Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Music & Lyrics

I had a sudden urge to listen to Hindi music day before yesterday. It’s not that I don’t listen to Hindi music. I do – sometimes. But only to a few songs. Because by default Hindi music has become Bollywood music and other than a few good soundtracks (usually by A.R. Rehman) that usually entails stuff like “Where’s the party tonight?” and “Crazy kiya re” (which, I wasn’t able to listen to in totality, even once). But then once in a while I have this sudden overwhelming urge to listen to Hindi music. And then I go and pull out some of my most precious music discs.

I have a compilation of songs from Dev Anand’s movies that I simply love. When it comes to music in movies no production house came close to matching Navketan. When I was living with my mausa he would make me watch old black and white movies every weekend. At one time Set Max had a one month Dev Anand festival going on and I saw pretty much every movie they showed – Munimji, CID, Paying Guest right up to Hare Rama, Hare Krishna (after which he hasn’t done one remotely decent film). Almost every movie the man did in his heyday had fabulous music. My favourite is of course Guide. Dev Anand had already started overacting by then, his hair was ridiculous but he managed to be really good in spite of all that. Waheeda Rahman is marvelous, gorgeous and absolutely brilliant as Rosie. And then there are S.D. Burman’s fabulous, fabulous, fabulous songs. Not one wrong note.

Then there’s Pakeezah. I saw the movie fully, for the first time only a few years back. I hadn’t expected to like it – I always thought it would be similar to the Sanjay Leela Bhansali version of Devdas – pretty to look at it, but soulless. But I loved it. And can I just say Raj Kumar deserves kudos for mouthing the dialogues, “Aap ke paon dekhe, bahut haseen hai. Inhe zameen par mat utariyega. Maile ho jayenge” with such sincerity that I remember thinking “No wonder she fell in love with him!” And oh, the music. The gorgeous music. I still can’t listen to Chalo Dildar Chalo at night without getting goose bumps.

And since we are on the subject of film music, I can’t not mention Gulzar. Yes, I know he is not a music director, but has there ever been a better lyricist? From Bandini to Guru, he has written one beautiful song after another. Just letting his words wash over you is such pleasure. I doubt anyone could capture the spirit of Bunty aur Babli the way he did. Or the cheerful banter in Do Deewane Sheher Mein . And can I just mention the brilliance of the crass lyrics of Beedi?

Incidentally, I have been listening to Dil Se on repeat all day. Like I said, this happens sometimes. It’s almost as though it’s a new single and I have to listen to it till I am sick of it. The thing with Dil Se is that I quite frankly think it was probably the best song from a Hindi movie for the entire decade of the 90’s. It has such drama. And there’s that one line that always, always gets to me Dil To Aakhir Dil Hai Na, Meethi Si Mushkil Hai Na. Now only if they made more music like this, I would be more inclined to listen to the stuff that comes out of Bollywood.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Musil. Marlboros. Mother's Milk.

Do you know the feeling when you’re stuck in a rut? That’s how I have been feeling like for the past one week. It’s terrible. I have no motivation do anything – at all. Its mid term break at school only that it’s not a break of any sort because I have tons of work to do. And I have just no, no, no, none, zilch, nada motivation do any of it. I finally finished rewriting my essay on Wednesday. And I should have started working on the other 4,000 word essay I have due sometime soon. And studying for my philosophy mid term which is next week. But just the thought of them is enough to make me nauseous and I have been reading instead.

I have had a pile of books on my table that I have been meaning to finish. I hate school sometimes (most of the time?) because most of my reading gets limited to coursework. There’s always something due, some meeting and my mind is always occupied with stupid banalities. And sometimes I just want to watch movies. Or television series’. I finished watching Brideshead Revisited – that took close to 14 hours. (It was excellent, by the way). And then of course, it doesn’t help that I am absolutely inept at any form of time management.

Anyway. To come back to the point - books.

I still have about sixty pages of Edward St. Aubyn’s Booker nominated Mother’s Milk to finish. (It was considered something of an upset when Aubyn didn’t win. One of the judges Anthony Quinn wrote afterwards, when the book didn’t win, that he "felt quite devastated and wondered if I should go off and sulk"). The book so far has been a wonderful read. It’s a simple story, but it’s written with such lightness, wit and insight that reading it is very pleasurable indeed. And even though it’s melancholic, it has wonderful moments of humour.

One of the reasons I picked up Robert Musil’s The Confusions of Young Törless was Alok’s posts on him over at his blog. The Man Without Qualities seemed too daunting a book to pick up, especially mid term, so I went with Törless.
The theme of the book is similar to Lord of the Flies, but Törless is, I felt, a more contemplative book. The brutality and sadism of the boys at their elite boarding school coupled with their philosophical awakening, makes for disturbing reading. Musil incorporates a host of ideas - the confusions of adolescence, the intellectual rationalisation of sexual relations, sadism, psychology, religion, spirituality, even the mathematical concept of infinity. A much longer post would be needed to even begin to analyse the story. Suffice to say that it is a brilliant, thought provoking work.

The author Aleksander Hemon mentioned Miljenko Jergović’s Sarajevo Marlboro a couple of times in his BBC interview as part of their series ‘Sense of the City’. (Where authors talk about how their cities have inspired them and reflect in their works. Pamuk talks about Istanbul, Zadie Smith about London and Bapsi Sidhwa, Lahore.) Jergović’s wonderful, wonderful collection of twenty nine short stories paint an amazingly human, insightful, humorous and poignant portrait of Sarajevo and its citizens during the Serbian siege. Sarjevo Marlboro is one of the most beautiful collection of short stories I have read in a while – I really can’t recommend it highly enough.
[I am putting up one of the stories from the book below (does this count as copyright infringement?) and another two are linked to. Please go read them.]

I am still predominantly reading fiction from areas that made up the ex-Ottoman empire (or to put it less succinctly the Balkans, Turkey, Middle East, Caucuses and North Africa). Including Kadare’s Three Elegies for Kosovo and a short story (available online) The Abolition of the Profession of the Curser. (Speaking of Kadare, the second Man Booker International will be awarded this year and I wonder whom it will go to.) Other than that I think I have to push back my plan to finally seriously sit down with Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy to once school is over. Having read some of Mahfouz’s other works and some fifty pages of Palace Walk I think I’d rather read the book with full attention at a time more conducive for reading.

Right now I need to get back to school work. Sigh.

The Bell - Miljenko Jergović

The Bell
(Sarajevo Marlboro by Miljenko Jergović)

Billie Holiday drank too much and lived in cigarette smoke for too long. That’s why she looked unhappy and gaunt. She sang as though she was sorrow itself, and that’s why people liked her, Later on, black and white girls appeared in her image. They were just as gaunt but their lungs didn’t belt out jazz the same way. Nevertheless they readily absorbed the music. It consumed them the way they consumed alcohol. Sad and lonely, they’d end up in a doorway vomiting to the syncopated rhythm of the boogie-woogie. The only difference between Billie Holiday and her imitators was that her sorrow was authentic while theirs was inferred. The jazz singer created things that were rejected by the girls’ bodies.

The Bell was a bar in a cellar dating back to Austro-Hungary. It was vaulted with lots of arches and laid out in the shape of the letter L. The sound of rusty trumpets blasted out from the middle of the room. It was the sort of jazz decreed by the architecture, and it was unlikely to be much improved by the use of loudspeakers or the landlord’s attempts to enhance the acoustics by adjusting the treble or the bass. You always had the impression that two different types of music were being played simultaneously at opposite ends of the bar. At one end the customers stared emptily in front of them, inebriated by the sound or by the beer, and with heroin shadows in their eyes. At the other end people were laughing happily, out of range of the music and protected from any sensation.

The barman was called Sem. At least he used that nickname when he was drying glasses, pouring drinks and smiling benevolently at the customers. Otherwise it was Semezdin – but this name was too long and provoked more comments than was desirable in a place like The Bell. The landlord was called Vedran. He was dark, with a moustache and unshaven like a Mexican. He always had a different girl in tow. This is the life! was his motto, especially if you could spend it listening to the music in The Bell. The rotten jazz mixed with beer and the grass in your lungs and the sound of muezzin became a way of avoiding reality, of floating over the streets of Sarajevo and the muddy yellow waters of the Miljacka. Vedran seduced his girlfriends by telling stories he didn’t believe. Not that he expected the women to believe them either. Each date ended with a big wet kiss, and heads would turn to watch the embrace, but none of his love affairs ever produced anything out of the ordinary. Of course Sem used to smile knowingly to himself, because Vedrans come and go but you can’t do without a barman.

Some time before dawn, when everybody had drunk too much and the barman was measuring the level in each bottle with scientific precision, a girl would be sitting at the bar sipping an espresso. Her ruffled hair would be the only sign that she had been crying. The last guests would be putting their coats on, Vedran would have left already, and out of the corner of his eye Sem would be looking for someone to give him a lift home.

The girl crying would only prolong the illusion. But since a level of intolerance had already been reached, and by now everyone was thoroughly sick of jazz, the stragglers only despised her, if she didn’t actually annoy them. She was useful as a warning sign not to cross the borderline, reminding you that it would soon be time to go back to reality, to abandon the enchanted stupor and return to the mundane but also sustainable rhythm of ordinary life. To justify her tears would have been similar to become a druggy, an unhinged pleasure-seeker flying off to strange places where misguided people actually believe that an illusion can serve as a modus operandi in life. Billie Holiday is OK as long as she doesn’t become your only option.

That’s why you have to go home, into the fog and snow, and back to your warm beds.

One day The Bell came face to face with reality. The guests packed their student bags and went back to their places of birth. They hoped that it would be easier to survive there. In Dobov, Teslić, Banja Luka, Mostar, Čapljina… Vedran watched from his bedroom window the Cyclopean barrel of a sniper’s gun staring back at him. He got scared, took his current girlfriend by the hand and escaped to a safer part of town. The records, tapes and record-player were destroyed in a fire. You see, jazz burns as easily as folk music, punk or anything by The Doors. He sat up home in an abandoned cellar, with just the one girl who shivered in his arms like a sparrow – or like Edith Piaf – while the shells fell everywhere.

The local criminals wearing combat uniform plundered The Bell, while the neighbors smashed up the bar and used the wood to stoke their stoves during the first days of winter. The bar turned into an empty cellar devoid of illusion. One day Sem took a handful of foreign journalists around the place; by then it was a cold and empty hole. They looked at one another, probably not believing that it had ever been a jazz club. After all, what could these unfortunate, hungry and poor Bosnians possibly know about jazz, about the roof gardens of Manhattan where a lonely person drowns his sorrows in a dark liquid. It’s just sad that Billie Holiday died a long time ago.

Two more beautiful short stories by Jergović, also from Sarajevo Marlboro, Cactus and Theft. (via Words Without Borders).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

...hours spent reading Pamuk

I have had a totally crappy day. I had a paper due today. And I was half way through typing it when the computer crashed. And there went all my work. All of it. I can’t even begin to describe my absolute irritation right now. It doesn’t help that the paper was one of the most boring I have ever had to write. As if once wasn’t bad enough I now need to redo the whole bloody thing. And I needed to ask for an extension. This sucks. Its moments like this when I wish I could banish technology to Dante’s seventh circle of hell. But then again what purpose would that serve? Also, more idiocy followed. I got back from the library around midnight and found the juniors making a ruckus – they were really excited it was Valentines Day. Dunces.

Anyway, I had no desire to work on my paper at that point of time. And so I wasted my time, more importantly improved my mood, by watching Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Lecture, My Fathers Suitcase (Babamın Bavulu). (Well I didn’t listen to the whole thing – ummm because it was in Turkish and I could only understand few words and phrases - and I guess the only reason I wanted to see it was to see Pamuk speak in his native language). I thought Pamuk’s lecture was interesting – and very him. This was my second reading of it and I think I enjoyed it more than I did the first time. I love how it’s so personal and yet has something everyone can probably relate to. And I loved how Pamuk connected so many different threads together – his relationship with his father, his style of writing, his influences, politics, identity, Istanbul. Some excerpts (go read the whole thing, please):

The writer's secret is not inspiration – for it is never clear where it comes from – it is his stubbornness, his patience. That lovely Turkish saying – to dig a well with a needle – seems to me to have been said with writers in mind. In the old stories, I love the patience of Ferhat, who digs through mountains for his love – and I understand it, too. In my novel, My Name is Red, when I wrote about the old Persian miniaturists who had drawn the same horse with the same passion for so many years, memorising each stroke, that they could recreate that beautiful horse even with their eyes closed, I knew I was talking about the writing profession, and my own life….

….What literature needs most to tell and investigate today are humanity's basic fears: the fear of being left outside, and the fear of counting for nothing, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with such fears; the collective humiliations, vulnerabilities, slights, grievances, sensitivities, and imagined insults, and the nationalist boasts and inflations that are their next of kind ... Whenever I am confronted by such sentiments, and by the irrational, overstated language in which they are usually expressed, I know they touch on a darkness inside me. We have often witnessed peoples, societies and nations outside the Western world – and I can identify with them easily – succumbing to fears that sometimes lead them to commit stupidities, all because of their fears of humiliation and their sensitivities. I also know that in the West – a world with which I can identify with the same ease – nations and peoples taking an excessive pride in their wealth, and in their having brought us the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and Modernism, have, from time to time, succumbed to a self-satisfaction that is almost as stupid.

Pamuk’s Banquet Speech, which I read for the first time yesterday (this one was delivered in English, I think), is another little gem. It made me break out into a huge indulgent smile.

"Now, some years later, I've received this great prize. This time the same people begin asking another question: Aren't you a bit young to get the Nobel Prize? Actually the question I've heard most often since the news of this prize reached me is: How does it feel to get the Nobel Prize? I say, oh! It feels good. All the grown ups are constantly smiling at me. Suddenly everybody is again gentle, polite and tender. In fact, I almost feel like a prince. I feel like a child. Then for a moment, I realize why sometimes I have felt so angry. This prize, which brought back to me the tender smiles of my childhood and the kindness of the strangers, should have been given to me not at this age (54) which some think is too young, but much much earlier, even earlier than my childhood, perhaps two weeks after I was born, so that I could have enjoyed the princely feeling of being a child all my life. In fact now... come to think of it... That is why I write and why I will continue to write. "

So yes I spent my day with Mr. Pamuk, (for I then went and read parts of Kara Kitap) and it was apt indeed for I do love him dearly. He made me forget my horrible day, as always he made me marvel at the beauty of his prose and made me grin … what more could I ask for?

P.S: The great desire to read Pamuk arose, I think, because I bought someone My Name is Red as a gift yesterday. This is the sixth copy of the book I have gifted someone over the last year or so. The irony of it is that I still don't own the book. Sigh.

P.P.S: So the Turkish Daily News mentioned this last week and the Guardian reported it yesterday, Pamuk is apparently now in exile in the US. I really don't know what to make of it because for one the Turkish press tends to go overboard and secondly he has been teaching in the States for the past few months. I do know that he cancelled a German book tour following the murder of Hrant Dink. One of the suspects in Dink's murder did publicly state that "more people will die" and told Pamuk to "wise up" as he is considered a target for Turkish nationalists. Dink and Pamuk were friends and both were tried under Article 301 of the Turkish Constitution for "insulting Turkishness" last year. After Dink's murder Pamuk had stated, "The murder of my courageous, golden-hearted friend has soured my life. I am furious at everyone and everything, and I feel boundless shame."
All this makes me terribly sad and angry. It reminds me of what Einstein said "Nationalism is an infantile sickness. It is the measles of the human race."


In my absolute boredom last night I was looking through all the photos I took in December. These are of Milan. I have wanted to put up these two for a while now. I really like them.

I was in Milan for Christmas and even though the town was completely shut on the 25th, I had a really nice time. Thanks, especially to Pan and TPF. We attended midnight mass at the Duomo on Christmas Eve and it was beautiful. I didn’t understand much of what was happening – the mass was in Italian after all – but just the experience of being there was special.

Other highlights included amazing Kinder gelato, getting my photo taken on a Vespa (finally!!). And of course, seeing The Last Supper. It is amazing. Like most of Da Vinci's works (and I can happily say I have seen almost all his paintings) it has a strange mesmerising quality to it. And it was special even after the Renaissance art overload I had in Florence. Brilliance.

Sigh. Good Times. Now I just want to run away from school.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Over the last week quite a few posts I have read and conversations I have had have had reference to Sonnet No. 18. You know, the one everyone knows (well, they should).

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

Honestly, I don't read much poetry. And I haven't even read a lot of Shakespeare's sonnets. Just a few. But god. Such great beauty. Despite the over exposure.

In the movie Venus, Peter O'Toole recites the sonnet 18. You simply have to hear him. (Link via Shoefiend). The man needs to get his Oscar. He really does. I've said it before; I really do want him to win this year. And yeah, he knows all the sonnets. All 156 of them. In the interview O'Toole says that the sonnets are his "life companion", finding them "endlessly informing, endlessly beautiful..." I have spent the last year or so reading up Shakespeare’s plays and now I want to go out and read up all the sonnets.

I also found myself nodding along in agreement to what he said about Shakespeare’s plays ... " that there are twelve plays or so that are sublime and matchless and the rest are, in my money, rhetorical and boring..." When it comes to literature I don't think anything matches Shakespeare’s tragedies in their language, the examination of human faults or even just the emotions you feel while reading the plays. The grief you feel at the end of King Lear. Or the exasperation while reading Hamlet. Or the numbness at the blood bath at the end of Macbeth. But then there are also plays like Titus Andronicus and Troilus and Cressida that left me completely under whelmed.

Saw Laurence Olivier’s Richard III this week. It was a bit difficult not to think of Ian McKellen’s take on the play, especially for the first twenty minutes or so, but Olivier had me hooked after a while. His Richard was interesting - a huge (prosthetic) nose, a high nasal voice and only a slight limp. There’s no point comparing the performances by Olivier and McKellen. They are both excellent - and very different.

The DVD also had a one hour BBC interview with Olivier about his life, career and his take on some of his most famous Shakespeare roles (Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard, Henry and Othello). It was very interesting and informative. It was amusing to hear Olivier dissing Titus saying the role was painful because it demanded perpetual moaning. How he felt Othello’s greatest fault was his self deception and how tiresome it was "blacking up" for the role (how politically incorrect would it be to say something like that now??). Or how Macbeth can be played well only once you have reached a certain age and lived life.

I think that’s true for most art. Age and experience brings richness and nuance. Youth might have innocence on its side but it’s also a tad bland. Old might not be gold, but it has its advantages. And then some old things are timeless.
Look at Shakespeare. Whether it’s reading the Bard or watching a good adaptation of one of his plays being acted out. One of life’s greatest pleasures.

Szerelem is in love.....

....with her new phone. The Samsung Ultra Edition 9.9. Tis so pretty. And sleek. I am honestly not much of gadget freak. My previous cell phone lasted close to four years and I really wouldn't have felt the need to change it had it not started konking off at regular intervals. Nor I did I really need (I still don't actually) a camera phone or any other fancy feautures.Anyway, someone was visiting and my mom sent me this one. Because she said it was lying at home and no one was using it, and because she knew I wanted a MotoRazr and this one is similar, only better. Isn't she so wonderful? And the phone is better than the MotoRazr - slimmer and lighter. I like. Very much!

I am also in love with my DVD's of Elizabeth I (the case is so beautiful!) and Brideshead Revisited. They arrived this week and oh, I was so happy!! Shall watch Brideshead (all four discs) during term break, because I know once I start I just won't be able to not see the whole series. Saw Elizabeth I already. It's quite marvellous. Ah, such happiness.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Turkçe Öğreniyorum

Which basically means, I'm learning Turkish. Teaching myself, rather. A somewhat misguided effort to morph into a Turk, I think. Thinking sensibly (not that I ever do that) I'd probably be much better off learning language of some value or polishing my French but I'm really not a very practical person. The whole thing is going quite slowly because, well, I am teaching myself, so it really depends on when and if I get time.

It's a strange language though, Turkish is. For one there is no word "is" in Turkish. Secondly it's agglutinative. So everything is just added as a suffix. For example: arkadas = friend; arkadasim = my friend; arkadaslarim = my friends; arkadaslarimla = with my friends. Talk about word economy, huh. Plus all the suffixes follow this vowel harmony rule which I am still to get my head around. It's difficult because the structure is so different from any other language I know. But its interesting as well because a lot of the words are the same or similar to Hindi/Urdu. Like friend can also be dost. Or kitap is book. Kara is black. Çay is tea and şeker is sugar. My favourite word is turuncu (the 'c' is pronounced as a 'j'). It means orange and I love the sound of it....I have no idea why. But I keep using it in the most random of sentences possible.

In other news, my mom mentioned that we could possibly visit Turkey in summer. This comes after two years of needling but I am really hoping something works out. She knows how much I want to visit, so I think it would be terribly mean for her to mention a trip to Türkiye, just casually. My cousin is visiting Istanbul (for the third time!) this month. She told me, "I'm visiting your favourite city again", "Paris?", I asked, "No. Your favourite city you have yet to visit - Istanbul." Sigh. I have a terrible rep because of this Turkey thing.

I am travelling to Cambodia and Vietnam in April, and am really looking forward to that, but Turkey - sigh, that's perpetually on my travel list. After more than two years of wanting to visit, I think I'll probably pass out from excitement when and if a trip there actually works out. It's so difficult to explain why certain things just appeal to you isn't it? Some people just have to visit India, because of whatever it represents - spirituality, madness, chaos, nirvana. For me wanting to visit Turkey is something like that.

My cousin sent me a link to some wonderful, wonderful photos of Turkey (probably as a small consolation in place of actually travelling there) by the film maker Nuri Bilge Ceylan (whose movie Uzak I saw about a year back and really liked). The photos are gorgeous (as attested to by the one I've put up here) - please do have a look. Till I get to visit Turkey, I have to be happy looking at the pictures. And before that I have my trip to Cambodia and Vietnam to plan for.