Wednesday, August 04, 2004
A pi in the face of adversity
Piscine Molitor...one of the best swimming pools in Paris
Piscine Molitor Patel...son of the small time zookeeper of Pondicherry Zoo, and one with the most astonishing survival story.
Yann Martel exceeds himself and any other writers of a similar genre as he describes 'The Life of Pi'. The book is a treatise on so many things. It delves into the rationale behind zoos, the psychology of animals, the importance of religion and faith in one's life and above all, the life of a stow-away, the things man can be compelled to do...and so much more that after reading the book, the reader is mentally exhausted because of having to take so much in. Yet, the story doesn't drag, once it has entered its flow. Admittedly, the first fifty-odd pages move slow as we are introduced to the character of Piscine but as soon as the protagonist's nemesis, Richard Parker, comes into being, the complexion of the story changes completely.
Piscine Molitor Patel has been so named because of his father's friend who has this special affection towards swimming pools in general and Piscine Molitor in particular. The way the author builds up the reason for Piscine's name is truly creative and engaging...well, not while he is building it up, but absolutely captivating when the conclusion is reached, actually prompting the reader to go back to the text once again and re-read the build up. Piscine attends the local school where his name is changed to 'Pissing' by the kids and he has to endure many a bad days because of it. Finally, when he changes school, and is asked to give his name in the first class, he boldly walks up to the black board and writes clearly: "My name is Piscine Molitor Patel, also known as Pi. Pi=3.1417". This is how Pi is born and this is how it all starts...The Life of Pi.
Pi's father does not trust Mrs. Gandhi and her iron rule and as soon as the emergency grips the nation, he starts planning to get out of the country and move to Canada with his family. The nail is driven into the coffin when Tamil Nadu Government is taken over by the center and the Patel family decides to leave for Canada by a Japanese cargo ship. The ship also carries many animals of the Pondicherry Zoo, to be sold off in Canada and America. The story, walking at a leisurely pace so far, goes into overdrive as the ship, carrying Pi and his life, sinks, leaving only five survivors. Pi is one of them and the survivors list additionally contains a Zebra, a Hyena, an Orang-Utan and Richard Parker, a Royal Bengal Tiger.
Aboard a lifeboat, the partners in peril sail forth as the ship sinks beyond hope in the middle of the Pacific, with no one to turn to...no light to shine forth. Thereafter, the story is one of trust, faith and extreme resistance to adversity that Pi shows. With the hyena making short work of the Zebra and the Orang-Utan, Pi knows that it is his turn next...nut what he doesn't know is that he also has the company of Richard Parker, the tiger, who not only finishes off the hyena as dessert but is looming as a bigger threat to Pi's survival than the ocean and its vastness.
Elements of animal psychology are explained in detail as Pi decides to tame the tiger with tricks, treats and punishments. It is a game of upmanship, of Alpha and Omega, of the greater predator trying to overwhelm the smaller. Pi sustains...but at what cost! A vegetarian believer is turned to eating raw fish, crabs, worms, human flesh and at a point, even a tiger's feces. Pi and Richard Parker survive...the survival kit on the lifeboat helping Pi to live and let Richard Parker live because a Royal Bengal Tiger is all he has for company...all he has to let his hope live. In the middle of all this adversity, Pi does not lose faith and a firm believer that he is, he keeps praying several times a day...to pass time...to let his mind be free???
Pi and Richard Parker meet many things on the way...fish and turtle that turn into their food...another blind stowaway who tries to eat up Pi but is eaten up by Richard Parker...dreams and delusions that refuse to die away...blindness and absolute famine...a carnivorous island that burns and eats up all life forms in the night...
The story concludes as Pi's lifeboat reaches the coast of Mexico. Richard Parker gets off and without as much as even a goodbye, makes his way into the forest. Pi is saved by the Mexican villages and nursed back to life after a 227 days stint on the open sea.
On the negative side, the story does get to be a bit of a drag at times, especially in the opening part where we are introduced to the life of a Zoo and its inmates, about how Pi's faith is nurtured and groomed by people he encountered in his life and who became the shapers of his destiny.
Notwithstanding the above, the book proves to be a good reading not just because it is exciting and thrilling to want to know what happened next in a survival story, but more so because it describes the game of brain vs brawn. The insights into the enterprise of Pi and his immature and risky exploitation of the animal psychology, to try and dominate a tiger are absolutely fascinating. The writing style is good..with most of the story told in first person, the reader is able to identify with the thought process of the protagonist. There are flashes of brillliance in an even otherwise good story...especially in the last part where Pi is trying to convince two Japanese officers, investigating the sinking of the Japanese ship, of his story. The disbelief of the Japanese, their external politeness and internal mistrust, the satirical tone of Pi, the new story that he tells them that is so much similar to the old one and yet so much more believable, and above all, the final report of the Japanese...all make for some very interesting reading.
This book does deserve the Booker Prize (Man Booker Prize now) and I am glad I did not make a mistake when I gifted the book to one of my very dear friends on the basis of its reputation alone.
Posted at 10:27 am by Nitai
Sunday, August 01, 2004
The play was a mess...
I must bow down to them, the play was a real torture...
Next time onwards, don't let these junkies come on stage without audition...
What a bore...
What have you made these juniors do...
If you are wondering what all the lines above mean, these were just the critical acclaim that the play 'Dhanno ki Khoj' got from the IIMK junta last night at the freshers' party.
Unfortunately, I had the temerity to write this play and direct it, too. I should have done a better job out of it...the lengthy screenplay did not help at all. There was a lot to improve on the music co-ordination too...and most of all, I could not really get the things going. The play was cancelled a number of times before it finally went on stage in all its half-baked glory. But what the heck...we had fun...and so did all the supposed critics.
The best part was when in the end, amidst chants of "1234 band karo ye atyachaar", Tateja actually came up on stage and literally dragged Amar out of the stage...poor Amar, sitting all alone on his throne, playing the blind Dhritrashtra to the hilt...sorry, buddy but even I couldn't resist the temptation...I laughed my head off at the side of the stage. It simply was hilarious and much better than any scene in the play that we could have stage managed ourselves.
Well, on a more serious note...if you ask me what I really thought of it, I will say that despite everything and anything that the people might have said, I know that my cast did a great job and I am really thankful to you, guys. With the preparation (more accurately, the lack of it), you guys stole the thunder. The nahiii of Dhritrashtra, the shaking old man's voice of Gandhi, the absolutely outrageous costumes and hilarious performances of Pushmeup and Munia, the comic villainy of Kabbar and Fasana, the boorish Aloo, the crisp Chitlar, the accented Chinton...the Hakla Khan in his stammering style, the courageous final monologue of Dasanti, the style of James Tond, the one-shot daring of Dhanno and above all, the now-so-popular act of Bajgayee...how can anyone even dare to say anything bad about my cast...and who are you to pass judgements when you did not have the guts enough to come and perform yourself. It is so easy to sit and pass judgements but it is only when you come on stage with a preparation of half-an-hour and not even a single full rehearsal with the entire cast, that you know what it takes to get up and be counted. Once again, even though I am repeating myself, I am really proud of you guys, the show rocked...
Talking about rocking, the freshers' party rocked too, well...all of it except the food. I did expect a better quality of food at Taj but then again, with all the other sidelines coming up after the drinks were on, nobody was complaining. The drinks (not for me) and dancing (I did shake a leg or two) went on till three in the wee hours of the morning and when we finally reached the hostel, half of the people were puking and the other half too tired to even puke.
So here goes, another party at IIMK, where we work hard (no doubt about it...you just need to take a look at our submissions and quiz schedule) but party even harder...
Posted at 02:26 pm by Nitai
Thursday, July 29, 2004
I was thinking of doing this for a long time but is was only day before yesterday that I was finally able to go to NIT, Calicut. I must say that I was impressed by the buildings and infrastructure of NIT...I had not thought that they would be so good. The bike ride from IIM to NIT at one in the night was also pretty good...if you just discount the fact that I might not really venture alone on that creepy, dark and silent road at odd times (read one in the night). However, I was a little surpirsed that people from IIM take the pains of going all across the eight kms distance to NIT for the same things that they could have got in their canteen. It might be possible that we went to the wrong joint but what was available there was none the better or more compared to the maggis and parathas of the nite canteen at IIM. Anyways, this one was for the experience and that is that, I guess.
Another pending thing that was finally seen through was the presentation on Infosys. Last night, I actually came out with the complete presentation and though I wanted it to be more interactive but somehow, I lost out on the time management part. Compared to the numbers often reserved for a Konsult gathering, I think there was a decent gathering at the presentation ...hope my mail did that :-). I did receive complaints about the first few slides that had most of the data from the Infy web site and which I just ran through. Perhaps the slides was not required...or even if they were, perhaps the pace was not right...the reason I put all those slides in the first place was that the kind of impression that I could make of the general nature of rpesentations here at IIM is that they are generally data intensive. I admit that most of the times, the data is relevant but in my case, it might not have been so. I had just performed an experiment where I actually wanted to modify my style a bit...the experiment might have gone off mark...I am not sure.
The freshers party has been announced and we are going to have it this Saturday night at The Taj (you read it right, THE Taj). Lots of activities have begun in our batch and once again, it is the game of group dynamics that is coming to the forefront. Activities are being planned and teams made for the events. I think that the singing and the dancing is already finalised and the practice is going on. I am planning to get into the Mad Ad fillers and might even go for a skit. The previous idea of the skit, based on a modern version of the Ramayana epic was finally withdrawn...and wisely so...it has been done so many times already that people might even start throwing tomatoes and eggs. I do have some ideas...let's see if I can involve some people and actually do it...hardly any time left but the enthu is on...
Posted at 02:23 pm by Nitai
Monday, July 26, 2004
Of bikes and barrels...oh well, just the bikes...
Finally I had one weekend which I can really call well-spent. It's not that there was something extraordinary to do in this site of hermitage, which the believers call IIMK. However, will finds a way, or so I believe. As per the heavy duty schedule that we have been having recently, we had classes on Saturday, as well. We got off early, though and decided to go for an outing, some outing...any outing. There were plans to go for a trek on Sunday to Wayanad, supposed to be a beautiful place, and a trekker's paradise, too. Initially, I thought that I will join the group but when I heard of their plans to start at three in the morning, my instinctive self made me back off instinctively and instantaneously.
With the trek standing cancelled, I had to do something, go out somewhere...and the bike came to the rescue. My poor fatfatiya has been rusting away to glory in the shed of what is called the substation (!!!). Every morning, just before I leave for the classes, I have a look at the machine and let out a sigh...this one instinctive, too. On Saturday, the resolve was firm...the sigh is not enough :-). We started at about six in the evening with the intention of doing some city scaling, getting some stuff (I wanted some posters from the Archies' Gallery to cover up the glass panes of the door and window to the balcony), and then having dinner at some nice (read non-Southie) place.
For people who have not experienced it earlier, riding a bike on Calicut roads...or perhaps I should rephrase it as the roads joining Calicut to IIMK...is actually very soothing and at the same time exciting like hell. At one end, you have the coconut trees flanking you on both the sides, mild breeze blowing against your hair, and even rain drops making their presence felt in the form of drizzles and even bursts. If you thought that this is a relaxed picture of bliss that is emerging, I am extremely sorry for having to break the glass...because on the second end, you have the bus drivers of Calicut, who do not consider themselves any inferior, when compared to the likes of Schumacher...no, not inferior at all, not even for a nanosecond. Also, just like the F1 cars do not have horns (I am not sure but I think that they don't), Calicut bus drivers make it a point (honorable intention, I must say, of not disturbing the biker's luxurious bliss) not to blow away the horn at the poor biker going at a speed of 50-60 compared to the bus screaming down at over 80 kmph. Rather, the bus drivers assume the blowing away to mean something else...and instead of the horn, if it is something else that is blown away, all the better...at least, the task of blowing away is done...ends justify the means, what??? Somehow, they asume that the person in front...or back for that matter...will have sense enough to get out of the way...if he doesn't, too bad for him...end of story.
So it was, that braving all odds of survival, we reached the city, went to a lot of places, discovered many one-way streets which made us lose our way back, and most importantly found that Calicut (yes, talking about Calicut here, listen, all ye first year IIMK-ites) has many branded apparel retailers. We could see Lee, Scullers, Arrow, Basics and many more...
Archies' Gallery was a major let-down, though...hardly any choice and expectedly, too...few takers for posters in this city, I guess. I had to do with a teenie-weenie poster that declares...Stay Cool...instead of some good life-sized ones I was looking for to fill up the glassy space (black and white Madhubala would have been nice).
We (that is Ravi, Abhijit, and yours truly) had dinner at a place called Mezbaan, which as one of the seniors told us, is usually patronized by the IIM junta. The food was good and especially the 'balti' approach of serving food reminded me of 'Quality Riveira' in Chennai. Another group from the IIM came in while we were there...the gang was a senior gang, also out on the Saturday to have fun, I am sure...
We rushed back to the campus after dinner to be in time for Garfiled, the public screening of which, mask-e-raid, the fun group at IIMK, had promised. It was not to be, however, and we ended up with a not-so-public screening of Shrek2, which could hold my attention for hardly half an hour. Also, since I had so many things lined up for Sunday (so many presentations for the various interest groups, for instance), I decided to call it an early night so that I am wide awake on Sunday morning.
I did get up quite early...at about eight...not because I had decided to start at the work but because Bikes Part 2 was still to be. Abhijit's bike was supposed to come from Delhi by Mangala Express and the train was about to reach here by 9:30. Having heard stories about the bike not getting unloaded here at Calicut and going to a further destination instead, we wanted to be there at the platform when the train arrives. The route to the railway station was pretty straight...at least, that is what I remembered from my only visit to the place (when I landed up in Calicut for the first time). However, it so turned out that we had to cover nearly 25 kilometres to reach a place that was only 15 kms away. In the process, we lost on time and subsequently on the bike, as well, which actually went ahead to Ernakulam from where it is expected back anytime within 1 day to 1 month. What I personally gained from the futile exercise was a headache and a full day subsequent sleeping schedule which left me with no time to do anything else.
I had been feeling pretty unenthusiastic (read, dull and uninspired) since the morning and things got worse with the stupid test that we had to take for Prof. Gopal Chowdhry's Quant class. The test could have been cleared...no, not just cleared...maxed by any 6th standard student and giving so much time to CAT qualifiers for the 'open book' test was really too much. Things improved a little in the Managerial Communication class when we had to do a couple of role plays that, though repetitive of what I had already done at Infy, turned out to be an okay time pass.
The very next target after the communication class was the project briefing we were scheduled to get from Prof Panda. Our group has planned to do a marketing project on ITC, and their Wills Sport unit will be our specific focus. Before going in to Prof. Panda's room, I had no idea of what I was expected to do in this project...after coming out of his room, I still have no idea about the thing...the only diffrence being that now, I am much more educated (yes, this one is a jargon, for all you know). The amount of research that is expected of the team in this project, if properly done, will put any marketing research firm to shame. I do not know how much of it is possible but if done, I think that this is going to be a good learning...much better than the now-stale jokes of Prof Panda.
Posted at 06:55 pm by Nitai
Saturday, July 24, 2004
Does whatever a spider can...
Spins a web, any size...
Catches thieves, just like flies...
Look out! Here comes the Spiderman!
To me, this neighbourhood Spider Man jingle forms the real theme of the movie SpiderMan2. The movie is an exceedingly mature portrayal of a Super Hero's real life, something that can be related to so much of what actually happens around us. Peter Parker is the average guy next door, who has his own concerns and life. He goes to college, is quite brilliant at his studies. He has money problems just like the rest of us. He makes ends meet by doing some free lance job for the news paper, The Daily Bugle, inspite of getting repeated 'firings' from the boss. He delivers Pizza and that too, just a minute late, making the Pizza company pay for the order. He is Peter Parker...he is SpiderMan. This is where the jingle comes in. He is the hero who saves so many people in trouble. He is the hero who is on top of the favorite lists of all kids on the block. He is the hero who is swooned over by females of all ages and classes. He is the hero who is praised in the jingle that is sung at the local inn.
The question that is raised by the movie is if this hero is actually up to the task that has been thrust upon him. With great power comes great responsibility...Peter's uncle had said once...but does he really want to take up this responsibility at all...and that too at the cost of his own love and life? To explain the philosophical side of the story, the director has taken certain liberties with the story line and the original SpiderMan idea. On the whole, however, these liberties only give back to the story, showing clearly the vulnerability of even a Super Hero...taking us through the insecurities that one can fight out of if one is able to invoke the hero within. In fact, in one of the more inspirational, yet subtle, dialogues of the movie, Peter's Aunt May tells him that there is a hero in all of us.
Coming back to the story...it starts with the pizza delivery that I have already talked about. It goes on to show how much of a wretch Peter Parker's life has become. He is certainly pitiable with money going out of his hands as soon as it comes...with reaching college late and the instructor actually telling him that he will be failed in the course...with the guilt of his uncle's death on his conscience...with so many other worries including, primarily, the fact that the one he loves, Mary Jane Watson, is someone he can never really commit to...all this because he is Spider Man and he has a great responsibility which has come with great power. The last part about MJ is highlighted even more, keeping in mind the real comics story where MJ is, indeed, a very important and strong character, pretty much in line with Louis Lane of SuperMan. There is one very sentimental (sob sob...) part where Peter promises to come to see the play of Mary Jane (Incidentally, the play is 'Importance of being Ernest', one of the more comical plays I have read) and is actually not able to make it as he has to save some people from harm. The disappointment of MJ, the resigned and defeated attitude of Peter are really well executed.
To set the cash registers ringing, the story line also has one of the typical Spidey villains and this time, it is Dr. Octavius or Dock Ock, as the papers call him. With a fusion experiment gone haywire, Dr. Octavius, the scientist, is turned into Dr. Octopus, the monster. He wants to complete his unfinished fusion experiment and this time, the monster will do whatever it takes. The nuclear material is available with Harry Osborne, son of Norman Osborne (The Green Goblin). Harry trades the nuclear material with Dr. Octopus in return for Spider Man (who, he believes, is responsible for the death of his father). Peter Parker knows where and who Spider Man is, since he delivers snaps of Spider Man to the local news paper. Dr. Octavius now targets Peter to know the whereabouts of Spider Man.
In the manwhile, Peter Parker is all done with his responsibilities and his color spilling costume. He decides to make an exit when even his powers start declining and he becomes the old Peter again (I don't think that this is mentioned anywhere in the original comic book story line...his losing powers). He is happy now, attending classes regularly, even being able to watch the play of MJ and possibly talk her out of her coming marriage. His reverie is finally broken by the words of his Aunt May, his own conscience and above all, the Spider Man jingle at the neighborhood joint. He is changed again, and when Octavius abducts MJ and sets Spider Man as the ransom, Spider Man comes back, and as expected of a super hero, vanquishes all enemies to emerge victorious. During the course of all this, he even manages to show his identity to a number of people in the train scene (well executed again, but perhaps not in line with the comics where he hardly shows his identity to any one), and finally even to MJ, who now knows that Peter Parker and Spider Man are the one and the same.
The story ends with Harry Osborne, who also knows the identity of Spider Man (how many more!!!), discovering the Green Goblin apparatus in his home, promising the possible return of the Goblin in SpiderMan3.
Kirsten Dunst does a good job of looking confused and even pretty in some scenes (for a change). She is exactly what the doctor ordered, pained at the neglect that Peter shows to her and then again, confused at his subsequent expressions of affection. Dr. Octavius is also played to perfection with the humane side evident in the characterisation. Instead of a hard core villain, the good doctor is efficiently shown to have been actually affected by the bane of science. The movie, however, belongs to Toby Maguire, who is brilliant in his portrayal of a real life Super Hero. He is vulnerable when he is Peter, confident and charismatic when he is Spider Man.
For the movie goers who are into Spider Man for the thrills, the movie might turn out to be a tad disappointing...but for all those waiting for a good movie in its totality, Spider Man 2 is a decent bet.
Statutory warning: All those expecting the SpiderMan1-sque kiss (as I was)...man-that-kiss-was-awesome junta...will not find the full satiation of their need either. :-)
Posted at 10:40 am by Nitai