Sunday, April 22, 2007


The weather’s heavenly nowadays. Sunny skies, a cool breeze and a temperature which hovers benignly between 18 to 20 degrees. It’s almost a crime not to head out on a Saturday and enjoy the day. P complained of a slight indisposition but changed his mind after a while.

The SS Great Britain had been awarded the museum of the year in UK for the year 2006. It’s actually just a very old ship, built in the year 1843 and is known as the world’s first great ocean liner. It transported around 700 people on each trip, across the Atlantic, to Australia as thousands went to start their lives in that new continent then and also to Asia and India. It was also involved in the Crimean War and the 1857 Indian war of independence as it transported troops. The sea routes at that time were very pretty long and treacherous. One had to round off the choppy waters of the Cape of Good Hope to get to India and Australia and Cape Horn to get to San Francisco. Suez and Panama canals were still to arrive. In 1861 she carried the first ever English cricket team to tour Australia. After she was no longer suitable as a passenger ship, she transported coal and wheat between Europe and the Americas. She ran aground in the Falkland Islands at end of the 19th century where she was abandoned till the 1960s when a massive restoration exercise was undertaken in light of her historic importance to bring her back to the Bristol Dockyard where she was born.

The walk along the dockyard was quite pleasant as we watched the boats lined up all the way on the banks and a team of girls who were rowing away in a canoe. I was suddenly reminded of a visit that I had made to see the INS Viraat in Cochin, where I was working then, almost four years ago. A friend of mine had a contact among the crew and he showed us around the massive aircraft carrier with some pride. I remember it was dusk then, when I was standing alone on the airstrip on that ship looking out into that Arabian Sea of nothingness, rapidly descending into darkness. Those were my last few days in Cochin and I would miss the beautiful state soon. It was a serene moment, with the waves timidly lapping the huge monster of a ship, a few raucous crows overhead and the last glimpses of the orange sun setting on the western horizon. My mind was preoccupied with other thoughts and plans that year. Life has changed a bit since then.

I took quite a few photographs on the Great Britain, on her deck, dining rooms, living quarters and the old boilers and engines. We both thought that the bunk beds on the ship seemed to be too small for a comfortable lie down. P mentioned that the toilet facilities even a hundred years ago were quite up to date. I told him that those facilities were meant for us tourists and did not exist a hundred years ago. Thankfully he had not entered the ladies washroom in his enthusiasm. We had some coffee and doughnuts in a café nearby and took a ferry back to the city center.

Back home, I cooked some Veg Pulao . Didn’t come out too badly considering it was a first attempt. Also watched a French movie called Nelly and Mr. Arnaud, a film by Claude Sauter.

Good timepass.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

London Day Trip

Last Saturday, Prasad and I undertook another day trip to London, my second, his fifth. This time we booked ourselves a return coach trip instead of the train to save ourselves a few bucks. I surprised myself by getting up at the right time (In fact I even had time to change the playlist in my mp3 players with some recent songs that I had downloaded) and we found ourselves at the bus stop well before time. The journey was a little more than two hours and was quite comfortable.

It was a beautiful day. Actually, I must mention that the summer has now well and truly arrived with the temperature hovering around the 20s most of the time. Anyway, we had to get to Madame Tussaud’s which was first on our agenda. We hadn’t booked our tickets as Prasad in his infinite wisdom from his previous visits to his city had concluded that if we queued up before 10 AM we wouldn’t have to wait long. Unfortunately, it was the Easter weekend and we ended up standing (and sometimes sitting) in the queue along with many other tourists, mostly European, for well over two and a half hours. Reminds me of Tirupati, I told Prasad. He told me how their family gets a special treatment at Tirupati because they know somebody there. Doesn’t everybody?

Finally, we did get in. The place was jam packed. I didn’t like it immediately. The whole idea of the place is that people can act funny with life like mannequins of well known people and take photographs. Prasad hugged Jennifer Aniston while I tried to get intimate with Nicole Kidman. But she was quite a stiff (sic). Shahrukh Khan, who was a recent addition, occupied a pride of place and we rubbed our shoulders with him. Prasad became really excited on seeing Aishwarya Rai in a traditional saree and made his way torpedo-like towards her. But when I was about to click a momentous photo which would have been in his family’s photo album for generations, the battery ran out. Prasad was quite inconsolable. I was actually quite worried for him when he emitted a long sigh on seeing Princess Diana.

But the truly enjoyable part of the visit was the ‘Chamber of Horrors’. This is the section of the tour where they have images from the French Revolution, graphic description of various methods of torture and dismemberment. The live tour takes the cake where in a dimly lit scary section with appropriate sound effects are live actors dressed up as scary ghosts and corpses etc. who tend to give you quite a scare when you least expect it. An elderly couple in front of us refused to complete the tour by themselves and asked us to shepherd them out, me in front and Prasad behind them. It was quite a thrill and I had a blast. The rest of the tour was quite uneventful by comparison.

After lunch, our next stop was at the Sherlock Holmes museum at Bakers Street. I had read all the short stories and novels by Sir Arthur Conon Doyle by the time I was a 15, and the museum and all its artifacts took me back to those memories. It could have been a much better organized tour than it was though, and people who haven’t read Doyle wouldn’t find it engaging.

We then went on to take a leisurely walk in the Regents Park. It’s quite a huge park and we almost lost our way trying to get back to where we started from. Our next stop was at Eastham, which is like little south India. Prasad wanted to go to a temple there where he went round and round the place and did about 30 namaskarams. I took the opportunity to rest my feet and sat down on the cool floor. Our next stop of the day, was the most important and anticipated one, Saravana Bhavan. I had Sambhar Vada and Masala Dosa while Prasad hogged some Idlis and Uthhapam. Topped it off with some filter coffee, of course. Next stop was at a shop selling pirated CDs of South Indian movies. Prasad is multilingual (he speaks all the four Dravidian languages) and he picked up a few CDs that I hadn’t heard of or even knew what the titles meant. I picked up Veyil, a Tamil movie which I had heard was invited to screen at the Cannes film festival.

We were getting late and hurrying back when Prasad remembered that he had to buy jaggery to put in the sambhar that he cooks at home. That took a few more minutes and consequently, we were looking at out watches every two minutes after that to see if we would make it back in time. We didn’t. The bus left just in front of my eyes (the drivers here don’t wait for late passengers) and I informed Prasad of the same as he came huffing and puffing to the coach station a couple of minutes behind me. Luckily, places were available on the next coach a half hour later and for a rescheduling fee, we were on it on our way back home to Bristol.

I was home by midnight and watched Veyil. It’s a very good movie. Watch it if you know the language or are able to get your hands on a version with subtitles.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Namesake- Movie Review

I loved The Namesake. I haven’t read the book yet but hope to read it someday soon. Tabu and Irrfan Khan are superb and Kal Penn (Kalpen Modi), of Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle fame does a reasonable job. But in the end it’s a director’s movie and Mira Nair has just bettered her effort from Monsoon Wedding. I can’t believe that the same person made the trashy Kamasutra movie. I can’t be too critical of it though. If I were 19, I would probably still bunk classes to watch that movie. I haven’t watched her other acclaimed movies though, neither Salaam Bombay nor Missisippi Masala (make mental note).

The risk with English movies having Indian characters is the language. In a movie which obviously wants to portray real people, how does the filmmaker balance the language necessities along with realism? In this movie Mira Nair just about gets it right, mingling Bengali with English now and then, though I wished there was a little more sprinkling of the native language in the communications between Ashoke and Ashima, Irrfan and Tabu’s characters in the movie.

The movie is beautifully shot, especially in Calcutta as the director’s camera caresses the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city capturing its myriad details as those who have lived in the city can identify with. The totem of bridges is consistently seen throughout the movie drawing a parallel with the lives that the characters lead across the continents. The pace of the movie is set early and one settles in quickly to view a story unfold unhurriedly across cities and generations.

Irrfan is brilliant as the caring husband and the uncommunicative but clearly doting father. He does the difficult job of conveying his character to the audience through minimum lines at his disposal with aplomb and the right measure of gravitas. But while Ashoke remains true from beginning to end, it’s Tabu who has to depict Ashima’s travels from a spunky girl to an eager-to-please wife, to a frustrated and irritable mother and finally, a widow who moves on and finds life on her own. This, she does, and how. Kal Penn is funny and cool as the rebellious teenager and understandable as the young man who tries to ‘fit in’ (which he does successfully) to the adopted country of his parents. Though he acquits himself well, you kind of feel that he doesn’t have the range which his role demanded and the movie slacks (just a bit) because of this. The other actors do their parts without messing anything up.

The score by DJ Nithin (I think) is a pleasing blend of the east and west and accentuates the mood and pace of the movie. Almost every scene in the movie is a treat but here’s the trailer along with this memorable scene for you.

Go see it!

A Visit to the Bristol Zoo

On Saturday, Prasad and myself decided to heave ourselves out of the rut of laziness that we inevitable descend into on weekends and do something to blog about (in my case). We were an hour late (thanks to me) but time is an inexpensive commodity on weekends and is dispensed generally with disdain. Prasad kept me entertained on the way with the story of how a group of five including him had made an earlier attempt at the zoo but had changed their minds at the ticket counter on the mention of a 11 pound entry fee. No such mishaps this time around and we were in.

Chandra and Moti were a couple of Asiatic lions who immediately had me busy with the camera. Unfortunately, I being a dummy with a camera, a lot of images came out blurred, but a few were alright. There was also a very friendly bird with a red beak which had me quite captivated. People kept offering their fingers to RedBeak and he happily kept pecking at them. There were also a couple of huge turtles who actually moved. I think I resemble a turtle in many ways, laboring away, one step at a time, living a long life. Prasad says turtle shells can take the weight of an elephant and live to tell the tale.

There were other interesting creatures as well, fishes, flamingos, a gorilla family, a whole lot of kids and their parents, an odd couple here and there. Overall the whole experience, though not mind-blowing, did leave me feeling that everything was organized a lot more professionally than the zoos that I have seen back home.