Sunday, October 28, 2012

For a Pipe Dream


When I was in school, I had a pipe dream. Well, several of those. But here I am going to talk about just one.

I used to dream of being a published author by the time I was twenty-five. Of course, I would also have a non-writing, thriving career at the same time.

Well, here I am, some years past that age milestone. And as you can guess, I am not a published author. Words which used to come to me unbidden in dreams, in the middle of the night, got pushed under the bed, while I sat working late into night, churning out presentations, analysing data and answering mails. Mind you, I don’t regret doing all that. I just wish I had done those other things that I wanted to. Needed to.

So, I have decided to brush those cobwebs off the old diaries that I have filled over the years with all my musings, strokes of my imagination. Most of them might be amateurish. But they are mine. And I think that now they should see the light of the day.

I wrote a “book” when I was in college, called the Ordinary Offspring. I finished it in my final year but of course, I never tried seeing if it was worth publishing. I was too lazy. Too tired. Too everything, except driven. No longer. I have begun revising the manuscript – and believe me, it needs a lot of reworking.

I am going to start putting it up sequentially, as I go along. It would likely be still very, very amateurish. So, apologies in advance. You see, I am doing it for myself. Finally.

In case, you are inclined to give it a try, drop by at Weaver Imp presents 'The Ordinary Offspring'. You can let me know if you liked it and if, you did not. Honest opinions may not always please me but I definitely need them. I would be updating the chapters in this new blog, hopefully with some regularity. I felt that a dedicated blog would make all the instalments easy to find.

Do drop by. Until next time, ciao.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Homecoming


The pilot’s announcement broke her uneasy, literally pain-in-the-neck slumber. She checked her watch. Nearly time.

She looked out of the tiny hole that passed for window on a plane. And there spread below her were a million lights. Winking at her. Beckoning her home.

Home. She was returning home. With the goddess. Today, she returned home with the Mother of the world. With one difference. The Mother would go away in four days. But she – she would stay. The thought pleased her.

She pressed her nose to the glass pane. She felt like a child again, excitedly picking out her favourites from a million, glittering marbles. She always played this guessing game from high above. Trying to identify the roads, the landmarks. Was that sliver of dark water really the mighty river that sustained this old, old city?

Home. The word warmed her cockles. The city would be all decked up. A bride. Such a clich├ęd comparison, but apt. And this bride would be happy and beautiful for months to come. Perfect time for homecoming.

She tried not to think of her exile. At that time, when she went away, it had not seemed so. She had thought that she was going to a new home. Cleaner. Modern. Greener. How naive!

Now, she knew better. Your home should reflect you. You should not reflect the home. It should not mould you, adapt you, decorate you, to be more like itself. She had realized it late. But not too late, she hoped. No, not too late. She had to believe that.

She watched the lights rush towards her. And like always, she wanted to scoop them in her plams and scatter them. In the air. On the ground. To burst like firecrackers. Or fall gently like shimmering pearls. Those, she could imagine, as woven into the world’s most beautiful necklace.

The plane landed with a thud. She leant back against her seat and braced herself for the impact. Through the ringing in her ears, she smiled. Home. With the Mother. This time. next time, she would welcome the goddess. Promise. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)

A Song of Ice and Fire: the series (Source: wikipedia.com)

I finally read Game of Thrones and all the other four books that make up George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed (and quite exasperating for many) series , A Song of Ice and Fire.

I am not quite sure how to begin and take this review forward. So, fair warning – this is likely to be a rambling post.

There are five books in the series – so far. Yes, you have got me right. So far. There are more to come but as loads of the series’ followers all over the world will attest, you just have to settle in for a long, long wait which can extend upto five years. Since, the last book came out in 2011 (the first released in late nineties), chances are the next one (titled Winds of Winter) may see the light of the day only around 2015. Sigh. At least, I read the first five back-to-back unlike those who  have been following the series since the first book came out.

The series begins with Game of Thrones. This is the name which has been given to the HBO adaptation also, though now they are into the third season and into the second book, A Clash of Kings. And truly the name, Game of Thrones, can be well extended to the entire series, because it is above all the constant struggle for power in a medieval fantasy world which is nearly savage in its customs and lifestyles and where the paranormal is an uneasy reality.

At the heart of it all are the Starks. They are nobles, based in Winterfell, the northernmost boundary of the Westeros, a conglomeration of Seven Kingdoms. This is a world where winter can lasts for decades and so can summer. The latter is the time for harvest and preparation for the devastating winter, which can strike unpredictably and lay the entire kingdoms to waste. Eddard Stark is the lord of Winterfell, when the series opens. He is appointed King’s Hand (Westerosi equivalent of Prime Minister) by his old friend and the king, Robert Baratheon. He is the man, who Eddard helped lead a rebellion against mad king Aerys, the blood of Dragons. Eddard is not interested in the politics that  await him in King’s Landing, the capital, but is urged to go by his wife Catelyn, lest Robert take offence. And all hell then breaks loose. 

Meanwhile, on the Wall (almost a throwback to Gaiman's Stardust) – a last snow frontier that keeps the Others (a species that is some form of dead men walking, though most people disbelieve their existence) and the wildlings men who live beyond laws in the – wild, ofcourse. There are a group of men, who protect the wall, called the crows by common men because of their black ensemble. This the place where common criminals are sent and the younger sons and men in exile. They cannot marry, they cannot sleep with women and they cannot be lords with inheritance. 

And across the sea are the exotic lands to the east, where slavers abound, feudalism survives with a suave barbarity. And that is where, Daenerys, the daughter of slain mad king Aerys is coming into her own.

To tell you anymore would be giving away the plot and the innumerable twists and turns.

The books abound with characters that are so many shades of grey that you would not realize when the villains turn into heroes and vice versa. The motives and machinations of all the characters are always suspect and you cannot trust anyone, even as a reader. The only family which stands with certain integrity throughout are the Starks but even they have their flaws and for which they pay dearly. Then you have the Lannisters, the family of Robert’s scheming and ambitious queen, Cersei. You start out hating them all but as the books progress, you are no longer sure of your footing with regards to your feelings for some of them. Jaime Lannister, Cersei’s twin, would be a case in point. Tyrion, their dwarf brother, might be Martin’s greatest creation among all the giants.

It is a harsh and cruel world, where political intrigue is never far from surface and as more than one character will tell you, the game of thrones is not for the trusting, as Eddard Stark and his family discover. The characters are detailed and nuanced. And there are so many threads that you never know which one is going to get tangled where. The books are written from a limited third person perspective. So, while the first couple of books are written from the POV of the major characters but as books increase in number, Martin resorts to the time-honoured tradition of dawdling and stretching out his books, by introducing the perspectives of newer and minor characters. Sometimes, I felt like just screaming – get on with it, will you? He hams and haws and gets into the minutiae of meals, the dresses, the speech patterns, the geography, the journey and the histories that no one is interested in. And to top it all, he delights in shocking you and breaking your heart. Of course, you do not expect him to write a fairy tale with happily ever-afters but there is so little fairness that it starts getting to you after the first two books or so.

Martin as a writer, is impressive. His imagination is rich and his greatest strength is the characterization. Very few fantasy writers can create characters which seem real. And his do. I am sure, if we looked around, we would see their echoes in our own politicians, celebs, friends and colleagues. He is also adept at using motifs and symbols to build in the tension. The sigils that  represent the various noble houses say quite a bit about their descendants. The animal motifs are especially powerful. The direwolf (a bigger, stronger variant of the wild wolves) stands for the uprightness and the bravery of Starks while the Lannisters are symbolized by lions, who are proud but unexpectedly cunning and sly – not your standard tropes used for lions in literature.


I am now interested in watching the TV series, which I believe is very true to the books – a rarity as far as TV or movie adaptations go.

Final verdict: read it but if you have not begun, wait for Martin to finish.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

MasterClass Lessons



I first started watching Masterchef Australia in its second season. Then, it was intermittent viewing and the connect was just beginning. In the third season, I was hooked and the latest I followed religiously, but always the Australian version. I loved even Junior Masterchef Australia, where the contestant were all aged under 12 years and what they were cooking would have shamed many a chef!

My family members are quite bemused by my interest in a cooking competition like this. And I can understand where they are coming from. I don’t like cooking (I am a reasonably good cook but I don’t like it). And neither am I likely to eat most of the dishes they make on the show, being a vegetarian and lacking a sweet tooth, although they make everything look so good.

So, why? Here I list a few:

#1: Your dreams make you who you are: The contestants are all ordinary people. No celebs these – small or big. They have regular jobs, families. They come on the show, choosing to gamble away their regular jobs and willing to be cut off from their loved ones for the show duration, beyond the communication that the producers permit. I see them and realize, how courageous they are. To take this leap of faith. To have a dream and pursue it. Nearly all of the contestants in the Top 24, even post elimination, choose not to go back to those routine jobs of electricians, pipe layers, teachers, bankers etc. When you hear them say how they do not have a job to go back to but would still have no regrets, I want to learn their courage and salute them

Kate, winner of Season 3, with her family
 #2: It’s never too late: From people like Audra in Season 4, Rachel, Kate and Kumar in Season 3, I learnt that age is no bar. It is never too late to wake up and decide to change your life. There are all these people, well-settled in life, in their late 30s, 40s and 50s. They give up the comfort of familiar, which gets progressively difficult, as we age, to venture into the unknown. To test their beliefs in themselves.

Junior Masterchefs, 2012
#3: Age no bar: The Junior Masterchef contestants astounded me. There were these kids, some as young as 8 years old and they cooked like a dream. I believe, if ever they were to face-off with the older contestants, they might even come out as winners. And their parents let them pursue these dreams, which in India are still considered radical and off-beat.

#3: Background? What background?: This year’s winner, Andy was a 25 year old electrician. Last year, Kate was a housewife. All you need is belief.

Ben, the Tasmanian teacher - Season 4
Alice in Season 4
#4: Being nice is nice: There is no doubt – this is a competition and everyone wants to win – some more, some less. There are moments of doubt and there are moments of overconfidence. But you do not have to walk all over the others to win. Sure, you can be selfish. You have to be. So, given a chance you choose your partners strategically. You choose ingredients and dishes that would throw others off, when given dibs, as challenge winners. But, you do not have to be mean and bitchy. You do have some of those also in some seasons – Dani in Season 3 and Debra in Season 4 are not my favourites – yet most are nice people. Ben in Season 4 volunteers to quit to save young Emma who he considers his sister and then, he consults Andy on the dish he would prefer cooking in the Finals week. Alice chose not to use her immunity pin, because that would mean Beau taking her place in the eliminations, opting instead to use her skills to survive. The immunity challenges would grant immunity to one, but the two other contestants were needed to win and they cooked as if they were getting the pins, which might be used against them later.

#5: Learning goes on: I have seen people deliberately choose unfamiliar ingredients or dishes to challenge themselves and to learn. Taking the risk, which might send them home, but willing to learn. And they learn in every episode, in every challenge. It is amazing how far they come in terms of their skills in three-four months – these amateur cooks. The sophistry of the dishes churned out by Andy in the last two weeks, surprised everyone. Like he said after winning, that even a few weeks back no one would have picked him for a winner.

Awesome Threesome - Gary, Matt, Georrge
#6: Criticism is constructive: I cannot end my list without mentioning the fab judges. Gary, Matt and George (plus Matt Moran, whenever he joined them) were absolutely amazing. It would not be wrong to say that they were less of judges but more of mentors, teachers. They would come and give advice while contestants cooked. They freaked them out. They joked with them. They chided them. But you could feel their pride in the contestants coming off the screen in waves at the end of every challenge – be it cooking in an Italian cafe for lunch or cooking for some of the biggest names in the culinary world. And all without melodrama.

So, I am a little sad that the season is over. But I loved every moment of it. And then there’s Masterchef All Stars coming up J

As an aside, my next post is going to be about Game of Thrones (or A song of Ice and Fire, as George R. R. Martin) calls the book series. I am into the last book out and am holding my breath for the end.
Ciao.

MasterChef™ is produced by Shine Australia for Network Ten based on the format by Franc Roddam.