Sunday, September 18, 2011

My first Architectural post.

It is the beginning of Fall in Brooklyn. M's desire for the outdoors has reached obsessive levels; I too, push myself to make the most of the sunshine. This weekend saw us making our way to the Brooklyn Book Festival, in an attempt to do something different from the usual eat-drink-subway ride experiences we undertake most times. Attended a conversation with Amitav Ghosh and a reading by Jhumpa Lahiri. (Go Bongs! :P) I really enjoyed the talk but what I was amazing to me was how I found their methods resonating with what we do, as architects.

Ghosh and a Somalian writer, Nuruddin Farah spoke on influences/inspirations for their work and their preparations for writing in a series. I particularly loved the part where they concurred on how their characters take form and seem to act as if on their own, as the writing progresses. I could so relate to that. It does happen often (sadly or thankfully, as the outcome reveals) that the design just seems to want to flow in a certain way, however much we may try to conceive of it differently. It clashes with our compelling desire to micro-manage, no doubt. It can be a hair-splitting experience (literally) But sometimes, it is also a sign of a vibrant scheme.
Jhumpa Lahiri spoke about her own experiences rather than the actual task of writing. On growing up in an introverted Indian family in the US and the certain amount of confusion/isolation that must have caused. While she read a chapter from an yet-unpublished book, I started to wonder at how much of it was imagination versus actual observation. For someone who hasn't spent too much time in Kolkata, the imagery was uncannily real. I could almost visualize a writer at his/her desk, constructing a scene, making parts fit, trying to inhabit the scene in order to 'feel' better. I guess what we do (as architects) is not too different. The difference just seems to be one of 'medium' rather than creativity. I am happy about the fact that I am making these connections, thinking deeply about the work I do and also liking it more in the process.

Then we walked down to the waterfront and watched Manhattan glittering in the evening sun at the other edge. (That description probably deserves an entire post to itself.) Finally, the perfect end to the evening was coffee at the seriously stunning River Cafe and took an unhurried walk back. Viva Brooklyn!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Incredible India...

...Read the heading on a customs form passengers got to fill on the Air India flight.I don't know what annoyed me more- this attempt at advertisement on an official document or that the printing on the said document was smudged and blurry. A customs forms is serious business; you want people to take it in that spirit and not be put off by touristy hard-selling. And you certainly don't want first timers to the country to get a taste of the 'chalta hai' attitude on the flight itself. Please get good, legible prints, for God's sake!

Anyway, apart from this minor incident (to which I am over-reacting but I am wired that way), I had a pleasant journey and am enjoying being back in mera bharat. None of the things I was warned about caused me any worry. I bore the crazy Mumbai traffic with Buddha-like calm. As for the dust- well, it can always be dusted. I have specially welcomed the return to creature comforts like house-help and home parlours and mum-cooked meals. And I am quite relieved to not stick out like a very brown thumb in a crowd :P

No, the reverse-culture shock has come from another quarters. Just a few months of dealing with an efficient system has further sensitized me to all that we aren't. Even people from smaller, modest countries manage to score over us where professionalism is concerned (yes, even Mexico!) The problem seems to be because we are an extremely patient and tolerant race. Where else could it take over two years to hang a terrorist caught in the act? Where else would it take the country's central investigative agency so much time to come up with proofs in gruesome crimes very much in the public eye? And where else would a chief minister dare to get away with corruption claiming that his predecessors were corrupt too! Even the smallest of chores like dealing with the tailor or getting your personal system repaired have to be accompanied with a certain amount of haranguing.

Back home, people have wanted to know how it was to live in 'Amreeka'. After listening wide-eyed to my winter woes, they have all ubiquitously proclaimed India as the best place to live in any day! While I wanted nothing more than to agree with them wholeheartedly, I kept being troubled by the other comparisons.

While the government definitely needs a sharp kick in the pants, the masses also need to shake off their complacency. I am a proud Indian. Just like many of you out there. We might be living abroad but we yearn to be back. While we might lack the time or inclination or means to stage protests or fight elections, here is the least we can do: we have the power to demand- prompt action, good service and explanations for the lack of these too. And we need to use it. Our capacity for making do/adjusting is indeed incredible! Please adjust maadi no more!

Monday, January 24, 2011

A slew of bad movies- and a few rare gems

I have now been away from India long enough to feel emotionally about all things Indian. The sunshine and spice, I cannot do anything about. But thanks to a fast, streaming connection and ample free time, I can certainly make an effort to be on top of the latest in B-town. That is how I ended up watching Aisha and IHLS. Strange what boredom can do to a person of general good taste :P I feel obliged to say a few words of caution, maybe you'll learn from my mistakes :p
Aisha: A word of advice to all those who think they can make chick flicks. Chicks have brains too, you know. They will ogle at nice clothes but 2.5 hours is too long a time to ogle at clothes. Some kind of a plot would have been appreciated.
I Hate Love Stories: Infact, any story which meanders through its screen time in such a vapid and aimless way. Music- forgettable. Acting- wooden. Romance- whatzzat? Comedy- Irritating (some scenes attempt to caricaturize K Jo's oldies to garner laughs. Bad idea-even those over-the-top scenes are far more watchable)
Anjaani Anjaani- I really should have gone to bed, 5 minutes into the movie, like the husb.
On the bright side, through my determined plodding into Indian movies,I discovered quiet gems in 'Outsourced' and 'Peepli Live'.
Outsourced is a small, witty movie about an American executive who has been shunted to India to manage a call centre. His initial desperation and ultimately, respect and affection for the country makes for a story which is entertaining and easy on the senses. I had avoided Peepli...thus far, wary of the grim subject it dealt with. Reviews from friends who had watched it had not been encouraging either. But we were in for a pleasant surprise. The movie deals with the serious subjects of farmer suicides and political incompetence efficiently and poignantly. Here was a subject which could easily have gotten weepy and despondent. That it refrains from doing so and doesn't get heavy is to the director's credit. Glad that this one wasn't relegated to the dusty backshelf of arthouse movies.
Wonder if I should plan a Bollywood Nite for my non-indian pals. It might be time to wean them off Shahrukh Khan and his antics :P
Sayonara till next month!