Wednesday, June 30

Fahrenheit fever 

Well, if you’re not Harry Potter, the only other persona it pays to be these days is Michael Moore. His Fahrenheit 9/11 ignited waves of heat around the country when it finally opened on Friday amidst dissent from several conservatives. Michael Moore not only won accolades for it at Cannes, but is also now being pitched as the creator of the world’s most fetching documentary yet. A wonderfully woven lattice of fact and fiction and subtle, yet evocative insinuations, it is packed with plenty of laughs, dreadful satire, and some very unsettling moments. But the flip side of it all lies in the verity that the manner in which even the most genuine of facts are presented in a film, can often provoke twisted inferences.

The film is a livid attack on the Bush administration’s handling of the September 11 attacks, and the aftermath, but also has a curious comic angle to it. Michael Moore blames Bush for not having heeded to the warnings of an impending Al-Qaida attack on the United States, in August 2001. Instead, says Moore, Bush spent about 42 percent of his early tenure as president on vacation. The nuisances that began right after his litigious election to office are portrayed as having primarily heralded adverse times for Bush, leading up to stress and a peculiar lack of brass, which he’s ostensibly known to have beaten by taking time off on the ranch, chopping wood, or just having a good time clad in his ritzy cowboy outfit, while speaking into the camera preposterously. He is shown glued to his chair at a Florida classroom reading My Pet Goat to a bunch of kids for seven minutes, after being informed that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Links between the Bush family and the Saudis are spoken sardonically of, and Moore even mentions that some members of the bin-Laden family were allowed to leave the country after Sept. 13, sans even the nominal of formalities and rounds of questioning. At another instance, Bush is shown in a solemn anti-terrorism mood on a TV clip, and then scoffed at as he makes an almost quicksilver transition, beckoning the camera to watch his golf drive.

The latter half of the movie focuses on Iraq, its sovereignty, its people, several laymen and children that were killed ruthlessly by a war that was unwarranted in the first place, as Saddam was not in possession of weapons of mass destruction at all. There is also an elaborate clip that features an Iraqi woman hurling curses at the callous, unfeeling aliens that slaughtered her innocent family. Moore sweeps the tragic mood further into the American territory itself, with gruesome pictures of soldiers being killed, and also singles out a middle class family that lost their son.

All things considered, Fahrenheit is still going strong and promises to be a poignant picture for the average American soul. Without doubt, those in the pro-Bush camp are destined to find it outrageous, and those in the anti-Bush camp are most likely to gloat, but those in the middle must watch it in order to construe what it means to them. There may be good movies, and then bad, but the upshot of this one, like every other, indubitably lies in the eyes of the beholder. Either way, the Moore cronies are smiling.

Sunday, June 27

Blubber blah-blah 

I used to belong to the Slenderella brigade, at least till a few years ago. I was even told I dress just as dainty. My mom had to jostle food laced with the healthiest of ingredients and purest of ghees down my throat, and if a smidgen of that stuck somewhere, it used to be, I am told, around the arms (never mind that it seldom showed). I used to be taken to the nearest weigh station every so often, as if I were a commodity at the grocers that needed to be checked if it were as bulky as it’d been paid for. And even if the scales revealed an upsurge of just about a milligram, it was much rejoiced and a feast would be readied, the larger part of its significance lying in the fact that I, indeed, needed to swell some more. It’s not that I was a bad eater, but rather a fussy one. I never ate my broccoli or carrots. It was junk fodder that reigned supreme on my self-assigned nutritional regime.

With a built that slim, I enjoyed the edge that many others strove for --- easy shopping, and easier locomotion. You see, I could wiggle myself into the tiniest of spaces and get to where the obese couldn’t, in one sweep. Perhaps I was even able to lay my hands on the most craved-for item at a sale, before anyone else could. I am certain I have been damned a time or two, and I in all likelihood, may have sworn back, albeit silently, at those butterballs --- why grow extra large if you can’t handle it?

I’m afraid I may have to eat those words up now. I am no longer a Slenderella, but somewhat providentially, I’m not obese, just yet. I am, what some people allude to in these parts of the world as, a Lilliputian whale. But I have moved up the size ladder considerably, and I cannot shop at the teenage boys’ section for, say, a corduroy jacket anymore. I still am in possession of one such, and I last wore it at a time that I do not seem to recollect very pleasantly. It was early fall, and I was heading out to dinner dolled up in semi formal eveningwear, rather unequipped in itself, to keep me even slightly warm. I’d worn the jacket at first, but as I got out in the open, I decided very bravely to relinquish it. A few yards down the block, I sensed an acute need for something to shield me against what I thought was a sudden, curious dip in the temperature. Apparently, the temperature had been steadily low all day long, and I hadn’t the wits to know so. The frost was biting rather brutally into my skin, but since I’d made the decision to move ahead even with some very sensible words of caution, going back on it meant getting the ego bruised. So I endured the wrath of the winds somehow, and acquired some fiery frostbites in the bargain. I haven’t worn the jacket since. And even if I did try it on, it wouldn’t fit me at any rate. I’ve puffed up since.

The price I’m paying is bigger than you can imagine. I have now to undergo a laborious regimen nearly everyday, a requisite for the Lilliputian whales. I have to work out regularly, go easy on the cheese, and eat oil-free or fat-free food, whichever suits the situation best, and hold off on anything that's categorized confectionery, or is even remotely saccharine. The Indian diet, rather fatefully, doesn’t co-operate very well with this schedule. To add to it, the Oberweis cows seem to jeer at me each time I go by their ‘udderly’ inviting ice-cream parlor. The cheesecakes, the Indian sweetmeats, Irish coffee (it provides in one glass all four of the enemy food groups --- alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat), the pies, they all seem to have jumped up the bandwagon too. But I am resolute, or so I like to believe. Even if I do indulge in a scoop or two of the Oberweis fat-free ice-cream specialties, I tell myself, I shall not cede to the temptations of the rest of the greasy fare. I have not only to stay off them (which isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially with a sweet-tooth like mine) I have also to jiggle into that jacket, and hordes of other summery outfits that are up for sale presently. Right, the creams of them are at the teen girls’ turf at The Gap (although I did, brazenly, pick up a ‘large’ tee this evening, but let’s look forward to a substantial shrink, in time). But for now, I’m hoping the gulab-jamoons (flour drops deep-fried in ghee and doused in sugar syrup, for the unacquainted) I wolfed down this noon won’t come further in the way.

Thursday, June 24

Hair’s the real deal! 

If you think judging people by their shoes is vogue, wait till you look up their heads. You see, it’s not what’s in it that they’re concerned with anymore, it’s what’s on it. And even with the trendiest pair of Cinderella shoes on, you can be outright ostracized if your hair isn’t bouncy, colored auburn, ginger, burgundy, violet or whatever goes with your skin tone, layered and fringed just enough at the front so it accentuates your dainty forehead, thereby steering lookers on to those deep, expressive eyes so enchanting, they’re bound to get lost in them. A trusty sentiment empowers them, and before you know it, they’ve put you right on top of a pedestal strictly reserved for the elite. Hair, mind you, is your only crowning glory.

Now, I belong to the excruciatingly-dull-hair-battalion. The moment my fertile head spawns follicles long enough to touch my shoulder, I have to go in for the routine snip. Longer is not better in my case. There are these fond memories I have from an age bygone, when I actually did have a longer, shinier, bouncier, fuller bulk firm on my head. And being agonizingly bored of the monotony I wore my hair with, I couldn’t help but go wacky and do a perm. Lock in some frizzy curls, I told my hairdresser, they’re all the rage. After bathing my head in what stunk like a poopy pigpen for hours on end, she rinsed it with some generous amount of water (soft water, I hope) for another few hours, and by the end of the day, I was poorer by a grand or so, and richer by fashion. She seemed delighted with her job, but I was hard to please. I stayed locked in my room for days, and the only outsiders that were allowed to check in on me were a handful of close friends, the kind that took you for who you were deep within. Gradually, by the time school finally reopened, I had begun socializing a bit. The opinions I received, which may well have been far from the truth many a time, were varied. Being a bad judge of friendly critique, I began venting all my rage by not heeding to the hairdresser’s pleas. Oil it everyday, never shampoo without conditioning, don’t wring the water out, don’t blow dry, and don’t sunbathe, she had said. I did quite the opposite. And the result is what I bear on my head today. A lifeless, lackluster, and lacking-class-in-every-strand-mane.

Once the swirls wore themselves out, I suddenly realized it would be wise to make up for length by what I had in a somewhat restored straightness. So I went in for the shorter, chic look, and made sure the hairdresser I chose was the most sought-after in those expanses of town. It worked like magic for my ego, and I sported my short new style with a newer confidence. The reviews weren’t as bad either, and they seemed genuine to an extent.

But the years rolled on and ageing brought with it a curious kind of wisdom. I began refuting and defying the ways of the world. I couldn’t care less about the hottest Chinese herbal hair formulae people trotted the globe looking for, or that special creme made exclusively for the coloreds. I had slogged quite a bit to prove my mettle at school and the career that ensued, and was convinced society had taken me for what I am by the truest measure of brain power (now how much that equals is another story, but it suffices to say I’m not wholly harebrained, pun most certainly unintended) and everything but hair-value. So I let it grow, longer than shoulder length. While it wasn’t too tough to tame for that special evening out, or a surprise get-together, I had newer problems to tackle --- dandruff and slight split ends. I was forced to hit the shears, and it's only good I determined never to experiment again, for, I haven’t looked back since. I feel comfortable the way I am, in wearing a clean, squat hairdo (never mind that it looks mostly unkempt on normal days) and a confidence that exudes considerable élan to survive. At least, I can get away with slipping into my comfy flip flops to the grocery store at times. Proper hair-care, I’ve realized, is the most astute skill to possess in these times. Warm oil, shampoo, condition, blow dry, head up, and you’re ready to take on the world. Unless, you still want to splurge on those à la mode Anne Kleins. I’d say, go for both.

Mr. Bell, are you listening? 

I detest answering machines. Absolutely. And I’ll never understand why they’re there in the first place. I mean, if the big idea is to shun some of those nincompoops out there, with no business to do in your life, why have them leave you messages? And if your hassle is that a dear one might ring while you’re away, why put the supposed through an episode of queasiness, compelling him or her to give an ad lib discourse, especially at the commanding of a stupid machine? Besides, what good’s caller id anyway, and why pay extra for it? I’m sure there are a gazillion other ways to ward unwanted callers off, and protect the poor known ones. At least I’ve heard of some.

I can get extremely edgy when leaving messages for people. The ‘beep’ to me is nothing less than a knell. And the darndest thing is being utterly helpless and entirely at the mercy of a soulless device, with no options whatsoever, to erase, modify or re-talk your message. Once said, it’s sealed, like in Pandora’s box. And the long wait for the return call nearly trounces me, almost always. And most often than not, it’s because I’m aware I’d sounded like a complete idiot, and also because I’m aware most people know I know I sound like one. And now that I’ve said so, let me offer something in my defense --- the real tele-cons that follow aren’t as bad, really.

Now just the other day I was assigned a voicemail-box at work and even as I choked at what was to follow, I could tell the flashing neon was daring me. I was required, as norm is, to tape an outgoing message. Honestly, I’d rather they gave me the pink slip than put me through the horror. Nonetheless, I tried to give it my best shot, but listening back, I can confidently vouch for the hideousness of the solo incantation, so much so that I’ve already alerted my friends and family of the repercussions of attempting to call me for when I’m away. Unless the big idea is to disown me, and now I just might learn when that happens.

First, I meant to try it the conventional way --- 'Hi, I’m such-and-such, such-and-such at the such-and-such department. Sorry, I’m away right now and hence unable to take your call. Please leave me your name, number and a detailed message after the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.' But suddenly, something occurred to me --- won’t they know who they’re calling in the first place? So then I decided to go with just the latter half, 'Sorry, I’m away…' Wait. Aren’t I not taking the call since I’m not at my desk? Cut, cut. All I need to say is, 'if you’d like to leave me a message, I’ll return your call soon.' Unless, I just say, 'there’s the beep, and you know what to do!'

Now if you think that’s effortless, you haven’t heard me. After hours of rehearsing, taping, erasing, and re-taping, I finally managed to caw something out meekly. Days have passed since the ordeal, and I haven’t received a single message yet. But I’m hoping it’s more because I’ve remained glued to my seat and answered most calls, and less because callers presumed my phone had had a rat-attack. But then, ever since I’ve begun working on actuality-libretto for radio announcements we’re seeking to produce, I’ve been thinking --- perhaps I should start reviewing my status quo on this particular vocal exercise. Maybe if I tried harder, I’d sound more like I used to on the voice-overs I did whilst at the advertising agency, and less like a guinea pig that squeals and struggles to make its way out of the maze at the psychological research lab. Oh, and if you’re wondering how dissimilar it can be after all, whether voicing a readymade script, or cootchie-cooing a monologue into a silly telecommunications contraption, let me tell you, it’s a lot easier handling the ridicule of a bunch of humans than getting logged and timed by a cheeky little chip fitted into the mind’s eye of someone’s telephone.

Tuesday, June 15

Strangers on a train 

There’s more than an obvious, enigmatic charm in riding on the Metra. It’s a whole new world out there. And I don’t just mean the pretty, young executive woman with the dream-like peaches-and-cream complexion and a curiously crease-free skirt; or the plump managerial male with a receding hairline glaring at you like a halo over his head, and a beer belly that he adroitly covers with his glitzy leather bag; or the school goers nearly buried under their gigantic backpacks, with secret compartments that precariously hold together their life supplies, love letters, unsolved puzzle books, and perhaps, candy, or empty pages and inkless pens -- but what visibly showcases their surreptitious personae are their daring designer tattoos -- and their trendy i-pods that seemingly reverberate the very rhythm of their well-claimed lives; or any of the other strangers one is bound to come across -- some uniformed, some dressed in just the colors that appear to reveal their states of mind, some just barely attired, or accounted for by their outer shells. It’s not the foible of the flawlessly manicured air stewardess that tries to pass up any contact with the metal poles, lest her dainty fingers get soiled with the reek of ageing rust, which amuses me. It is exactly the opposite. I tend to believe she fears not that; but rather the thought of her own plush self-essence that might permeate the new world. Likewise, the little Japanese family of nieces and aunts, conversing animatedly in a dialect strictly their own, seem not to worry of a credence in the new order, but rather of the new order intruding their purportedly secure existences.

With all the intricate details of so many lives thrown into a cosmos bunged off the world beyond, there’s far too much going on, and all at the same time, to be able to imbibe every fragment, and yet remain restless or wary. Much like the words of quintessence that brim over from the book of wisdom in a way that you seem to begin to fathom, but eventually lose yourself in just a portion of the knowledge, resulting in a mélange of half-hearted redress and restiveness.

Yet, in all this disarray, there seems to be a sense of stability. We are no more unfamiliar than we are unified, trusting together the heaving haulage to lead us to our destinations, and believing in a transitory acquiescence of the several mysterious souls aboard. There is no more wanton than there is wont, no more known aliens than there are unknown allies. Among these varied voyagers of everyday, nothing is said, yet everything seems acknowledged. Where diversity rules, even a weird new world is haven.