Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Time When Scandal Drove and Science Took Backseat...

Saw an interview of Nambi Narayanan on TV yesterday. One of the most talented scientists ever born in our country. And also one who was the most vilified wrongly for political gains. With decades of experience behind him, he was heading a prestigious project of ISRO when he and some others were arrested in 1994 for suspected espionage charges. Even before the court took up the case, media pounced on it and pronounced the accused as wrong doers. Espionage case or chaarakkesu as Malayalam media termed it, was celebrated by all when the involvement of two ladies from Maldives gave it a sexual angle.

The presence of a top cop who was close to then Chief Minister was used by opposition and factions within the ruling party to revolt against him. CM had to resign following allegations that he was aiding the accused. Case was transferred from local police to CBI. They found out that the case was false. Media, public and politicians were dissatisfied and wanted a reprobe. When State Government ordered local police to take up the case again, all accused approached Supreme Court. In 1998 SC cancelled the probe and directed the government to compensate the accused for their physical and mental sufferings -which was never done. Another direction from SC was to probe and bring the culprits who were responsible for fabrication of the case, which also is not done yet.

If we go in depth, we can find many behind the screen maneuvers that made the case sensational in public eyes and pronounced Nambi Narayanan and co-accused as monsters who betrayed the nation. Media gave enough publicity by peddling half truths and outright,  made up lies just to increase their circulation. Rivals of CM- in his own party and opposition used the oppertunity to evict him out of power. And we the public, ever hungry for scandals, fell for the propaganda.

But why this false accusation was made first of all? The Wikipedia page of Nambi Narayanan give the crucial clues. I will reproduce the excerpt below:

"In 1992, India had signed an agreement with Russia for transfer of technology to develop cryogenic-based fuels.The agreement was signed for Rs 235 crore,when the US and France were offering the same technology for Rs 950 crore and Rs 650 crore respectively.Documents show that US president George H. W. Bush wrote to Russia, raising objections against this agreement and even threatening to blacklist the country from the select-five club. Russia, under Boris Yeltsin, succumbed to the pressure and denied cryogenic technology to India.To bypass this monopoly,India signed a new agreement with Russia to fabricate four cryogenic engines after floating a global tender without a formal transfer of technology.Isro had already reached a consensus with Kerala Hitech Industries Limited (Keltch) which would have provided the cheapest tender for fabricating engines.But this did not happen as the spy scandal surfaced in late 1994."

When we take into consideration the fact that Nambi Narayanan was the head of cryogenic in ISRO, dynamics become clear.

What were the ramifications of the scandal? ISRO, a premiere research organization lost its credibility within and outside India. Several breakthrough technological projects were delayed or stalled pulling Indian space research back, severely hampering national development. Scientists were generally considered unreliable by public. Science as a discipline, lost its sheen. Youngsters found a profession in research in India unsafe, giving one more excuse for brain drain. Ultimately we, Indians lost.

It took huge hard work of decades and today ISRO is back in limelight with the phenomenal success of Mangalyaan. You may think on this great occasion why I am retelling this sad tale. Its not for taking the gleam out of victory celebration. This story should be engraved on all of our minds, so that we as a nation, irrespective of our ethnic, cultural and ideological differences, stand behind the people who are striving to make a positive difference in our lives.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Njaan: A Relevant Movie by Ranjith

Njaan is a period movie directed by Ranjith based on the novel 'KTN Kottur: Ezhuthum Jeevithavum' (KTN Kottur: Writings and Life) by T P Rajeevan. Previously, Ranjith had directed Paleri Manikyam, based on a novel by the same writer. I am yet to read the novel, so whatever I write here is based on the experience of movie alone. Njaan is the story about a person who lived in pre-independant India with several talents, but was unable to achieve the greatness he was supposed to.

Movie has a very loose, nonlinear narrational structure. It starts when Ravi, a young professional and a blogger who writes with the pen name Kottur, decides to write a play based on the life of KTN Kottur, his inspiration. He is backed by a theatre group headed by actor Joy Mathew. The life of Kottur is slowly uncovered to the viewers.

The movie deals with many themes. I felt it predominantly dealt with the role of individualism in a social setup. Kottur is portrayed as a visionary. But he fails when his compatriots try to bracket him as per their needs. They fail to see that he is not an idealist. He himself claims to be a humanist. His works are mostly romantic in nature. His descent to an alcoholic, an introvert and finally a fatalist has to be viewed in this angle.

One negative point of the movie, I feel is the endorsement of this fatalism. Instead of portraying fatalism with contempt, as a logical conclusion of the descent, the movie tries to romanticize it. That bogs down the narrative towards the end of the movie and makes a mess. Another negative point is that the movie never tries to uncover the writer in Kottur. It undermine the characterization significantly.

But the one point that really spoiled the movie for me was the lead actor. Dulqar Salman, though the guy has evidently tried very hard, is unable to do justice to the role of Kottur that require a certain depth, a capability to make the viewer aware of the impending doom. That's a pity, because all the supporting cast were too good.

Kottur is actually a place in Calicut district. Names of several neighboring places- Neduvannur, Koottalida, Perambra etc., that keep on appearing in the narrative confirms that. Then how come the slang that people speak is that of furthur north, mostly that of Payyannur? Also geography of the location and the presence of theyyam performance is curiously indicating a place near Payyannur.

Njaan is definitely a brave attempt by Ranjith and an important one too as the questions raised by the life of Kottur has contemporary relevance. The movie scores on several other elements like great camera work and a narrative that is multilayered. It is a must watch for people loving serious cinema.

Indian Takeaway- In Search of an Identity...

Last year I happened to read an incredible book by Monisha Rajesh in which the British Indian journalist goes on a journey through the length and breadth of India in trains. It turns out to be a self revelatory experience. Now this 2008 book, Indian Takeaway is much similar. Here, a Scottish journalist of Indian origin, an amateur cook, travel across India cooking British food for locals. He does it in the belief that this exercise can reveal his true identity.

Hardeep Singh Kohli is a journalist and TV personality. He is also an amateur cook. He was brought up in Glasgow by his immigrant parents. In his childhood, to his surprise, he was treated as an outsider due to his Indian ancestry. But his views, interests and allegiance were very British. This duality made him undertake a journey through different cities of India, and cook a British dish at each city. Read the book to find out if anything comes oyt of this exercise.

First thing that strikes the reader about this book is the honesty that the writer brings on the table. About his feelings, cooking, family, culture, things he sees and has to undergo on course, Kohli writes openly. There is an incident in the book where he is not sure about his train reservation and worries about journeying in third class. Any other person would have sugar coated the whole thing, but Kohli doesn't. He openly declare his fear of 'the girl who is eating mango and the old woman who sleeps on floor'. At first I felt it insensitive, but who am I to judge!

Second best are his descriptions- about journey, places, people and more importantly about food and cooking. He masterfully builts up the atmosphere, so that the reader finds it easy to understand his thinking. There is a liberal dose of humor sprinkled in the narrative. Some of it works, but some falls flat. Certain anecdotes and attempts on word play, doesn't gel with the content of the book. Another major issue for me was 'the Kohli Family Trivia' which severly hampers the flow of the book in many places.

Overall I felt it to be an interesting read and may be of interest to foodies and travel enthusiasts, though the final outcome, whether Kohli was able to find out who he really is, turned out to ambiguous.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Chewing Gum of a Movie...

"Why is this movie called Chewing Gum?"

We were on the middle of watching the dvd of a recent Malayalam movie taken on rent when my wife asked me.

She continued. "There seems to be no connection between this title and movie."

I tried to stiffle a yawn and replied.

"After the first few minutes the whole flavor is lost and it becomes a tasteless, sticky mass of infinitely stretchable matter. We have spent some money on it, however unsubstantial it may be, and are reluctant to spit it out. But we don't want to eat it as it is indigestible. Finally we chew it on for some more time hoping may be a surprise flavor is released, though its dead sure that won't happen. Chewing Gum is the most apt title for this movie."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sapthama Sree Thaskaraha: Ocean's Seven in Thrissur

My title doesn't imply that this curiously titled Malayalam movie is copied from any foreign flock. As Mohanlal tells in an old movie, all thieves in the world has similar face and it is horrible (bheekar hai), all heist movies tend to have similar elements. To make it entertaining every part of the heist has to be made convincing- motive, planning, execution and improvisation. Another uphill task is to make audience root for criminals.

Director Anil Menon, whose début, critically acclaimed and commercially successful North 24 Kaatham, was a fine specimen of road movie. This added my expectations when I entered the hall to watch Sapthama Sree Thaskaraha. The movie is a riot. Each scene, even the ones with serious tones, ends in situational humor. The characterisation is top notch. Actors have done a wonderful work, though I feel Venu's role was a bit underwritten. Another noteworthy aspect is the location. Cultural capital of Kerala and the the unique slang of the place is put to good use.

One minor issue that I felt was in the improvisation part of the heist. In every good heist movie there is a point were an unexpected hitch stall the robbery. Thieves either makes a change of plan then and there or sometimes they might have considered this issue already and smartly execute the plan B, involving the audience only at the end as part of a big revelation. This is supposed to be the twist that significantly contribute to the drama and thrill. This movie doesn't employ it and tries to introduce a twist after the robbery happen. This move in my opinion slightly hamper the effect.

Storm Front by John Sandford: A Disappointment

The reason why I picked a novel by John Sandford to read was certain online reviews by readers who held generally favorable opinion regarding him. Storm Front is a 2013 mystery novel of a series featuring Virgil Flowers, a Minnesota cop. Storm Front is about Flowers' attempts to get back a relic that was stolen by a priest from an archeological site in Israel, who is in quest of a prospective buyer. Creating head ache for Flowers are some conflicting factions who want to buy the relic and put it to use for propaganda.

My first issue with the novel is the leading man himself. Virgil Flowers doesn't sound like a great name for a crime fighter. Neither are his investigating skills impressive. He seems uninterested most of the times. Certain ethical quirks and a goofy humor sense are his only saving graces. Even other characters are more caricatures and does not evoke any emotion- not even hatred, in the reader.

The plot is much convoluted. There is lot of action around, but barely anything happens other than the introduction of another new character every 50 pages. Everyone chases around the whole time, but none seem to convey any urgency. The book was probably intended as a satire, but the blend of humor and mystery was bland. The only reason why I finished reading this one is on and off streaks of humor in the narrative. Its a day since I have read this book and to remember what finally happened to the stone I have to exercise my neurons. So much for the recall value of it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Idea Ulloo Banaoing Their Customer

On 8th of September I recharged my Idea account with a 3G unlimited recharge of Rs 949 valid for 30 days. The offer was 6GB 3G usage and after that 80kbps connection till validity ends.

On 15th September I used up 6GB (yes, I did it). That day I received an SMS from Idea saying that as my quota is over, my speed is reduced to 40kbps.

I tried browsing and found that the browsing speed is infact less. I called the customer care, but they were not ready to accept that such a thing can happen. I tried every trick they told- switched off the phone and switched it on again, deleted browser cookies, tried putting sim on another phone... But nothing seemed to work. When I contacted customer care again, they agreed to register a complaint which will take 38 hours to resolve.

Browsing with 40kbps was frustrating, but I decided to wait. The next day I received another SMS from Idea that informed me that my speed is again reduced to 20kbps and to their credit, that was exactly what happened.

When I called customer care, their advice was to wait till the complaint is resolved. Next day I got a call from Idea claiming that the complaint is resolved. But when I tried browsing there was no improvement. In my next call to care, they offered to reopen the complaint and wait for another 38 hours.

That time was over today evening, but I could not find any improvement. When I called again they put me on hold for 10 minutes, then returned to tell me they tried everything from their end but nothing could be done. The guy gave me an email id and told me to send the details to it, if I want to pursue furthur.

I gave him a piece of my mind in my most possible civilized manner, disconnected the call, drafted an email and send it to that id. The mail bounced...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review: Catching the Departed

Writing of generic fiction is attaining new heights in Indian publishing industry. Many new authors are entering the field and it is sure that at least some of them are going to give their western counterparts a tough competition in near future. I am happy to claim that the author of the book I am reviewing here has a good chance of being one among them. Catching the Departed is the first novel by Kulpreet Yadav, founder-editor of a global literary journal. The novel was short listed for Hachette- DNA 'Hunt for the next bestseller'. Published by Tara, this is the first book of a series that features ex-army man and journalist Andy Karan.

A drunkard is murdered in a remote village and Andy Karan is send there to investigate it. He finds that the episode is not a stand alone one and that he has kicked the hornet's nest when he is attacked. Andy uncovers a lethal plan by foreign terrorists targeting Indian cities. He also finds someone from inside, someone real powerful is behind all these and that his life and the life of someone he really cares about is in danger. Will Andy be able to protect them as the bodycount around him multiplies? Read the book to find out.

The intention of this book is to tell a thrilling story that keeps the interest of the reader throughout its length. It does not boast any great literary ambitions. In that regards the book is a success. The book starts with a twin murder and the pace that is set explosively never slacks for the entire length of the book. Each page throws more and action on the face of the reader. The climax does justice to the plot. The book is immensely readable- I finished it in the course of a day, in two sittings. This is an ideal book to carry for that day time train journey or for a lazy holiday afternoon.

But one suggestion I have to make is about the lead character. Andy Karan comes across as a nice guy, infact very likeable and resourceful at times. He is brave, loyal and patriotic even vulnerable at times. He is fine to be the hero of a novel. But to take a whole series forward, I seriously doubt he has enough in him. The lead of a series has to have a charisma, a dynamic quality or a peculiar quirk that Andy lacks. And eating banana for lunch is not a good enough quirk in my view.

I recommend Catching the Departed for those who like a well paced thriller, which is an easy read. A good début.

Book Source: Author