Friday, 27 June 2014

Paintings which speak to me

How convenient it is to have definitions for everything. How comforting too, to know, or seem to know the what-why-how behind most things that surround us or make us. To have an instruction manual for a do-it-yourself, or even a pure white line of social conventions to tow. But this is what the "usual" side is made of, of a coin the other side of which reads "different".

To me, and particularly in art, "different" is a stimulus which challenges my brain's synapses into re-thinking and re-visiting all definitions which I have either imbibed or invented before the prick, pinch or as most like to call it, the spark of novelty brushes against my soul. It is the beginning of not just love then, but of an unending relationship with that art form.

In music, Jazz touched me for the "rebellion" that it stood for, and for ways it re-wrote its own notes in the book; pure noise to those who love it not enough. In Literature, the subjectivity of Modernism-Post Modernism made me reject reality itself as limited and limiting. And in painting, nothing has caught my eye as much as Impressionism did and the ripple-effect it had on other art forms, including on the love-of-my-life Literature.

Here, I show you some of my favourite pieces from this art movement which began in France, setting such unconventional precedents for things to come that in 1874,  at the first exhibition of Impressionist paintings, most observers reacted with sneers. An expected reaction by the keepers of all things 'classic' but later made popular by those who welcome what I call "different".      

Impressionism perpetuated the idea of painting 'sensory-impressions'. The artists worked mainly out of doors and in natural lighting, for a new aesthetic based on light and colour was being born. Sunbeams, shimmering radiance, elusive tricks of light and daring colour combinations were the ambiance in which the Impressionists bathe their landscapes and city views, their scenes from everyday life, and their still lifes and portraits. They (and the neo-impressionists who followed them) were revolutionaries and trail blazers: they opened the way to modern art.

I speak here of three important impressionist painters - Monet, Degas, and Renoir. All had their own unique way of conveying reality - Monet's landscapes, Degas's dancers and Renoir's portraits being their specialities.

~ Claude Monet ~

Monet succeeded in capturing fleeting impression neglected by his predecessors or deemed by them to be impossible to depict with a brush, by no longer merely painting the immobile and unchanging landscape but also the fleeting sensory impressions conveyed to him by its atmosphere and mood. Monet, thus, creates an incredibly powerful impression of the observed scene.

Impression: Sunrise
The name of this style derived from Monet's painting's title 'Impression: Sunrise'. The sunrise was depicted as an impression rather than a landscape. In fact, the old school refused to even call these paintings 'landscapes'.

View of the Tuileries Gardens

Notice the detachment from the factual world of stabilizing lines in favour of pure colour in the above picture.
Poppy Field at Argenteuil
In 'Poppy Field at Argenteuil', Monet dispenses almost completely with outlines. For instance, notice the poppies closely. He was, after all, concerned primarily with conveying a visual impression.

There is no fixity of perspective here. No structure and not even a horizon you can see and hold on to. A seamlessness reminiscent of impressions.

Boulevard des Capucines
Graphic elements in 'Boulevard des Capucines' play a subsidiary role, while unmixed colours comprise the main means of pictorial organisation. The further away you stand and look at the picture, the clearer it seems.

~ Edgar Degas ~

Degas was known for his preference for surprising perspectives, and that makes him one of the most interesting painters for me. He positioned his observer so close to the self-absorbed subjects, it was like a peeping Tom painting them.
The Star/Dancer on Stage
Degas shunned artificial poses, letting the women follow natural movements - appearing so natural that critics surmised the artist was observing models through key holes. Don't ask about the theories that the rumour mill churned connecting his bachelorhood to his style of painting!

~ Pierre-Auguste Renoir ~   

Renoir was a celebrator of beauty, especially feminine sensuality. But I have picked here two paintings in keeping with the above-mentioned paintings.

Venice Grand Canal
'Venice Grand Canal' is flooded with light. You can see it reflected on the water, the canal front and the cloud flecked sky. Look how they shimmer! 

Dance at the Moulin de la Galette
Renoir allowed himself to be carried away with the surroundings he found himself in. He lived around this cafe for six months, spoke to residents, and in the midst of it all produced the wild movements of this popular dance cafe. Notice how his figures softly fuse with one another and their surroundings.

No other style of painting comes as close to my idea of reality-fused-with-subjectivity as Impressionist Paintings do. By giving form to impressions, they give importance to the painter's thoughts and visions, even as they invite the on-lookers' ideas. A looking within and reflecting it without. As a person who has always enjoyed understanding not just various art forms but the minds behind them too, the paintings above speak to me at myriad levels. Interestingly, if you show me a photograph and then an impressionist painting, chances are I will find the latter more real. The fluidity, the motion in the water, the movement of bodies, the light and the flux that they signify is what reality is, isn't it? Changing and becoming all the time. 

Post-Script: These are photographs of pictures of these paintings from a book called 'Impressionism' that I have. As Plato would say, four times removed from reality, before banishing me from his Republic. If it interests you despite the banishment, turn to Google for more. In the mean time, click on individual paintings for an enlarged view.      

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - The artist’s eye - Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to? What does it say to you? Describe the experience. (Or, if art doesn’t speak to you, tell us why.)]

Friday, 20 June 2014

Member-ship Issues

Let me tell you a little story first. Please don’t laugh.

Somewhere in the Sunderbans is a Netidhopani Tiger Reserve which has a tower. A very big one! It stands erect at all times, imagine, and such length it enjoys you can’t even see the spot where it ends. (Perhaps it goes up to the cloud Freud occupies, to tease his conflicts still not resting in peace) This tower in the wild is for spotting tigers if you’re lucky, and birds and bees and boars at all other times. Below the tower is a board painted in red and green, the sarkari colours for all things wild. And on the board is a very serious piece of advisory. Very serious! Hence, please don’t laugh at all.

I laughed when I read it though. And then I read it aloud and laughed out louder, loud enough to make a tiger respond with “who dares disturb my peace?” roar. Only one other out of the 20 in the group understood the word play, giggled, but gave his wife no company in her unabashed laughter. The rest 18 read the advisory like good boys, of course, and understood it well enough to have repeated the message by rote if they were told it’s good for getting plum postings. Thus, they simply stared at Mrs. 2006, thinking her mad. 

 Now, I wonder which is a bigger tragedy – only 2 on 20 understanding the unintended humour or the author of this painted master-piece not understanding it at all in the first place? But about that, later. A digression now.

Some words are born to be abused. ‘Member’ as a word is really abused. As a word. Only.

There are Members of all kinds – members sitting in committees, clubs and corporations. Powerful members sitting in the Parliament, respected members of the staff and quieter obedient ones in PTAs. Some members call themselves ‘Lions’ others ‘Masons’, some ‘Gurus’ others ‘Students’. Some members rise much higher than the others, say as Presidents or Chief Ministers, while others simply enjoy feeling bigger than they are in smaller circumstances, albeit under a little delusion. Social service members causing big causes to become bigger exist side-by-side with their lazier counterparts – those who just like to keep low, and hang in a state of sleepy wakefulness, getting up for this-and-that but never stirring beyond the garden fence. And then, every family has some members. Has to have! A single member cannot be called a family, even though may produce a family. Family members and members in the family. Same thing? Phew! I hate English language. 

They should ban this word ‘member’ from the face of the earth!

And then there is this very serious board you see, as mentioned above:

And I have nothing more to say. For I have seen enough and said enough. No more. 

You see, my dismemberment from civil society is not something I want to risk, since my dismemberment I cannot, not in this life. What you do deserve to know is that when I reached the top of this tower I instantly rushed back down. Why? Well, when I reached that high there were more than 40 excited members who had arisen atop the tower, all at the same time.

What a shame. No one reads the instructions!

But then we need to thank our dear Gods that not many understand them either!

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - No, thank you - If you could permanently ban a word from general usage, which one would it be? Why?]

Wednesday, 18 June 2014


I love swimming. Especially early in the mornings. You know, when the birds are twittering awake and the sun playfully winking at them from behind lush green trees swaying lightly to the cool and clear wind and …

Right, as if! When you wake up to 35 degrees at 6:00 am, the birds are tweeting rants in more than 140 characters and the brown trees trying their best to give the sun a blue eye for being such a butcher in heat. 

You exit your air-conditioned room where your cherub happily snores and it’s as if you entered a black hole spinning closest to the Sun. You gulp your cold coffee in precisely five sips lest it turns warm. As warm as the “fresh water” CPWD releases your way for an hour expecting you to tank-up and shank-down before the heat evaporates their whole office and the pipes run dry for the rest of your baking day. You water your plants and they seem too tired to raise their heads in gratitude even. Depressing. Try reading a newspaper under a fan-on-five-number and you might as well do dardey disco with your arms, neither needing eyes nor brains. 

And so, I thought of joining a DDA Sports Complex nearby to use their pool and spend some hot morning time feeling like a cool mermaid, swimming-shimmying up. And it is sitting exactly there, on a white sun bathing chair (which we Indians use like berths in a train) under an umbrella that came free with Bagpiper Whiskey, that I write this. Sitting by the side of the pool which my toes touched a few minutes back.

If I did not belong to Haridwar’s neighbour, I would have thought this is the ghat people come to dip their free sizes in after freely sinning. Citizens of a whole continent are in this pool right now, a length which takes me no more than 15 seconds to cover – all interruptions included. Like excited tadpoles in a mug of water the previous tenant left on the roof top, God alone knowing what the mug was used for. That many bobbing up and down, in that little space. And many around the pool too. 

Say that man under the shower just outside the men’s changing rooms. Little does he know this is not his ghar da shaavar, or that open air ones are for a token rinse only. He just began shampooing his hair – eyes closed tight as if his jet is landing and such chaos between the hurrying hands and the hair that soap suds are flying to stick like white whales behind another’s behind; a man’s, the one next in line who is waiting his turn, respectfully keeping his back to the lathering spandex while keeping his front reserved for public gaze. As I notice his eyes trailing to the ladies side of this family-time pool-time, I wonder which is stronger - his elastic I hear crying SOS under a monstrous belly, or that one leg which carries all his weight as the other stylishly extends forward. With hands on tilted-hips, he’s discussing politics with two men swimming breadths at the deep end. Both men periodically sprout mysterious bubbles up their back whenever they stand still, or are not burping. I switch undigested Times Now off to turn my face away, hoping for pleasanter sights and sounds. Certainly less hairy ones! And that’s when I am enamoured by a bra.

A gang of girls about 40 years of age are having a mini-kitty in 3 feet water. Two have held on to the side rails and are floating belly-up, admiring their nail paint on the toes while two others stand bent at the knees, gracefully keeping their bergs below sea level. I can make out the discussion is serious. Could be about the class 12 board results, or about Mrs Nanda’s long nose – both horrific enough topics to garner haws and hmms. One kind-looking lady's eyes just bulged forward enough to touch the strapped goggles now fogged over with what could be rage. Must have heard Mrs Mehta changed her boutique. Clandestinely. And for those couple of seconds she stood up, with knees straightened, water to the waist, hand on mouth, head shaking side-to-side I saw it. A brassier under the costume! (How lovable must their bond be that he followed her chastely to the pool! Oh envy!) The straps seemed to match the costume frilly leotard she’s wearing, so certainly intentionally worn and not forgotten to remove when in a hurry. Why, it kind of matched well with the eye shadow too.

I did decide to get in, exactly when the two teens making chapatti dives at the deep end were leaving. But at the ladder I found a face staring at mine with such concentration in its eyes and pouted mouth. What is this? Ek choti si love story happening in the pool?

The child, about three years old, looked as lost as the Batman on his floats was in this Punjabi pool. He had stopped flapping (moving as successfully as a fish on a treadmill) a couple of seconds back, and now just floated. Staring. I climbed down holding the rail, eye-to-eye, in slow motion, suspecting a loving lunge or maybe a water proof firecracker going off under me making my one piece become three. Like a prank. His older sister was trying to swim underwater but ending up much above it instead. Something was up most definitely. Well, time revealed nothing was up at all. It was all down under, for soon as my toes felt the warm water, he turned around and screamed with an ace performer's glee – ‘Mummy, I just pee-pee on my own in the middle of swimming swimming.

In the meantime, Mummy across the breadth was too busy to have heard her boy’s success story. The two political bums in the deep continued to laugh and bubble over jokes they shared, while their friend, the second-in-line, was now vigorously wiping himself with a towel near the shower, soaping-shampooing over, of course.

Might as well jump in now? Not me! 


[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - Might as well Jump - What’s the biggest risk you’d like to take — but haven’t been able to? What would have to happen to make you comfortable taking it?]

Friday, 13 June 2014

Soldiering On

The last black pin pierced the tiny bun of white hair at the nape of her neck, completing the neat circle. She patted it in place with a dab of oil. And then she looked at herself. What was once a cascade black as the night had lived its life over the past 80 years. It had turned thin, turned white. Does white mean an absence of colour, or is it black which signifies a vacuum in life? She smiled, raising her chin ever so slightly so as to show the mirror the jawline, set as tight and taut as determination itself. Her hair, her companion who never cut-away from her even when so much else severed …

A trickle of sweat down the side of her face reminded her of today’s task which lay waiting to be done. To defeat the 46 degrees of heat. With creased fingers nimble as those of a tea-picker she rolled away from the comb’s teeth those stray strands which seemed to part her head every time she combed them. She rolled them into tiny white ball, no, silver … like a ball of pure silver wool.  

She called it silver, her hair, ‘as silver as the thunderous lighting in the sky, powerful, alone and brave in all that darkness’ she used to tell her granddaughter when she would play with her plait. But that was when they stayed together. Now, Simar stayed in the same city but in a different house. Bigger. Better. Where her son moved with his family when the confines of Amar Colony and even more claustrophobic memories of what was once refugees’ shelter disturbed his peace, his dream of upward mobility. The day he drove into his lane in a Maruti Esteem too big to park, bigger than anything the coiled wires or shoulder-to-shoulder clotheslines overhead had ever seen, that day he left Amar Colony behind. The car was now parked in its own garage, in a plush Delhi locality. Along with a few more signs announcing how far he had come away from all things past.

And that is where she was headed, S-13, Green Park. Always putting in an extra effort to look her best. Hair all neat, fresh clothes from the cupboard and not those partially worn ones off the hooks in the corner of her two bedroom flat. ‘Mummy ji, please use this before meeting the guests,’ her daughter-in-law had asked her once, giving her an expensive looking bottle of perfume. She was over for Simar’s birthday party and had forgotten to change her suit after rolling 50 besan laddoos at home specially for the occasion. Foolish excitement had made her board bus number 469, totally unmindful of her dusty slippers, a mismatched synthetic dupatta and patches of sweat all over the body. It was July! She had done as the daughter-in-law told her to, but had quietly left soon as Simar had cut the cake, and the guests got down to eating chocolate fondue and tiramisu.

And so, when she handed over her house key to the tenant above and boarded bus number 469 this day, she was neat and fresh. She even carried a newspaper to shield herself from the sun. After all, the doctor had given her strict orders to beat the heat. Strangely for Dr. Singh, there was a connection between her failing kidneys, the arthritis in her left knee and a developing cataract in one eye. Or maybe, he was just being caring, that handsome sardar! She smiled as she remembered how far back they went. Dr. Sukhjinder had come from Pakistan’s Punjab the same year as she and her husband. A widower now, he practised and lived alone a few houses away from hers. All efforts of his son’s to make him shift abroad went in vain. At least that was the story Dr. Singh, MBBS, liked to tell his neighbours.

The bus barely stopped for the passengers to get off. She almost fell on the hot tarmac road, but steadied herself before she could get hurt. Or her clothes dirty. In Hardeep’s house everything must be presentable. Just like the kind woman who always opened the gate to her. She was about her age, reminding her of her best friend from those days of gay abandon we call school. They would chatter at the gate itself, like excited girls, but just enough. ‘Madam will get upset if she sees me away from work for so long. I better go. Come, come inside. I’ll ring for her once you make yourself comfortable,’ and she would sit on the chair closest to the door. Closest to the door. You know, where one hangs umbrellas and caps and keys to storerooms. Things which have no use, no business no point being inside, on marble floors and under chandeliers. It was that corner in S-13 where she usually felt most comfortable. Never far from the door.

How are you, daadi?’ shrieked Simar when she saw her grandmother sitting uncomfortably on that chair they jokingly called "In the middle of nowhere". They hugged so tight no air could pass between them, and talked so fast an express train would hide in shame. Simar told her about that boy in class, ‘Oh and I won the tennis championship so mummy got my hair styled at fancy Madonna Salon and papa says if I do well in school we will holiday in Europe this autumn and how do I look? We’re going to the pool party at Sainik Farms …’ and she just sat there listening. Smiling and listening and enjoying the excitement in Simar’s voice, an excitement that made her feel … how should I say? Um, it makes me feel … wanted! Yes, wanted. And what is wanted is loved too, right? She loves me so much…

Hardeep’s leather soles announced his arrival. As he bent to touch his mother’s feet, she got up to caress his cheeks, as if he was a little boy, her boy, still. As if. They sat for five minutes of silence sipping lemonade, broken only by Simar’s interjections of things she wanted to share with her daadi, skipping whole words and certainly all punctuations to fit into this moment as much talk as any 8-year-old could manage. You see, time was short. The farmhouse the family had to go to for the pool party was far.

Plus, the rickshaw walla who was to transport the cooler and her daadi back to Amar Colony was already clocking his fare outside the imposing gate.

Silently, she saw her daadi get on to the tiny cart next to the cooler they no longer had any use for. Will you be okay, daadi? It’s so hot and what if the rickshaw bumps plus you have so many kilometers to go and papa, don’t you think we can drop … but before her thoughts found breath as spoken words, she was waving a good bye. She looked at Simar straight and smiled, that chin-raised-that-tight-jawline smile the mirror had seen just this morning. As if her teeth were gritted inside, proudly, determined to make her journey comfortable, and safe. She tightened the black strap carrying the kirpan and looked ahead.

Like a soldier on a mission. 

Wait till Dr. Singh learns. I must carry his favourite jalebi next time I go visit him to tell him about my new companion. My own cooler. How pleased he would be that I am taking care of myself ...always mumbling how we children of a past lost to time are our own sentinels to our selves, to take care of our selves. 

The sunlight bounced off her hair, hair which shone as silver as the thunderous lighting in the sky, powerful, alone and brave in all that darkness.

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - Take Care - When you’re unwell, do you allow others to take care of you, or do you prefer to soldier on alone? What does it take for you to ask for help?]

Monday, 9 June 2014

Book Review - Moby Dx by Dan Seligson

Dan Seligson’s ‘Moby Dx’ is a novel of the Silicon Valley – ‘a place where mooning doesn’t mean teenage pranks or moping, but going to the moon, and maybe further, and not metaphorically.’ It is a place where ‘cakes are delivered by drones … thirty is the new fifty, and singularity is always around the corner’. There is crazy wealth and shadow missions, invention nearly commoditized and start-ups vying to be acquired. And there is genius, of course. Which brings in hubris. A narcissism promoting autonomy in the name of freedom: ‘think what you choose, operate as you choose, spend as you choose’, for there is no rationale for losing. None at all! It is this world that forms the canvas to Dan’s ‘Moby Dx’.

The story begins in different countries with different characters living their lives and times, their loves and losses, their science and brilliance. Continuing as unaware of what their tomorrows hold as we readers vis-à-vis the plot. A mix of circumstances and coincidences bring Max, Lakshmi (the narrator) and Vladik together to work in the field of molecular biology diagnostics and kick-start their company ‘Moby Dx LCC’ towards the millions that this research is worth. (Moby is a bonding of molecular and biology and Dx is an observed correlation between something and patient health.) Apart from a plot thick with sub-stories and characters, the book is generously full of American scientific history, explanation of scientific terms which need be understood to enjoy the novel, methodology of filing patents, share-holding, selling research, corporate intrigue and so on. 

I do not exaggerate when I say it is quite like sitting with Jeffrey Archer and Robin Cook at the same table, with Dan doing the talking, that is!  

Also, ‘Moby Dx’ is a big book. It crosses 700 pages by quite a margin (and thus the length of this review gets excused!). I gasped too, as I did when I first held Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’, similar in volume, with both books very interestingly intertwined. But Dan Seligson has tried to keep readers interested and involved (even ones like me who turned traitor to all things science and technology and embraced drowning in the world of world Literatures) - through a story vouched as fiction but so real it refuses to be received thus, its style of narration, the unique characterization of Max and the creatively drawn parallels to Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’. 

The Story, its Narration and the Narrator

The scenes in ‘Moby Dx’ change like the scenes in a movie. Not as fast, but certainly as varied. At one moment you are swimming with the fish in Macau like a leisurely traveller and in the next sitting in a lab coat, poring over molecular data; from chasing sex in Shanghai and similar pursuits in the Valley, to suicidal protests against failed dreams; from romance in Paris to adding insult-to-injury in billionaire boardrooms. Skilfully enough, the style of narration changes in mood depending on the scene. This helps in keeping the readers involved.  

Dan did not intend the plot to be pacey for most part of the book. He could not have, not with the narrator’s informative inputs on science and start-ups. It is how he connects the dots of various sub-plots/sub-stories, spread all over the globe but brought into one place, which keeps the story-line alive and running. It is in the last few chapters that the novel spirals forward, switching from third gear to fifth, as if ‘diving’ fast towards a closure. Masterfully done, and sans any confusion. 

Intrigue comes in various flavours and at moot points. For instance, Chapter Two is 10 lines long, three out of which sees the narrator, Lakshmi, say – ‘At first I did it for love, then I did it for a friend, and then for money. I wasn’t doing anything at all when it ended in darkness and blood’. We have no idea what she is talking about, but this is a significant pointer to what is to follow. The mystery is set rolling. And then, in the most unexpected of places you read ‘More about fraud later’ or ‘Can you see where this is going? … patent claims on that structure will ultimately be denied’. There is a constant hint about what is to come, even if it is to come about many chapters later. Suspense is kept breathing throughout!    

The narrator plays an interesting role. Lakshmi (half-Indian if I may add), promises to tell us the truth, because otherwise, ‘you’d question the veracity of other elements of this tale, and possibly reject it, reject even me as fiction’. At various points in the book, she addresses us ‘Patient Readers’ directly, as if drawing us away from the main story, for a chat. Such interjections, so reminiscent of Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’, are in a language/tone often in complete contrast to the rest of her narrative voice. Playfully she will read our mind – ‘Disbelieving Reader, I am not making this place up. It’s a real place’ or ‘Dear Reader, are you bored yet? … You thought a start-up was exciting, full of zest and thrill. Alas, not all of it. Before the miracles and shagging, it’s all just slogging’ making us smile in the middle of lots of corporate talk. Even go sassy saying – ‘Dear Reader? Still Awake? It you’re going to be CEO, you have to love these details, or at least be willing to master them. Otherwise, find another job. Find another book if you must. This is the way the sausage is made. Live with it’. 

Dan, through Lakshmi, even manages to put in a ‘Generous Reader, think about donating your kidneys on your way out’ somewhere along the narration. Quite like a ‘Sutradhar’ in an Indian play, by some stretch of imagination - the story-teller who address the audience directly and only partially manages to successfully stay an objective teller of the story. 

For me, this narrative technique, combined with the story and its style of narration went a long way in keeping this big book gripping and well-connected into an organic whole.       

Max – a unique character

Moby Dx’ is full of a plethora of characters, each with his/her unique history, typical characteristics and individual aims. Most, like Jay, Vladik, Arianna and Lakshmi are non-conformists marrying science to life and looking to make a future. But when it comes to the ‘means’ being used to reach an ‘end’, Max stands in direct contrast to those who surround him, always ‘more focused than ever on his needs’. 

I did not fall in love with Max, and know, Dear Reader, I do fall in love with characters in books. He just drove me crazy! 

Max is like a patch-work quilt seamlessly made of myriad traits sown together – some nice, mostly monomaniacal. Perhaps, Dan’s idea was to create that one Mercurial Man representative of various facets of Silicon Valley put together, including the ‘repressor gene for fashion’? A character created such that he floors with his ‘fevered intellect’, puts-off with his egoism, amazes with his resilience, tires with his sexcapades, exasperates with his temper and shocks with his self-interest. All this, even as a sense of search-for-self surrounds him most of the time, like an Icarus, frustrated by the extent of his own dreams, or lack of genius surrounding him. And for a man who ‘hated the structure, the processes, the rules … didn’t want to have to convince a board, a team…he wanted to be the decider’, you either think daredevil or you think an autocrat. He abandoned those who failed, took credit away from those who did not. But here comes the interesting bit - you just can’t get enough of him! 

Like Arianna says for him – ‘He sweeps you along in his what? His wake? He sweeps you along and you become a willing participant without knowing it’, even as he plots ‘to pwn’ his own friends. No surprise then that Jay and Vladik seem to have been created as clear foils to Max. 

Max, or should we call him a modern day Ahab?

What may be seen as problems

… or questions in other readers’ minds too!

1. It’s a whale-of-a-book. Even as the narrator addresses us Dear Readers off and on, apologizing for the pages-upon-pages of history of modern biology, will the book hold interest for those who find science and start-ups not-so-intriguing? I enjoyed that, but will everyone, especially in parts where the plot becomes background and a class room feel comes to the fore? 
2. The line of suspense around D2 was dispelled too flatly. I thought that was a great thread in the making.
3.  ‘Froodenstein’ seemed mysterious but did not live up to the no-Slabs no-notes secrecy surrounding it. Maybe Part II? 
4. The ‘tying up’ of Moby Dx, the company, seemed too sudden compared to the effort that went into starting it. Perhaps, by now the focus was on the main characters, a looking inward? 

The final word

… after a thought which refuses to part.

Does Dan Seligson manage to stand separate from his narrator, Lakshmi, or does his own background as one from Silicon Valley bear upon the narrator’s independent voice? Is it Dan talking when Lakshmi says to us in the first paragraph of the book – ‘Every bit of it is true. What I didn’t experience firsthand, I’ve learned from others who did. What they couldn’t tell me, I’ve imagined.’ Is this book, then, somewhere between fact and fiction?

Lakshmi (and the book) talks about competition and intrigue, scandal and Internet, dotcoms and genomics bubbles, and sequencing. ‘The folktale got taller and taller. Some readers inferred that much of medicine would be solved once human genome was finally sequenced. Even some scientists were fooled. Certainly the public was fooled’ seems like Dan’s comment on contemporary research in the field. The changing face of Gili Trawangan in Indonesia over the years of the novel, and the nostalgic pathos one senses in Max’s observations on dying coral, disappearing turtles and burgeoning real estate in the once-untouched island seems like Dan again, reflecting on the downside of ‘progress’. I could be imagining all this, but then, maybe not?

Finally, putting his ‘Moby Dx’, a Silicon Valley novel in a petridish metaphorically adjacent to Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’, Dan has managed to create a contemporary saga traversing many decades of modern biological research, the monomaniacs behind the genius discoveries and the genius discoverers like wet clay in the hands of monomaniacs. The molecular biology diagnostics (Moby Dx) is the white-whale being chased. By the end of the novel, when Max and others have found their closures, Moby must remind you of Melville’s whale, with a message - that ‘it can be as friendly as a baby beluga or malign as an angry beast, its power as the leviathan universally acknowledged’. In the end, at least this ‘would-be leviathan, was beached’. 

As for the ones still swimming in the laboratories around Silicon Valley, only Dan Seligson can say!

On the street where Steve Jobs lived, pilgrims come from halfway around the world—and they’d come from further if they could—to take selfies in front of his slate-roofed former residence.

Title: Moby Dx
Author: Dan Seligson blogs about the book and other silicon valley novels at, and tweets at  
Order the e-book or pre-order the print edition at Readers of this review can get a discount through August 1 by entering the coupon code 'sakshi' at the time of checkout

[This review was commissioned by Verbinden Communications, Bangalore. All views are my own.] 

Friday, 6 June 2014

Tales from time gone by

This article was written for and first printed in Complete Wellbeing magazine, edition June 2014.

I called it 'In Conversation with Senior Citizens'. I interviewed five young hearts from different walks of life, using similar questions to compare and understand perspectives between one and the other. They shared their favourite memories with me, and even those chapters they would rather forget. I asked them about happy tips for those over 60, values of yore they miss in today's youth, the most important role/relationship in their lives, and so on. But mostly, the streams of conversations took their own happy courses. Felt good! For as one of them said - 'In talking there is catharsis!' Indeed! 

You may enlarge the pictures to read it, or click on this link to view a PDF. (Please excuse the picture quality in the PDF, and a few editing "beauty spots" in the article. To err is human!)

The Homecoming

Through her kohl-lined eyes she saw the white Volvo bus leave for Roorkee from between the greasy window rails of her own bus, which was still waiting to fill up. A small bag with her belongings was all she carried, tucked between her cracked feet adorned by a silver payal and the unseen dirt under her seat. It was hot, so hot that she looked at the AC Volvo with a parched gaze. Her eyes burned. 

Why don’t I take one of those white buses to Roorkee this time?’ she had half-implored her husband of some months. ‘You know, it’s quite hot and even the doctor says I should travel comfortable since it’s the initial few weeks and ...’ She stopped as he knotted his brow and looked at her. As if he did not understand. He thought her mad for asking for money worth an AC bus ride. ‘What a queen I have married. Spoilt totally. She thinks her father bought me, doesn't she?’ thought he, but only said ‘This Rs. 120 should be enough for a UP Roadways bus ticket to Roorkee.’ He also gave her a coin for Rs. 10. ‘Take a rickshaw from the bus stop to your parents’ house. 10 men will look you up if you walk to Chawri bazaar looking all dressed up as if you’re going to run away with another man.’ And then he had left. 

She had bitten her lower lip then, and now as she remembered the parting remark. Embarrassed. Slowly licking the maroon lip-stick which she had worn. Specially worn. It had only stood for happiness. A celebration that she was going home to be with her parents. A new sari draped, matching bangles, bindi in place and sindoor so deep so neat so red as if it was disciplined to stand at attention on her forehead. She over-did it, perhaps, her … happiness, thought she sitting on seat number 5B. The white Volvo with cool interiors had long left, leaving behind nothing but a cloud of dry mud. And a raging thirst, for cool air and cold water. 

Campa, campa, campaa’ sang the nasal voice of a young boy with chilled soft drinks, clanging to be picked and delivered from the crowd in the aluminium bucket. She looked at the shirtless boy first and then at his hands. Maybe I can buy myself a Campa? Looks so cold. I do have Rs. 10 with me. I could just quickly walk home. What will he know … But before she could make up her mind, temptation had left. Been pushed out of the bus by the conductor for it was time for the bus to leave. The boy had come to her slow-moving window for he had read the indecision in her mind and the decisive thirst in her eyes. And she in his, for her Rs. 10. A gust of wind devoid of any mercy blew. She was made to turn her face away!
The conductor slammed shut the creaky door and the bus began to pull out of Meerut Bus Depot. The journey has begun, maybe I should just drink a sip of water now? She pulled out the old dented Bisleri bottle she carried from home. She put it to her lips, dry terrain what was once glowing maroon, and swallowed just enough to wet her mouth. She grimaced. The water was already warm. Still, she had to save it for later. God knows how cruelly the hot wind blows over sugar cane fields, and through leafless poplars. The dust from pot-holes and the mirages of water on the road ahead merge to become genies, asking you to come take a dip. Luring you, falsely. It is then that she will need more water to drink. Her stomach rumbled empty. 

Maybe I should not fast today, maaji’ she had mustered enough courage to ask her mother-in-law that morning. ‘I have to travel far and alone, and I feel so tired already. Plus, I’m 6 weeks …’ and she could not say another word. For maaji was muttering apologies to a certain God to excuse this girl’s innocent crime already. Looking disturbed and shocked and sorry, only for the God, all at the same time. ‘You should know better than to skip a holy Monday fast and break the sequence, bahu. It is for the son you could be carrying.’ She wanted to add ‘Shame on you. Seems like your mother had not a single significant thing to teach you’ but kept it for another day. 

By the time she reached Roorkee Bus Depot, the weather the thoughts the hunger, all had taken their toll. One at a time. Raping her of comfort – within and without. Her stomach was cramping and the bumpy ride had not helped matters at all. Neither had the stares of the man sitting diagonally ahead of her. She had strained her eyes away and out of the window most part of the journey, forcing her face into the hot winds, braving the burning skin. Holding the bag tight between her feet and her hands joined, as if praying for the journey to end. Soon. Now, back stiff and feet swollen, she waited her turn to step down.

She knew exactly where the rickshaw stand was. For 21 years she had come to this bus depot with her family to enjoy Prince Chaat Wala’s famous chaat-tikki, often when the two sisters passed their exams. But just as she was walking towards a rickshaw to take her home, she spotted a new stationary store next to Guru Nanak Juice Corner. She stood staring at the glass façade, with pretty posters of princesses and calendars with Goddesses calling one forth. 

Yes. She went in and spent the Rs. 10 her husband had given so she did not walk home in full view of strange men. Instead, she bought a tiny diary for her sister who was going to be married soon. So tiny, it fit on her out-stretched hand. She wanted it that way.

Home was as home is. The welcome. The sudden outburst of feelings that only some relations feel. The questions the food the rest and how is damaadji? They liked her sari, her payal, oh you look so dressed up so pretty! She liked her sister’s sagai outfit, her mother’s new idli maker and how terrible I feel for I left the bag of gifts I carried for you from Meerut in the bus! The ‘doesn’t matter’ and ‘you are our daughter’ that followed. And then, the unspoken in their minds, thoughts oft brushed off as only hunches, coming from seeing but not saying anything. For what if they were wrong? Wrong to think their daughter was badly kept? Or even worse, unhappy? 

Much later, in a quiet corner of her home, she gave the diary to her younger sister when they were alone. To note down every little unhappy thought or thing that will come her married way. To write out on its pages chapters she never signed up for. Write it. As loud as she wishes. Just … take it out.

Her sister cried. For she now saw what she had actually not seen. In her sister's life. Or around the bend where marriage waited looking all showy like a fairy-tale. It was a passing on, of something the elder sister had not the courage to do. Never could. To document. To write. To voice. The pain.

The diary was small, but it came with a big prayer. That it may never be full enough, and always big enough to collect within its folds all the troubles her sister was to face.

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - Never – Tell us about a thing you’ll never write about]

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Sponsored Video - Lifebuoy Help A Child to Reach 5 Campaign

This is one of the most touching videos I have comes across on social media recently. Nothing can surpass the love of a mother for her child or the sadness of losing a child.

A crowd of villagers sits looking at the scorching sun. Waiting for rain, perhaps, and relief. Suddenly, a woman gets up and runs to a standalone tree near her house. Frantically, she splashes water all over it. To cool it down. Protect it from the heat, and even the cows. The next morning, her husband finds her sitting under it again, looking happy, as if in good company. She dances around it. Even offers it her food.  A tiny pink ribbon on the tree seems to be marking a certain height. Late into the night, her husband finds her making gifts at the foot of the tree. He asks her to go to sleep, for tomorrow is a big day. Looking at the tree he whispers, 'Tomorrow you turn five. Sleep well, my son.'

In Utari’s village in Indonesia, there is a tradition of marking a tree when a child is born. In such villages, thousands of children lose their lives before their fifth birthday to diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea.

All that remains, as in Utari’s case, is the tree.

Lifebuoy is on a mission to help celebrate every child’s fifth birthday, by stopping the spread of preventable diseases which cause 5,000 children under five to die every day. How? By spreading the importance and health benefits of the simple act of hand-washing. Did you know? Washing hands at various points in the day can prevent many life-threatening diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia.

Last year, Lifebuoy adopted Thesgora, India and by teaching healthy hand washing habits, reduced incidents of diarrhoea from 36% to 5%.  This year, they will adopt Bitobe, Indonesia. As the world’s leading health soap, Lifebuoy aims to make a difference by creating accessible hygiene products (soap) and promoting healthy hygiene habits. With this in mind, Lifebuoy aims to change the hand washing behaviour of one billion people by 2015.

Do your part to help children reach their birthday. Share this video and Utari’s story on social media with #helpachildreach5

You may click on the following to get involved and do your bit:

Lifebuoy Website

[This post has been sponsored by Lifebuoy, but all thoughts are my own]

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