Friday, March 26, 2010


Home is where mishaps are. Especially for a mishap-prone person. Like me. Take his morning, for instance. I’m supposed to leave 541 Sayre Drive, Princeton with Nandini to while away 4 hours at Barnes & Noble at the Market Fair mall. It’s drizzling outside. At the last minute, I change my mind and decide to do a bit of writing at home instead. Nandini leaves for work. I get myself some pineapple juice and cereal. After working on my writing assignment for a couple of hours in the basement, I lie down in bed reading and nod off to a not-too-deep sleep. Suddenly, footsteps on the upper staircase nudge me half awake. I’m not quite sure if I really heard them. I get up, walk up from the basement and try to open the garage door. The security alarm goes into an overdrive with the siren wailing loud enough to wake up the dead, let alone the slightly groggy me. I get a call from the security company to enquire if all’s well. I say Yes. The siren continues to wail. In due course, firemen and cops arrive. In the meanwhile, my repeated attempts to get in touch with Nandini and retrieve the code to put the fire alarm off are in vain. Finally, she arrives in person quite perturbed. Apologies are offered and the mystery gets solved. The footsteps I heard earlier were Aditi’s. She came to get her iPod, found the fire alarm was off and, thinking nobody was home, turned it on along with the motion sensor. Had I continued with my snooze, stayed put and not gone up to investigate, there would have been no problem. Well, the mishap had to happen. And, like it or not, it did.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Love story. Chapter 11.

Romeo & Juliet. Beckham & Posh. John & Yoko. Superman & Lois Lane. Sonny & Cher. Homer & Marge. Penny & Kenny. Of the seven couples cited on the cute card from the hitched-for-25-years-"serious love"-birds-and-shoe-makers I found in the DSW Shoe Warehouse on Sunday, three are fictional. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filed on 31 July 2009 in New York by Penny & Kenny ("... we LOVE shoes as much as you do!") is not. “Marge, it takes two to lie. One to lie, one to listen.” And you thought love meant never having to say you were sorry?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Alexander the Great, Porus and the Walls of Jericho.

The Alexander-Porus confrontation happened long, long ago, in July 326 BC if you want the exact date. Does it really matter now? Is it really necessary for a school student to mug it up? In the 1962 movie Anpadh (literally “uneducated”), the young Kalu (Mohan Choti) wonders about it so much that finally he breaks into a song: “Sikandar ne Porus se ki thi ladaai/ Jo ki thi ladaai to mein kya karun?” (If Alexander the Great fought Porus [once upon a time] where do I come in?”) In other words, do I need to even know about it? Point taken. Which brings me to the Walls of Jericho. A school super drops into little Johnny’s classroom unannounced. “Who broke down the Walls of Jericho?” is his rather stern query to Johnny. “I don’t know,” confesses Johnny, “But it wasn’t me.” Appalled by the student’s lack of basic Bible knowledge, the super marches up to the school principal’s office to report the matter only to hear him say: “I know little Johnny and his family and can vouch for them. If he says he didn’t do it, I believe him.” Even more incensed by the school head’s ignorance, the super goes to the regional head of education and spills the beans. After listening to the complaint, that worthy says soothingly: “Take it easy. Why don’t we call for three quotes and get the darn wall fixed? Our insurance will cover us.” (P.S.: In the alternative version, little Johnny’s dad offers to get the wall fixed.) Just in case you’re wondering who really did it, it was Joshua, the son of Nun, according to Elvis Presley. Good ol' Josh did it with his 12-foot spear when he went into battle. Some infidels say the Walls were washed away by rain, though. Others claim they never existed.

P.S.: Finally comes my “Eureka!” moment with Jef Mallett’s Frazz in the Calendar section (p. D15) of Los Angeles Times, Thursday, April 8, 2010:

Mrs Olsen: '8) Define “platitude”.’

Caulfield: 'A duck-billed, web-footed mammal’s approach to life.’

C to Frazz: 'She gives me a word I don’t need. I give her a definition she doesn’t need.

Frazz to C: 'You give, you get.’ (Please search by date.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gloriously goofy.

What can you say when an author whose name spells to you thrills and suspense decides to give you goose pimples with romance? That he probably lost his marbles? That he is now in his second childhood? The plot kinda thickens when you realize that James Patterson has been called "the absolute pits, the lowest common denominator of cynical, scuzzy, assembly-line writing" by Patrick Anderson, a reviewer for The Washington Post. Either Patterson is the incredible writing machine with no writer’s block or he is the most skillful manipulator of the conjuror’s trick called ghost writing. The latter seems a distinct possibility because he has more than one publication, stand alone or series, in a single year to his credit. Plus, he caters to both sexes, all ages. Admit it or not, he is a big success in pop lit, someone Forbes keeps track of. He is quite the opposite of the failure-prone Orson Welles. Patterson has been criticized for using collaborators frequently to write on a prolific scale. But, remarkably, his many co-authors share an authorship credit on the cover. The co-authors agreement with Patterson has a non-disclosure clause about the terms of their working relationship, including the extent of Patterson’s involvement. My guess on the gloriously goofy Sundays at Tiffany’ in tandem with Gabrielle Charbonnet, principally a children’s book specialist, puts his plotting contribution at 100% and writing at zilch. In other words, I feel in my guts he is the mastermind but not the craftsman in this case. I could be totally off the mark of course. But there you are, boys and girls. Patterson is J Walter Thomson's former CEO, the ad pro who thought up the "Toys R Us" slogan, ergo presumably well versed in product development. I rest my case

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good 'air Day.

Life teaches you to expect the unexpected. There I was prepared for the worst as I boarded CO-49 on Friday night in Mumbai. Here I am in the 541 Sayre Drive, Princeton basement writing this post at 8:30 am Sunday, 14 March, safe and sound, not much the worse for wear except thoroughly exhausted. I did not sleep a wink on the flight, watched Citizen Kane and a bunch of idiot box comedies including The Simpsons, Back to You and stuff to while away the 15 odd hours up in the skies, not forgetting this traveller’s progress on the Flight Map. The only bad break in the Good ’air Day feeling was the bit of struggle at the baggage reclaim to get one of my two heavy bags off the carousel in Terminal C, Newark Airport, Saturday morning. Help arrived in the shape of a fellow traveller and I was out of Terminal C and into Ashu’s Toyota in a matter of minutes. The CO-49 cabin crew screwed it up a tad by serving cold veggie breakfast and handing out the US Customs and Security forms too close to the landing time. Everybody is happy to see me. Ujwal and Abhi are told of my safe arrival. It's a day of freak rains. After a bath, brunch and a 2½ hour nap, I go with the 3 A’s of the Princeton Mankars to a pet shop to look at crossbred pups who are cute like all young ‘uns. Looking at them reminds me of the 1950s Patti Page hit: “How much is that doggy in the window (arf, arf!) /The one with the waggely tail? How much is that doggy in that window (arf, arf!)/ I do hope the doggy’s for sale.” Nobody but me seems to know of it or the singer. The night is a dinner get-together with Nandini’s friends. Nice and relaxing except for a pinch of excitement added by Aditi and Nupur getting stranded for a couple of hours on their way back for the DVD rental shop because of flash floods. For a country yokel like me, it’s a big surprise to witness blackout and floods in the Land of Milk and Honey. All in all though, as they say, Saturday, the 13th was a lucky day for this 22-born. P.S.: At the end of it all, I cannot help but marvel at the fact that among The Mankars at 233 Khetwadi Main Road, I was the first one to fly in the early fifties. The rest of them, though well-travelled by the then prevailing standards, had done it by rail and road.

Friday, March 05, 2010

F for Fake. F for Failure.

“For it can be very hard to live with the belief that nothing matters in life, that nothing is solid or real, that everything is a show in the egotist’s head. It loses friends, trust, children, home, money, security and maybe reason. So it is comforting indeed, late in life, to come upon a proof that the emptiness and the trickery are valid and sufficient. A very sweet, shallow serenity is left.” (David Thomson, ROSEBUD The Story of Orson Welles, Abacus, 2005, p. 409)

Welles and I have at least two things in common, as far as I can fathom. Both of us never reached our full potential and were failures in worldly terms. (Pauline Kael wrote: "When Welles was only thirty-six, the normally gracious Walter Kerr referred to him as 'an international joke, and possibly the youngest living has-been.’” There is also the mutually shared belief so eloquently spelt out by Thomson in the quote above. This probably explains the strange affinity I have always felt to Welles without really having been a fan. I saw Citizen Ken and Carol Reed’s The Third Man when I was in London in 1971 and duly admired both the films, especially Welles’s contribution. Earlier, I had avidly sought, read and enjoyed the study of the CBS’s The War of the Worlds radio broadcast (Halloween 1938) by Hadley Cantril, Professor of Psychology, Princeton University (Invasion from Mars). In the meanwhile, I had started to think of myself as a film buff My cinema aficionado’s reading list included Pauline Kael’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was inevitable that I soon came across her 2-part New Yorker article (1971), Raising Kane, which accused Welles of being a credit stealer. This rekindled the ancient controversy about Welles having tried to deny credit of Citizen Kane’s authorship to Herman J Mankiewicz as well as The War of the World radio show’s authorship to Howard Koch. Both accusations had an element of truth in it. F for Fake (1973; 85 minutes), co-authored by Welles and Oja Kodar, is his retort to Kael. Here’s one terse summary of the film: “F for Fake opens with a couple of magic tricks, segues as though by sleight-of-hand into the story of master art-forger Elmyr de Hory and his relationship with biographer Clifford Irving (a sequence ‘remixed’ by Welles with extant footage from Fran├žois Reichenbach’s documentary work-in-progress, Elmyr), then hones in on Irving when word gets out that his purported biography of recluse-mogul Howard Hughes is a first-class hoax in its own right. Here the film erupts in all directions, as Welles contrasts the sprawl of ‘70s Hollywood with the halcyon Tinseltown that produced Citizen Kane; contemplates the continent that provided him with an artistic refuge some 800 years after the anonymous construction of the cathedral at Chartres; and, lastly, recounts a meeting between that most un-anonymous of artists — Pablo Picasso — and Welles’ companion Oja Kodar, which took place in her youth…”. Rosebud (page 409) describes Kodor as “the naked lady who makes a monkey out of Picasso…”. Apparently, F for Fake is Welles’s definitive statement on contemporary reality. “Trust nobody. Beware especially of (s)he who asserts his/her authority without any proof or basis” is the message. “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the end of the story” is how Welles would have summed it up.