Monday, April 30, 2007

Time Traveler’s Wife

A Love that transcends time and death

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The book I read last is ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger. It’s a strange love story of Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire. Henry is a victim of a strange genetic disorder called "Chromo-Impairment" which causes him to time travel. He doesn’t have any control over the time or the destination or the duration of his travels. The genetic disorder causes him to time travel spontaneously when he is stressed out or tired, physically or emotionally.

As a rule of time traveling, Henry cannot take anything with him other than his body. He lands naked and bare footed. He explains the sensation of time travel as of epilepsy and it makes him hungry. So Henry masters the arts of stealing and breaking into places necessary for his survival.

Most of Henry’s visits were to his past where he witnesses the accident which took his mother away or the visits to a museum with his parents. And on one of his travels he meets his future wife Clare Abshire. Clare is from a rich family living in a large house. She is fond of a clearing of land in the middle of the meadow where she spends her time playing. On one fine day, when Clare is in the clearing, Henry lands in front of her stark naked… Henry is 28 and Clare is 6…

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Clare is fascinated by the stranger who gives her glimpses of her future. Henry gives her a list of dates on which he will be appearing from the future. Clare keeps this as her secret and she waits expectantly for Henry on the dates he has given. She keeps a box of clothes and shoes hidden for him under a rock in the clearing. She gets so obsessed with her strange companion that she tends to ignore boyfriends at school and spends a lot of time by her own. At her 18th birthday they part knowing that they would be meeting only after 2 years and in the present. Henry tells her he is her future husband.

After 2 years, Clare meets Henry in the future as a librarian but Henry is completely ignorant of her or their meetings in the meadow because the Henry who came to visit Clare is still in the future and the present Henry is not aware of this. But Clare is foretold by Henry about this and she patiently fills Henry with their story. For the first time, Clare is the future teller. Later the book reveals their struggle to lead a normal life and their struggle to overcome his condition.

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The novel at its heart is not about the fiction or technicalities of time travel or Henry’s disorder. The core of this novel is the relationship of Henry and Clare. It circles around their life, friends, families and passion. Once you are fully engrossed in the book you can feel their joy, their pain and their desperation. The narration is on a normal pace without much twists and turns. The talent of the author lies in making an unrealistic theme like time travel in a way that seems pretty real and possible. Her writing style is simple which helps in telling a story which would have become extremely complicated to convey. She overcomes the inherent difficulties of narrating a story with numerous time swaps. To add to the complexity the story is narrated through the eyes of both Clare and Henry. But Niffenegger seamlessly rides over these difficulties with consummate ease.

Though Henry can be there in the past, he cannot change anything. And at many instances we can feel the pain in knowing it in advance and incapable of changing it. That makes it different from the usual science fiction novel. By concentrating instead on the emotional struggles of the chief characters Niffenegger brings a delightful human touch to the story.

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Time Traveler’s wife is a thoroughly enjoyable read for all those who have romance in their hearts. It is tale of love that transcends time and death and which will move you for sure. I am even looking forward to its movie version set to star Eric Bana and Rache McAdams.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cricket World Cup 2007

... And At last it ends.

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This year’s world cup will go down in history as the worst ever. The tournament was too long and too boring for all. In pure cricketing terms there was only one team in the competition, and when the dust settled it was not surprising to find Australia being crowned champions once again. The rest were all playing catch-up with Sri Lanka emerging as the best of the rest.

If anyone thought this year’s edition would be better than the last one, well they must be terribly disappointed now. Other than India’s shock defeat to Bangladesh and Ireland defeating Pakistan, there were only 2 other close matches in the entire tournament. Most of the matches were one sided and it seemed the teams were completely in awe of the Aussies. So complete was the Aussie domination that they not only won all their matches, but did it with huge margins.

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From the start of the Super Eight itself the semifinalists were virtually decided. It never looked like any of the other teams would be able to dislodge the four teams who eventually made it to the semi finals. Though Bangladesh and Ireland deserved to be in the Super Eight, their presence rendered most of the matches at that stage meaningless. And with England and the West Indies turning in one disgraceful performance after another, the world cup never had the tight contests expected at that stage. Adding to the tournaments woes were two utterly one sided semi-finals and the tournament never generated the required excitement even at the business end of the tournament.

India and Pakistan have only themselves to blame for the sorry performance they put up on the greatest stage of the game. But their exit took away the major public interest from the game’s showpiece event. It is vital for the game that these two countries do well because of its immense popularity back home. However they both managed to let their countries and themselves down. There was so much infighting in both the teams that it would have put a soap opera to shame. There were accusations and counter accusations leaked to the media by sources close to all involved. Both India and Pakistan were more concerned about their own egos than playing for their fans which counts to millions.

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The matters off the field were getting more coverage than the ones on it. Bob Woolmer’s murder and the subsequent investigation fueled speculation to be at a fever pitch. One was constantly bombarded with different version of the death as well as the investigation everyday. The tragedy that had befallen Woolmer’s family was forgotten and media engaged in sensationalizing the entire episode with shocking insensitivity.

But the biggest blame for the tournament descending into such a farce must go to the ICC. They got their priorities mixed up when they concentrated more on satisfying the broadcasters and the sponsors than catering to the needs of the cricket loving public. Ticket prices were too high and the ICC robbed whatever excitement the crowd could bring in by putting in restriction on everything the fans could do once inside the stadium. The restrictions ranged from bringing in products of rivals of the official sponsors to the musical instruments that can be brought in. This virtually removed the carnival atmosphere that everyone has come to associate with cricket at the Caribbean. Instead what one saw was empty stadiums which was totally devoid of excitement.

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The less said about the format the better. Inclusion of 16 teams resulted in the initial group stages being banana skin encounters for the bigger teams. A good team ran the risk of going out of the tournament if they slipped up on a single day. But even if all the big teams had gotten through it would have been difficult to sustain interest in a tournament that stretches to almost two months. Looking back one can’t even remember the time the world cup started.

The ICC needs to do a thorough rethink as far as the format of the world cup is concerned. If they are trying to copy the football world cup then they should realize that cricket will never be as popular as football. Because of its wide popularity football can include 32 teams in its premier competition and still not suffer on quality. Cricket however is played by a small group of nations and when ICC tries to include more and more teams the quality of the tournament invariably suffers. They should also remember that due to the shortness in duration of the matches football can afford to have 2 – 4 matches in a day, thereby reducing the number of days the tournament is played out. Cricket due to its length can’t have more than two matches in a day and still cater to the needs of the broadcaster and the sponsors.

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This world cup had absolutely everything in it other than good quality matches. Retirements, resignations, step downs, sackings, under performances, intrigue and conspiracy all marred the tournament. Add a horrible murder to it and you are left wondering if it’s a sporting tournament that we are talking abAout or the latest Hollywood thriller. Cricket is at its all time low at the moment. Cricket authorities all over the world would do well to wake up and smell the coffee. Otherwise the game will lose its fans forever, the very people who are the reason for the bringing the big bucks into the game.

Lake Titicaca


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Lake Titicaca, a Lake on the Sky.

Un paralleled altitude.

Remote, mysterious, immense,

Titicaca is an extravaganza by name and by nature.

James Winchester.

World’s highest navigable lake, four kilometers (12497 feet to be precise) above from sea-level, in the laps of the great Andes Mountains, shared by two nations (Peru and Bolivia), Titicaca is a geological wonder, formed sixty million years back; from the water deposited by 25 incoming rivers which carry the water from melted glaciers of the Andes.

The puma and the rabbit.

It is believed that the name derived from a variety of wild cats that live on the rocky islands of the lake and swim to the mainland during nights in search of food (titi = wild cat (a variety of Puma) + karka = rock, there by meaning Rock- Puma). It may be a strange coincidence that the shape of this giant lake (as revealed by the satellite photographs) has resemblance to a Puma chasing a rabbit. Old tribes without any modern gadgets could not have envisaged the shape of this giant lake; it might be just a coincidence that they named it rock-puma.

And thus a lake was formed.

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This giant lake is formed when terrible earth quakes of the pre-ice age that shook the Andes Mountain ranges changing its land-scape altogether and forming gaping hollow between the mountain ranges which was longitudinally split in to two, this hollow; as per the geologists, eventually got filled by the water from the melting glaciers creating numerous water bodies. With end of the ice-age the melting of the snow was quickened and all these water bodies grew up to form a single giant lake that is Titicaca.

Vanishes in the thin air!

There are altogether twenty five rivers which end up in Titicaca depositing their waters in to this mega lake but only one to drain it out (River Desaguardero which flows south through Bolivia to lake Poopo). The most interesting thing is that the out going quantity of water through this river is just 5% of the incoming to the lake. Then where does the rest of water go? It is in high altitude, freezing temperature and torrential winds and the hot sun all combine to speed up evaporation process taking away the rest of the incoming (95%) to the air thereby keeping the level of the lake constant.

A real thrill !

Not only in breadth in depth also Titicaca is a giant its average depth is 107 Meters, the deepest part is about 281 Meters! No other lake in the world is as deep and intriguing as Titicaca. Its almost unreachable depths are home to several species of animals and explorers seeking real challenges come to Titicaca in search of real thrill. Jacques Cousteau the great French oceanographer was prominent among adventurers who had a tryst with this great lake’s depths.

Jacques Cousteau – the man of the oceans!

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Diving to 200 plus meters depths in to a lake with chilling water is no mean thing, Mr. Cousteau - the world famous oceanographer - with all his advanced diving gears could do it – in his under water exploration in this lake, which lasted for more than one and a half months – this big exploration brought out great “treasures” for the scientific community. Animal varieties which were found no where else in the world (like a giant toad 60 centimeters long, grey, yellow or brown in color) was revealed to the world in this “mission impossible”. These animals (millions of them) were able to withstand the tremendous pressure and scarcity of oxygen prevailing in 280 meter deep lake-bed.

Take your oxygen cylinder along with!

Lack of oxygen is not just the condition of the lake-bed, on its shore at a height of about 4 kilometers all who live are equipped with natural evolution to tide over scarcity of this life giving air particle. People from plains feel nausea and headache due lack of atmospheric pressure due to high altitude, even engines work on half their prescribed power. Accident due to fire is such a rarity as fire force is not even heard of until recently!

Curious adaptations!

The natives living here are adapted to this condition by acquiring chests to contain over-sized lungs, more blood in the circulatory system, much more ”red blood corpuscles” in their blood (RBC are the agents which carry oxygen from lungs to various parts of the body) etc. The clear unpolluted sky carries the sun’s ray direct to the earth and these people are un-heard of skin cancer even though they work in the sun for all day as nature has gifted them the power to resist such ailments specific to the conditions prevailing in this location.

Some sweetener in the lake!

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It is a legend that sweetens a culture without them any culture seems dull and dreary; people of the Altiplano (the high-land plains surrounding the lake) have their own sweeteners to their credit. As per the legends during 1230 A.D. the Sun God sent his son (Manco Copac) and daughter (Mamo Ocllo) to rule the entire area. Both of them emerged from the depths of the lake and went to the Sun Island (Sun Island is the largest island in the lake), and found the empire. This Inca Empire lasted up to 1533 until the arrival of the Spaniards.

“I” for Inca.

When the Spaniards invaded this area in the early sixteenth century the Inca Empire covered the present Peru, Ecuador, and much of the present Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. The technologies and architecture were highly developed though they were not using writing and wheeled vehicles. Their descendants make about significant population of these South American states. “Inca” was the supreme ruler of this empire. The word Inca in Quechua means lord or a royal person.

Even before Inca!

Even before the establishment of the Inca Empire certain civilizations existed in the area, remains of an ancient city by name Tiahuanaco with a population of 10000 people have been found at the southern end of the lake. Remnants include a stepped pyramid and carved gate-ways and ornate buildings.

Islands in the lake.

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There are about 41 islands in this lake some of them are over populated Isla Dol Sol (Sun Island) is the largest among them several Inca ruins are found on this island and it is believed to be the place of origin of the Inca Empire. Islands Uros is a floating groups of artificial islands (about 43 in number) made of reeds these are major tourist attractions. The lake side city Puno arranges excursions for tourists to these islands. No motor cars, no telephones, no restaurants (only few small shops to cater the base requirements exist) one who wants to escape from the modern-day worries can find no place more ideal than these islands.

Sweet naming artists.

Titikaka Map image courtsey:

The people of these areas speak a language Aymara which got mixed with Spanish (the official language) They might have been masters in naming things and places, Titicaca itself is just one example, please remember the names of the children of the Sun God in the Inca legend “Manco Copac” and “Mama Occlo” are rare sweet. There are tow mountain peeks “Pacha Mama” (meaning Mother Earth) and “Pacha Tata” (Father Earth). “Isla Dol Sol” (Sun Island), “Capacabana”, “Tiahuanaco” (an ancient town) all sounds so sweet as if a drop of honey spilled on the tongue,

Lake placid.

The local people are superstitious and firmly believe that there are monsters in the lake, though rarely most of them have seen them in the shape of gigantic seals creating monstrous waves and producing loud and fearsome cries. When their whole life is centered with the lake let their beliefs also remain as intact as it was years back!

Friday, April 27, 2007


The dark side of beauty

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Giuseppe Tornatore is one of those directors who takes charming nostalgic movies and strikes a chord in the heart of his audiences. He mostly makes period movies set in a small town of Sicily. Malena released in 2000 is said through the eyes of 12-year old Renato and is set in a 1940s small town of Sicily. Renato’s focus of attention is the most beautiful woman in the town, Malèna.

The story starts with an adult Renato remembering the day he got his first bicycle. The adult Renato narrates the events to us through a voiceover. The day Renato gets the bicycle is the day he is shown ogling at Malèna for the first time. In the beginning his feelings for her are purely lustful. For a boy who is just entering puberty this means that his hormones go haywire and his only concern becomes the goings on in his trousers. This makes the first half of the movie mostly funny to watch.

We also learn that it is not just Renato who has his eye on the voluptuous bombshell. The whole town has their eyes on Malèna for various reasons. You see, she is the wife of a soldier who has gone off to fight the Second World War. Hence the men of the town ogle and fantasize about taking advantage of this single woman. The women of the town are afraid that she will take their husbands away from them. And all of them resort to vile gossiping about her. The whole town indulgences in this when she takes cross town strolls dressed all elegant and glamorous.

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Renato is taken over by lust and follows Malèna around wherever she goes without her noticing him. He in the process learns more about Malèna and sees the real person that she is underneath all the glamour. For instance he learns that her regular strolls across the town are to visit her almost deaf father, a professor of Latin, to help him with his household chores. By peeping into her house from a nearby tree he is able to see her pain and loneliness. Above all he sees her unfaltering love for her husband. He sees that she is not the slut that the townsfolk make her out to be.

But thing take a turn for Malèna as the war intensifies. People become more angry and vile towards her. Rumours of her husband’s death only intensify their attitude towards her. She is shunned and isolated by the women of the town. Even her relationship with her father suffers a catastrophic blow when a slanderous letter about her sexual immorality reaches his hands. He is later killed in a German bombing of the town.

Thereafter Malèna falls into hard times and in a bit to survive she becomes what the town always called her to be; a slut. She turns to prostitution and begins to even entertain the members of the invading German army. However when the war ends and the Germans retreat she is mentally and physically humiliated by the town’s women forcing her to leave the town. It is then that her husband returns from the war. What he does after that forms the rest of the movie.

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On the face of it Malèna is a simple sentimental movie. By underlying it is the theme of jealousy and hypocrisy. The women of the town are not able to hide their jealousy toward Malèna. The men are a case of sour grapes. Since they are not able to have her they invent wild rumours and thrash her reputation without remorse. It is also a coming of age movie. The young Renato, who first sees Malèna as only a sexual object see her as a human being towards the end of the movie. In the process he also learns more about the cruelty of life.

The movies visuals are breathtaking every time Monica Bellucci walks on the screen. Beautiful would be a word too inadequate to describe how she looks in this movie. You can’t but help identify with the boy who fantasies about her all the time. She doesn’t even have anything to do for a majority of the movie other than to look great. She doesn’t even have a dialogue through major portions of the movie. But she shows that she is not just a beautiful face when she handles the complex final scenes with ease.

The young boy Giuseppe Sulfaro plays the other central character of the film Renato. He plays the role with a talent that belies his age. He displays the right emotions and leaves no one in doubt as to what is going through his head.

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Tornatore’s direction is creditable. He easily gives us a view of what Renalto is seeing. He makes us go through the same feelings that Renalto goes through. We feel the same lust for Malèna, we feel the sense to try and help her in some way and like Renalto we to feel helpless and sad about the misery that she goes through. The music is as haunting and poignant as the movie itself. Malèna is overall a beautiful, charming and haunting movie that you will remember long after you have seen it.

Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island Coat of Arms image courtsey:

Norfolk Island –This Paradise That Was Once A Hell.

Isolation has its merits.

Norfolk Island Coat of Arms image courtsey:

Norfolk is a small island (about 5 – 8 Miles in diameter) in the Pacific Ocean located between Australia and New Zealand; very-very isolated as its nearest neighbor the New Caledonia is about 800 kilometers away. The land is very fertile and the climate temperate without drastic seasonal variations. For 56 long years this paradise played the role of virtual hell as it was used to inhabit hard core criminals from throughout the British Empire, the geographical isolation of this island was ideal for this purpose.

Ghost who walks!

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The natives living here are still in the clutches of those shocking memories of the past and in the eerie Norfolkian nights many still see phantom prisoner walking in chains, hear him playing violin or just moaning loudly in unbearable pain. Cellular jail of the Andaman Island and the much touted prison island of Guantanamo fades to nothing before the torture methods adopted by the jailors of this island in those dark days. The legend of “Barney Duffy” cannot be missed when Norfolk is mentioned.

Duffy an icon.

Barney Duffy was brought here as a prisoner, the six feet seven inches giant with strength of a beast and a fiercely independent mind, Duffy did not find it hard to jump the jail but leaving the island was not easy; he chose to hide in the forest for seven long years. All these seven years; he spent day time in the hollow of a large pine tree. At last he was spotted by two guards and was taken to jail at gun-point. On the way staring at the guards he uttered this curse which gained the status of a legend. Please read the following.

A curse that prevailed.

“Take me back ye lily-livered lice, but mind... before my corpse has hung a week on the Kingston gallows, ye’ll be dead..........the pair of ye!”. Duffy was hanged next day morning and two days after- it is said that- the dead bodies of these guards were found floating in the sea some where near the pine tree where Duffy hid himself for seven years. Mothers of Norfolk tell the Duffy story to their sons to make them bold and fill their mind with inspiration, thus raising Duffy to the status of an icon!

Its time would not have come.

As per the geologists Norfolk was part of the ancient continent by name Zealandia that once existed and in the course of time got submerged in the sea about 50,000 years ago. By some unknown geological reasons when Zealandia submerged in to the sea leaving only mountain peaks afloat. Perhaps Norfolk might have been a mountain peak on Zealandia or it would not have lived its destined life-span and god almighty simply let it remain to complete its mission!

Vanished in the thin air!

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The other strange thing about this land is that it has been uninhabited for most part of the time, several tribes which inhabited on it vanished in the thin air leaving some marks (like Polynesian rats, banana plants, some stone-tools etc) for the world to understand that there were people who lived there once, to where they vanished is not known to the historians, people of Norfolk are sure their island is haunted and all the early settlers would have fell victim to the ghosts who rule the Norfolkian nights.

History is born!

For Norfolk history only starts from 1774 when Captain James Cook landed (in his ship HMS Resolution) on this island. He was rather perplexed to see such a fertile land utterly uninhabited, Mr. Cook named it “Norfolk” after the Duchess of Norfolk (wife of Edward Howard Duke of Norfolk). Mr. Cook on his return took some pine samples to Britain as it was expected to yield the much needed latex for coating sea going wooden vessels.

Master artists!

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People from outside were brought in to sap the pine trees, as the venture was not viable and was abandoned. The geographical isolation proved ideal for a jail and criminals were brought in to be abandoned. This attempt also did not work out. But the governor of New South Wales, Mr. Thomas Brisbane was the real architect of the infamous prison colony and he was a real artist in penology. His successor Ralph Darling was also a real follower of his guru the master torturer!

“Enough is enough” Queen Victoria.

Their research on penology had an abrupt end when Queen Victoria wrote out the existence of the jail. The prisoners were shipped back to Australia and people from Pitcairn Island (which was over crowded) were allowed to settle in this island. The first consignment was of 194 people including men, women and children. The main celebration of this island “the Bounty Day” (on 8th June of every year) is in memory of this human migration. Various branches of Christians inhabit this island of which the Protestants constitute the bulk.

An apolitical paradise!

Total population as per the recent census comes only 1853 almost all Christians. The total length of all the roads in the island is about 80 kilometers, cattle are free to graze on the

Roads. Schools follow New South Wales curriculum, but for higher education they have to proceed to Australia. The Norfolk people are a fiercely independent lot and they consider Australians as foreigners. Australia on the other hand is benevolent enough to extend all facilities to the islanders like higher education and subsidized health care etc. The absence of political party is a specialty to this island (perhaps that may be the reason of this being a paradise!).

Ghost artist.

This article would be incomplete if the “ghost artist” of Norfolk is not mentioned. Readers would have heard of all sorts of ghosts like those blood sucking ones, cold blooded killers, fairies etc but our character is a very romantic one, soul of a condemned prisoner.

Stealing hearts.

Once there was an expert violinist, who was put in to this jail by some strange twist of fate! In the jail also he used his masterly skills of playing violin to entertain the co-prisoners, even those jail officials enjoyed the divine melodies played in his violin. The superintendent impressed by the skill of that young prisoner asked him to teach violin to his daughter.

Music knows no death.

As the soap opera goes; love flourished between master and the student. When the jailor came to know about this affair he was furious and drastic actions followed. His daughter was sent back to England and the romantic prisoner to the gallows! The ignoramus never knew artistic skills are god-given and they never die; thereafter the ethereal serenade rendered by the dead artist began to fill nights of the jail’s offices, the fiddle played in a slow and sad melody haunted the jailor’s ears made him sleepless! He escaped to England but the ghost-fiddler is still in the island playing his ware in the silence of Norfolk nights!

Got everything from a mountain to a mall!

Norfolk’s highest point is Mt. Bates height 319 meters some forest left around the mountain is preserved from loggers. Two smaller islands are located adjoining the main island (Napoleon and the Philip Island). The shopping areas are located in the burnt-pine settlement area generally very calm and quite, during seasons some what crowded.

Not slaves of time.

The Norfolkese is generally a carefree lot, not much bothered about time and dates. They have no habit of living a life as slaves of a strict time-schedule; as it is the case with most of the residents of small islands. Their language is strange mixture of old English and old and much changed Tahitian dialect.

Hot tourist destination.

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Of late this island has become a much sought after tourist destination, during seasons the number of tourists far exceeds the local population. But the Islanders are not very much excited with the influx of so many tourists in their own private island and they spent their time tending cattle or crops detached from the camera wielding outsiders as they value their privacy and seclusion rather than hard cash.

Not hostile at all.

This does not mean that they are a hostile lot, they are friendly and affectionate, just love privacy that is all. Creeping commercialism has created some young men to serve the tourism industry and there are most of the facilities tourists seek. Whether islanders are indifferent or not tourism remains to be the biggest contributor of Norfolk’s economy!

And the hot spot is still the grave yard where the old culprits rest along with random sailors’ dead in ship-wreck and whose bodies got washed ashore.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Environment and Youngsters

Need to make our youngsters more aware.

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The most pertinent question vexing everyone these days is the question of environment and its protection. The question of global warming and greenhouse effects are on everyone’s mind these days. Thinking about it alone is not good enough. We should be taking actions to help in whatever way possible.

One of the most important things to do is to make our younger generation more aware of the environmental issues that are troubling the world at the moment. This should be done at a young age. At the moment this initiative is missing in India. There are no organisations or associations which try to get the message across to the kids and if at all there are such associations then they are too insignificant to make a difference.

In the west there are organisations like the nature detectives which help young kids to learn and observe the natural world around them. They then record their findings in a national database. This helps schoolchildren to learn everything from seasons to various species (plants and animals) and more importantly climate change and its impact on the environment. More information about them can be found at

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Schools in India have a major role to play in inculcating this awareness in the next generation. They need to come up with programs that are both fun and educational to the kids. Outdoor activities like trekking, camping etc should be encouraged and facilities for the same made available. This would help the kids develop an affinity with nature and help them appreciate the environment a bit better.

When I look at the activities of most of the schools these days I am sad to see that most of them do not have such clubs or associations as NCC or the Boys Scouts and the Girls Guides. These associations help inculcate a sense of serving the society in some way or the other. They help the kids realise the importance of cleanliness and waste management. I am sure everyone of my generation who had the good fortune of being a part of such activities looks back at those days spent cleaning the neighbourhood, or volunteering for some good cause, or the trips taken to various camps with joy and pride. Let us not deny that to our kids as well.

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Spreading awareness should not be a job left to the adults alone. It can be taken up by teenagers and young adults as well. Thanks to the explosion of the internet in our country the educated urban youngsters now have various opportunities to learn and spread the message around the environment and the challenges our planet is facing. The best way to do so would be to make a post at least once in a while about environment in an environment blog or at least read these post when you come across them in a blog. Blogs have become the best way to put your ideas and thoughts across to the whole world. Can’t we then spare a thought for this planet that we live in?

There are many ways to make these topics interesting. You don’t have to always start off the topic using numbers and charts and graphs. Environment blogs could highlight the happenings in popular culture itself to keep the topic interesting. You could start off by talking about the latest hybrid car that some celebrity used to get to a red carpet event or the latest trend in natural cosmetics. You could discuss about the events depicted in a movie (even if it’s not a masterpiece) like ‘The day after tomorrow’ or about a novel like Michael Crichton’s ‘State of Fear’.

I remember that in my childhood I used to go to the neighbourhood shop at the junction in my bicycle. The shopkeeper would wrap the things I bought with an old newspaper and tie it with a thin rope made out of coir. I would put that in my bicycle carrier and I would ride back with it. We would then either burn the newspaper or give it for recycling. Now the bicycle is no more to be found; it has been replaced by motorbikes and mini-scooters. Shopkeepers use polythene covers and the old method has become outdated. But both these has amounted to air and land pollution.

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Kennedy once said “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.” Even though he said it in a different context it can be applied here as well. Let’s leave a planet that is inhabitable to our children and teach them how to take care of it, so that they can leave the same to their own children as well.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

River Thames

Thames the Father River.

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“St. Lawrence is water,

Mississippi is muddy water;

Thames is liquid history”!

John Burns, 19th century politician.

Boasting Burns!

Mr. Burns cannot be faulted for what he has boasted, Englishmen are so proud of their dear river they can talk about it to any length because they consider Thames as their old grand father. Thames has its origin Trewsbury Mead, Kemble, just five kilometers from Cirencester. In its 344 kilometer course Thames rubs its shoulders with almost all the gems in England’s coffers like Oxford, Reading, Windsor and London before joining the North-Sea at South-End.

Both were one and the same (Thames and the Rhine!)

Long before the birth of history (about 50,000 years back) when England was connected with the mainland by a land mass by name Doggerland; the Thames was then a far bigger river it flowed through the Doggerland and joined with the Rhine! These are not fictions, just geological conclusions!

Alice and her wonderland a recent event!

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It was on its laps of Father Thames, on a skiff (a small rowing boat) one middle aged man rowed three little girls and to entertain them told the stories about another little girl who had many trysts with fairies and ghosts. The story teller was Charles Dodgson who later became famous in the pseudonym Lewis Carroll and his young heroine was Alice of the “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. This was about 150 years back, for Thames it is comparatively a recent event.

Londoner be not proud, these monuments belong to the world.

Tower Bridge image courtsey:

On the way locations of historic importance like Oxford University, Westminster Abbey, Tower-bridge, The London Tower etc (not just the wealth of Englishmen but to the whole world) all line up for a voyager through the river to behold. Thames quietly flows as if these are all just destined to be on its banks and they will be there as long as history is here. To visitors (from however distant place they are) these landmarks are familiar places ever since they are students.


It is just a trickle when starts from Kemble but in the course of 215 Miles there are tributaries to add strength and vigor to its flow. Avon river, Digman Creek, Jeanettes Creek, Mc Gregor Creek, Midway Creek being the prominent ones


Isle of Sheppey, Convey Island, Isle of Grain, Magna Carta Island, Frys Island etc.

Bridges. Dent Ford, Black wall Brdge, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Millennium, Westminster Bridge Marlow Bridge, Folly Bridge etc.

One river many use.

It depends only on one’s imagination to presume whether these monuments add glory to this river or the river or vice versa. Every thing is here because of the Thames (simply called “River”) the giver all needs of life like pleasure, water, (70% of London’s water requirement is met by Thames) transportation, food (Thames is rich with exotic fish) and everything. Pleasure seekers fill the entire surface of the river and tourism related enterprises flourish on and around Thames as never before.

Royal Regatta.

Henley a small town on the banks of the Thames hosts a boat race by name “Royal Regatta” (sporting events of yachts and small boats) which is so popular an event that competitors from around the world take part in it. The popularity of the Royal Regatta has encouraged other organizations to conduct similar events in countries like USA, Canada, and Australia with the same name “Regatta”

Royal stink!

It was in 1858 the river got so polluted and the fowl smell which filled the entire are so much that the meeting of the House of Commons to be held at Westminster had to be deferred! This stink also for Londoner the “Great Stink” as all related to the Thames are for him great whether it is fragrance of stink! However the stink which reached the Westminster opened the eyes of the authorities and drastic action was taken to keep the river clean.

The grand father has many stories to tell.

London Bridge image courtsey:

In early times the river Thames was known as “Tamese” or “Tamesis” In its long life Thames has seen many invaders, many wars and many kingdoms’ rise and eclipse. This river as geologists claim is about 500,000 years old and has seen human beings in all its growth stages from a stone-age barbarian to the present computer freaks! Vestiges of skeletons belonging to stone-age animals like rhinos, elephants etc have been discovered from the silt deposited by Thames.

All have left their marks.

All the invaders who won the battles and took control of the land or those who got defeated and either vanished or just perished all have left their marks some where in the banks of the great river in one way or the other. Weapons belonging to stone, and iron ages have been recovered by the geologists.

Liquid History!

There are plenty of facilities in the offering (by numerous agencies) like Boating, Kayaking, Yachting, etc. A voyage through this river is one over the pages of history where the characters are in suspended animation, those around are not just buildings, roads, bridges or streets, they are actors of a bygone drama having played their part in the events those changed the world, Each of them with a story or two to tell of the dramatic events which shook the world.

When Thames is “liquid history” the structures on its banks cannot be anything but solid history! Go to the Thames and have a historical voyage!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Criminal Law Attorneys

Are we being unfair?

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I decided to write this post after a discussion I had the other day with a friend of mine. My friend was distressed at the fact that a lot of criminals these days are getting off the hook in India because their defense attorneys have become experts at exploiting some loophole or technicality of the law. He was very agitated against the lawyers and wanted the bar or some other body to take stringent action against these criminal law attorneys.

Although I understood that his outburst was an emotional one and not a rational one, it did however made me give the issue more thought than I did earlier. Are these criminal defense attorneys really to blame here? As far as I am concerned, they are only doing their job. It is part of their job to provide the best possible legal counsel to the accused. The same way it is the job of the prosecution attorneys to present the tightest possible case against the accused. They are not there to judge the accused. They are there to provide information about evidences, motives and scenarios to the decision maker to reach as objective a conclusion as possible.

So should we blame the lawyers for getting known criminals off the hook? If we say that they are wrong to do so, then we are basically asking the lawyers not to take the case of anyone he thinks to be guilty. This would imply that anyone who is accused of a crime must then first prove his innocence in front of a lawyer before he can even get someone to represent him in court. Now if he could prove his innocence that easily he wouldn’t have become the accused in the first place.

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The point I am trying to make here is that every individual has a right to defend his name and freedom in a court of law, in a civilized society. This is irrespective of how heinous the crime he has committed or whether he is guilty or not. Once a defense attorney takes up a case it is his duty to defend him to the best of his ability because the life of the accused from then on is in that attorney’s hands. It is up to the court to decide whether or not he is guilty and to give the appropriate punishment. If there is a loophole in the law then the law should be changed so that the holes are adequately plugged. Not by denying the accused any chance to defend his innocence in court. If we do that then the court procedure would degenerate into a sham.

The police and the prosecution are not always fair while dealing with criminal cases. It is the knowledge that a good criminal defense lawyer would go through every nook and corner of the case that forces them to thoroughly investigate a case before producing it before the court. They know that they will be hung out to dry by the defense attorneys if they slip up somewhere.

As for the unethical and manipulative practices followed, it is not just the defense attorneys who indulge in such activities. The prosecution too does this because ultimately their efficiency is also judged by the number of cases they have won or the number of convictions they have secured. Lawyers from both sided gain only when they win a case. If this were not the case then we wouldn’t be hearing of wrongful convictions either.

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As in any profession you get both kinds among attorneys as well. There are good attorneys to whom their own egos and fame matter little when compared to the joy of seeing justice done. Sometimes they might help a criminal get out through the cracks of the law. But more importantly they help to ensure that the innocent is not made to carry the stigma of a conviction because then it is injustice that is served and not justice.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Akira Kurosawa

An Emperor and a Master

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Akira Kurosawa is widely regarded as one of the greatest directors in cinema history. It is a testimony to his genius that he was able to break the language barrier and was able to entertain and communicate with millions of cinema lovers all over the world including yours truly. Born in 1910 he made around 30 movies in a career spanning five decades from Sugata Sanshiro (1943) to Madadayo (1993) before he passed away in 1998.

Kurosawa’s father was the director of a junior high school operated by the Japanese military. He was a man who had a western outlook and inculcated in his children the same outlook. He used to take Kurosawa out to see western movies and may have influenced his outlook to movies from an early age itself.

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In 1936 Kurosawa began his career in movies as an apprentice of Kajiro Yamamoto. He made his first movie at the age of 33. His earlier movies were mainly nationalistic and propaganda movies made under the watchful eyes of the government during the world war days. It was not until he directed the ‘Drunken Angel’ in 1948 that he came into his own. Kurosawa himself has said that he discovered himself with this movie. Incidentally this was also the movie which saw the master working with Toshiro Mifune for the first time; in my opinion one of the greatest actor-director collaborations of all time.

From then on through the 50s and 60s Akira Kurosawa achieved the zenith of his craftsmanship. Masterpieces came one after another and with such amazing regularity that he became the undisputed master of Asian cinema. Three of his most acclaimed movies; Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954) all came during this period. This was followed by adaptations like Thorne of blood (from Macbeth), Lower Depth (from Maxim Gorky’s play of the same name) and The Bad Sleep Well (from Hamlet). He also made such great entertainers like Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962). This was followed by movies which were more or lees a social commentary like High and Low (1963) and Red Beard (1965).

After Red Beard Kurosawa acquired a reputation of being dictatorial in his approach and was called an Emperor by some. He subsequently found it difficult to get work and funding for his pictures. This is reflected by the sad fact that he made just 7 movies in the next 2 decades after Red Beard. Of these his Dodesukaden (1970) was such a failure that he even tried to commit suicide. He had to make the Russian Dersu Uzala (1975) in the meanwhile, his only non-japanese movie, in a bid to do some work. It was only through the help of his famous admirers George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola that he was able find the necessary funding for Kagemusha (1980). But even there he was asked to make cuts of about 20 minutes to the movie. In 1985 Kurosawa made Ran (adapted from King Lear) which is widely considered by some as his last masterpiece. He made three more movies before his death; Dreams (1990), Rhapsody in August (1991), Madadayo(1993) though they are all considered to be the master’s lesser works.

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Kurosawa was a master of the narrative. When you see some of his movies the he made at his peak you can see the various styles of narratives that he has used. In Ikiru he tells the story from different timelines. He shifts between the past, the present and the future with such effortless ease that it never confuses the audience. In High and Low the movie is clearly divided into two acts with nothing but a train sequence connecting both parts of the story. But the best of them all is Rashomon. He tells the story from the perspective of four different people giving the audience the desired effect of guessing which the accurate narration of events is.

Kurosawa also showcased many themes and genres that are used in movies even today. He used the classic team building and practice routines in Seven Samurai. His Yojimbo must be one of the greatest Westerns ever although it is set in 16th century Japan. It was later remade as A Fistful of Dollars in Hollywood. The Hidden Fortress is a classic action/adventure movie which was the inspiration for George Lucas’s Star Wars.

He also tried to raise questions about the moral and emotional complexities of man. Rashomon showed that man’s perspective is clouded by his own ego. Red Beard showed the sufferings of the poor and their struggle for survival. High and Low was a dark reminder of the dangers of the inequalities in society. Ran showcased the destructive nature of man’s ambitions. Kagemusha showed the effects of image and the blind belief in it. And Ikiru showcased the shortness of life and the importance of living it fully and meaningfully.

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Kurosawa is a master of the technique of film making too. In Throne of Blood, in the final scene in which Mifune is shot by arrows, Kurosawa used real arrows shot by expert archers from a short range, landing within centimetres of Mifune's body. He was the first to use the telephoto lens to give a flat view of the shot. His sometimes used elaborate and grand shots to give the audience breathtaking visuals in the background. Several of his shots in Ran were almost painterly. He used various natural elements to telling effects like the rain in Rashamon and Seven Samurai, the snow in Ikiru, the wind in Yojimbo and the oppressive heat in High and Low.

He was a perfectionist who spent enormous amounts of time and effort to achieve the desired visual effects. Some of his techniques were innovative and expensive, sometimes even time consuming. He dyed the raid water black with ink to get the desired effect of heavy rain in Rashomon. He built an entire castle set in Mt. Fuji which was later destroyed in the climax. He demanded that the entire cast live in the sets of Red Beard to give it the proper lived in feel. He would give his actors their costumes 2 weeks in advance so that they would look properly worn out. He would wait for weeks to get the right cloud formation. Production for Red Beard took 2 years to complete which ultimately fractured his relationship with Toshiro Mifune.

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Despite all this there is no denying his genius. And like most other geniuses people forgets their eccentricities because their work more than makes up for it. His work will be remembered for generations to come. His works have influenced many. Direct influences can be found in The Magnificent Seven, A fistful of Dollars, Star Wars, Outrage, even in India’s biggest hit of all time Sholay and many more. Kurosawa was a master of his craft and will be remembered as one of the true Emperors of cinema.

Reviews of Akira Kurosawa's Major works

Rashomon (1950)

Ikiru (1952)

Seven Samurai (1954)

Hidden Fortress (1958)

Yojimbo (1961)

High And Low (1963)

Red Beard (1965)

Kagemusha (1980)

Ran (1985)

Rhapsody In August (1991)