Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

I do not obsess over zombie films. However if a movie us particularly good, then I will make a point to watch it. One such movie that I did end up watching couple of months ago on the TV was World War Z. I did enjoy watching this take on the movie, and ended up reading some reviews of it. It was during this search that I came to know that the movie is based on the book by Max Brooks. The full name of the book is “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War”.

Freshly having finished a different book, I was itching to get into another one. Few moments later, I was ready with it on my kindle. After the first 3 chapters, I began to lose my interest in the book. You see I had based my frame of reference on the movie. The book and movie are nothing alike. Zilch. The movie follows the plot about a zombie apocalypse from Brad Pitt’s character being the central character. The book however, is entirely different. It is (as the title says) an oral history of the war on zombies. I will cover this review in two aspects: The (long) synopsis, and the review.

 

The narrator had been asked to prepare a report for the UN, but his supervisor found the report to be too human and opinionated and has only the facts and figures submitted as the official report. The books serves as the records of the narrator as he interviews people from all over the world about the zombie war. His intention with this compilation is that a report on the war on Humanity cannot be complete without the human side of the war.

 

The book covers 8 major periods of the Zombie War:

  • Warnings: Referred by some of the characters as the pre-war time, this particular period has very few cases of out breaks. Patient Zero can be traced to a boy in rural China, and begins spreading to India. A hiker is said to have brought the infection to USA. Bodies that were dumped in the seas wash up on the shores of the countries and spread the infection across the world.
  • Blame: Isolated outbreaks begin in China, but the government tries to suppress knowledge of it. Black market trading of human organs spread the infection across borders, as some of the organs are harvested from people who had fallen sick to the infection, but before their corpses had been reanimated into zombies. The blood from these organs infects the recipients, who after reanimation begin to attack people and spread it even more. There are large outbreaks in Africa, and disease begins to be dubbed as African Rabies. Most of the governments are still in denial about the infection, or its extent. A company tries to profiteer from the scare by marketing a vaccine called Phalanx. Since the vaccine is designed rabies, and not the zombie infection, it fails massively when the infection begins to spread across the USA. While the initial Alpha teams manage to contain the infection, in sufficient follow up actions by the government on account of wanting political gains causes a surge in the spread.
  • The Great Panic: After a new reporter breaks the news that the Phalanx vaccine is just a placebo and has no protection against the actual zombie virus, there is a mass spread of panic and a resulting breakdown of society/civilization from the rapid spread of the infection and people’s attempts to run. The United States Armed Forces try to hold a big stand against the zombies at a choke point called Yonkers near New York. Instead of being the morale boosting war, the battle is a disaster with huge casualties and serves to further reduce the morale of the surviving population.
  • Turning the Tide: The Redeker Plan, prepared by Paul Redeker (an Apartheid era official) is executed in South Africa. The government realizes that realistically it cannot save everyone. Safe zones are identified in highly defensible areas, and the zombies are lead to other zones. People who are not in these safe zones are killed and reanimated as zombies, while the armed forces defend, purge and slowly expand the safe zones. Other countries implement a similar plan based on this plan’s success. Millions of people are reported to have lost their lives during this period.
  • Home Front: Primarily set in the USA, this chapter deals with how the country is restructured. Once bitten, twice shy (excuse the pun); the government reorients its strategies based on the lessons learnt throughout the world. This leads to not only just new military, but also economic and social strategies.
  • Around the World: Similar restructuring and stories of people from around the world, in other countries.
  • Total War: Around the time that most of western USA has been reclaimed, the governments of the world think that it is better to wait out the rest of their time for the zombies to decompose, get weaker so that they either die on their own or are easier to kill. However the USA wants to go on a full offensive to reclaim the entire nation and hence increase morale by touching Humanity’s undying spirit. In itself, it is a very difficult task. This is because the zombies do not require any logistics or weapons. They do not need to stop for feeding or resting. There are no leaders whose assassination can cause a collapse as each individual zombie is a self-sufficient enemy that only focusses on attacking humans. Even large injuries like burning, cutting of limbs only seem to just slow them down. The only way to defeat them is to destroy the brains of each and every one of them. They employ old war strategies re invented by General Raj Singh in India, where by a square of armed forces can go against thousands of zombies. It is used on a large scale at the Battle of Hope in USA with great success. Ten years after the start of war, North America is cleared free of zombies. The world celebrates Victory Day two years later, when China is also cleared of zombies. Russia and Europe have been able to clear the zombie infestation as well.
  • Goodbyes: Also known as the Post-War time, most of the nations have been able to become zombie free. Some parts in the extreme North face a different problem, where the zombies was frozen due to extreme winter and start coming out to attack after they thaw out. There are still millions of zombies at the bottom of the oceans, of which some manage to float or walk to the beaches and have to be killed by the armed forces.

What really works for this book is that it is an oral history of people around the world. Barring a select few characters, characters do not reappear. It does require getting used to, because by the time you get attached the story of a character, the interview of that particular character has finished and we move on to a different character. The reason this works for the book, is that this is the story of humanity as a whole, and not some particular central characters and other secondary supporting characters.

The book covers both, the good and the bad of humans. When you read about the screw ups, each one is as painful as the previous because all of them cost human lives. As you read through the books, it becomes easier to observe and predict the screw ups and poor decisions, but one cannot change or control what happens in this story. We have to live through these losses, as much as the narrator and characters do. To balance this, each act of courage, and help makes you wonder an awe at the strength of human bonds and survival. This book shows how stupid and brazen, and how helpful and caring humans can get.

Another reason (which is discussed in detail in the book) for why lost so many lives, and took this long to recover is that most (if not all) of our war tactics and strategies are based on fighting fellow humans. All of this fails when we’re fighting an enemy that can wage total war against us. This an enemy that does not stop, and has no specific leader. Things that would kill a normal human (like gunfire to the torso, being set on fire, drowning, or starvation fail when it comes to zombies. Every human lost to a zombie bite, is a loss to the humans, but is an addition to the zombie army. This is literally an army that grows as we lose ours.

The interviews are not limited to military veterans, or politicians. There are people who survived only because of the kindness of strangers, people who became veterans because they had no other choice but to enlist and fight, people who witness that sometimes it is humans who are to be most feared as they descend into violence and cannibalism. This is a story that talks of the best and the worst of us.

Since this is a book, and not a film or TV series, it relies upon the imagination of the reader to deal with the gore of the zombie attacks, of them eating humans. Honestly speaking though, these are the least disturbing parts of the book.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, absolutely yes. Full 5 stars. I will leave you with some quotes from the book:

 

 

“Fear,” he used to say, “fear is the most valuable commodity in the universe.” That blew me away. “Turn on the TV,” he’d say. “What are you seeing? People selling their products? No. People selling the fear of you having to live without their products.” Fuckin’ A, was he right. Fear of aging, fear of loneliness, fear of poverty, fear of failure. Fear is the most basic emotion we have. Fear is primal. Fear sells. That was my mantra. “Fear sells.”

 

Our country only exists because people believed in it, and if it wasn’t strong enough to protect us from this crisis, then what future could it ever hope to have? He knew that America wanted a Caesar, but to be one would mean the end of America.

 

Marty chose, instead, to show the other side, the one that gets people out of bed the next morning, makes them scratch and scrape and fight for their lives because someone is telling them that they’re going to be okay. There’s a word for that kind of lie. Hope.

 

When that famous Latin singer played that Spanish lullaby, it was too much for one of our operators. He wasn’t from Buenos Aires, he wasn’t even from South America. He was just an eighteen-year-old Russian sailor who blew his brains out all over his instruments. He was the first, and since the end of the war, the rest of the IR operators have followed suit. Not one of them is alive today. The last was my Belgian friend. “You carry those voices with you,” he told me one morning. We were standing on the deck, looking into that brown haze, waiting for a sunrise we knew we’d never see. “Those cries will be with me the rest of my life, never resting, never fading, never ceasing their call to join them.”

 

KONDO: I thought he was insane, and told him so right to his face. The two of us against millions of siafu? TOMONAGA: I handed his sword back to him; its weight and balance felt familiar to the touch. I told him that we might be facing fifty million monsters, but those monsters would be facing the gods.

 

I made eye contact and gave him this look, like “Hey, Doc, they’re all nut jobs, right?” He must have known what my eyes were asking because he just smiled back and shook his head. That really spooked me; I mean, if the ones who were acting loopy weren’t, then how did you know who’d really lost it?

 

Yeah, we stopped the zombie menace, but we’re the ones who let it become a menace in the first place. At least we’re cleaning up our own mess, and maybe that’s the best epitaph to hope for. “Generation Z, they cleaned up their own mess.”

 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t miss some things about the old world, mainly just stuff, things I used to have or things I used to think I could have one day. Last week we had a bachelor party for one of the young guys on the block. We borrowed the only working DVD player and a few prewar skin flicks. There was one scene where Lusty Canyon was getting reamed by three guys on the hood of this pearl gray BMW Z4 convertible, and all I could think was Wow, they sure don’t make cars like that anymore.

 

I’ve heard it said that the Holocaust has no survivors, that even those who managed to remain technically alive were so irreparably damaged, that their spirit, their soul, the person that they were supposed to be, was gone forever. I’d like to think that’s not true. But if it is, then no one on Earth survived this war

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Review: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

What would you do when the family who you cannot be with anymore, comes back to you? What will you do when their ghosts join you in the garden for a conversation? Will you flee them, or will you think that you need medical attention? The ghosts of Thomas Eapen’s family came to him, and he sat down to have a chat. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob has an interesting premise to say the least.

sleepwalkersguidetodancing

When Amina’s mother tells her of her father’s conversations with his dead mother, she flies home to Albuquerque to check on him. Life at home is not easy. It’s difficult to convince Thomas, a brain surgeon, that his hallucinations are enough cause to not put the lives of patients in his hands. Her mother Kamala however has better things on her mind, like the long pending marriage of her daughter. However when Thomas begins to become consumed with visions of their dead son Akhil in their garden, even Kamala is forced to make decisions.

Life has not always been easy for the Eapens. When Thomas brought Kamala and Akhil to America for a better future, his polarized his mother and brother. A family visit to India for a vacation leaves sour taste as the differences between them only seem to grow larger with the amount of time spent away from each other. A violent outburst leads to early departure for the Eapens, but comes back to haunt Thomas when a fire razes down the house with the family in it. His last memory of the family is the fight that made him leave mid-vacation.

Akhil is a headstrong teen who cannot come to terms with how things are. He continues to grow emotionally detached from the family, and finds comfort in his girlfriend, who sees the caring heart in him. Good times however are not long lived as an accident takes Akhil away from the family. His death becomes the start of the transformation of the family members.

The story jumps between three different times, with Amina being the constant point of view through them all, a reference through which we can see how the family members change. Amina is however not without demons of her own. A professional photographer, her claim to fame was a perfectly timed picture of a man jumping to his death. Her dealing with this brings back memories of her dealing with Akhil’s death when she had started to learn photography.

The story interweaves the three times intricately. Which is why when the story moves from Thomas and his brother Sunil’s fights in 1970’s to present day hallucinations of Thomas in the 90’s, and back to Akhil’s death because of Narcolepsy in the 80’s; it seems like a natural interweaving of story arcs. A river breaking into different branches, which along its length continue to meet and move away on their paths.

The book is an emotional telling about family. One of the key emotions in the book is that of regret. The regret of not being able to be a brother or son’s keeper, of not being able to pursue something of passion, and even the regret of not being understood. The reader goes through the same emotional turmoil as the characters in the book. A turmoil that takes seed and slowly grows till it begins to throttle them slowly.

The slow descent of Thomas into rejecting medical cure and accepting his hallucinations as a cure to his personal demons is moving. Within itself it is a moving tale of what a straight thinking person is willing to give up, but to look at how his decisions affect those of his family, and peel away the layers to their core, is nothing short of brilliant.

I will leave you with some select quotes from the book:

“We are all we have here. Do you understand? That is it. And we can all talk about old times and Campa Cola and wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back, but none of us ever want to go back. To what? To who? Our own families can’t even stand us for longer than a few days! No, we are home already, like it or not,”

“Weddings are about fantasies—you understand? Your job is to photograph the fantasy, not the reality. Never the reality. If I ever see another picture like that, you’re fired.”

“He’s fine,” Kamala said. “It’s not like that. You’re not listening.” “I am listening! You just told me he’s delusional, and I’m asking—” “I DID NOT SAY HE IS DELUSIONAL. I SAID HE WAS TALKING TO HIS MOTHER.” “Who is dead,” Amina said gently. “Obvious.” “And that’s not delusional?”

Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore

I had ordered Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore based on a recommendation I found on Flavorwire. Written by Robin Sloan, this is his first book.

Recession has caused Clay Jannon, a web designer to be out of a paying job. He finds work at Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour book store, run by the titular man. When being screened for the job, Penumbra asks him, “What do you seek in these shelves?” The answer to that will unfold the secret to immortality, which a secret order has been looking for, over the last 500 years. An answer that possibly cannot be found without using the technology and tools at our disposal today.

Clay works the night shift as a clerk at the book store. The customers for the books are few. However there exists a shelves of books at the back of the bookstore (called the Wayback List), which seem to not have been published anywhere else. These books attract a weird base of customers, who from time to time issue the books for their own perusal. While told no to open the books, curiosity gets the better of him, and Clay realizes that these books contain coded text. But Clay doesn’t limit himself to pen and paper like these customers do, and uses his computer to crack the code.
In this process he meets Kat, who works at Google. She dresses in the same tee with a ‘Bam’ on it, is an expert at data visualization, wants to be a Project Manager at work, and is thrilled by the idea of Singularity (where technology and humans become one, a point beyond which we cannot even fathom what lies ahead). Enlisting the help of Kat and a childhood friend Neel Shah (who is start up owner that deals with computer generated 3D human bodies, but predominantly breasts), they approach Penumbra with the solution.

Instead of being mad, he is glad that they cracked it to the point of being impressed at their use of modern technology with ease. Penumbra however, disappears the next day. Worried, they form a team (A wizard, a warrior and a rogue) and trace him to New York. They find a symbol similar to the one outside his bookstore at the entrance of the building, which Penumbra tells them is a front for the secret order called the Unbroken Spine. Their objective is to search for the secrets to immortality, clues to which have been left in yet another coded text written by the founder of the order (aptly named as the Founder’s Puzzle).

The symbol for the Unbroken Spine
The symbol for the Unbroken Spine

 

They determine to now solve this puzzle which the Unbroken Spine have failed to do for 500 years in spite of having used some brilliant mathematicians and cryptographers.

The book is an easy read. As a narrator, Clay describes his world in detail. His thoughts and observations are interesting. Take his description of his girlfriend Kat:

“…is a Googler. So, she really is a genius. Also, one of her teeth is chipped in a cute way.”

When she wears the same tee shirt when she meets him the next day, he thinks that “(a) she slept in it, (b) she owns several identical t-shirts, or (c) she’s a cartoon character — all of which are appealing alternatives.”

There are more layers to the book than just the decoding of this text. There is an underlying current about the transition from old to new, from traditional methods to new found. This is exemplified in the form of books and e-readers. There is a time when even Penumbra wonders in awe at the Kindle and other e-readers, as to how volumes and shelves of books condense into one hand held device.

I have only two grievances with the book. The primary one, as with most books that I have loved is that the book feels too small. I want more of it, where the story arcs are longer and drawn out. This is something, I wouldn’t hold against the author. He does the story justice in 300 pages. The second grievance is that the adventure feels too easy. It’s not that it has not been described well, or isn’t intriguing and involving; it’s just that when the characters face obstacles, they are able to overcome them with some stroke of luck, or a specific skillset/resource one of their friends has.

The book is a treasure trove for book lovers. There are many wonderful lines that would make readers smile with joy, probably a reflection of Sloan’s own love for reading. I will leave you with some such lines.

 

“Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines — it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.”

“I’ve never listened to an audiobook before, and I have to say it’s a totally different experience. When you read a book, the story definitely takes place in your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes”

“…this is exactly the kind of store that makes you want to buy a book about a teenage wizard. This is the kind of store that makes you want to be a teenage wizard.”

“Some of them are working very hard indeed. “What are they doing?” “My boy!” he said, eyebrows raised. As if nothing could be more obvious. “They are reading!”

“A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”

“He asked <…> Rosemary, why do you love books so much?
And I said, Well, I don’t know <…> I suppose I love them because they’re quiet, and I can take them to the park.”

Front cover of Mr. Penumbra's 24 hour Bookstore
Front cover of Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore

Teeth

Teeth are important calcium based parts of the body. Primarily their function is to bite, chew and break down food so that it can be consumed and digested. Secondarily they serve as an offensive or defensive mechanism. Carnivores use teeth in hunting to capture and kill their prey. Teeth can also be used in self defence, in the act of biting the attacker.  Generally teeth are present in the mouth; however there is a movie that tells the story of a girl who has teeth in her vagina.

Titled ‘Teeth’, the movie is about a teenage girl Dawn, who has ‘Vagina Dentata’ or teeth in her vagina. The idea of this is not new. It is found in numerous cultures, and is used as a folk story to discourage rape, the idea being that rapist’s penis will be bitten off by the teeth in the vagina.

Dawn is part of a teenage abstinence group, and is ridiculed by some of her class mates for it. Two of her abstinence group friends introduce her to Tobey, whom she grows close to. After swimming together in a lake, they spend time in a cave nearby. They give in to their attraction towards each other and start kissing. Dawn doesn’t want to progress beyond that, while Tobey wants to have sex. In an iconic first occurrence, Dawn’s teeth bite off his penis.

Dawn later befriends another boy, Ryan from her class. Ryan doesn’t ridicule her like most of her class mates do, and is an emotional support for her when her mom is going through health woes. While initially apprehensive, the two successfully manage to have sex. Later, in yet another iconic scene Dawn finds out that Ryan did all this as part of a bet which involved him ‘scoring her’. He boasts of this in a telephone conversation with a friend while the two are having sex; which leads to (as some of you may guess it) her vaginal teeth biting his penis off.

The movie however is about more than just her teeth. There is a scene of a biology class where the text books have a detailed diagram of a penis, but that of a vagina is censored by a sticker. On being asked, the teacher merely says that it is inappropriate to show female genitals. This leads to further doubts and confusion in the mind of Dawn, who is left to resort to internet searches on her own.

Actress Jess Weixler, who plays Dawn, has done a wonderful performance. She is able to pull of the scenes which show her as a frightened and confused teenager, with as much as ease the scenes which show her as confident and in control person. The movie was premiered at the 2007 Sundance festival, and is a blend of drama, horror and comedy.

 

Written for day 20 of the A to Z Challenge

Jalaram Nasta House’s Sev Usal

Sev Usal is a spicy Maharashtrian dish. Sev is actually fried noodle like strands made of chickpea flour and fried, while Usal is a gravy made with white peas and chutneys along with spices and condiments like ginger, garlic, tamarind and so on. The dish is an incorporation of the two elements. While it can be had by itself, it is more enjoyable to be had with a bread bun locally called as Paav in India.

While Sev Usal is not a dish that is native to Baroda, people of this city have brought it as close to perfection as possible. In turn, the residents of Baroda have showered love by making it a staple part of their diet. A Sev Usal stall is common sight. In fact, in terms of food dishes it is considered by many to be the pride of Baroda.

Locally, Mahakali (named after the Hindu Goddess) is one of the most popular places to have this at. Such is the popularity that many more small time stalls bearing the same name or a variation of it have come up. However, my personal favourite place to have it is the Jalaram Nasta house which is also called Lalabhai’s Sev Usal centre.

Located inside a lane that opens to a road, it is not very easy to locate unless you’re specifically looking for it. I remember getting lost, the first time I went there alone without my friends who would normally take me there. It is marked by a banner in red with the name written in white in Gujurati.

lalaoutside

You will first be given a premixed dish to get you started with. If you ask for extra (and I always do), you’re first served the sev and onions, while the gravy comes few moments later.

lalsevdry

You can mix and match the sev with the Usal to get the combination you feel right. This is how I start.

lalatable

An important aspect over here is what is locally called the ‘Tari’. It is basically a chilly preparation made from oil, green and red chillies. It is very spicy, and is added on top at the last before mixing the whole thing.

lalatari

To be honest, this is one of the reasons that gives Sev Usal its signature feel and adds an extra dose of yum. And there, you finally have your Sev Usal ready..

lalasevusal

Feel free to dig in.. Part of their team was happy to be part of a picture that I took before leaving.

lalateam

The dish and the place are so wonderful that I take my guests and friends over to have a taste of this iconic dish. This is a picture of Shail di and me, when she had come to visit quite some time ago. Repeated comments as to how much younger she looks, may result in bricks flying in your direction 😛

lalashailandme

I am attaching its location on Google Maps for you to locate it.

 

Written for day 10 of the A to Z challenge.

 

Hola for some yummy Mexican food

This is another place that I stumbled upon by accident. I was looking for a place that accepted online orders and payment for home delivery orders, when I came across HOLA Mexicana. I enjoyed their food so much, that I ended up ordering at least once every week for some time. Soon it dawned upon me that while I have had their yummy food many times, I haven’t actually been there even once. I made up my mind to go there over the weekend.

HOLA Mexicana is quaint little place nestled in a building complex Fatehganj, Baroda. Their banner is well lit, so that you don’t miss it. The only catch is that you can easily park a two wheeler, but a car will need some efforts.

holaent

They have a warm looking interior, which can easily manage 20 or so patrons. One of the plus points is that they have A/C and wifi, so it makes spending the hot noons or evenings easy.

holaint2holaint1

One of my regular orders over here is their mexican rice. While they offer both veg and non veg options, I like to go with the chicken version. It is a fabulous combination of rice, sauces, spices, tanginess, vegetables, beans, shredded chicken (since I go for the non veg version) and cheese. I have had it almost everytime I have ordered from them, and I still enjoy it each and every time.

This is what the bowl of mexican rice looks like when you receive it.

holarice1

I like to give it a nice mix, before diving in.

holarice2

Not one to get satisfied with just one bowl of rice, I order something else to go with it. This time I ended up with one of their omelettes.

holaome1They make a nice fluffy omelette that has stuffing inside the fold. Mine had chicken, vegges, spices and cheese. Needless to say it was absolutely delicious.

holaome2

What is even better about the place is that in spite of serving such delicious food, and giving you a warm and comfortable ambience, they are easy on the wallet. Here’s a snapshot of their menu

holamenu

This is hands down, one of my favorite places in Baroda to have mexican food. I will leave you with a picture of the HOLA Mexicana team who were happy to pose for a pic for me.

holateam

 

 

Written for day 8 of the A to Z challenge

Gokul Ras thad, a delicious discovery

I love those happy accidents when I find a place I have never been to before, and end up having brilliant food at it. One night, my old room mate and a friend came over and asked me to join them for a drive. Since none of us had dinner, the idea was to have something on the way. We had taken the old NH8 highway out of Baroda towards Ahmedabad. Around 9 kilometers on the highway, we stopped outside this place which we hadn’t seen before. Since the place had opened only two months ago, few people knew of it then.

Gokul board

I absolutely loved this idea of having small tents over each table. This way you can enjoy the cool breeze that is blowing, and yet maintain your small personal space. There are lights and pedestal fans inside the tent, for when the wind is not enough.

gokul tents Gokul tentThese are how the tents looks up close. There is enough space inside for a group of 6 to sit and eat comfortably.

Three of us were in the mood for Kathiawadi (belonging to Saurashtra region of Gujarat) food, so this is what we ended up ordering:

Wagharela Rotla (Broken flat bread that has been stir fried with spices and sauce)

Gokul rotla

There was Lasanya Bateka (Potatoes made in a gravy with loads of garlic)
Gokul bateka

The friends love Brinjal so we ordered Ringan/Baingan Bhartha (Squashed Brinjal)

Gokul bhartha

And some Ringad ane papdi nu saak (Brinjal Sabjee with beans)

Gokul brinjal

Of course we had piping hot rotis with fresh white makhan (butter) on them

Gokul rotibutterSince I felt adventurous, we had fried sated chillies (which I didn’t eat , and my friends had to finish)
Gokul chillies

And this is how my plate looked when we were eating.

Gokul plate

 

So, if you ever end up with a craving for Kathiawadi food, with some lovely ambience, I will accompany you here.

 

Written for day 7 of the A to Z challenge, 2014

 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a movie that I stumbled upon while doing a search on how our memories work.

Joel Barnish (Jim Carrey) is a withdrawn man with an inactive social life. One day on his commute to work, he has an urge to go to Montauk instead of work. On the way back from Montauk to New York he hits it off with Clementine (Kate Winslet), who is the polar opposite of him. She has brightly colored hair, and is an unrestrained person who speaks what she thinks. What they do not know is that they had had already been in a relationship for two years, and when it turned sour they broke it off.

The reason why they are unable to remember any of it is, is that Clementine had had her memories of Joel erased. The heartbreak of the relationship breaking off too much for her to bear with. While Joel was managing to deal with the relationship not working out, he broke down when he came to know that Clementine had him erased from her memories. Distraught, he goes to the same company (Lacuna Inc.) and signs up to get her deleted from his memories.

The way it works is that representatives of the company ask the customer to hand over all items they have that are personally associated with the person that want deleted. Then they ask you to think of the memories associated so that they can form a brain map specific to the person. Once the configuration is done, they attach a computer based apparatus to your head and begin a systematic deletion of memories while you sleep.
This dream/memory world is where most of the movies takes place. Starting with the earliest, Joel goes through all the memories associated with Clementine. The most recent memories are painful, and full of angst with all the passive aggressiveness they had displayed towards each other. The deletion of these memories serve as a catharsis for him. However as he goes further in the past, he begins to recollect all the happy and rosy moments he had shared with her. He begins to realize that the pleasure of these memories is worth living through the pain of not being in a relationship anymore. But being stuck in the dream/memory world, he cannot do anything to stop the process which is taking place in the real world in his apartment.

The memory sequences are absolute brilliance. The narrative of the story jumps across time here. From a scene which takes place in the past, to a scene in the future where the movie started, to what is happening in the present where the Lacuna crew is deleting the memories. The visual imagery as to how the memory gets deleted, and what Joel tries unsuccessfully to prevent it captures the viewer with awe.

The movie however is not just about these two. There is a crew of three working on the deletion, of which Mary (Kirsten Dunst) and Stan (Mark Ruffalo) are in a relationship. The third character Patrick (Elijah Wood), is using the personal files and objects of Clementine that had been given to create the deletion as means to gain knowledge to impress Clementine and date her. This small but very wonderfully told sub-plot is as interesting as the main story line.
We already know that Joel will be unsuccessful in preventing the deletion on account of him not recognizing Clementine in the future when they meet in Montauk. While they start afresh , oblivious to what has already happened between them they receive records of their memories from an employee at Lacuna who believes that the company has done something very wrong, and has sent all the customers their records. You will have to watch the movie to find out how the two of them deal with this disclosure.

The title of the movie is inspired from the poem Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope. The poem is about the tragedy of a love affair that couldn’t be, and the heroine’s believes that she can only be at peace if she can forget about this love that could not be.

 

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

 

This is one of my favorite movies that seamlessly combines romance, science fiction and philosophy. I will leave you with the trailer of the movie.

 

 

Written for day 5 of the A to Z Challenge

Review: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator)

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami has three characters at its core. Sumire is a young Japanese woman who is in her early twenties. She is an aspiring writer, and holds part time jobs along with the stipend she receives from her family to sustain her livelihood till she finishes her novel. Miu is a Korean woman whom Sumire is attracted towards. Among other things Miu imports wines in to Japan, and asks Sumire to work for her. K is the narrator and lead central character. He is her friend and few years older than her. An elementary school teacher, he has passionate feelings for Sumire.

While K is the narrator of the novel, the story effortlessly moves between the characters like a football team passing the ball. Sumire is an anti-social woman who doesn’t get along well with many people because she is a motor mouth. She dresses in clothes too large for herself, and often goes without matching her socks. Sumire can write beautifully but cannot complete her novel. Her works have an ending or a beginning, but never both. She feels that her writing lacks a soul that will connect the two.

K is two years older than Sumire, and they initially bond over their love for reading. K develops intense feelings of passion for her, but knows that she cannot reciprocate the same for him. There are moments when this passion flares up in him, and he takes to having a relationship on the side to deal with his urges. K even talks to Sumire when she calls him up in the middle of the night. K serves as the only person to which Sumire can vent out, or open up to.

Miu is a successful businesswoman, who gave up her training as a pianist to look after the family business after her dad died. She meets Sumire at one of her former student’s wedding. The two of them talk about the author Jack Kerouac, whom Miu mistakenly calls of the Sputnik style instead of the Beatnik style (having mixed up the two words). Sumire who thought herself to be asexual, feels an attraction towards her. Miu asks Sumire to work for her, first three days a week and as a full time personal secretary later. Due to the nature of work, they have to travel much. The word ‘Sputnik’ means a travelling companion, which is why the book is title ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’.

Sumire is an aspiring writer, and K is her friend who loves her. Sumire falls in love with Miu, who offers her a job and is 17 years older to her. The two are off to Europe for a business trip and decide to spend some time at a Greek island to relax. One day K receives a call from Miu, and she asks him to come at once. Sumire has disappeared. When K reaches the island, he learns from Miu and some of the Sumire’s writings as to what had happened before her disappearance.

The book is full of angst and loneliness. Sumire is full of angst about her not being able to write the novel she wants, and her nonconformance with society. Sumire has intense feelings for Miu, but doesn’t know how to talk to her about it. K pains about his unrequited love towards Sumire, and tries to sleep with other women. He ends up still thinking about Sumire all the time, and it makes things worse for him for her to be so close to him, and yet not with him. Miu has a secret in her past, and doesn’t know how to react when Sumire disappears.

Murakami has a wonderful way with words. His choice of words make you feel the stuffiness that the characters feel, and he can paint a vivid picture with ease. His play of metaphors is brilliant. When we learn of Sumire’s inability to finish a novel, he uses the metaphor of ancient Chinese gates. These were sealed with bones of soldiers, and their souls would revive only when fresh blood was mixed with them. There is another instance Sumire is going through changes in her life on account of her new job under Miu, when K explains how in life one uses the gears of a transmission to adjust to the realities of life. He tells her how she has taken off one transmission, but not yet bolted another while the all the engine keeps generating all the raw power. Another recurring theme is of duality or ‘the other side’. For most counts, the two sides are polar opposites. What one lives in, and what dreams; what one wants to be, and what one is; what is in the past and what lives today.

The story is well layered. Miu has a secret of something that happened 14 years in the past that made her hair turn white overnight. The story behind that is told in the Sumire’s story, which comes as a part of K’s own story in his search of Sumire. There are fantastical elements in Miu’s story, in Sumire’s dreams and K’s experiences.

Overall this makes for a gripping read with its layers of stories, character back stories and the intense longing for something that one cannot have.

Some wonderful quotes from this book:

“In the world we live in, what we know and what we don’t know are like Siamese twins, inseparable, existing in a state of confusion.” 

“We each have a special something we can get only at a special time of our life, like a small flame. A careful, fortunate few cherish that flame, nurture it, hold it as a torch to light their way. But once that flame goes out, it’s gone forever.” 

“I closed my eyes and listened carefully for the descendants of Sputnik, even now circling the earth, gravity their only tie to the planet. Lonely metal souls in the unimpeded darkness of space, they meet, pass each other, and part, never to meet again. No words passing between them. No promises to keep.” 

“I’ve written an incredible amount up till now. Nearly every day. It’s like I was standing in a huge pasture, cutting the grass all by myself, and the grass grows back almost as fast as I can cut it. Today I’d cut over here, tomorrow over there… By the time I make one complete round of the pasture the grass in the first spot is as tall as it was in the beginning.”

sputnikcover

A bunch of us friends got together over the idea of having a reading group to discuss books and authors (as most reading groups do). As part of this month’s activity, we had polled to start reading Haruki Murakami. Sputnik Sweetheart was part of that push to read his work.

5 off-beat Bollywood movies to get you started

Movies are an integral part of India. Be it the popular Bollywood which makes mostly Hindi movies, or the other regional –woods like Tollywood (Bengali), Kollywood (Tamil), Mollywood (Malayalam)  and so on which makes movies in regional languages, cinema touches many people. The movies made can be split broadly into two categories: mainstream cinema and off-beat cinema. Mainstream movies are your run of the mill Bollywood movies. They either use well established or upcoming stars, are easy going on the story line (possibly with a bunch of plot holes), and have song-dance routines. Typically these are happily ever after movies, and are meant for enjoyment with friends and family as a welcome break from the drudgery of life. Their main motive is to reach out the most to the average movie goer and make as much money as possible. Off-beat movies are also called parallel cinema or art movies. These are not your average light hearted movies. Most of them involve shunning of the song and dance routines, which makes it difficult for everyone to watch. The movies are thought provoking, and dark. Some may make you laugh, but will utilize dark-comedy or satire to do so. Typically they deal with realism, or the morals and motivations of the characters.  Off-beat movies generally don’t perform that well financially. It is easy for most mainstream movies to make millions for their makers and have wide viewership. Off-beat movies on the other hand are critically acclaimed and well made, but do not gather in as much revenue. These are generally viewed as a means to showcase talent, or experiment.  That doesn’t mean however that they must be taken lightly. Some of the most interesting and thoughtful movies have been off-beat movies. Since people need to develop a taste for such movies, sometimes off-beat movies are made with a touch of mainstream masala. This may be in the form of having famous and popular actors, addition of songs that go with the plot (and do not have uncalled group dance sequences), or some sweetening of the story line. I would like to share 5 such movies with you that I believe are a must watch to develop a taste for more serious off-beat movies. Dev D: This is a modern adaptation of the old Bengali novel Devdas by  Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. The novel has been famously adapted into movies with Ashok Kumar and Shahrukh Khan as the titular character. Devdas and Paro are childhood friends, and develop romantic feelings for each other after Devdas leaves his village for schooling. When he comes back, he is not allowed to marry Paro as she is from a family of lower status. While Paro moves on, Devdas drowns himself in alcohol at the court of Chandramukhi, with the help of his friend Chunni. Soon she develops feelings for him, but Devdas does not return them. The alcoholism takes a toll on him and he visits Paro one last time before he dies.

This modern adaptation is quite different. Paro (Mahie Gill) is much more confident and bold unlike the soft spoken versions before. She can match Dev (Abhay Deol) in his passion and wants him physically just as much as he does. While the parents approve of his match with Paro, a misunderstanding causes the jealous Dev to not marry her. Paro harbours no more feelings for him and moves on. Chandramukhi (Kalki Koechlin) on the other hand is a teen, who has to shift as her boyfriend makes an MMS of her performing oral sex on him. When this becomes public, her family first leaves the country. After her dad’s suicide, she comes to back to the country and lives with his family in the village. Unable to come to terms with culture shock and misogyny, she runs back to the city where she becomes a prostitute under Chunni. Dev meets Chunni over drinks and drugs, and begins to spend time with Chandramukhi. What is wonderful to see is how both the women are strong willed and ready to take control of their lives, and how Dev is brought back on his feet by them. The movie has a wonderful soundtrack by Amit Trivedi which complements the psychedelic take on the novel. Aks:
Aks is the story of Manu Verma (Amitabh Bachchan) and Raghavan (Manoj Bajpayee). Manu Verma is a cop who is given the job to protect the Indian Defence Minister on a foreign trip. Raghavan is a skilled (albeit psychopathic) assassin who manages to kill the minister. Manu and his partner team up to catch Raghavan at the cost of his partner’s life. There is a fight in the jail when Raghavan is sentenced to death, and the two end up shooting each other. While Raghavan is presumed death, his soul latches on to Manu and tries to take control over his body. The movie is about this fight of the two souls in a body, and how Manu has to now save his family and his world from the evil spirit within him. The movie features wonderful performances by both the actors. No Smoking:
Directed by Anurag Kashyap, it is one the lesser known movies that utilize a fantasy dream world. The movie is the story of Kay (John Abraham) who not only is a chain smoker, but a narcissist. His wife (Ayesha Takia) cannot deal with it anymore and threatens to leave him unless he quits smoking. Left with no option he is lead to a rehab centre called the Prayogshala (Laboratory in Hindi) by his old friend Abbas (Ranveer Shorey) who started to smoke with him in the first place. He signs a contract with Shri Shri Shri Prakash Guru Ghantal Baba Bangali Sealdah Wale (Paresh Rawal) so that he would do ANYTHING asked to quit smoking. He is blackmailed into threats that for each time he smokes a worse punishment will dealt onto him. This includes from hearing loss, making his brother with a sick lung to breathe in a gas chamber full of cigarette smoke, cutting of fingers and killing of his wife. One he realizes that the Guru’s disciples have infiltrated his life to ensure that, he has to come up with a plan to escape them. The movie uses fantasy lucid dreams, the concept of karma and souls as well. Delhi Belly:
An air hostess (Shenaz Treasurywala) agrees to make a delivery for her colleague’s friend as her friend is unwell. She gives the package to her boyfriend (Imraan Khan) and his debt-ridden roommates (Vir Das and Kunaal Roy Kapur). The package contains smuggled diamonds which are to be delivered to a local gangster, but is mixed up with a stool sample when one of the roommates gets diarrhoea after some street food. Hence the name Delhi Belly. Taking this as insult, the gangster kidnaps the air hostess. The film is about the hilarity that ensures as they sell off the diamonds and try to rescue the girl. This is a relatively short film that features no intermissions. The movie contains generous use of Hindi curse words, and potty humor. The movie is made by newcomers Abhinay Deo, Akshat Verma. It is one of the few Bollywood movies to have most of its dialogue in English, with generous Hindi curse words thrown in. Gangs of Wasseypur:
Gangs of Wasseypur was shot as one movie which was 319 minutes long. Since it would be difficult to release a movie over 5 hours long, it was split in to 2. The movie is set in the Wasseypur and Dhanbad cities in the Bihar state. Sardar Khan’s (Manoj Bajpayee) father was killed by Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) who is a coal magnate and politician. Khan swears vengeance upon Singh, and promises to not kill him but make his life miserable. While he becomes a gangster in his own right, he is not able to fully deal in and gets the shot to death. After his and his older brother’s deaths, and spurred on by his mother (Richa Chaddha) the youngest heir ( Nawazuddin Siddiqui ) takes on the family business as he tries to exact the vengeance his father couldn’t. The movie is more just than the vengeance over dead family members, but deals with the politics of the region and how people come together or fall apart. The movie has generous use of the local regional language, and curse words. The soundtrack shuffles from rustic songs, old family songs, and some eclectic dance numbers. This one is a must –watch film that cover over 30 years of story. This post is a part of the Miss Lovely Activity in association with BlogAdda. Miss Lovely, an off-beat film directed by Ashim Ahluwalia is set in the lower depths of Bombay’s “C” grade film industry. It follows the devastating story of two brothers who produce sex horror films in the mid – 1980s. A sordid tale of betrayal and doomed love, the film dives into the lower depths of the Bollywood underground, an audacious cinema with baroque cinemascope compositions, lurid art direction, wild background soundtracks, and gut-wrenching melodrama. Miss Lovely is scheduled for commercial release on 17 January 2014. You can check the trailer of the film