In This Corner of the World / Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum

Ever since I watched this movie during that long flight, its been looping around in the mind for quite sometime now. Writing about it may in a way help in getting rid of it, I thought.

I've always loved Anime movies - not just because of the superior art, but also because of the story telling, the nuances of the whole experience as well. The Studio Ghibli movies were , as for most people, the favorite and have read about 'In this corner of the world' multiple time in the past year or so. Though have the movie available at home, never got around to watch it.

The story of Suzu, a little girl who lives through the war years in Japan, near the city of Hiroshima, at first sounds very cliche but once the movie starts, it is difficult not to invest yourself in her life. The movie starts in the late 1930s and end after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

We start knowing Suzu as a 8-9 year old and she takes us through the various moments of her life. She gets married to Shusuku - whom she hardly knows but slowly starts to love him as the movie progresses. Shusuku, himself is a very kind person and everyone in his family loves Suzu. We are taken through Suzu's everyday life - her challenges, taking water from the pipe in the early morning and climbing the hill to the house, the soul sucking cooking she does through the day and in the midst of it all, she finds time somehow to do a little pencil drawing as well.

As the war progresses, she finds innovative ways of cooking with the little rations, deals with the air raid bunkers and the loss of her right hand and her niece Harumi in a bombing and just is resilient to live her life through it all.

There is also a little tale of Ketsu - who loves Suzu (it is not clear whether Suzu ever loved him) and comes visiting her and spends a night with her. They spend it talking, drawing etc. and Shusuku comes out as a bigger person with some unassailable love for his wife.

What I loved is the characterization of Suzu. Though she looks fragile and talks naively, she grows to be a very strong woman. You see the transformation happening in the way she handles the ration shortcomings and the innovative ways she manages the household. There is a never-give-up spirit she has which is very hard to avoid to notice and you keep cheering for her through all those adversity. Then again, there is a profound sadness that hangs around her but she is always hopeful.

The movie - this I've not seen in many movies - has a certain humanity in the way it deals with everyone. The scene when she starts seeing brushstrokes during an air raid transformed into something of an impressionist drawing basically tell all we need to know about Suzu.

It is difficult not to think of life as something of a gift and have some of Suzu's enthusiasm towards it creep into your soul after watching it. Probably one of the best animes I've seen.

Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum

The standard movie formula of a good guy, bad guy and a crime to solve is what is taken for a ride in this amazing movie. I was hooked with that short 5 minute love episode which starts the whole movie with such a charm, which never really vanished through the movie.

Charm - may be a wrong word here. The story is simple - After an inter-caste marriage, the lead couple flee their native to go to Kasargod to start life anew. In the bus, Sreeja's chain is stolen and she catches the thief in the act. Now all three of them - Prasad, Sreeja and the thief - are in the police station. What happens there is the entire movie.

The movie is a story of survival. Everyone struggle to survive against all odds - Prasad and Sreeja, with all the opposition for their marriage, they want to start a new life with that chain as the collateral. The thief - Faahad Fazil, showing why he is probably the best young actor in Malayalam cinema - is never named but is trying to get out of the police station in one piece. The SI, the head constable are all trying to save their jobs and find a way to close the case.

In a way, there is not much of a story - what we see is a vignette of life of these 4 characters during a short span of time. The normalcy of the daily life turned around by a simple act of thievery and which gets complicated with the thief having his way around by simply trying to manipulate everyone is the core drama of the movie.

What is lovely about it is the way the characters are etched, the little quirkiness in their actions, the compassion they develop for each other - even for the police - the struggle to survive against the odds are all very human and you end up confused as to whom to cheer for.

However, the movie ends in a positive note for everyone and solves the knotty issues of retribution and punishment neatly. What makes the movie stand out is the way you can feel the craft of the movie being taken to perfection you don't see much in Indian cinema. The story remains paramount with the characterization done without flaws.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Dileesh Pothan understands the craft very well and is probably one of the important directors in Indian cinema.

Freedom and Despair: Notes from the South Hebron Hills

Freedom and Despair: Notes from the South Hebron HillsFreedom and Despair: Notes from the South Hebron Hills by David Shulman

"Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed. But I had to make my choice. I had either to submit to a system which I considered had done an irreparable harm to my country, or incur the risk of the mad fury of my people bursting forth when they understood the truth from my lips."
- Mahatma Gandhi - Speech during the trail of 1922.

David Shulman, the famous Indologist, the author of 'Tamil' is the author of this book.I know of him as the mild-mannered author with a deep understanding of Tamil literature and have heard him speak once and found to be intellectual.

The book 'Freedom and Despair' is about David Shulman's other life as an activist in the South Hebron hills of Israel - Palestinian lands. The conflict between the Israeli settlers of the South Hebron hills and the actual owners of these lands in the villages and wadis of this area - the Palestinian farmers and shepherds form the crux of the book.

Shulman is part of the Ta'ayush - the Israeli peace activist movement - which co-ordinates protests in these areas against the settlers and in support of the Palestinians in the area. Shulman's book is a book of notes on the individual protests he participated in, the people who were part of these protests - the Palestinians, the peace activists, the soldiers and colonels and the settlers - all come in to play their part. Shulman muses around the circumstances and about the protests itself.

"Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves" - Thoreau.

Non-violence - by definition is an effective way of protest. However, with rabid nationalist governments, how effective Non-violence resistance movements can be is the question that comes up in the book. When the state responds with soldiers and police in riot gear against shepherds trying to get their sheep graze in their lands - how do you face that? The complete disproportionate response to simple protests means that the means of protest - being non-violent - becomes tougher to practice in the midst of mounting violence.

There are indiscriminate protests, court orders and trials for made-up cases, the response from the settlers seeing the Jewish activists siding with the Palestinians - all have to be faced with non-violence and practicing it brings forth the best in Shulman's musing around the cause which drives them and the futility of the minor victories on the ground which though boosts morale for a short while, also ends in the realization of the difficult path ahead for the attainment of the final goal.

To me, it all reminds of the way the state - here in India - responds to similar protests. The latest police violence in Thoothukudi - killing of 13 civilians during a peaceful protest and the ongoing arrest of social activists opposing the 8 lane Chennai-Salem expressway project - all reminds me of the fact that state violence is the same across the world and there is no difference between way the state looks at people's land rights and the protests around them. How do you face the state violence without resorting to violence? This is the difficult part of the musings of Shulman.

"Do not hold to the opinions of him who decides to act in violence and who wants you to decide to do the same" - Aurelius

Shulman takes the help of Marcus Aurelius and Thoreau to muse around this. Whether obeying a wicked system which thrives on violence and injustice to people is the crux of the matter and Thoreau answers it with civil disobedience as a means to face that. As Thoreau says what is good is also true and vice versa and identifying this truth is way to understanding the path one takes.

The pseudo-nationalism and the hounding of Muslims as the other are just textbook ways of the right wing to polarize the system just as the Jews were made to be in the Nazi Germany and this comes up multiple times in the book trying to make sense of the way the settlers behave and the state of Israel operates. And it all reminds me of what is being played out in the Indian politics of today. The difference is only the degree at which this tragedy being played out and in both the cases, where this will end remains to be seen - though the apprehension of this end remains high.

"All good things are wild and free" - Thoreau

While it is a romantic notion to think of truth as wild and free - it is probably the right thing to think of and Shulman ends the book with a Iftar party in the caves of the Hebron hills and in a positive note towards what freedom will mean to everyone involved. That optimism is the only way to live through the misery and despair of the day-to-day existence.

Thanks to NetGalley for the prerelease version of the book given for review.

காலா - அசுத்தத்தின் அரசியல்

பார்ப்பதா வேண்டாமா என்று யோசித்து வியாழன் இரவு வெள்ளி டிக்கெட்கள்  இருப்பது கண்டு 'காலா' பார்த்தோம்.

பா. இரஞ்சித்தின் அரசியல் என்ன என்பது எல்லோருக்கும் ஒன்று. இந்துத்துவத்திற்கு எதிரான ஒடுக்கப்பட்டவர்களின் அரசியல். 'காலா' பேசும் அரசியலும் அதுவே.

இந்து சாதி பிரிவுகளின் கட்டமைப்பு சுத்தம் x அசுத்தம் என்ற dichotomyஇன் கட்டுமானமே. பிராமணன் தலையாகவும் சூத்திரன் பாதமாகவும் இருப்பதன் தர்மமும் இதுவே. அதே போன்றே வெள்ளை x கருப்பு என்பதும். சாதிய அடுக்கின் கீழே கருப்பு - மேலே செல்ல செல்ல வெளுப்பாகிறது.  இந்த பின்னணியில் நில உடமை பிரச்சினைகளை பேசுகிறது - 'காலா'.

இது இரஞ்சித்தின் படம். படத்தின் விமர்சனங்கள் , விவாதங்கள் எல்லாம் அதை சுற்றியே நடக்கிறது.திரைப்படத்தின் இந்த அரசியல் மற்ற எல்லா விஷயங்களையும் விட முன் நிற்பதே இதன் சான்று.

சாதீய பெருமை பேசும் படங்கள் - குறிப்பாக இடை நிலை சாதி பெருமை பேசும் படங்கள் - பெரும்பாலும் அவை மட்டுமே. ஒரு சாதாரண கதையின் ஊடே ஊர் பெரிய பண்ணை/ நாட்டாமை/ தலைவர் தன பெருமைகளை (தன் சாதியின் பெருமை) பேசி பல தடைகளை தாண்டி வெற்றி பெறும் template படங்கள். இரஞ்சித் , இதிலிருந்து விலகி, ஒடுக்கப்பட்ட மக்களின் வாழ்வியலை முன்வைக்கிறார். அதில் வெற்றி பெருகிறாரா என்பது விவாதத்திற்கு உரியதாக இருந்தாலும் , இந்த விலகலே இரஞ்சித்தின் வெற்றியாகிறது.

'காலா' பேசும் நிலம் உரிமை பிரச்னை - இன்று இம்மக்கள் எதிர்கொள்ளும் பெரும் பிரச்சினை. சென்னையிலேயே சைதையிலும் வடசென்னையின் பல பகுதியிலும் - அடையார், கூவம் நதியின் ஓரம் வசிக்கும் மக்கள் இன்று கண்ணகி நகர், செம்மஞ்சேரி என ஊரின் வெளியே அதிகாரத்தின் மூலம் நகற்றப்பட்டுக்கொண்டே இருக்கிறார்கள். இது ஒவ்வொரு பெருநகரத்திலும் , அழகுபடுத்தல், சுத்தம் போன்ற காரணங்கள் காட்டப்பட்டு இம்மக்கள் மீது நிகழ்த்தப்பட்டுக் கொண்டிருக்கும் வன்முறை.

இதுவே காலாவின் போராட்ட மய்யம். இந்த தாராவி மக்களின் வாழ்க்கை, கஷ்டங்கள், அவர்களுக்கு காலா சேட் மூலம் கிடைக்கும் சுயமரியாதை, அதன் பின்னான போராட்டத்தின் வன்முறை என்று கதை செல்கிறது.

இந்த போராட்டத்தின் இன்னொரு முனையில் - சுத்தமான மும்பையை வேண்டும் வலது சாரி இந்துத்துவத்தின் முகம். இது இன்றைய இந்தியாவின் நிதர்சனம் - ஆனால் அதை முன்னிறுத்தி இரஞ்சித் தன அரசியலின்  மறுமுனையை தெளிவாக்கி விடுகிறார். தன் நாயகனை ராவணன் என்று கூறுவதன் திராவிட தெளிவு - திராவிட சித்தாந்தத்தின் இந்த முனை ஒடுக்கப்பட்டவர்களின் போராட்டத்தில் இணைகிறது.

அம்பேத்கார், புத்தர், காலாவின் வீட்டிற்கு எதிரே உள்ள பீப் கடை என்று அடையாளபடுத்துதல் தெளிவாக இருக்கிறது. புத்தகங்கள் படமெங்கும் விரவிக் கிடக்கின்றன. ஆதவன் தீட்சண்யாவின் 'மீசை என்பது வெறும் மயிர் ', டேனியல் படைப்புகள் , ராவண காவியம் என இரஞ்சித் தன அரசியலை எந்த குழப்பமும் இன்றி முன்வைக்கிறார்.

ஆனால் 'அட்டகத்தி' 'மெட்ராஸ்' போன்ற படங்களின் தெளிவான வாழ்வியல் கதை தன்மை இன்றி வெறும் சாகச நாயக படமாக பல இடங்களிலும் இருப்பதே 'காலா'வின் குறை. கரிகாலனின் காதலியாய் வரும் சரினாவின் பாத்திரம், அந்த ராப் பாடும் பொடியன்கள், நண்பர்கள் என பலருக்கும் படத்தில் தெளிவான பாத்திர படைப்புகள் இல்லை. சந்தோஷ்  பின்னணி இசை நன்றாக இருந்தாலும், பாடல்கள் ஏதும் சிறப்பாக இல்லை.

தன சித்தாந்தத்திற்கு நேர் எதிர் சித்தாந்தத்தை முன் வைக்கும் படத்தில் சமூக விரோதியாக நடித்திருப்பதற்க்காக ரஜினியை பாராட்டலாம். சில இடங்களில் இதனாலேயே அவரின் வசனங்கள் உணர்ச்சிவசப்பட வைப்பதற்கு பதிலாய் யோசிக்க வைக்கிறது.

'காலா' பேசும் அரசியல்,  நம் சமகால அரசியல். ஒரு திரைப்படமாக இதை வடிவமைத்ததில் குறைகள் இருந்தாலும், பேசாப் பொருளை பேசியது பாராட்ட வேண்டியது. இரஞ்சித் நாயக பிம்ப சமரசங்களை விடுத்து எடுப்பராயின், தமிழ் சினிமாவிற்கு இன்னும் சில நல்ல படங்கள் கிடைக்கும்.

In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship EssexIn the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sir Ernest Shackleton has been a hero from the time I read his book on the Endurance Expedition - 'South'. It is a book which brings out the man, who sets a prime example of what and how a leader should behave under trying circumstances.

But 'In the heart of the sea' is about a different kind of expedition and ends up with a different kind of leader. The book espouses a lot of what should not be done under various circumstances. The story, written as one of human grit and endurance, falls flat - at least, to me - in the way the various crew members conduct themselves and they way they are lead.

I keep thinking that I cannot judge these people by the standards I've today. They may not even recognize it.That a whaling expedition those days is about monetizing the whale and none of these people from the 19th century had any qualms about it. The racial prejudices, the fear of the other and the superstitions are - while easy to comprehend, difficult to contextualize in terms of their lives.

Nathaniel Philbrick writes so beautifully that the prose flows with such beauty, you get taken by the intricacies of the whale hunt. He documents the Nantucket life in the early 19th century with such vividness - it is easy to visualize the same with ease. But the underlying thought of how a people of such peaceful disposition - Quakers - end up with so much blood on their hand?

The story of the whaling ship Essex, which was attacked by a Sperm Whale in the middle of the Pacific with its crew confined to 3 cramped whaling boats struggling for survival is of such intensity that it is difficult to put the book down. However, what happens till that point in the voyage and after - the picking up of the giant tortoises of the Galapagos for food, the burning down of the Charles island killing so much of lives with it, the decision to go to South America rather than the nearby islands makes no sense to me at least - it all sounds wanton destruction and utter foolishness for the sake of it.

The author comes up with a lot of reasons for the way the crew behaved but I cannot but think that at its peak, Nantucket alone had hundreds of whale ships which went out and if each one of them did what the crew of Essex did year-in and year-out, the amount of destruction visited on this planet by this one little island seems huge.

The book itself is very non-judgmental and places the events and the people in proper context and try to make sense of all their decisions and actions. Even he cannot explain satisfactorily why 5 of the 6 dead in the first days of the wanderings in the Pacific, happen to be black and whether there were more than what meets the eye here.

I also started wondering that I never felt the same when Shackleton's men start killing the seals and eating the meat during their marooning in the snows of Antartica. The reason being that Shackleton and his team were explorers - out in Antartica for the sake of science and not for wanton slaughter. That is the difference from the crew of Essex.

However, the feeling of disgust is not just for the Essex but for the way the whaling was conducted with utter disregard to the life and its many forms. It is just a sad story of man's greediness and nothing more. I found no heroism in their conduct during their wandering in the Pacific for 4 months but only a tenacious will to live - which they denied to the whales (and possibly the blacks!).

"The Essex disaster is not a tale of adventure. It is a tragedy that happens to be one of the greatest true stories ever told"

However, I believe the only tragedy is for all those species which crossed the path of Essex and other whale boats.

View all my reviews

The Woman Who Would Be King

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient EgyptThe Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

The history of ancient Egypt has few parallels in the history in terms of the wealth of articles and monuments left behind by its monarchs. And it is actually a lot of detective work to find the succession or why certain things happened or did not happen.

What makes this book different is that this is not clean history in its purest sense. The author makes it very clear at the start that she try to get into the minds of these Ancients and so there are a lot of conjectures and opinions and personal thoughts accompanying the historical evidence.

Hatshepsut is one of the few women rulers from the ancient world (or including the current world) and a successful one too. She leads her country through some of the prosperous years as Egyptian pharaoh along with a young Thutmose iii and leaves the stage securing the country in the hands of him peacefully.

The author goes through a lot of evidence from the huge number of monuments built by her in Karnak and other places and try to put together the story bit by bit. And offers a way to peek into the Kings mind - Hatshepsut was called a King- through her opinions.

However the book offers a number of vignettes of Ancient royal life and to some extent of the life of the courtiers as well. The festival of Sed descriptions from the walls of her temple were constructed beautifully as well as the rituals of her day. The author being an Egyptologist and a historian excels here.

Hatshepsut actually accomplishes a lot for her successor- not easy to hold together a country the size of Egypt and keep it prospering. Why she did what she did remains a mystery - she may have been ambitious or she believed it was the Gods will truly - we may never know. But the fact that she did that and because of that it took another 1500 Year’s for another women ruler to appear in Egypt tells simultaneously her success and the fear of her successors for women rule.

And it will make for some racy fiction - it has lots of intrigues, sex (Senennmut?) , violence - to be a blockbuster.

If you like history, a very good book to read.

உதிரம் கேட்கும் சாமிகள்

சாதாரண நாட்களில்
அசைவம்தான் கேட்பார்

சுருட்டும் சாராயமும்

ஆட்டுக்கறி வருவலும்

வருடம் தவறாமல்
குத்தாட்டம் போட
எப்போதும் உண்டு.

இந்த வருடம்
உதிரமும் கேட்டு
புது சாமிகள்.

இருண்ட நாட்களின்
ஊளையிடும் ஓநாய்களின்
தேரிக்காட்டின் மண்
மீண்டும் ஒரு முறை
சிவந்து கொண்டிருக்கிறது.


தூத்துக்குடியில் வேட்டையாடப்படும் என் மக்களுக்காக .. 
என் துயரத்தை எழுதி மட்டுமே கடக்க முடிகிறது. 

7 Days 7 Books - Book 7 - Caesar

The last book took a lot of time to decide - since there were so many. I decided to keep it light and racy fiction for the last but so many of my other favorite genres get left out. But Historical fiction is what I like most, it would seem by the choice of this book.
The the 'Masters of Rome' series by Colleen McCullough would be rated a great series of novels about an explosive period of history - well written, researched and fantastic to read about. It is impossible not to finish the book once you start it.

As with every other book in the series, I picked the first of this series 'First Man in Rome' at the airport book stall at Omaha in April 1999. I've no idea why I did that. I am more or less a snob when it comes to literature vs the novels written for consumption. The higher levels of reading pleasure associated with literature cannot be obtained by the common novels intent on giving one a high for the moment. So, it must've been some secret pleasure of doing the forbidden that would've made me pick up the first book.

And I am glad that I did. The books chronicle the most intersting period in Rome's history - the decline of the republic and the rise of the monarchy. While the initial series was planned to be 5 books, she wrote 2 more at the end to complete the story.

The story starts from the rise of Gaius Marius in Rome's hierarchy of equals and ends with the rise of Octavian as Caesar - the ending of the republic and the start of the reign of Augustus as emperor. The history of this period, read as is, makes for fascinating read. The fictional narrative - with not much of fiction in it - is made interesting by the discussions that go on between the characters.

The strength of the series is the characters that walk around the story. Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Caesar, Servilia, Cicero, Cato, The Gracchi brothers, Aurelia, Octavian, Antony - and countless others who all lived and left a lot of literature for us to understand their thinking and philosophies. McCullough makes sure to peruse all of that and use their own quotes as much as possible and whizzes through the story like a whirlwind.

While it is interesting to read, the amount of confusion and wars that happened during this period of about 100 years - not to mention the civil strife, the scandals and in between all this, the lives of all the ordinary people and the egos of their leaders, makes one think of the nominally peaceful times that we are in. It is only with the advent of Octavian as Augustus that peace comes to the Roman empire. But only because Octavian ensures that there is no enemy left to breach the peace.

But the hero of the story is the other Caesar - Julius Caesar. Starting his life as a nephew of Marius, he raises slowly through the complicated Roman system of magistracy and elections and reaches his goal of becoming the First man in Rome - in the likes of Marius and Sulla. The first 5 books traverse this journey - from his life with his mother Aurelia to his death at the Senate. His various exploits, travels and the many loves of his life (mostly wives of other senators, earning his their enmity!).

The books are well-written, racy and if there is a slightest interest in history, it is hard not to love this series.

Although I just wrote about the 7 books - but choosing them means I have to drops other books that I considered and had to reluctantly decide against. I may write about them , may be, some day in the future. So the honorary mention goes to the following.

In This Corner of the World / Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum

Ever since I watched this movie during that long flight, its been looping around in the mind for quite sometime now. Writing about it may i...