Friday, March 31, 2006

Ugaadi Madness

0. Happy Ugaadi! Pachadi was had after ages, thanks to kindly neighbour. The Ugaadi pachadi, upon reflection, is a fantastic concept. Somewhat thrilled and glad to belong to a part of the world that could invent this concoction. What better way to begin a new year than to remind yourself that it won't always be rosy, and that the bitter, sour, salty, spicy, astringent and sweet all have their place in the scheme of things. A plausible excuse for eating neem, tamarind, salt, green chillies, mango and jaggery in one go. Peace to the world in Sri Vyaya Naama Ugaadi.

1. Carefully avoid music stores on weekday holidays. Money (too much) was blown yesterday on a weirdly messed up mixture of things.
  • Swathikiranam and Subhasankalpam - We admit it freely. We bought the first VCD to see (again?) what Mammootty looks like in a Telugu movie, and the second because we want to have the damn hailesso song close at hand. Besides, they were really cheap.

  • Ghalib ke kalam se - "Why?", you ask. Not really sure. One reason - to find out what baaziichaa-e-atfaal sounds like when Mohd. Rafi. sings it. Another - to find out what hazaaron khwaaishein aisi sounds like when Lata Mangeshkar sings it. That's about it, really.

  • Entharo Mahanubhavulu, Jon Higgins - Even more curious, why this one? Admittedly Higgins Bhaagavathar is an interesting character and all that. But we really have no clue about 7 out of 9 songs on the CD. But, 9 minus 7 = 2 and there lies the rub. Higgins' endaro mahaanubhaavulu is quite nice (whose isn't?) and we have come to know and love this thillana in Hindolam, so why not? All the krithis on the CD are available at Musicindiaonline.

  • Bluffmaster - That man Keynes and his homosexual intrigues are responsible for this one. The last time he was in Bangalore, he ended up filling our head with febrile visions of Priyanka Chopra's midriff. And then dragged us off to Belur, Halebid and parts west. Leaving us moderately thirsty in the matter of Priyanka Chopra's midriff. What to do? We are like this only.
2. We may have put the caboose before the locomotive, but ended up seeing our first Ingmar Bergman movie last night. It (unfortunately?) turned out to be Bergman's last feature film, Fanny and Alexander. In retrospect, this might be a cardinal mistake. To start off on a director with his last film, without knowing anything whatsoever about the man and his work, seems a bit nonsensical. The commentary track left us with some misgivings about this screwing up of chronology.

Nevertheless, "Fanny and Alexander" is a captivating (albeit rather long) movie, a somewhat autobiographical meditation. Bergman seems to use this film as a chance to tell the world about his formative years (with its fascination for the theatre, the moving image, story telling, fantasy), and also tries to convey what he thinks of life and art, and what is worthwhile and what isn't. A summing up of his own life and philosophy, one imagines. Various theatrical devices are used. Nostalgia, melodrama, horror - all play their part. On the whole, quite satisfying. May need to be borrowed again...

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Love You Take = The Love You Make

Just unbelievably unbelievable. Watch.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Histaree Lecher Undhi

At the choultry, we haven't looked at a proper list in what seems to be aeons. So, without much further ado, a list. On history books. The discerning Gult choultry reader (2 nos.?) will have undoubtedly noticed that we have borrowed from that classic song Botany paatham undi from that classic movie Shiva. Be that as it may, the list beckons...

First, a few words of caution:

(a) We will break our own rules very often, and instead of talking about history books, we will talk about historians themselves
(b) There is some overlap between this post and the book tag post
(c) We tend to be somewhat biased towards military affairs, unfortunately. Forgive us.
(d) We are talking strictly of narrative (mostly non-academic) history books. We do not have the grey matter or attention span necessary for venturing into and partaking of proper textbooks.

And the nominees are:
  • John Keay - You must've seen this coming, no? He is the flavour of the era. We like his stuff (a lot), and have written copiously about him here and here and here. Enough said.

  • The Second Creation (Robert P. Crease, Charles C. Mann) - "Makers of the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics". Amma had this lying at home and we read it by and by. We still haven't quite understood a decent chunk of it (on account of it being particle physics and muons and so on), but if you're interested in the history of science, this one is worth the money.

  • Battle Cry Of Freedom (James McPherson) - This single volume history of the American Civil War is quite possibly the best single volume history book on any broad historical subject. An amazing book, learned yet accesible. Don't take it from the choultry, read a review. If you're a history buff, and are even moderately interested in US history, please go and buy this book. Why don't all historians get together and draw chits on which various topics are written, and go off and quietly write a book like this one?

  • Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman - They aren't historians, and between them, they've written mostly books on Dravidian literature and poetry, but more than their analysis of the art, we've come to like their prefaces and afterwords, where they talk about the evolution of their pet subjects. A Poem At The Right Moment: Remembered Verses From Premodern South India and (with Sanjay Subrahmanyam) Textures of Time: Writing History in South India 1600-1800 (this is a more proper historiographical book) are particularly noteworthy.

  • The War Against Hannibal (Titus Livius) - Surely an unexpected entry in the list! Livy wrote some 142 books during his lifetime, of which 35 have survived. Books XXI-XXX (you can read them all, in Latin, here) deal with the Punic wars. The first part has to do with that peerless Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca, and his European excursion, starting in modern-day Spain, into Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul, and finally into the Italian peninsula proper. The second part has to do with the Roman riposite, in the form of Publius Cornelius Scipio and his expedition to North Africa, culminating in the landmark Battle of Zama.

    Polybius also wrote about the Punic wars, but Livy is particularly enchanting because he identifies so closely with the "good guys", and only has grudging respect for the adversaries. Livy's history is unabashedly partisan, you find him cheering his team on here, defending Roman atrocities there, bad-mouthing Carthage and in general behaving like a Tom Clancy of yore.
Well, that's that. Now we move on to the honourable mentions category:
  • A Short History of World War I (James L. Stokesbury) - A long time back, when our M.S. was dragging on ad infinitum, and we had momentarily tired of civil and uncivil engineering, we signed up for a World War I course and this was the prescribed textbook. Short, yet catholic (inasmuch as WWI is concerned); witty, yet poignant; abominable snowman, yet i. (Heh! Gotcha!!) We have tried to lay our paws on other books by the same author and failed.

  • The Conquest of the Incas (John Hemming) - This was (is?) the "standard" book on the antics of the conquistadores in Peru, and perhaps still is. Good reference value...

  • America: A Narrative History (George Tindall, David E. Shi) - The single volume version of this (even if it is 1000+ pages) could quite possibly compete with "Battle Cry of Freedom" for the top spot in the single volume stakes. Lucidly written, covers a lot of ground, with excellent and timely digressions into the American zeitgeist of whichever period they happen to be dealing with.

  • Alberuni's India (Al-Biruni) - Haven't read the whole thing (it is a bit boring and nitpicky), but Al-Biruni's foreword or preface to the book is memorable. This guy must have been quite something. Nearly a millenium back, he expresses his concern at how biased the book he is about to write might turn out to be, on account of his being an outsider to his subject (India). Several remarks on the pitfalls of writing history, on the notion of the disinterested observer, and on the notion of cultural prisms refracting history (not in so many words, but close 'nuff :)

  • Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire (Jason Goodwin) - A most charming tome written in a fairly unique style; part whimsical brooding - part historical narrative. A fortunate and serendipitous "MacIntyre and Moore" discovery.

  • Assorted - Some random interesting ones: Stillwell and the American Experience in China (Barbara W. Tuchman) is a good read about the China-Burma-India theater of WWII; Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India (Lawrence James) was interesting, but might also controversial; The Proudest Day: India's Long Road To Independence (Anthony Read, David Fisher) is also interesting and controversial.
As usual, we are open to interesting suggestions vis a vis narrative history books.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


We can be succinctly described with the sound "Duh!", as far as our knowledge of things musical go. We are known widely to be tone-deaf, and manifestly devoid of iotae of that slippery quality, "good taste". We first heard The Beatles in 1996, and our all-time favourite album (rock and roll) continues to be Abbey Road. For this, many a time, we have been the stork (laughing). Hitherto, we have largely relied on more qualified and fortunate people to provide us with the gyaan necessary to have a non-paleolithic musical conversation ("Nahin yaar, 'Chura ke dil mera, goriya chali' mein Ayesha Jhulka nahin hai bey, tuu 'Gutar gutar' ki soch rahaa hai.").

It was such a one who once wandered over into the Virgin Megstore on Newbury Street, in the company of roomies, who were both vastly more qualified and talented. As we stood about and gazed vacuously at the stud in Christina's belly-button, in the distance, we descried said roomies standing at one of those music-listening-station thingumajigs, apparently having a good time. We trundled over, accepted headphones, and plonked them on melon. What was playing was incomprehensible, but utterly captivating and foot-tapping. We bought the CD, and recently dug it up from amongst the debris at home.

First, there was Raï. A form of folk music that originated in Oran from Bedouin shepherds, Raï (which means "opinion" in Arabic) mixed with Spanish, French, Arabic and other forms of music to give rise to its modern version. Among the more famous practitioners are Cheb Mami and Khaled (who obsessed about his elder sister and even wrote a very popular song about her).

Be that as it may, even as Rai was making waves around the world, unbeknownst to many, the improbably named Takfarinas was
...forging his own sound, a sort of musical esperantos deriving from the Kabyle songs of the last century. He named it "Yal music" after the rhythmic vocalized syllable "yal...laaa yal...lalala," which is inseparable from Kabyle song...
So Takfarinas' YAL was the CD that we bought many aeons ago, on a whim, and lived to not regret it. You can listen to samples on the Barnes & Noble website, and his most famous and excellent song Zaama Zaama (oddly enough very Rai-ish) is the one that had us foot-tapping on Newbury. The original Takfarinas was apparently some kind of Berber cheftain, who dished out an uncommon defeat to the Romans around 25 B.C. There is a review of the album at, and the CD should be easily available in the West.

"Yal" has a most unique sound, and it will surely appeal to desis, on account of its fusion of a relatively melody-centric North African art form, with what can concisely be described as dhingchak dhingchak.

With that, Secoues-toi comme si comme ça, zaama zaama C´est bon ! tu aimes ça, zaama zaama...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

One Nation State's Freedom...

What really prompted this post ultimately, is the fact that a few months back, we extended a slimy tentacle and bought ourselves a Worldspace receiver and subscription. Unf. at the time, we had grandiose plans of buying a decent set of speakers, CD/DVD player and so on. So instead of buying a boombox type receiver, we bought the Diva. Its nice and compact, but one needs headphones. Which means that suddenly one has a (very small) radius of operation when one is listening to the radio.

Anyway, night after night, we lie prone on the bed next to this thing, and listen to some radio before dropping off into blissful, snory, slumber. A number of interesting channels are available, but old habits die hard and more often than not, we're listening to NPR. It isn't quite WBUR, but we've managed to catch some Fresh Air, All Things Considered, Day to Day, and even the Motely Fool fellas. No, have never heard Car Talk yet, maybe they don't broadcast it on the international edition of NPR or whatever, this remains crib #1 with NPR on Worldspace.

Be that as it may, a couple of days back, Day to Day carried a small segment on the ongoing DP World controversy. This set off a train of thought. "Whaaa...?", some of you say.


DP World is a Dubai government owned undertaking that is in the business of port operations and stevedoring in a number of ports across the world. So far, they seem to have a more or less unblemished record of operating port and container facilities in places such as Adelaide, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Jeddah, Djibouti, Vizag, Cochin, and ports in Germany, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. All this has been going on quietly for several years.

DP World is in the process of acquiring the British based port operator P&O for the neat sum of $6.85 billion. P&O of course, stands for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and appear to have been around since the Norman Conquest. If you were a young Brit officer, recently inducted into the Indian Civil Services or the Indian Army, chances were that you'd take a P&O liner from Southampton to Rangoon or wherever. Sofa, so good (said the furniture salesman).

The controversy stems from the fact that P&O has operations in several (6?) US ports. Critics of the deal say that if the DP World bid is successful, effectively an Arab government will be in control of American ports, and this could lead to security issues. There is an FAQ type thing on this. At the moment, there is a terrible ruckus about this in the US Congress. The people's representatives have all thrown up their hands in horror, while Bushy is saying he will torpedo any bid to torpedo the deal. Some interesting questions emerge.
  1. DP World has been running ports in a dozen other countries, so why the foofah now?
  2. Many months ago DP World bought the international terminal chunk CSX, a biggish transportation and logistics company with significant presence in the eastern US. This went through with nary a whimper.
  3. Finally, port security in the US has not been anything to write home about. The sheer volume of the problem is unbelievable. Only a fraction of the containers entering the US get examined by Customs or other security agencies, and you wouldn't need to spend $6.85 billion if your intention was to be naughty.
What to make of it?


Perhaps this one is from more familiar territory - the Mittal-Arcelor takeover bid. In late January 2006, the world's largest steelmaker Mittal Steel announced their intention to buy Arcelor shares and take over that company. This resulted in the most almighty ballyhoo.

Arcelor's board rejected the bid, stating that the two companies' "business and cultural values" were incompatible. Takeovers usually involve job cuts, and are therefore inherently political, so Lakshmi Mittal (who heads Mittal Steel) had to meet French and Luxembourg politicians and offer assurances on the job front. Things began to get ugly-ish with impressive speed.

Arcelor started to spin the takeover as a "raider with foreign values".
Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president, warned against giving into economic "laws of the jungle." A former French finance minister referred to Mr. Mittal as "an Indian predator," although his company is traded and based in Europe and he hasn't lived in India for 30 years. Mr. Dollé, the Arcelor boss, said Rotterdam-based Mittal Steel is a "company full of Indians" that wants to buy his with "monnaie de singe." The expression means "monopoly money"--Mittal's offer is mostly shares--but the literal translation is "monkey money." That double-entendre wasn't lost on people.



Not so much in the realm of business and corporations, but tangentially related... David Irving has gained notoriety in recent years as a Holocaust denier. At one time, Irving was fairly well-known for the thoroughness and academic rigour that he brought to his work. In early 2000 (perhaps even earlier), he became a fairly controversial historian for denying the Holocaust. More specifically, for denying the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz. This happened in the course of a libel trial, in which Irving sued Prof. Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books for claiming that he was a Holocaust denier and anti-Semite.

Irving lost the case, was defiant in defeat, received support from Iranian newspaper, was ordered to pay 150,000 GBP towards defence costs, and was soon bankrupt.

Things were quiet for about three years. In November 2005, while on a visit to Austria, Irving was arrested by ze Polizei. Now Austria, along with a number of European countries (including Germany), have laws which make Holocaust denial a criminal offence. He was charged, refused bail, amazingly admitted his mistake, and was jailed for 3 years.

All of this happened, fortuitously enough, at the same time that the EXHIBIT D tamasha was in full cry.


The Danish cartoon tamasha. Enough said.

Consider A, B, C, and D above. Hypocrisy? Pragmatism? Sympathy? Racism? Who's to judge, and how?

Effin huge post. We are pooped. So, PJ.

"Who wrote 'The Spy Who Came In With The Cold'?"

"Iam Phlegming"

Urk. We actually invented this one, and are very proud.