Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Goodbye, Mr. Crichton

Over many years of reading, my taste in books has gone through distinct phases. At different periods of time, I have been addicted to thrillers, westerns, comic strips, biographies, math-and-science non-fiction, chick-lit, philosophy...

Regardless of literary phases, however, there are some books that I have been able to pick up and read over and over, anytime, anywhere. These are the books that have kept me up at night, engrossed and trapped in the story, no matter how many times I have read them before. These are the books that have traveled around with me wherever I've moved - a permanent piece of my baggage, an integral part of my sense of home.

Thank you, Michael Crichton, for all the great books - for Travels and Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man and Jurassic Park... but most of all, for Congo. For "Peter tickle tickle Amy, Amy good gorilla." For the book I've read about a hundred times since I was ten years old, each time without the two pages that our copy had lost (I've never read those two pages - I still have no idea what happens there, after twenty years of addiction to the story). For capturing my attention with the Mercator projection, changing my view of the world and firing my imagination.

Rest in peace.


Scratch the earlier post - the people have spoken (with about 50% of the counting done). There is hope for the world yet.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In The Final Count...

It's a grey, glowering day in New Jersey as America goes to the polls to vote on the next four years. People across the country have been lining up since before dawn, in some places, waiting hours to exercise their vote. Arguing with election officials and volunteers at booths about their right to vote, waiting for their names to be found on the lists.

Meanwhile, some said analysts and journalists are writing articles like
this one.

So in keeping with the story of the hour, and pushed to the end of my tether by this kind of writing, here's my take.

1. The US is the biggest debtor country in the world. Its economy has gone to pot, its financial system is falling apart thanks to at best negligent, at worst outright fraudulent rating of securities. Unemployment is on the rise. People are losing homes, jobs, healthcare.

2. The Iraq war has been a front for control of oil. Think about this for a moment: the invasion of a sovereign country for control of its resources. With the public being hoodwinked every step of the way.

3. And then kept in line, despite the systematic removal of individual freedoms, by an administration that thrives on fear and ringing cries of "never forget".

4. America's claim to moral superiority has been razed to the ground with Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the invasion of Iraq, a sovereign nation (it was ludicrous to watch Cheney rebuke Russia for invading South Ossetia recently).

5. American "foreign policy" is a disgrace, the constant sabre-clanking with Iran and refusing to sit down across the table being just one example.

6. America uses more energy - and more oil - than any other country in the world. And yet, the US is not on board with international agreements re reducing carbon footprint, energy use, global warming impact, etc.

And yet, the issue to focus on, as per Peggy Noonan, is how Obama addresses abortion?

"You only want a medical practice to be rare when it isn't good. For Mr. Obama, whose mind tends, as intellectuals' minds do, toward the abstract, it all seems so . . . abstract. And cold. And rather suggestive of radical departures. "That's above my pay grade." Friend, that is your pay grade, that's where the presidency lives, in issues like that."

President Clinton once said that abortions need to be "safe, legal and rare". I agree on the first two points. Outlawing abortion will lead to a black market situation. Like the organ trade in Dirty Pretty Things, this would mean back rooms and coat hangers. (The same applies to prostitution: legalization empowers sex workers, gives them rights, protection, health.) On a side note, there is an interesting argument in Freakonomics, that talks the correlation between crime and unwanted babies - specifically, relating the drop in crime rates in the US to Roe V. Wade. It may not be provable, but it's a cogent, powerful argument, and a highly logical one.

In the final count, this is an issue that needs to be left to a woman and her doctor. And a decision that needs to be left to the woman. The government's involvement in issues of right and wrong should extend only to areas where there is a victim. Enough with the regulation of victimless crimes. Enough with stuffing one group's beliefs down the throats of another.

So what is the presidency about?

Enabling citizens to earn a better living. Building and maintaining strong, mutually beneficial trade and policy relationships with other countries and regimes. Creating opportunity and economic growth, reducing debt, showing fiscal prudence, creating necessary regulation and providing necessary oversight. Enabling access (in whatever way) to healthcare and education and sustainable livelihoods. Providing "common goods" - infrastructure, parks, clean air and water.

If I had a vote to cast in this election, it would have been Obama's without question. And this was true even before McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate - although that should have tipped the balance for any thinking person. I don't necessarily agree with Obama's policies on the economy - I'm all for the economic ideal of perfect competition. But I also see that an Obama presidency has the chance to make the world a slightly safer place. I like his foreign policy approach. I think it's high time America sat down at the negotiating table with other countries and sabre-clanking and fist-waving at the drop of a hat.

It is interesting that, in an era of nuclear proliferation, escalating terrorism and bloodshed, where no two warring parties will talk to each other, the potential leader of the only (but only just) super-power in the world is being evaluated by some people - people who matter, who are listened to, whose views are noted - not on his ability to impact the country's (and the world's) safety and peace, but on his approach to interfering with the personal domain of an individual.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Taste of India

Shubho Bijoya, all.
And for those of you who couldn't make it to a pandal somewhere, here's a little taste of Pujo.
(courtesy S)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Notes from the US of A

1. In the first presidential debate and the first (and only) vice-presidential debate, it is interesting to see how candidates have to tap into specific terms. Sarah Palin's audience ratings climb when she repeatedly talked about "our freedoms." What freedoms, Governor? (Or should that be Governess?) Let's talk about the Patriot Act, why don't we? Let's talk about women's freedom to choose. Let's talk about gay people's right to marry (yes, marry, not have a civil union - although, to be fair, Biden doesn't support gay marriage either).

2. I don't get all the talk about women's preference for Palin. This is the woman who is not just personally "pro-life" (which, incidentally, is the most ridiculous term), but who wishes to inflict her beliefs, her CHOICES, on ALL women, to take away their right to choose for themselves. You could almost turn this issue into a mobius strip.

3. Palin talks about how America can't allow Iran (Eye-Ran) to develop "nucular" energy or weapons. I'm as alarmed about nuclear proliferation around the world as any sane person, but excuse me, who exactly is America (A-My-Ri-Ca?) to decide who can or can't do something? And by the way, while on the subject of foreign policy and diplomacy (or coercion, as the case may be), shouldn't American politicians - indeed, politicians around the world - be made to, at least, pronounce the names of the countries they talk about correctly?

4. It IS interesting (as Amit Verma pointed out in India Uncut) that a politician in America has to be, or at least pretend to be, a "believer". No atheists allowed here. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Pick up your faith at the door, however. (Aside: I suspect that in India, candidates' faith is not always explicitly investigated, but is none-the-less assumed. Perhaps this should be considered a factor in any study on the level of progress and democracy in a country: would the populace vote for a non-believer?)

5. Freudian slip by Palin in the last few minutes of the debate, while talking about McCain: "He is the man who needs to leave" (quickly ammended to "he is the man who needs to lead.") Well said, Governor, I couldn't have put it better myself.

6. I love Palin's self-congratulatory "we're the mavericks", as though she has been bucking trends her whole life instead of clinging to her guns and religion!

7. Why was this woman selected, again? Is this a sign of McCain's senile dementia?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Days Like This V

Without going into grotty detail, here is the question: Having made one's bed a certain way (a way that makes one miserable, one now realises), should one grit one's teeth and bear up? Or should one say, the hell with it, life's too short, and move onto something that might be better - or might be equally bad?

In the context of, say, a job, to stay or to quit seems like a simple enough decision. Placed in the context of one's deeper beliefs, the question resounds with conflicting arguments that lead to the eternal questions - who am I? What do I believe? Must my actions reflect my beliefs? Should they?

Sitting at my dining table, looking dully out at a gloomy sky that glowers in at me, I sense I'm working myself into A Mood. The sonorous sound of Boots Randolph playing back to me the warm glow of my childhood makes me lonelier still.
The year-end black funk seems to be beginning early this year.

The question stands. I'm not looking for answers (like hell I'm not), but feel free to write in if you want to offer opinions. As someone once wrote to me, I need a sign, a motif, something to show me the way.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

To Life...

To P - my sole remaining reader, the only person who still checks in with this blog from time to time and sends me anguished mail from time to time demanding new posts.

What could be nicer than driving down a highway on a luscious rainy day, listening to one's favourite music, getting off at a new exit to discover a new way home? Finding one's way home to make a mug of hot tea (ginger, pepper, no cardamom) while dancing to Kodachrome? The evening spreads out in front of me like an intriguingly lumpy present, waiting to be unwrapped. There are books to be read, a documentary to be watched, this week's Time and Economist still to open. There is new music (all of Queen, U2, Sting and The Beatles - thank you, R) to catalogue. There is a visit to S this weekend to be savoured.

Suddenly, each moment feels like a gift to treasure and celebrate and dance to, to capture and drink to the lees.

Thank you, P, for reminding me.

And in the spirit of things: it's always exciting to do something new - like go canoing. And if your canoe happens to capsize, so much the better - a little more excitement never hurt anyone, even if you did happen to leave one shoe lying full fathoms five and had to sacrifice a favourite watch to the gods of adventure! To life, to life, lechaim!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Shubho Nobo Borsho

In keeping with ringing out the old and bringing in the new, and the mantra of "change" that presidential candidates in the US have been spouting, I will be signing on with a new company on Wednesday. Huzzah!

Meanwhile, I could make vows of regular blogging, etc. for the (Bengali) new year, but what the heck - I'll write when I write. Live with it!

Shubho nobo borsho, all. Here's to excitement and growth and new things to explore. Have a wonderful year - I know I will.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


A Liberian taxi-driver told me today that my eyes looked Indian, but apart from that, he'd have put me down as a Mexican. Huzzah! How much more exotic can one get?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

One for the road...

At some inevitable point over the course of yet another convivial, drunken evening, the conversation moved to great actors, and must-watch movies. M mentioned The Last Of The Mohicans (Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, watch) and said, "I believe it's also a pretty good book". And although the book is a classic, and has been on the bookshelf at home forever, I've never read it. Perhaps because before I knew it was a book, I'd heard the term "the last of the mohicans" used as an alternative to "one for the road", and figured there'd be nothing new in the book.

In other news, V decided that supermodels (as against non-super models) are those who wear their underwear over their clothes (like superheroes, get it?) and we giggled for rather a long time about that. (In our defense, we were already 4 bottles of wine down, and on the last of the mohicans.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Salut! To Beginnings

Coffee and laughter at Starbucks, with S, whom I have known, in his words, forever and a day. Wandering around the city for a few hours. Chicken rolls with plenty of chopped green chillies from the friendly Moti-da at Kati Roll Company. Midnight on a subway, in the bowels of the earth, while trying to figure out which stop to get off at. Brooklyn. Alcohol, food and much watching of childhood Indian ads on YouTube. Loud music and inane dancing. Watching dawn break over mid-town, on the first day of the year.

A great beginning for what I hope will be a wondrous, active year for me - and for you. Happy new year, oh ye who still pop by.