The Rivered Earth

the-rivered-earthThe Rivered Earth

by Vikram Seth | 120 Pages | Genre: Poetry | Publisher: Hamish Hamilton | Year: 2011 | My Rating: 9/10

Recital of the poem ‘Fire’ by Vikram Seth HERE

Vikram Seth has written 4 libretti for 4 musical performances conducted over 4 years (2006 – 2009). A mix of original work and translation, they draw from three cultures – Indian, Chinese, and European – and are set to music by the composer Alec Roth and violinist Philippe Honoré. Titled ‘Songs in time of war’, ‘Shared Ground’, ‘The Traveller’, and ‘Seven Elements’, each of these four librettos in this book is presented with a foreword that provides a backdrop for the particular work. Exquisite pieces of calligraphy by Seth, in Chinese, English, Hindi and Arabic, prefaces each text.

In the first libretto, Songs in time of war, most of the poems are set during a terrible rebellion in the Tang dynasty, which caused vast devastation and famine. In the second libretto, Shared Ground, Seth moves from the Tang Dynasty to the Stuarts, to Salisbury, England, to the very house where the idea of the book of libretti was first born. In a delightful poem titled Host he recounts his admiration for his favorite Anglican poet, George Herbert,

“He’ll change my style.”
“Well, but you could do worse
Than rent his rooms of verse.”
Joy came, and grief; love came, and loss; three years –
Tiles down; moles up; drought; flood.
Though far in time and faith, I share his tears,
His hearth, his ground, his mud;
Yet my host stands just out of mind and sight,
That I may sit and write.”
 
 
The third libretto, The Traveller, which is about the stages of human life – unborn, childhood, youth, adulthood, old age, and death, is influenced by Rig Veda. Suitable texts for the stages were taken from various Indian languages – Tamil, Hindi, Brajbhasha, Urdu, and Bengali. And therefore the tone of the poems are playful, philosophical, contemplative, passionate, reminiscent, and yielding. The final libretto,Seven Elements, is inspired from all the three cultures, and thus its seven poems are based on seven element in nature, air, water, earth, fire, space, metal, and wood.

This deeply sensitive, appealing and seductive book about friendship, love, loss, drama, history, geography, literature and music is my Read of the Week.

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Larry Crowne

larryGenre: Romance/Comedy| Year: 2011 | Duration: 98 mins | Director: Tom Hanks | Medium: VCD (BIG Home Video) | Trailer: HERE | My rating: 2.5*/5*

Favorite Dialogue: Mercedes: (mixing a strong frozen drink) “Mmmmm…brain freeze!”

Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks), a divorced middle-aged man and navy’s veteran cook, gets fired from his floor keeper job at a store because he lacked a college level education. Upon encouragement from his neighbor, Lamar, he enrolls at a local community college to pursue better opportunities in future, studying economics and communication. Larry befriends a bunch of young, scooter-riding young people, and strikes a special friendship with a free spirited girl Talia.  The saving grace of the movie is the subtle romance between Larry and ever-radiant Julia Roberts as Mercedes Tainot, the public-speaking professor with an alcohol addiction and a disintegrating marriage.

This tepid rom-com, which is neither full of romance nor comic is my Movie of the Day.

THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES

jesseGenre: Western| Year: 2007 | Duration: 160 mins | Director: Andrew Dominik | Medium: VCD (BIG Home Video) | Trailer: HERE | My rating:4.5*/5*

Fav Dialogue: Jesse James: [last words“Don’t that picture look dusty?”

Jesse James was an outlaw in 19th-century Missouri, USA, remembered in legend as the Robin Hood of the wild west. He was murdered in 1882 by Robert Ford, a member of his own gang, for a $10,000 reward. The story revolves around Jesse james (Brad Pitt) and Bob Ford (Casey Affleck), an insecure, unpopular man who has grown up idolizing and obsessing James. Bob joins James gang during a train robbery to prove his worthiness to Jesse.  The obsession is so intense that Bob wants to murder Jesse and take his place finally as he believes that he is better than his ideal. Towards the end of the movie Bob shoots Jesse in the back of his head while he was dusting a painting of a horse.

After the assasination the Ford brothers become celebrities, but Charley is guilt-stricken and eventually commits suicide in 1884.  Bob too suffer from the pangs of guilt and is considered a traitor in public opinion and eventually is murdered by Edward O’Kelley, who later got pardoned for avenging the death of Jesse James. The style of the movie is solemn and remote and hictorically as accurate as all available sources on Jesse James.

This superbly researched and brilliantly cinematographed psychoanalytical historical epic is my ‘Movie of the day’.

The Man Who Knew Infinity

200px-Ramanujan_biography_coverThe Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan

by Robert Kanigel | 438 Pages | Genre: Mathematics/Biography | Publisher: Penguin Books| Year: 2000 | My Rating: 10/10

“Dear Sir,

I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at madras on a salary of only 20 GBP per annum. I am now about 23 years of age. I have had no University education but I have undergone the ordinary school course. After leaving school I have been employing the spare time at my disposal to work at Mathematics. I have not trodden through the conventional regular course which is followed in a University course, but I am striking out a new path for myself. I have made a special investigation of divergent series in general and the results I get are termed by the local mathematicians as ‘startling’. I would request you …………….. Being inexperienced I would very highly value any advice you give me. Requesting to be excused for the trouble I give you.

I remain, 

Dear Sir,

Yours truly,

S. Ramanujan”

– Excerpts from a letter dated “Madras, 16th January 1913” to Cambridge Mathematician, G.H. hardy.

This brilliantly researched and well written book by Kanigel is a biography of an incredibly genius and among the greatest Mathematician of all times in the same league of Jacobi or Euler, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, commonly known as ‘Ramanujan’. Ramanujan independently compiled nearly 3900 results (mostly equations and identities).  Most of his claims have now been proven correct even after 90 years of his death inspiring a wide range of new research, which is still continuing.

In 1913, while working as a clerk at Madras Port Trust, Ramanujan wrote a letter to the premier English Mathematician of his time, G. H. Hardy, and thus began one of the most productive and unusual scientific collaborations in history, that of an English don and an impoverished and unparalleled genius from India. Hardy arranged a fellowship for Ramanujan to sail for England and come to Cambridge University, leaving behind his wife and family in Madras. Ramanujan’s isolation from his family and the intensity of his work eventually took their toll, and within seven years of leaving India he was dead due to tuberculosis at a young age of 32. Ramanujan was creative and an original thinker, more so than perhaps any other mathematician in history. Hardy had said for his formulas, “They must be true because, if they were not true, no one would have the imagination to invent them.”

This biography with all the drama, the richness with an insatiable love for numbers, and the cultural sweep of a fine historical novel is my Read of the Week.

Kabul Disco

kabul-discoKabul Disco

by Nicolas Wild | 148 Pages | Genre: Graphic Novel | Publisher: HarperCollins India | Year: 2009 | My Rating: 8/10

“What do I draw?” he asks.

“Make it symbolic by representing the ethnic balance: 45% are Pushtuns, 36% are Tajiks, 12% are Uzbeks, 14% are Hazaras, And then there are a few Nuristanis, of course. Draw some wearing shalwar kamiz with turbans, patoos or pakols. Then others wearing three piece suits. Out of the 300 members, 25% are women.”

“Of course,” he says. Only: “I just wanted to know, what do Pushtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Nuristanisshalwar kamiz, patoos, pakols and women look like?”

– Nicolas Wild, Kabul Disco

Nicolas Wild has written a marvelous satire on the big global business that is Afghanistan and its reconstruction post American bombing of the Country to get rid of Taliban and Osama. This novel thus is an entertaining account of the French graphic artist’s life in the Afghanistan working with a development agency, of international NGOs, coalition forces, nascent democracy and the not-so-diminished Taliban. At times hilariously ridiculous, and at others poignant in its observation of the prevalent times, the book brings to life the contrasting mindsets of the two cultures. Wild captures the pretentious, privileged, vaguely Eurotrash existence of the professional expat do-gooder with a suitably wicked eye. He has hilariously portrayed the protected lifestyles, the local “utility men”, the SUVs, the suspiciously connected American and, of course, the expat party scene. Skillfully he has kept the political references limited to comments on the Bush administration, and sexual tension is kept to a minimum.

This ironical and hilarious graphic novel is my Read of the Week.

The Astronaut’s Wife

wifeGenre: Sci Fi | Year: 1999 | Duration: 109 mins | Director: Rand Ravich | Medium: DVD (Sony Home Video) | Trailer: HERE | My rating: 3.5*/5*

Fav Dialogue: Nan: “You know, men are like… like parking spaces. All the good ones are taken. All the available ones are handicapped.”

While space-walking, Commander Spencer Armacost (Johnny Depp), a NASA astronaut along with Alex Streck (Nick Cassavetes) encounters a communication glitch, and later return to earth as heroes. Upon return they turn hostile towards each other, and Alex dies bleeding at a conference and his wife commits suicide. Spencer retires from NASA and takes up an executive position in New York. His wife Jillian (Charlize Theron) becomes pregnant with a twin, and she continuously notices behavioral change in Spencer, which gets further suspicious after the account of Reese (Jow Morton) a former NASA employee. Spencer kills Reese and Jillian’s sister Nan after they get some video proof about Spencer being possessed by Extra Terrestrial being. Jillian tries to electrocute both Spencer and herself, to which the true energy alien form of her husband comes out and gets transferred into Jillian thus protecting herself from getting electrocuted. Jillian later re-marries a fighter pilot, and gives birth to the twin who seems to be aliens in human form  being concieved after the return of Spencer from Space.

This intriguingly creepy yet bland thriller lacking better direction and tightness in the plot is my ‘Movie of the Day’.

21

21Genre: Thriller| Year: 2008 | Duration: 123 mins | Director: Robert Luketic | Medium: VCD (BIG Home Video) | Trailer: HERE | My rating: 4*/5*

Fav Dialogue: Ben: “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!”

21 is inspired by the true story of MIT Blackjack Team. The story is of Ben (Jim Sturgess) who’s a senior math major at MIT and is accepted at Harvard Med School and trying to ‘dazzle’ the director in order to win the coveted Robinson scholarship. After dazzling MIT prof Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) with his out of the box solution of Monty Hall problem and non-linear math paper, Ben is invited by Rosa to join the balckjack team consisting four other students, where he learns card counting and start making it big at the las vegas casino circuit. He and his team is monitored by security chief Cole Williams (Lawrence Fishburne) for malpractice, and eventually get apprehended and turn in Rosa in lieu of his freedom. The movie ends with Ben recounting the entire tale to a “dazzled” Harvard director.

I liked Ben’s birthday cake in the movie, which read: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13,… These are the first terms in fibonacci series. This is obtained by first writing the numbers ’0,1′, then defining each subsequent number as the sum of the previous two numbers in the series. Thus, the third number in the series is 1 = 1 + 0, the fifth number is 3 = 2 + 1, etc. The next number on the cake would be 21 = 13 + 8, for Ben’s 21st birthday, which goes cleverly with the name of the film or Blackjack!

This mathy gambling  thriller is my ‘Movie of the day’.

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