Sunday, December 17, 2006

Apocalpyse Now

Youtube is a wonderful thing.



Ride of the Valkyries


Smell of Napalm in the morning

Thursday, December 14, 2006

This one was too cool to pass up.

Low tech solution saves dolphins
http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/asiapcf/12/14/china.dolphins.ap/index.html

DWIM

Or Do What I Mean.
A language that cuts through the complexity of the modern programming environments. A panacea, if there ever was one..
Sayeth the wikipedia..

All DWIM programs take the following form:

DWIM

When executed, the program does what the user wants it to do, without any restrictions. How it does has never been defined.

Friday, November 17, 2006

In response to Mr. Sumir Sharma

Mr. Sumir Sharma is a lecturer from Ludhiana and has posted an extremely detailed comment in my previous post on The Last Mughal. He has a very nice history blog. He has some interesting perspectives on historical research and pedagogy.
This is in response to his comments. I have some more questions for him which arose from his comments on my post.
You say,
“So, when Zafar joined the Sepoys, it was the british that were mutinying against their masters, not the indians. I think it's really ironic that the british should consistently refer to the events as the Mutiny of 1857 :-)”
Well, Well. However, I will suggest that the domination of the East India company should be studied from Allahabad Treaty of 1765 onwards. Under Subsidiary Alliances, it was the elite group of the Indian society, which had surrendered India to them. Hence, by virtue of being the winners, the East India Company was ruling over India. Another best example is annexation of Sindh and Punjab. I hope you know that what the British officer said while annexing Sindh. He claimed that it was the finnest piece of rascality but they had done it. On the other hand, annexation of Punjab can never be justified. But only argument which can be used is that it was the prize won by the winner in Anglo Sikh war.

My comments were made in response to the sanctimony of the British when it comes to talking about or dealing with their imperial past. We lost, they won. To the victor go the spoils. That's the way of the world. What irritates me is how the british act as though they were somehow morally justified in their actions :-)

Only comment that can be made is that there is touch nationalistic urges in your statement. Somewhere, it is your country and your region (the region of Cholas, Pandya and Cheras) which are alive. You may be away from home but your heart is here. You will be surprised to know that it is a recent trend that the rule of Cheras and Cholas are being reinterpreted on a model which had been build around the history of some tribes in South part of Africa. The success of Cholas and the imperialistic activities are being under rated under that new interpretation.
That is an interesting statement. I don't understand it though. What do you mean when you say that Chola and Chera history is being reinterpreted in an African model. Like you have said elsewhere, shouldn't indian history be interepreted in an indian model?

But, I am unable to understand in spite of the teacher and student of history, that how this middle class theory had been build to gain the independence. My reading of history is taking me to a different direction. Middle Class and rise of Nationalism with Middle Class theories never appeal to me. The problem is that we have always picked western model as frame of reference to evaluate the Indian history. Similarly, the Marxist interpretation and the Grimansci model to interpret on the basis of fight for hegemony between the classes have also not cut ice with me.

What are the basic assumptions of these models and why don't you like them? I am not familiar with any of them.

You say,
“The history of the 1857 rebellion is taught very superficially in school.”

You are quite right. I would like to direct your attention to some of posts in my sumir-history blog. Actually there is a need of rewriting the Indian history. Kindly check the following posts wherein I have dilated on this issue in different contexts:
http://sumir-history.blogspot.com/2006/08/need-of-rewriting-gandhian-era.html
http://sumir-history.blogspot.com/2006/09/latest-last-mughal-is-arriving-in.html
http://sumir-history.blogspot.com/2006/09/using-historiography-to-emphasis.html
I did read these posts. It is quite interesting. I have thought quite a bit about Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru and their role in creating Pakistan. We definitely need to reevaluate our near-term history. However, I think that as nations, neither we nor Pakistan is in a level of self-confidence where we can look at the historical basis for our creation dispassionately. I doubt if that will even happen in our lifetimes.
Which rolls me into your post about separating ideology from hitoriography. Again, I can do nothing but agree, with the caveat that what one believes in will color everything that one does. It is quite irritating though, to have to dig through ideology to find a couple of nuggets of truth.

“Apparently, Delhi was undergoing a cultural renaissance under him. He also seems to have been made in the mold of Dara Shikoh rather than Aurangzeb. He was a lover of the arts, a sufi, a pretty good poet himself and treated hindus and muslims equally.”
You have reached an established conclusion. I would like to direct your attention to a book of Muzaffar Alam “The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India (Awadh and the Punjab 1707-1748) and second book by Ishrat Haq titled “Glimpses of Mughal Culture”. Ishrat Haq had treaded a new path wherein she had tried to study of the cultural changes as taking place through the poetry of the period by five major poets of the 18th century. She had also traced the similar changes in 19th century. You may enjoy reading the British Paramountancy by R. C. Majumdar. He has been able to bring out some more effective conclusions. It is really ironical that he was not given much recognition after the D. D. Kosambi and than later Marxist lot dominated this field.
I will try to track these books down.

You have read,
“The siege of Delhi, as it were, was actually carried out by gujjar tribesmen who looted anyone that entered or left the city, effectively choking the city out.”
Well R. C. Majumdar had never identified them with any particular group. Secondly, if you know, that such conclusions about Mewatis (Jats) had angered the particular community in India recently.
I can imagine that would happen. I don't think it is necessary, though. Different communities in India behaved differently during the rebellion, but it should not be a reason to question their current patriotism. Sikhs, would be one example.

No doubt, it was a strong contention of R. C. Majumdar that the event of 1857 should never be called the first war of independence. He had traced a regular theme in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1764, then inVellore Mutiny in 1806, then in Barrackpore Mutiny in 1824 and finally the 1844 mutiny and Afghan Mutiny during Anglo Afghan War.
I would agree. It was not exactly a national war. But it wasn't exactly a mutiny either.

Basic thing is reinterpretation is required. A set of concepts has to be framed which describe the events in Indian continent on the basis of the facts as they were there. The problem is that we have never been able to shed the edifice which J Mills constructed on the Indian history.
I agree with your concept that we need to reinterpret our history. However, who is J Mills and what did he do?

Now, when as a nation, we are finding our place in the community of nations, we find that we already have that vital force which makes us a nation. Go to America and live among them. You sense and feel that it something American spirit which are their strength. It is not racialism. That is only one shade. But there is totally a different existence and that is American Spirit. Here I would like to direct you attention to the following post.
http://sumir-history.blogspot.com/2006/08/conspiracy-history-in-india-case-of.html
http://sumir-history.blogspot.com/2006/08/looking-at-indian-history-through.html
http://sumir-history.blogspot.com/2006/07/quasi-mutiny-of-1824-by-47-native.html
http://sumir-history.blogspot.com/2006/06/bindee-tiwari.html
I read these posts. I can do nothing but agree with your sentiments. Especially the ones at the end of the Bindee Tiwari posts (incidentally, the Last Mughal refers to that incident too). I don't know why we buy into the concept that there was no idea of India till the British came. In our epics and poems (even Tamil poems from the Sangam age), the idea that the peninsula all the way up to the himalayas is one land is expressed. Mind you, political contiguity eluded us unless there were really powerful kings who could bring the land under their sway. There has always been, in my opinion, the idea of a cultural unity across the country.
Your other remark that we should respect the fact that there were violent responses to British rule is also well taken. While I think that non-violent resistance was unique and had a lot of (possibly unintended) good effects on the country as a whole, denying our inherent militant nature will only lead to a sort of national schizophrenia :-) I think that part of the reason why Rang De Basanti was so wildly popular was that it focussed on a chapter of our struggle for Independence that was unabashedly militant. That and it was a good flick :-)

You have read,
“The sepoys violently changed the prevailing order in Delhi by riding in from Meerut and killing every single christian they could find.”
Well, I have not the read the book. It is now in the market. When I will visit my regular book store, I hope that I would get a copy of it there. I have read in the interview of Darlymple as given to BBC that he had located sources from it was learnt that the Indian converts to Christianity were the main target. Well, It is definitely a new finding as far as my knowledge goes. In case of Tribal revolts, we have been studying that when such revolt took place then the immediate oppressors, whether they were money lenders, or Gora Babu or Gumastas of British company, they became their target of their anger. I think that there had never been anti-Christian riots as such. It is something which has been observed in recent times only. But anyhow, I think I should first look into the book. I believe that your present review is immediate reaction after reading the book. I will like to suggest you that History is an Art, a Science and literature; all three combined to make the writing of history. The literature aspect of history writing is a feature which play wonders as well mischief if an artist of words wields the pen. But I am not convinced that this anti-Christian feature was there in 1857.
I was merely reporting what I read in the book. I think it is conceivable though.

Now do not bring in the social reformers in it. I think the criticism of Keshav Chander Sen is wrong. Similarly the aversion to the activities of Pandita Ramabai is also not justified. All these features had to been to re examined.
I just looked them up on wikipedia:-) Why was Keshav Chandra Sen criticized? What is their bearing on what the sepoys might have done?

The Christians activists were here since the days of Portuguese. Even there is a theory that it is here since the days of Saint Peters. But, this feature of killing Christian agenda is something which requires some established proofs. One or two reference and then to declare it a history will turn out to be a Bad history.
Once again, I will do nothing but agree.
“Apparently the extent to which the first-generation british had integrated themselves into indian society is not stressed by the indians or the british”

Well I am also surprised. We have been reading the quotation of Thomas Roe which totally contradicts it. No doubt, there were people like William Jones, Charles Wilkins, H. H. Willson, John Princep, the people at short lived Wellesley School or as they are know are the Orientalists. They were attracted to Indian literature. They were impressed and influenced by it. Macaulay had just given sweeping statements.
Just so I understand, the earlier guys were favorably impressed by Indian literature and the later guys like Macaulay were pretty much of the opinion that Indian literature and culture was trash?

Even there are doubts about the contexts in which he had written those lines. But, absorption in social and cultural tradition – it is something which I would also like to study. Well there is a book by Thompson titled “Other Side of the Medal”, in which he had written some thing similar to it. However, that was about the sympathy and some extent an affinity of some British people with Indian way of life. Well in present day India, there is Ruskin Bond and Tom Alter who will be happy reading such theories. However, English gone native seems to be a new theory.

Right. You should read the other book by William Dalrymple called White Mughals. I haven't read it myself, but I believe it focusses on the Englishmen-gone-native.

You have read,
“At this point, the East India Company had made the move of invading and occupying Avadh, a rich indian state that was also home to many of its sepoys. Avadh was a friendly state to the British. This sent out a loud message to other states in India that your disposition towards the british didn't matter to them, they would take you over anyway.”

Well this is an established theory. However, I will like to draw your attention to my one of my another post. I hope you can read Hindi. It is given below.
http://sumir-history.blogspot.com/2005/10/real-authors-of-annexation.html
http://sumir-history.blogspot.com/2005/10/doctrine-of-lapse-cause-of-uprising-of.html
My hindi reading speed is quite slow, but I will be sure to plough through these.


You have read,
“In others, like Delhi, it was certainly a religious war.”

Well, it is a sweeping statement. Was there “Manifest Destiny theory” more in operation than other urges. I will suggest that you must read the following post by Prof. R. K. Khanna.
http://rkkhanna.blogspot.com/2006/08/uprising-in-1857_03.html


You have commented that
“The british response took on an extremely religious overtone.”

It is a new theory. It requires further examination.


Anyhow, finally, you have done a great job. The book in question has been released in India also. I will definitely read it at the earliest. However, the interview of the author to BBC had definitely biased the judgement. Secondly, it is again the same old story that a foreigner comes to India, finds some untouched paper, picks them and write a book out of them and then we Indians start reacting to it. We in India, do not have it in us to do it first. We wait others to come and make us to react against him. Then the contents of our reaction are then projected as our statement. If any of us try to take initiative, first comes the discouragement and the second problem is always the funding which can be obtained only if you have the right networking.

I picked up the book in Chennai, actually. I agree that I would like to see more Indian writers of Indian history come forward. As for the book, it is not as dry as my review might have made it seem. It actually reads like a novel with a lot f discussion and descriptions of characters that played a role and the bystanders. I look forward to your opinions after you read the book.

I also just read your post on the sources for 1857, I will follow up on those.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Last Mughal - 2- The Sepoys and the British

Continuing from the previous post..

So, we have a weak, ineffectual, but a rather nice king, a population representing a rather interesting hindu-muslim culture..

The sepoys violently changed the prevailing order in Delhi by riding in from Meerut and killing every single christian they could find. It is interesting that none of the europeans who had converted to islam (of which there were many) were touched. To properly understand the sepoys' motivations, we must see what the british, their employers had been doing.

When we say 'The British', we of course, mean The British East India Company, which was one of the earliest MNCs. Imagine, if you will, Pepsico, or Microsoft, running a country with the only motive being their bottomline. That's essentially what the BEC was doing to India (and Sri Lanka and Burma) with the marked lack of empathy that is the defining characteristic of a Corporation(then, as now).

The British East India Company had got their foothold in hindustan (bengal, bihar, UP and MP) by obtaining the mughal's permission to collect taxes on their behalf. As the mughal power waned, and it had been waning for a while now, two other kingdoms had become powerful, the Marathas and the Sikhs. As 1857 rolled by, the british had defeated both, and were on the path towards ruling India. Their main tool was the native army, which was recruited from hindus and muslims (especially from the groups that the british considered 'martial races) and trained in the european way. The initial group of the british interacted with the indians on quite convival terms. The officers fraternized with the troops, became quite fluent in local languages and aware of local customs. Many of them acquired indian wives and lived rather indian lives (complete with separate harems for their hindu and muslim wives :-) ). Many of these british were fluent in indian languages and some were actually accomplished poets in those languages. This was news to me. Apparently the extent to which the first-generation british had integrated themselves into indian society is not stressed by the indians or the british :-) When the revolt exploded, this would save some of their sons and daughters as former servants and soldiers of these men saved their children from certain death. The sepoys of the old-style officers also permitted their officers and their families to escape, out of loyalty.

As more and more british started coming in, this stopped and a divide grew between the british and the men they commanded. They looked upon the older group who had 'gone native' with horror and derision. The new class of british that came in were also quite religious and saw in India a vast opportunity to 'reform' the 'natives' of their superstitions and convert the country to the 'One True Faith' of christianity. The 'natives' who had their own 'One True Faith's didn't take very kindly to it and this was to become one of the biggest reasons for the revolt. This extreme religiousity also ensured that the British were particularly insensitive to the sepoys' concerns about the greased cartridges which became the proximate cause of the revolt.

At this point, the East India Company had made the move of invading and occupying Avadh, a rich indian state that was also home to many of its sepoys. Avadh was a friendly state to the British. This sent out a loud message to other states in India that your disposition towards the british didn't matter to them, they would take you over anyway. It also inflamed the sepoys who had to aid in the takeover of their own state by the foreigner.

The british were also the de facto power in Delhi and had a say in who would be the next mughal emperor. They were also plotting to eliminate the Mughal line and move the survivors out of Delhi. In this, they had the collusion of Bahadur Shah's favorite wife and other courtiers.

The revolt, thus, had different complexions in different parts of the country. In some places (like in Jhansi), it was against the attempted land-grabs of the british. In others, like Delhi, it was certainly a religious war.

Once the revolt started, the sepoys killed their officers and promptly marched on Delhi. They went to Bahadur Shah and asked him to lead them. He was not willing in the beginning, but as he began to see the possibility of maintaining his line, he agreed. So, now, you had a group of sepoys, predomninantly hindu, not just accepting, but demanding that the mughal emperor lead them.

Though he was the titular head, there was no one who could actually provide leadership. None of the sepoys had an experience of leading more than hundred, since the officer class had all been european. As mentioned previously, the court was working against itself. If there had been a strong leader, he(or she) would have been able to weld the sepoy regiments into an army. That was not to be. For a long time, the sepoys outnumbered and outgunned the british but couldn't defeat them just because they had no one who could maneuver them like an army. Instead, they charged the british in battalions and were promptly crushed. What they lacked was not courage or weaponry, but leadership. The first shot at some kind of unified leadership came when Bakht Khan of the Bareilly Brigade marched in and tried to bring some kind of leadership and order. But ego-clashes amongst other leaders of the sepoys quickly put paid to that hope.

The fact that the sepoys had killed all europeans had the effect of making the british bloodthirsty for revenge. Breathless tales of how the women had been raped and killed spread. The fact of the matter was that not one woman had been raped (they had all been killed though, so I guess it is small comfort). They saw their role as 'delivering God's justice on the heathens'. The british response took on an extremely religious overtone. The british felt that they had been betrayed by the indians to whom they were trying to bring culture and civilization and by God, they were going to shed some blood to show who was boss. This essentially made it a religious war. With christianity on one side and the hindus and muslims on the other.

Of all the conquering peoples, the british must be truly unique for their consistent stand that all of it was done for the benefit of the conquered. I am sure that when Genghis Khan was building his tower of skulls, or the Romans, were destroying Carthage, selling its inhabitants to slavery and sowing salt in the land (so nothing would grow there) weren't saying to their victims 'But why did you resist us? All we were trying to do was bring you culture!'. The british on the other hand, saw it as their God given duty to 'civilize' their colonies. It permitted them to do really horrific things self-righteously.

For instance, when the british re-took Delhi, they killed indiscriminately, men, women and children. On the march to Delhi, locals were randomly executed. Thousands of the citizens of delhi were killed out-of-hand, regardless of whether they had helped the sepoys or the english. The british used short-ropes for hanging the indians (if you hang someone with a long-rope, it is the fall and neck-snap that kills. A short rope kills slowly by strangulation.). Remember the ones who collaborated with the british? They didn't get much of a better deal. The city was looted, and about eighty percent of Red Fort destroyed. All this, of course, to civilize the heathens. But, I digress.

To get back to the story, once the british got their wits together, they disarmed all native troops that seemed rebellious, and hired auxiliaries from amongst the sikhs and the pathans and marched on Delhi. The british also had a superb spy system which they used to great effect. It is in this time that characters like Hodson and Nicholson made their name (for great brutality and courage). The actions of some (like Theo Metcalfe who was known for his indiscriminate hanging of indians) disgusted even the british.

The looting, the mismanagement and the choking of Delhi by the gujjar tribesmen caused severe supply problems for the sepoy army and they started slipping out of the city. When the british finally stormed the city, there were not many left (Bakht Khan had slipped away with his army to Lucknow). Once in Delhi, the british wreaked a tremendous revenge, extinguished the line of the Mughals and sent Zafar into exile to Rangoon. The only reason his life was spared was because Hodson had promised Zinat Mahal, his wife that his life would be spared in exchange for her cooperation during the rebellion. After the rebellion, the muslims were treated much worse than the hindus were (since the british saw this as an attempt by the muslim mughals to reassert themselves) which laid the foundation for their alienation from the hindus and the eventual partition. This also comprehensively destroyed the Delhi Renaissance that was occurring under Zafar.

Dalrymple details all this, and brings to life all these characters and more. Like I mentioned previously, this gives great insight into the causes of the revolt. Was it a religious war? Was it a war waged by hindus and muslims to restore the mughals to power? Was it a mutiny? Was it a war by the indians against an encroaching foreign power? The answer is all of the above. It was not exactly a war of independence as claimed by V.D. Savarkar. It was not exactly the matter of a mutiny, as claimed by the british.

We need more such looks at indian history that focus on the facts and not on the political, social or religious leanings of the historian. Also, we tend to idolize leaders and events. It is understandable because we are emotionally invested in it. Unfortunately that prevents us from cold-bloodedly examining our history and learning from it. This book, perhaps because it is not written by an Indian, steers clear of that, and we get to see what everyone does. Actually, it is not completely fair to say that Dalrymple is emotionally disconnected. He obviously loves Delhi and this book is in a way an elegy to the Delhi that was. A cosmopolitan, polished place where hindus, muslims and christians, indians and europeans hung out, went shopping in bazaars, wrote and listened to poetry, watched courtesans dance, ate at roadisde fastfood joints and had a generally wonderful time. Until History intervened.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Last Mughal - By William Dalrymple

This book covers the events of 1857 from the persepective of the decaying Mughal court, the citizens of Delhi and the englishmen who used to live in pre-revolt Delhi and those that 'took' the city. The old Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, is the focal point of the book.

When William Dalrymple was researching this book, he discovered a veritable treasure trove of documents dating from this period. He has used them to reconstruct the events in Delhi prior to, during and after the 1857 Rebellion. The history of the 1857 rebellion is taught very superficially in school. There's mangal pandey, a passing mention made of Bahadur Shah and the rest of the list is devoted to the The Rani of Jhansi, Tatya Tope and Nana Sahib. This book focusses only on Delhi and the events there and brings to light some very interesting facts. The siege of delhi really had five parties to it, The Mughal court, the citizens of Delhi, the sepoys, the English and the oppurtunists, like the gujjar tribesmen.

Here's one thing we should get out of the way first. The British had started by getting the permission of the Mughals to levy tax on their behalf in Bengal, which made them vassals of the Mughals. So, when Zafar joined the Sepoys, it was the british that were mutinying against their masters, not the indians. I think it's really ironic that the british should consistently refer to the events as the Mutiny of 1857 :-)

The book really gave me some insight into Zafar. Apparently, Delhi was undergoing a cultural renaissance under him. He also seems to have been made in the mold of Dara Shikoh rather than Aurangzeb. He was a lover of the arts, a sufi, a pretty good poet himself and treated hindus and muslims equally. In fact, at the risk of alienating the extremist muslims, he forbade the killing of cows in Delhi. Unfortunately, by the time the revolt rolled around, he was eighty two years old and not in very good shape to provide strong leadership. His court was divided and in effect, there was no one in Mughal Delhi who could weld this group of sepoys into a single coherent force. If there had been someone in Delhi who actually knew how to lead an army and understood logistics, it was one of Bahadur Shah's sons, Mirwaiz Mughal, but he was being constantly undermined by other courtiers and Zafar's own wife and minister who were in touch with the british. One faction backed the sepoys and their rebellion while another was in touch with the British with the fond hope that when the rebellion was crushed they would be put in power. They acted as spies and effectively undermined Bahadur Shah's already enfeebled leadership. One of them, Hakim Ahsanallah Khan even convinced him not to prevent the killing of the british women and men who were under his protection, which was later to become the excuse for the wholesale reprisal by the british. This particularly egregious traitor was also responsible for convincing the emperor not to leave Delhi with Bakht Khan when all seemed lost, and then later guiding the British to him,

The siege of Delhi, as it were, was actually carried out by gujjar tribesmen who looted anyone that entered or left the city, effectively choking the city out. Once the sepoys entered and all civic control was lost, the criminal element in the city promptly went on a looting spree, and caused quite a lot of damage before some measure of control was reasserted.

The citizens of Delhi were the hapless group stuck in the middle. Life in Delhi before the revolt was a syncretic mix of hindu and muslim culture. Ghalib, when asked, responded that he was half-muslim. Asked to explain, he said 'I don't eat pork, but I drink wine.'. That about epitmoizes the Delhiites of that time. They were unflinching in their faith that theirs was the best city, their language the most cultured, their food the tastiest, their culture the finest. I guess little has changed :-) There was a regular newspaper in town, which reported right through the rebellion, of which, all copies have survived. There were courtesans' mansions, places where poets could gather and all-night mushairas (poetry symposium) were held, fast-food joints, bazaars and quite a nice night-life.

When the rebellion started, the delhiites were mostly pro-sepoy. But mismanagement of the sepoys and the subsequent looting caused them great suffering. They complained to Bahadur Shah, but there was little that he could do. There was a faction in the city (just like in the palace) that was pro-british, which helped them by spying and reporting on the activities. But none of this helped the populace when the British finally took the city.

The Sepoys and the British, next..

Thursday, October 12, 2006

10 foot Marijuana plants

http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/americas/10/12/canada.troops.marijuana.reut/index.html

Canadian are encountering forests of marijuana which the taliban are using for cover. They try to burn them away until they figure out that when the plants do burn, they are having ill-effects on the troops downwind :-)

I wonder what the Taliban in the marijuana forests thought about it...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Bulla Ki Jaana

This is an awesome song by Rabbi Shergill.
Here's a link to the song and here are the lyrics

The song was written by Baba Bulle Shah, a sufi mystic. The times of Bulle Shah(1680-1750) were quite tumultous for Punjab and India being the years during and just after the rule of Aurangzeb (1658-1707). This period saw the overextending of the Mughal Empire and the extremist islamic rule under Aurangzeb, who was a hyper-traditional sunni muslim unlike Shah Jahan, Jehangir and Akbar who were much more tolerant.

Bulle Shah's poetry is very humanistic, in keeping with the Sufi traditions (in another poem, he says 'Destroy the temple and the mosque, but do not break a lovelorn heart, for God lives there'). He apparently disliked religious extremism and the undue authority wielded by the mullahs.

The rest of Rabbi's album is quite cool. Not run-of-the-mill desi-pop. Here's a rediff article on him.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Chandni Bar

This Madhur Bhandarkar movie is about the life of dancing girls at the beer bars in Bombay. The story follows the life of Mumtaz, a girl from UP(played by Tabu). Her parents get killed in a religious riot and comes to Bombay with her uncle to make a living. She is forced to start working as a dancing girl in a bar. The movie follows the ups and downs (mostly downs) of her life, her desperation to ensure that atleast her children avoid her fate and move up in life.

The story is told against the canvas of life in the bombay underworld. The corruption in the system is shown in a very matter-of-fact manner. It's depressing because you know it's real and a thousand similar stories are probably going on right now.

All the actors have played their parts very well. Tabu as Mumtaz and Atul Kulkarni as Potiya Sawant, a gangster stand out with their brilliant performances.

This is definitely not a feelgood movie, but certainly worth watching.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Hidden Blade

This movie called Kakushin Ken Oni No Tsune in Japanese. It's directed by Yoji Yamada who also directed Twilight Samurai.

The movies are both based on the novels of Shuuhei Fujisawa. I have not been able to find out much about the author, except indirectly. It seems that he wrote his novels all focussing on a certain time period (late Edo or early Meiji Restoration era of Japan) and the stories focussed on the regular samurai's life.

The heros of Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade are not the scenery chewing, loud samurai characters like the ones typically portrayed by Toshiro Mifune. They are quiet and reserved. Living lives of quiet determination. Stoic, not fatalistic.

From checking out the making-of and the interviews of Yoji Yamada, he's clearly taken by this era. Great care has been taken to reproduce the period 'look' like clothing, utensils and houses. He has a affinity for some really cool shots which look like paintings brought to life (eg. Woman under a tree on the foreground, the sea shore in the far distance). He also 'holds' scenes effectively and lets the silence tell the story.

Silent Blade's main character is Katagiri Munezo, who's a low-level samurai. The movie revolves around him, his friends and his family. As in Twilight Samurai, we can hear the echoes of history. The clan has requested an instructor from Edo to come in and teach them to use artillery and drill them in modern european military training.

This movie has some interesting continuity with Twilight Samurai. The same actor who played Seibei's servant plays Munezo's servant and has the same name in the movie. Munezo's teacher is again a Toda Sensei.

I really liked the interactions between the characters and the kind of quiet heroism portrayed in the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and would highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Taranaa-e-Hind

Also known as Saare Jahan Se Achcha :-)
This was created by Allama Mohammad Iqbal, in 1904/1905. Curiously, Iqbal became one of the proponents of the creation of a separate muslim state which became Pakistan. That was definitely news to me.

For whatever reason, we are taught only a small subset of the lines. The entire song is so much longer and in some parts, cooler.

kuch bāt he kih hastī, miṭati nahīn hamārī
sadiyon rahā he dushman, daur-e-zamān hamārā
Something is in us, that preserves us, that keeps us ever-smiling
Though the fates and chances of the world have ever tried to break us

:-)

Check out the full article at wikipedia.

Saare Jahan Se Achcha

sāre jahān se acchā hindostān hamārā
ham bulbulain hai is ki, yeh gulsitān hamārā
Our India is the finest Country on this planet earth
This is our garden abode, we are nightingales of mirth

ghurbat men hon agar ham, rahta hai dil vatan men
samjho vahīn hamen bhī, dil hain jahān hamārā
Though in foreign lands we may reside, with our motherland our hearts abide
Our spirit remains with thee, where our hearts exist

parbat voh sab se ūncā, hamsāya āsmān ka
voh santari hamārā, voh pāsbān hamārā
That mountain most high; neighbor to the skies
It is our sentinel; it is our protector

godi men kheltī hain is ki hazaaron nadiyā
gulshan hai jin ke dum se, rashk-e-janān hamārā
A thousand rivers play in its lap,
Gardens they sustain, the envy of the heavens is ours

aye āb, raud, ganga, voh din hen yād tujhko
utarā tire kināre, jab kārvān hamārā
O water of the mighty flow of the Ganga, do you remember the day
When on your banks, our caravan had landed

maz'hab nahīn sikhātā āpas men bayr rakhnā
hindi hai ham, vatan hai hindostān hamārā
Faith does not teach us to harbour grudges between us
We are all Indians and India is our homeland

yūnān-o-misr-o-romā, sab miṭ gaye jahān se
ab tak magar he bāqi, nām-o-nishān hamārā
Greece, Egypt and Rome are lost, now only memories
But our civilization remains; it has stood the test of time

kuch bāt he kih hastī, miṭati nahīn hamārī
sadiyon rahā he dushman, daur-e-zamān hamārā
Something is in us, that preserves us, that keeps us ever-smiling
Though the fates and chances of the world have ever tried to break us

iqbal ko'ī meharam, apnā nahīn jahān main
m'alūm kya kisī ko, dard-e-nihān hamārā
Iqbal! Is there no soul that could
Understand the pain in thy heart?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Stuff they didn't teach me at school 1 : Azimullah Khan Yusufzai

When I started reading up on Indian history, I realised that there were great many interesting things that we have never been exposed to in school. I have decided to post some such interesting tidbits. Maybe, I was asleep in class and just do not remember being taught these things :-)

For instance, Azimullah Khan Yusufzai.

Azimullah was a poor muslim boy, who ended up at a school run by the british. There he learned French and English. He then became secretary to Nana Sahib.

Nana Sahib was the adopted son of the Peshwa who had been exiled to the kingdom of Oudh by the british. Since he was the adopted son, the british cut off his pension under the Doctrine of Lapse, which decreed that if the landowner died without a male heir, the lands would pass to the East India Company. He deputed Azimullah Khan to go to London to plead his case with the crown. Azimullah went there, charmed the upper crust (met Charles Dickens, the queen etc), was appalled by the conditions in London (the slums were worst than the worst that India had to offer, he thought) and on the way back came through Constantinople. There he saw the british getting a bloody nose at the Crimean War. He realised that the British wouldn't be able to fight both wars, if India rose in revolt.

When he got back, he told Nana Sahib 'Why beg for a pension when you can fight and regain your crown?'. He started publishing leaflets against the East India Company and started mobilizing the royalty against the british. He escaped with Nana Sahib when the revolt was suppressed and was never found. While we hear about Tatya Tope (Nana Sahib's general), we don't hear a thing about his secretary who was the big motivators behind the scenes.

Thinking about it, maybe the sepoys' mutiny which started off the whole thing probably came at a bad time for Azimullah. Maybe things started rolling before he could get orchestrate a proper rebelliob. He had to know that if the Sikhs backed the british, the rebellion had little chance of success, so perhaps he was trying to get the buy-in from them too. Perhaps the events overtook him. Of course, I am just speculating at this point.

I think they should have made the movie 'The Rising" about Azimullah Khan, not Mangal Pandey :-)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hiking the Burroughs Range

This is supposed to be the toughest day-hike in the Catskills. It hits three peaks (Wittenburg(3790ft), Cornell(3870) and Slide(4180). It's part of the Devil's Path. It's a 9.7 mile hike.

KD and I planned this over the week and hit it last Sunday. KD found it here. It's a great site, with trail descriptions, topo maps and altitude profiles.

Here's a quick summary.

Start : 11:30
Wittenburg : 1:55
Leave Wittenburg : 2:25
Cornell : 3:00
Base of Slide :3:45
Top of Slide :4:35
End of Hike :6:00



We actually left Jersey City at 8:15 am (a minor miracle in and of itself) , got to the end-point of the hike (The Slide Mt parking lot) at 10:30 and dropped one car off there. We got to the Woodland Valley parking lot 11:00 ish. The distance is about 22 miles between these two points. We started hiking around 11:15 am, but went on a completely different trail :-)

Soon, we found the Burroughs Range Trail. It's behind the camp sites, crossing a little bridge across a creek. We started at 11:30 AM.

The first section to the top of Mt. Wittenberg was largely uneventful. It climbed steadily all the way through to the top. We reached the top at 1:55.

A brief digression is apropos here, I think..

In a past life, long time ago, I lived in Bombay for 9 months. When you live there, you can't but notice how much life revolves around the local trains. Brilliant network. Mostly trustworthy. Always crowded. The geography of Bombay makes these trains an indispensable part of travel. Bombayites(who are the very salt of the earth, mind you. A more nice, polite, hospitable folk you will be hard-pressed to find.) are used to this 'running-for-the-train' thing since wee toddlerhood. Now, what this means is that even if they are, say, walking in a park, they tend to walk like they are trying to catch a train.

Now, I am from Madras. We tend to amble where others trot, trot where others gallop and by and large prefer to rest in the shade of a tree rather than go anywhere. In other words, we display a marked lack of hurry. Must be the heat.The upshot of all this is that when one hikes with KD, one must be prepared to walk really really fast. And if one is from Madras, one must be really be prepared to be pushed hard. And pushed hard I was :-)

So, when one looks at the times posted here, one must correct for BSG (Bombay(Brihanmumbai, if you will) Standard Gait).

The view from Mt. Wittenburg is pretty nice. The ledge drops off almost vertically. There are nice views of the Ashokan reservoir. From the edge, I could see buzzards wheeling below. For some random reason, I really like seeing these birds from above.

After a break of about 30 minutes, we headed towards Mt. Cornell. Getting to Cornell involved some small-time rock-climbing to clear ledges. We got to Cornell at 3:00 PM.

Cornell didn't offer much a view, except for a view of Slide. From Cornell, you can see the trail drop down to a ridge which goes straight to Slide which looms like a wall. It gives a nice preview of what lies ahead :-) The ridge is at about 3000 ft and then, in half-a-mile, climbs to the top of Slide (at 4180 ft).

We got to the base at 3:45 PM. The last section had a combination of rock-climbing (or rock-scrambling, if you are me :-) ), ladders, and steep trails. After all, we did have to climb 1000 ft in under half-mile. The last 10 minutes just about killed me. Showed me up. Brought me to a near standstill. Massacred me etc.

In any case, we reached the top of Slide at 4:35 PM.

There's a big rock-ledge with a plaque honoring John Burroughs after whom this trail is named. We met a couple there who told us that there was a much better lookout point just 30 yards from where we were down the trail.

So, KD and I set off, found nothing and before we knew it, we were on the trail that leads down from Slide. We think they just wanted to be rid of us.

The hike down was pretty straightforward and we were down by 6:00 PM. We had covered 9.5 miles in 6.5 hours with a half-hour break. Not too bad. Correcting for BSG, as always.

It was a good, hard hike. I much recommend it. The weather stayed good. The temperature was in the high-seventies, with not-too-bad humidity.

I would very much like to do an overnighter here maybe even a multi-nighter doing the entire Devil's Path. Let's see how that pans out.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lessons from Mt. Carrigain

As mentioned previously, this was very much a seat-of-the-pants thing. Ideally, more research should have been done on equipment. Or maybe not. I would have spent a lot of time browsing, and maybe have ended up buying the same things :-)
One interesting thing I discovered after I got back from the hike was the concept of ultra-light backpacking. http://www.ultralightbackpacker.com/

-Boots
I bought a pair of Merrell Pulse II. Light, waterproof. I could walk through muck and water without getting any water inside. Also, light and comfy. Highly recommended

- Hiking Socks
I used to consider these an affectation. Not so much anymore. There were times when I waded through water, wrung the socks and put them back on, kept going. They were dry in a short time. Can't do these with standard cotton socks.
Take extras.

- Packs and packing
I had bought my pack on a whim, but lucked out. It's one of the lighter packs (at about 4 pounds). My whole backpack, including food, water, tent etc, weighed in at 31 pounds. If I had bought one of the heavier packs by mistake (like one of those 12 pound monstrosities), I would have been lugging nearly 25 percent more weight. By the end of the trip, it shows :-)
Also, the loads on the pack should be distributed so that it stays close to your body and doesn't pull away from your center of gravity. The best place to put the heavy stuff is at the bottom where they have thoughtfully provided loops :-)

- Reading up on backpacking.
Haven't done it, should have done it :-) I am sure that many things that I found out, people already have..

- Trip planning
Now, we did very little of it and lucked out. Just a little bit of trip planning saves a lot of time and headache. For instance, if we had planned this trip the previous night instead of at the EMS store on the evening, we could have saved close to 3 hours of day-light hiking time. As it was, we started researching hikes at 2:00 pm, chose one at 3:30 and read up on the hike on the way there :-)

- Fires
Be sure to make a fire-ring or use pre-existing ones. If you do plan to make a fire, the fire-logs (like the ones used in fireplaces) make it a lot easier. Easy to start the fire, doesn't smoke, no burning embers to deal with.
Be sure to carry matches/lighter too, obviously :-)

- Waste and the disposal thereof
Get atleast 200 ft from the trail, campsites and water sources( remember that trails curve. 200 ft from the place you started might not quite be 200 ft from another point on the trail :-)
). Dig a hole six inches deep, do your thing, mix it up with the dirt (with a stick), bury it. Don't bury the toilet paper, though, apparently doesn't quite decompose as fast.
http://www.ehow.com/how_1785_relieve-yourself-woods.html

- Straps, ropes.
These help. Take spares.

- Bugspray
Do not forget it. Or you will pay :-)

- Flashlight
Obviously one needs it. I would suggest that one be taken even if the hike is not planned to last into the evening.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mt. Carrigain - 3 : Quick summary

Day 1.
8:08 - 10:00 PM.
Signal ridge trail to the junction of Carrigain notch trail - 1.7 miles.
Setup Camp.

Day 2.
Broke camp at 8:45 am
8:45-12:08
Signal Ridge Trail to the top of the mountain 3.3 miles 3200 ft.

12:40 pm- 1:14 pm
Cross Signal Ridge to the Peak.

1:30 pm-4:23 pm
Desolation Trail 1.9 miles (2500 ft.)
Start at 1:30 pm
Bottom at 4:23 pm

4:23 pm-8:41 pm
Carrigain Notch Trail - To Signal Ridge Trail 5.6 miles
Small 1500 ft rise and fall in the middle of the trail.

Total distance 13.5 miles.
Total time 13 hours (1 hour the first night and 12 hours the second day).

This loop offers everything. Long steep climbs, stream crossings, marshland type trails and tons of mosquitos. There are not many people on the trails, especially the loop from Desolation through Carrigain Notch. Most people just do a up-and-back on signal ridge.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Overnighter at Mt. Carrigain - 2

As soon as we setup the campsite, we set about starting a fire and had dinner (bread and cheese). The woods had by now become quite dark by now. This is probably the best part of camping : The dark woods, the quiet night and the crackling fire. I think that a night in the woods like this really reduces life to its bare essentials.

There were a lot of insects around. As we watched, some insects flew straight into the fire. Some of them would throw themselves into the fire, get singed, fall out, and then jump in again. It was a display of bloody-minded attraction to their own death.

After the fire died, we turned in.

The next morning, we broke camp at 8:45 and started hiking again.

By now, I had re-tied the tent to the bottom of the bag, like-so.


This makes a huge difference to how the weight gets distributed. You basically want the weight to rest on your hips with the shoulder straps providing just enough to keep the bag aligned with the body. A well-balanced load almost feels like it doesn't exist.

The Signal Ridge Trail just climbs. Non-stop. In about 3.3 miles, it climbs about 3000 ft. We did this section in about 4 hours, with generous breaks. Including one to address a sudden call of nature. I cannot sufficiently stress the coolness of having a kukri (or any other kind of machete ) handy. in situations like that It cuts you a path away from the trail. It digs the hole for you. It lets you close the hole. It helps you fight, kill and then skin black bears that get too fiesty. Truly an utility tool. Also, kukris look cool :-)

Remember how those folks had told us about the bugs? Well, both of us had left our bugsprays at the car. So, no protection and the bugs were attempting to eat us alive. Fortunately, once we climbed about 1000 ft, the insects stopped bothering us.

The view from the top was brilliant. We could see many of the White Mountains peaks. Mt. Washington's peak was somewhat obscured by clouds. We took a long lunch break here.

We walked the final stretch of the signal ridge trail (which is actually on a ridge) to the top, which we reached at about 1:15 PM.















There is an old firetower on top of Mt. Carrigain which gives some really spectacular views of the White Mountains.

After another break on top of the tower, we decided to start heading down. The plan was to take Desolation Trail, till it meets up with Carrigain Notch Trail and follow it back to the start of Signal Ridge Trail and thence to the parking lot.

We started down Desolation at 1:30. Desolation Trail is most aptly named. It drops steeply losing 2500 ft in 1.9 miles. It is also not as regularly maintained. There were many places where there were fallen trees and the like across the trail. The trail itself seemed to be more a water-runoff than a trail proper :-) It was quite the hike going down the trail. We also took a couple of breaks where we did some impromptu trail maintenance, chopping down saplings that had fallen across the trail. These 1.9 miles took us close to 3:00 hours and we got to the bottom by 4:30.

From here on, it was just going to be a walk-in-the-park to get back, or so we thought.

The last stretch goes along many little streams that crisscross this area. It's almost like hiking through a marsh. Which meant mosquitos. Now, our lack of bugspray really affected us. The only thing I remember of the next 4 hours of hiking (4.9 miles to the signal ridge trail and another 1.7 to the parking lot) is mosquitos. They were relentless, we swatted them away and they still kept coming. The back of my neck just pockmarked with mosquito bites. I think we did our part in the great circle of life that day. Killing many, feeding even more :-)

The last stretch was just a grind. It was mostly flat, except for a sudden rise to about 1500 ft where the Carrigain Notch rises between Mt. Carrigain and Vose Spur. We got to the parking lot by 8:30 pm. The last section was quite challenging because we had mentally decided that the hike was 'done' once we got to the bottom of Desolation. So, the last stretch seemed to drag on and on. Also, the constant irritation of the biting mosquitos and other insects really took their toll. That will teach us not to forget the bug spray :-)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Overnighter at Mt. Carrigain 1

Mt. Carrigain is a 4680 ft mountain in the White Mountains area of New Hampshire. Our plan was to do an overnighter on a loop-trail at this mountain, over two days on the Fourth of July weekend.

A Plan... :-)

It all started Friday when I stumbled into EMS outfitters. I needed a nice pair of hiking boots. I have always had trouble with them. I have ended each hike with hurting feet. Well, they had a sale on, and in addition to the boots, I also bought a backpack and a rain-slicker. I have low sales resistance :-)

I was at Ra42's in Boston Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon, we strolled over to the local Eastern Mountain Sports to look up possible hiking trails and pick up some more gear. It might be noticed that we have a pretty laid back attitude to trip planning and timing. Lazy as I am, Ra42 is worse and in all, we end up doing things at the last minute. It's definitely not a good idea. While we manage to pull off decent trips, just a small delta increase in planning can definitely have big changes in the overall trip experience.

I was initially not keen on hiking in New Hampshire. The trails have been overcrowded and once, when I made it to the top of a hill, there was an entire troupe of interpretative dancers performing to some faux native american music. Another hill, was crowded to the point where it was more like Central Park rather than a hill. Not my idea of a good hike :-)

Howeverm by the time we were going over the trail maps at the EMS store, The White Mountains were the only choice. So, we chose a trail that was in the Northern side of NH after having been assured by the EMS guy that 'There will be very few people up there'. After perusing a '100 Hikes in the White Mountains' guidebook, we decided that Mt. Carrigain (in the Pemigawasset wilderness area) would provide the right combination of isolation (my requirement) and a loop-trail (Ra42's requirement).

So, at long last, having stocked up on our camp-food (bread, cheese and 3 apples) we finally showed up at the parking lot at 8:00 pm. We decided to do a clockwise hike (Up the Signal Ridge trail, down Desolation Trail and Carrigain Notch trail back. For whatever reason, we assumed that the Desolation Trail was an easy hike. And we would soon be proved wrong. As we were getting ready, we met up with two hikers who were leaving the trail who had done the same clockwise hike and told us that they had done it in about 9 hours or so. They also said 'Oh, there are going to be a lot of mosquitos on the way, but I am sure that you already knew that.' Well, we didn't, but we'd brought along bugspray. We would have occasion to remember those words...

Finally, at 8:30 PM, bags all packed up, bugspray on, we finally hit the trail.

Ideally, I should have read up on backpacking and I didn't. Now, I had packed my tent incorrectly. You will observe that the tent (the blue thing) is packed vertically on the backpack. This is a Bad Idea. What happens is that the tent 'pulls back' and stresses the shoulder and neck. In about 45 minutes, I was starting to seriously wonder if this whole backpacking thing was a good idea.

We hiked till we got to Carrigain Notch Trail. This is about 1.7 miles and we covered it in about an hour. This of course meant that we had to set up camp in near-complete darkness. I don't think I have ever once setup camp in daylight :-) We had the tent up quickly. Practice does make perfect. :-)

Signal Ridge, Desolation, mosquitos and parvaane. In the next post ..

Monday, May 29, 2006

Firefly and Serenity

Firefly was a TV series that got cancelled after one season on Fox and Serenity is a movie that takes off from where the series stopped.

Firefly follows the adventures and misadventures of the space freighter Serenity and its crew led by Captain Malcolm Reynolds. It takes place in a future universe where humans have colonised a remote galaxy with many habitable moons and planets. The writ of the ruling Alliance doesn't run very well in the remote outer planets where Serenity's crew ply most of their illegal trade. The remote planets are portrayed with a wild-west feel, with run-down bars, brothels, local tough-guys and whatnot. The series has a mixture of western and space-faring adventure feel to it that is very appealing.

Captain Reynolds is very much an updated Hans Solo, pirate-with-a-heart-of-gold kind of guy. The rest of the crewmembers are also portrayed very well. Some of the characters are almost cliched but they are well written and well acted so it actually works out very well.

The series has a general upbeat feel to it, in a old-fashioned swashbuckling action-adventure kind of way. I very much enjoyed it.

The movie takes off six months from the last episode and is as good as the series episodes.

The series (and the movie) did not do as well, which is a good reason why one must not make popular reception the sole metric for choosing a movie. They have however, managed to pick up a cult following and I hope they do well in the DVD market.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Da Vinci Code

I found out today that the government is considering banning the movie in India. Ostensibly it's because it may hurt the feelings of a certain minority. This is ridiculous. Hum Aapke Hain Kaun hurt the feelings of a certain minority (namely me). So, did they ban it? Now, I am fairly certain that the movie is going to suck and I have no intentions of watching it, but I think that it will be a lesser of an insult on the moviegoer's intelligence than HAHK ever was.

Furthermore, no one is making the Catholics or Protestants or Muslims or Hindus go watch the movie. If it's that offensive, the offended parties can make their opinions known by not showing up for the movie. That will probably be a good thing too. As mentioned previously, I think that the movie is going to suck. Tom Hanks is going to do his earnest-guy-stuck-in-impossible-situations bit, which is starting to wear a bit thin. The cool puzzles that made the book so interesting are going to fall flat in the movie. But, I digress.

I sometimes think that this oversensitivity has to do more with the 'what will other people say' attitude that most of us Indians exhibit. The first reason for doing or not doing something is not whether it's moral or immoral, correct or incorrect but 'what will other people say'. This hamstrings people at an individual level and seems to hamstring the government too.

Freedom of expression takes precedence over hurt feelings.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Parineeta

This is a movie based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadya's novel of the same name. It stars Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan. I really enjoyed the movie. The story is excellent and the screenplay is good. The acting, especially by Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan is just brilliant.

The story is set in 1962 in Calcutta and all the dramatis personae are well-to-do Bengalis. This has given the filmmakers the opportunity to indulge in some really cool goodlooking retro sets and dresses. This has been done without the kind of ostentation displayed in other movies like Devdas. In all, the effect is very good.

The story revolves around Navin (Saif) and Lolita(Vidya), two childhood friends and neighbours. Saif is the son of a rich businessman and Lolita an orphan, who lives next door. The script emphasises crisp writing over long speeches and is really effective. All the characters are well fleshed out and well acted, so one is really taken into the movie.

This has to be Saif Ali Khan's best performance. Vidya Balan is pitch perfect playing Lolita. She has expressive eyes that she uses to good effect. I hope that she gets to do more roles that do her justice.

The rest of the cast is quite adequate with Sanjay Dutt playing a decent role for a change.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Star Wars - The Clone Wars - I

The Clone Wars is a series of animated shorts that describes the time between the prequels 2 and 3. Essentially, the time when the jedi and the forces of the republic (i.e., the Clone Army) battle the Sith and the droid armies.

The only decent thing about the prequels is the fact that they have a decent overarching story (The fall of a presumably democratic repulic and the rise of an authoritarian empire in its place). Other than that the prequels have inconsistent storytelling, have a bad screenplay, are poorly directed and quite badly acted. I think that the only reason those movies made so much money is that the original star wars leave such a powerful impression on our memories that we are willing to overlook (or rationalise) the bad aspects of the prequels.

Anyway, the good thing about the Clone Wars is that they are not directed by George Lucas. These started of as a set of three minute animated movies made by The Cartoon Network. The first DVD of Clone Wars contains the first twenty three minute shorts.

So, how are they?

The whole thing is a bunch of set-piece battles and fights. The series is setup like a superhero comic with the jedi playing the superheros. I do not have any issue with that :-) Many sequences are clearly anime influenced. I really enjoyed the fights. There's some storyline, I guess, but it does not get in the way of the action :-)

Well, basically, many different Jedi are fighting in many different planets. Dooku and Sidious are cooking upo trouble for Anakin, Yoda is fighting someplace, Two jedi knight women are attacked at a secret jedi cave-place by robots, Kit Fisto is fighting underwater on Mon Calamari, Anakin and Obi-Wan lead an assault on some other planet, Mace Windu is leading an attack on some other place and is showing why he is a badass and finally, General Greivous really messes up some jedi knight's day. That's the whole story.

One thing I never have understood though. You have a massively advanced civilization. Droids, clone armies, super-powerful jedis, laser fire technology and whatnot. But, apparently, their idea of fighting is to line up their troops opposite each other on some convenient plain and have them march at each other whilst shooting their weapons and may the best army win old-chap. Apparently, there's no concept of manoever. The only exception is the ARC troopers (these are the only guys apparently in either side short of the jedi who know that if they are shot at, they should duck :-)).

Other than that, the whole sequnce is quite nicely animated. Lots of eye-candy. While all the sequences were nicely done, some were stand-out.

In all, I rather enjoyed it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

When the Last Sword is Drawn

This is a japanese movie starring Kiichi Nakai and Koichi Sato. It's called Mibu Gishi Den in Japanese.

It starts off in Meiji era Japan and with an old man taking his grandson to a doctor. A photograph at the doctor's place triggers his memories. Between his and the doctor's recollections, we hear the story of Yoshimura Kanichiro.

Much of the story that is told is set in an interesting period of Japanese history, called Bakumatsu (1853-1869). After 1600 CE, when Tokugawa Ieyasu became the unquestioned Shogun (military overlord) of Japan, the succeeding Tokugawa shoguns became increasingly insular and froze Japan in time, strictly ordering the society and controlling the access to foreign trade. They managed to rule unopposed for the next 250 years. So, when the American Commodore Matthew Perry came with his warships in 1853 to force them to open ports for trade, the Japanese simply did not have the technology to resist. This caused a major upheaval in Japanese society and led to the overthrow of the Shogunate and the establishment of the emperor as the sole titular head of Japan.

Obviously the Shoguns did not go away quietly, and there was a lot of bloodshed. There were pro and anti-Shogunate militias who fought each other. There were a lot of political assasinations. This period threw up some very interesting characters, one of who were the Shinsengumi, a pro-Shogun militia. The Shinsengumi had quite a few strong and famous swordsmen among their number. The Shinsengumi are respected even now as tragic heros and are admired for their fortitude and courage. The Shinsengumi had strict rules for its members, hard training and a hard selection process. If any rules were broken, the offender was ordered to commit seppuku.

Saito Hajime was one of their leaders. He was one of the few of the Shinsengumi to actually survive the period, and went on to become a police officer in modern Japan.

The old man in the beginning of the picture is Saito Hajime. It is this militia that Yoshimura joins.

The doctor and Saito Hajime obviously have different views and different pieces of the story, but the movie stitches these narratives together very nicely. I found it a touch too melodramatic at some places, but it does not detract from the movie.

The sword fights are just awesome. Quite fast and very furious :)

I liked all the characters, but especially Saito Hajime. Koichi Sato played him with cool aplomb. He initially comes across as a cold-hearted murderer but by the end of the movie, I found myself cheering for him. He is just way too cool in a sardonic, the-only-reason-I-am-not-killing-everyone-around-me-is-because-I-don't-feel-like-it-right-now kind of way :-)

Another aspect I really liked was the way the friendships between different characters were portrayed.

This movie reminded me a lot of Twilight Samurai. They are both set in the same time-period, deal with very similar issues (following one's duty, common people being compelled by the ebb and flow of history etc) and the storytelling styles are also quite similar.

In all, I highly recommend it.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Mylapore

This is a pretty cool site about the social history of Mylapore.
http://my-mylapore.blogspot.com/
Mylapore is really old (dating back to atleast the 1 st Century CE). It is associated with Thiruvalluvar (the author of the Thirukkural), St. Thomas (one of the 12 apostles), is supposed to have preached here.
This particular site doesn't quite reach back that far, but has information starting from the turn of the 20th century. Pretty fascinating stuff.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

(poetry==programming)?Perhaps:Perhaps;

This is in reference to the post on eclair-turing. I was going to write a comment on Naresh's post, but it grew too long.

Now, the gist of the post is as follows
- good programming is about succintness (maximum bang for the buck)
- good poetry is about succintness
- Good metaphors make for more expressive writing
- Good programming paradigms (metaphors for computers :) ) make for more expressive coding.
- Therefore poetry==programming.

It is very well written and backed up with sources. I really enjoyed reading it. But the more I think about it, the less sure I am that it's correct.

All the characteristics of good poetry quoted there are characteristics of good prose too. Low signal-to-noise ration and maximum expressiveness are as much a characteristic of good prose, as of poetry. These things are not poetry's exclusive province. Indeed, they are characteristics of good communication in any medium.

For example..
Peccavi.
(what General Charles Napier said after the conquest of Sind. (Peccavi means 'I have sinned'.)). The Gettysburg Address
The Last Question, by Asimov

None of these has anything more or less than is required. They are expressive, informative and beautiful. They are compact and have intense unity. But, they cannot be called poetry, unless we seriously stretch the meaning of poetry. We can't just say 'Any good collection of sentences is poetry', can we now?':)

So, what then, sets poetry apart?

The most concise way to convey the message of Charge of the Light Brigade is not the poem, but to say 'The Light Brigade was asked to charge the artillery. Even though the soldiers knew that they were going to die for no reason, they followed the order and got shot to bits.' Two sentences, tell you the whole story. Succint. Gets the information across.

But something is missing isn't there? What's missing is the emotional content. The Charge of the Light Brigade is about hopeless courage. It's not about telling you what happened at the Battle of Baclava. That poem stands for any conflict, anywhere where men throw their lives away for a mistake. It is as valid for the 13th Hussars as it is for the millions of lives that Stalin threw away in human wave attacks against the Germans.

Poetry is not about communicating a thought or an idea. It's about communicating an emotion. A poet seeks to make you feel what he feels. That's why our response to poetry is visceral, rather than cerebral.

We would not seek directions to the airport in verse. On the other hand the feeling of separation can be most beautifully expressed in song.

Good poetry is not just a play in words. It has soul. It is romantic in the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance definition of classical and romantic.

Emotional content is what sets poetry apart.

Which brings us to programming..

Programming is a cerebral process. A program is a way of executing an idea or a concept. It is not concerned with the writer's (or the reader's) emotions. It is a 'classical' thing. Its raison-d'etre is utility.

So, where then, one might ask, is the place for art in programming? Is it possible for code to be beautiful? Am I a troglodyte who enjoys destroying other people's joy in writing code? The answers would be yes, yes and no.

Software is not poetry. If I must look for an analogue, I would look into architecture and civil engineering. It's like building a bridge, for example. A bridge can be beautiful, but it's primary purpose is utility, not beauty. A program takes it to the extreme. Its beauty is utility. Beauty here is a piece of code that does the mostest with the leastest.

Isn't that true of poetry also? Of course it is. And prose, and music, and photography, and any other art form. All art seeks to harmoniously interplay the elements to obtain maximum bang for the buck.

Programming is one such art. Poetry is one another such art. Other than the fact that they are art forms, there is not much in common between them.

I really like this post because other than the conclusion (programming==poetry) , the rest of the post is absolutely spot-on. More powerful programming paradigms do make programming more expressive. we must, as programmers, focus on low signal-to-noise ratio. More powerful tools make for better programs.

But these similarities are because both programming and poetry are arts, not because programming==poetry.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Rang De Basanti

I watched this movie last weekend.

It's a well-written and well made movie.
In case you have been living under a rock and don't know anything about it..

Sue is a british filmmaker whose grandfather used to be a jailer in India during the british rule. She has been reading his diaries about the Indian revolutionaries and desperately wants to make a movie about them. The corporation she works for refuses to pay for it (they say 'Do something on Gandhi, it's more saleable' :) ). She comes to India anyway, hooks up with Sonia(Soha Ali Khan), her Indian contact, and tries to make the movie. She ends up meeting Sonia's buddies, and they all decide to help her make the movie.
The rest of the story is about how the movie is made and how subsequent events affect all of them.

I really liked the way the characters were portrayed. Their interactions were unforced and natural, in a manner reminiscent of Dil Chahta Hai. Folks might have issues with how the story unfolds, but I really can't talk about it without giving away the plot of the movie. I thought the movie was a little slack towards the middle, but not by much.

The music was nice, as was the cinematography. There were some really nice shots. Except maybe one song, none of them felt forced. I liked Rang De Basanti and Roobaroo. I also really liked Lalkaar. It's inspired by Ram Prasad Bismil's Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna.
Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna Hamare Dil Mein Hai
Dekhna hai Zor Kitna Bazu-E-Qatil Mein Hai.
The yearning for sacrifice is in our hearts
We want to test our enemies strength.
Here's the complete poem..
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarfaroshi_Ki_Tamanna

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

HERE BE SPOILERS. DONT READ IF YOU DONT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN THE MOVIE


- This is the angry-young-man movie updated for the current generation. Very intelligently done, but it is at heart, about a bunch of guys getting upset with the system and killing people they feel are responsible. The story is inspired by the death of Abhijit Gadgil in a MIG-21 crash.

- I thought that the conversations the characters had were pretty well written. I can really relate to their rootlessness and lack of inspiration. When I read history I also feel 'Damn, they did so much, what have I done?' and wonder if I will be able to do something phenomenal if I am put in a situation like that. Would I also be willing to just die if I had been born in the 1930s? So, while I don't approve of the character's action, I can understand them doing it.

- Atul Kulkarni's character was my favorite. His initial enmity to Sonia's gang of friends and his later friendship are all very nicely done. I liked the way he recited Sarfaroshi Ki Tamnna and said 'You won't get your Bismil from these guys'. When I was in college, I had an opportunity to talk with many BJP/RSS sympathisers. While some were just insane (let's kill all the muslims!), some were honestly concerned by what they felt was an attack on hindu tradition. That made, for me atleast, his character more believable.

- I liked the way they juxtaposed the 'Documentary' with 'present-day' happenings.

- There were some really nice throw-away shots, like the one where the friends are having a good time, and Siddharth's character is standing away from the group smoking and the one where Atul Kulkarni's character is admiring a Sikh guy's talwar.

Friday, January 20, 2006

iDeo

It would be something of an understatement to say that iPods have made a splash. They are everywhere. And it seems to me that they are not exactly feature rich for their price. Things that come standard in an iriver (FM reception, for instance) need an extra attachment on an iPod. And I don't like the way they store the music. They are really cool though.

Some folks, I have noticed, wear one all the time. Which, by the way, is perfectly ok by me. I must confess however, that I find it a little strange to see guys wear it even in the toilet. I suppose they feel separated from the very music of the spheres if they are forced to remove the earplugs for even one instant.

Anyway, I was mentioning this at a post-prandial discussion after a most satisfying meal of masala dosas at Chez KD, when one of the assembled suggested a perfectly valid reason for this. He opined that these guys are clearly trying to drown out the inevitable noises made by the other users of said facility. Clearly, the man had thought about this long and hard.

Ah, but what of the assault on the nose, the inevitable side-effect of the aforementioned noises? Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, the iDeo(TM). What it is, is a small dispenser of room freshener attached to your iPod. It will dispense just enough, every so often. Just turn it on while on the Ceramic Throne. Your nose will thank you for it.

I was going to call it iLoo, but I see the name is alreay taken.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Angels and Demons

I finally read this book by Dan Brown.
Apparently, it was written before The Da Vinci Code.
Well, what can I say. If you read one, you read them all :)
- Robert Langdon. Check.
- Beautiful, talented heroine. Check.
- Slightly deranged, hyper-assasin. Check.
- Secret that potentially threatens the Roman Catholic Church. Check.
- Cool clues that really challenge the good Doctor and his love-interest. Check.
- Mortal peril for the aforementioned Doctor and babe. Check.
- Ending that avoids disturbing the status quo. Check.

It is not a bad book mind you. It has some really cool moments. Nice read.

Of bajjis and blogs

My cousin Dhurvaasan pointed me to his blog.
http://raadikadai.blogspot.com/

Every college seems to have it's raadi-equivalents where students could go and have their late-night fix of food, tea and much arattai. An apt site for 'A feast of reason and the flow of soul.', if there ever was one. A place that fulfilled the same role that the Forum did for the Romans or the Agora for the Greeks.

After reading his post on the mirchi bajjis, I got an irrestible urge to have bajjis and tea.
So, I made bajjis and some piping hot adrak-ka-chai.

I raise my cup of tea to toast The Raadi kadai :-)