Listen Up

My, what big ears you have, 2010! All the better to let all that awful Bollywood music escape, I bet.

Maybe I’m showing my age but this was the year when my head actively hurt almost everytime I loaded up a new soundtrack. I live across the road from a school with a marching band that insists upon practicing right under my window and at one point, I swear to God, I switched off the latest round of cacophony (Action Replayy, I think?) and basked in the blissful sound of an off-key tuba huffing along to an enthusiastic-if-sadly-untalented drum.

The good ones, therefore, were all the sweeter when they showed up. Here’re my favorite tracks from 2010. As with all lists, they’re highly subjective and I imposed a limit of one track per album because there were entire soundtracks that I would have happily included.

But first, these are the albums that missed the cut but took it easy on my ears all the same. In no particular order:

  • Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey
  • Rajneeti
  • Karthik Calling Karthik
  • Madholal Keep Walking
  • Tera Kya Hoga Johnny
  • Udaan
  • Dabangg
  • Jhootha Hi Sahi

10. Kya Hawa Kya Badal (Allah ke Banday) – Look, I would have found some way to include some mention of an album that features a track by the amazingness known as Ishq Bector (go on, click that link! You know you want to!). But I’m helped by this song.

09. Kanha (Veer) – The only good thing about Salman Khan’s golden barbarian fixation is this song. Intentionally, anyway. *snicker*

08. Des Mera (Peepli Live) – I’ve loved Indian Ocean since I was a kid so I’ll admit I was inclined to be kind but the best part about an album like this is that it doesn’t need your pity vote. It can stand up for itself, thanks.

07. Tujhe Bhula Diya (Anjaana Anjaani) – The best part of this song is Shruti Pathak’s bit at the beginning but Mohit Chauhan and Shekhar aren’t exactly slouches either. The movie might have left me cold, but the music was pretty great.

06. Ranjha Ranjha (Raavan) – My self-imposed limit of one track per album might keep me from giving Ab Mujhe Koi the love it deserves, but I thought this song was outstanding the moment I heard it and it was sheer poetry on screen.

05. Tera Zikr Hai (Guzaarish) – The star by far, as far as I’m concerned, in an album that’s a bit overproduced and labored, but quite lovely. Like everything else Sanjay Leela Bhansali does, I guess.

04. Lehrein (Aisha) – Honestly, I could have picked any song from this movie. Especially Sham, which is still on a loop on certain days. Amit Trivedi is on fire right now and long may it continue.

03. Cham Cham (Striker) – God only knows what happened to Sonu Nigam but here’s a track to remind you that he wasn’t always a greasy-haired fountain of bitter who judged reality shows. Somewhere, deep inside that mop, is an immensely talented voice.

02. Madhno Re (Lamhaa) – It’s like they asked me what I liked the most and then composed it to order. Mogambo khush hua!

01. Dil to Bachcha Hai Ji (Ishqiya) – How much do I love this song? Everything from Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice to his enunciation of the amazing lyrics to the string bits in the middle. I could listen to this all day and never tire.

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Posted by on December 22, 2010 in Entertainment, Music, Video

 

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On Gerald Durrell

If you were to place a gecko in front of me, I’d probably scream, jump up on something, and cuss you out until you took the damned slimy thing out of my sight. And as you took it away from me, I’d jump up and down and screech “Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!” with a vim perhaps unseen since the French sent their aristocrats to the guillotine.

Nothing personal against geckos. They’re very cute in that ad. It’s just that I do not like little things with wings, bulging eyes, multiple legs, antennas, slime trails, sticky tongues, the ability to walk on walls, tentacles, etc. Especially the ones that lay eggs and can regenerate body parts. They might be fine and necessary for the food chain but I prefer it when they’re not participating in the food chain right in front of me.

So how ironic is it that the one writer I love above all others, the hero of my childhood and the inspiration of my adulthood, the man who never fails to amaze me or make me laugh, is Gerald Durrell?

All too often, when one grows up, the delights of one’s childhood turn out to be “less”, if you know what I mean. Your childhood house is a lot smaller, the fields are a lot less green, the people who towered over you shrink overnight, the trees don’t really kiss the sky, the flowers don’t smell as good, the fruit isn’t as sweet, the animals are annoying instead of cute, the folks who slipped you contraband candy are now nosy-parkers, airplanes are a source of aggravation… adulthood can be a disappointing experience.

So I was delighted to find that Durrell, like the Asterix comics, only improved on acquaintance.

Rosy is My Relative, the zany tale of a bumbling clerk with grandiose fantasies who inherits a dashing lady elephant with a taste for gin (or any booze, really), can still make me laugh until I run crying for the bathroom holding on to my aching abdomen. No, it doesn’t give me diarrhea (ew) – it makes me tear up with laughter and want to pee. I’m telling you, the thing is extreme.

And I sometimes think I could read the Corfu trilogy (My Family and Other Animals, Birds Beasts and Relatives, and Garden of the Gods) all my life and discover new things to appreciate in every reading.

According to those who knew him best, he didn’t really think of himself as a writer (the acknowledged writer in the family was elder brother Lawrence) and only picked up pen and paper when he either had nothing better to do or needed some cash to further his true love: the establishment of zoos that would see conservation as one of their primary goals. I’m just glad he had occasion to write at all.

Consider this excerpt from My Family and Other Animals where he discusses the musical if unfortunate looking pigeon Quasimodo, acquired from a vagrant (and occasional specimen supplier) he only ever identifies as the Rose Beetle Man:

One sad day we found, on waking Quasimodo, that he had duped us all, for there among the cushions lay a glossy white egg. He never quite recovered from this. He became embittered, sullen, and started to peck irritably if you attempted to pick him up. Then he laid another egg, and his nature changed completely. He, or rather she, became wilder and wilder, treating us as though we were her worst enemies, slinking up to the kitchen door for food as if she feared for her life. Not even the gramophone would tempt her back into the house. The last time I saw her she was sitting in an olive-tree, cooing in the most pretentious and coy manner, while further along the branch a large and very masculine-looking pigeon twisted and cooed in a perfect ecstasy of admiration.

Only to transition smoothly and beautifully to the following just one paragraph down:

The last time I saw the Rose-beetle Man was one evening when I was sitting on a hill-top overlooking the road. He had obviously been to some fiesta and had been plied with much wine, for he swayed to and fro across the road, piping a melancholy tune on his flute. I shouted a greeting, and he waved extravagantly without looking back. As he rounded the corner he was silhouetted for a moment against the pale lavender evening sky. I could see his battered hat with the fluttering feathers, the bulging pockets of his coat, the bamboo cages full of sleepy pigeons on his back, and above his head, circling drowsily round and round, I could see the dim specks that were the rose-beetles. Then he rounded the curve of the road and there was only the pale sky with a new moon floating in it like a silver feather, and the soft twittering of his flute dying away in the dusk.

It’s this mix of eloquent prose, his ability to paint landscapes with words (the hardest thing to do in my estimation) and populate them with personalities both human and animal that bring me back to his writing again and again.

Although it doesn’t hurt that his writing pretty much personifies my sense of humor. There’s this scene in Garden of the Gods, where young Gerry convinces his gun-mad elder brother Leslie to shoot him a few birds to feed to one of his many pets. Leslie decides to shoot enough critters to suffice the pet for a week at least. The brothers solemnly make their way to the terrace of their villa and proceed to pick off the smaller birds one by one until Gerry is satisfied. Except, when they make their way down to collect them, there’s their mother sitting frozen in the middle of the killing field – with the members of the local animal protection society.

Just imagining that scene makes me scream with laughter. (I know what you’re thinking, but it’s a lot funnier to read his version. I promise.)

And that’s another one of the things that makes me love Durrell even more. Unlike a lot of people who go about talking animal rights, not only did Durrell walk the talk, he did it without any kind of sentimentality or preaching. There is no holiness about his beliefs, nothing that suggests he’s a better person than you or I for caring about the animals who share this planet with us; he didn’t wave placards in your face or counsel you to turn vegetarian (quite the contrary in fact).

Books like The Stationary Ark make the case for conservation and better standards for zoos from a rational and compassionate standpoint without ever crossing over into fanatic zeal. He was, in the simplest of terms, cool about it. And yet he cared so much.

“The zoo has been enormously successful,” he told a visiting reporter in the mid-1980’s, “but not successful enough in the sense that it is such slow progress. You have to grope around for money and persuade governments and every year you read more horrible reports of what is being done to the world about us. The world is being destroyed at the speed of an Exocet and we are riding about on a bicycle. I feel despair twenty-four hours a day at the way we are treating  the world and what we are piling up for ourselves. But you have to keep fighting, or what are we on earth for? I believe so much in what I am doing that I cannot let up.”

Above pic from Durrelliana

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2008 in Books, Entertainment, Review, Video

 

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Monica Pradhan’s The Hindi Bindi Club

I’ve been reading long enough to be extremely wary of books whose back covers proclaim this one is just like that other massive bestseller that everyone has read and/or been raving about. You know the kind – “The Man in the Nun’s Costume”, which is just like The Da Vinci Code or “Wizard Boy Takes Manhattan”, which is just like Harry Potter. And then you pick it up and find out that it’s apparently publicists’ code for “this close to plagiarism” or “bookstores will stock in the same section as”. Either way, it generally does not end well for the reader.

So I was a little wary of Monica Pradhan’s alleged desi answer to Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, which is a book that every emotional teenager should read. Seriously. I’ve re-read it since I reached adulthood and it’s good but it wasn’t the lifechanging book it was throughout my teens. I even loved the movie is how much I loved the book!

But every once in a while, you’re handed an exception to the rule. The Hindi Bindi Club is that book.

If, like me, you’re one of those people who’ve close family members who migrated to the United States in the 1960s, then perhaps you’ve heard many of the same stories that I have about racism, loneliness, culture shock, food, religion, independence, pay, opportunity, bringing up children in an alien environment, the American Dream, the Indian longing… They were the ones that Went Before and the tales they sent back of America continues to color our perception of that country in India today. But as far as I know – and do suggest a few names and titles if you know different – Jhumpa Lahiri’s work was the first time I really heard the voice of that generation.

But since then, we’ve seen other Indian American voices emerge and Monica Pradhan’s effort is a welcome addition to that number. The Hindi Bindi Club is about six Indian American women who lead successful, productive, seemingly perfect lives in one way or the other, in one culture or the other, but things are – to fall back on cliche – rarely as they seem.

Meenal Deshpande, Saroj Chawla and Uma McGuinness have been best friends for decades; their daughters Kiran, Preity and Rani are less so. Each family wears its many successes on its sleeve and buries its secrets deep. At some level they’re all tropes of one kind or the other – Meenal is the perfect lady of the house but she’s just received a wake up call, daughter Kiran is a physician making her own way in the world but struggling with her needs and identity; Saroj is a Partition-survivor who needs to make peace with her past and deal with her prejudices, while daughter Preity struggles to keep up appearances in spite of being, as Kiran disparagingly remarks, a prototype “Indian Barbie”; Uma has the perfect husband and the perfect rocket scientist-turned-artist daughter (!) but she and Rani both have to make their peace with the circle of life and the horrid secrets of Uma’s past.

At times the answers come too pat, situations resolve too easily, things fall into place and there’s always a knight in shining armor somewhere around the corner with a sitar in one hand and a dead Korean-American wife to smooth things over. But you forgive this book its lapses because you recognize and care about these women.

At its heart, this is a story about the immigrant experience and how it changes people and families. Sujatha over at Blogpourri was writing about this issue just the other day and it’s interesting to read the many voices that have responded both to her and the article in question (Shobha Narayanan’s Return to India) and to contrast it to this book. The newbies and oldies, it’s the process of actually putting down roots in another land – something that becomes inevitable once you have kids – that remains at the center of the immigrant debate.

But if you don’t know a single person who’s ever so much as moved out of his or her neighborhood, The Hindi Bindi Club is a great read as a mother-daughter, female bonding novel. That sounds like male readers are not welcome but I’d say it’s the opposite. If you want to know why your significant other has such a complex relationship with her mother, then this is a good place to start. Things in this book have a tendency to end happily in the teeth of much opposition but that’s hardly a drawback for most people, especially if it’s just the opposite in your real life.

And if none of the above appeals to you, buy the darn thing for its recipes. They sound yummy and somebody ought to cook me something for this review. 😛

Excerpt:

I’ve never been an angel like her Perfect Preity. Just ask my parents, who live to compare me with such exemplary role models. “Why can’t you be more like so-and-so?” So-and-so was most often Preity Chawla. The only reason I wouldn’t call her a Mama’s Girl is the fact she ’s a Daddy’s Girl, too.

 

Rani, on the other hand, was just as close to her parents without the nauseating perfection. She was my saving grace, a foil to Miss Goody Two-Shoes, especially during her goth stage. WiBBy, I called her. Weirdo in Black. I could always counter Preity’s shining example with Rani’s, though this seldom appeased my mother, who attributed all of Rani’s transgressions, as she saw them, to having an American father.

 

“This is what happens when we compromise our values,” she would say, though never directly to Uma Auntie, the one who committed the alleged compromising in marrying Patrick Uncle. Theirs was a “love match.” Gasp!

 

[snip]

 

I remember when Rani first brought her then-boyfriend home from college for the holidays, something none of us ever dared: introducing a boyfriend/girlfriend to the Indian friends circle. The aunties and uncles still hadn’t recovered from her turning down Stanford for Berkeley (blamed on the American-heathen influence of Patrick Uncle, naturally) when she announced to a kitchen full of bug-eyed aunties, “He’s a computer geek, but he ’s my geek, and I’m crazy about him.” Judging from their reactions, you would have thought she said, “That’s right! He ’s great in the sack!”

 

Never have I seen a group of women more in need of an economy-sized bottle of Valium. (Note: I wasn’t around to see my mom tell the aunties about Anthony and me.)

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2007 in Books, Entertainment, Review

 

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