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My first acting performance in a short movie (15 min): Please click here -> Kelade Nimageega - Short Movie

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Americans learn process and efficiency in their schools

For the thousandth time, Friday brought with it the hope and anticipation of a joyful time called the weekend. The promise held good till Saturday morning. Dinner outside with family on Friday evening, watched Netflix till late in the night and woke up late on Saturday morning and enjoyed avalkki breakfast with family. Once Saturday started rolling, doubts started creeping into the mind, not without justification, that this was going to be yet another weekend whose promise was not going to be realized.
But today has been different. So, I just want to make a note of it.
This morning I had the duty of re-proving that we are still residents of San Jose so that my daughter can continue to go to the local school. The school district had sent a letter which listed in clear language all the documents (originals) that I needed to take to prove residency like Driver's Licence, latest Electricity bill, current property tax bill etc. They also had suggested alternatives if you did not have these exact documents.
This task was causing a bit of anxiety because I had to collect all these documents (in the last minute of course) and then there would be long lines. In this frame of mind, I took the documents and went to the school.
But I was very pleased with how it all turned out. As soon as I approached the office, a teacher wearing a bright T-shirt with the school emblems, walked up to me and gave me a small piece of paper and told me "If you organize all your documents in the order shown on this paper, it will make it faster" and then pointed me to the line where I should stand. I stood in the line listening to classical music playing on an IPOD connected to a speaker. As I moved to the head of the line, another teacher showed me to a table where there were 5 teachers, One of them verified all the documents, put them in a packet and on I went to another station where there were two girls (students) doing the next part. One of them took my packet and said in a confident voice "This is how it is going to work. I will send this to the back office where they will make copies of these documents and put them into a file. They will then call your name and give you back the originals. Until then please go and sit where all others are sitting".
I then went and sat in a group of 50 people - all parents, with heads buried in their smart phones. waiting for the originals to come back. I sat there watching with admiration as 4 or 5 young girl students all wearing school t-shirts came out of the back office every couple of minutes and in an authoritative voice called the names of parents to hand back the originals. The girls impressed me with their excitement about what they were doing. They were having fun too. One girl came out of the back office and called "Alex Chen" and immediately four moms walked up to her and the girl started laughing and said "Oh there are four Alex Chens ?" . One of the parents said "there are lot more than four". Then two girls came out together and one of them pointed to the other and said with a big smile "Calling the parent of this beautiful young lady" and a dad came running with a big laughter to collect his originals. In the process "he created a big scene with loud talking" much to the embarrassment of his daughter.
Eventually I got my originals after just 10 minutes. Every document was intact and I walked out feeling a sense of accomplishment.
I thought the whole episode was beautifully managed. It is easy to see how the American system inculcates a system of efficiency and process right from an young age.
Saturday has been - so far so good. I am sure the experience at the school contributed to it. But I am still not able to decide which was more brighter this morning - the sun or the smiles on the young faces.

Friday, October 23, 2015

'16 Tons' by Tennessee Ernie Ford

The last time I heard this song was in the 80s. The lone radio station AIR Bangalore (All India Radio) mostly produced news and other informational programs. But once a week on Sundays from noon to 12:30 PM, they had a program when they played requests of 'English' music. It was amusing to listen to the female host speaking highly anglicized Indian English, read out names of listeners who were all local folks.

Some of the frequently requested songs on that program included hits of the time namely 'Beat it' by MJ, 'Hello' by Lionel Richie, Funkie Town by Lipps Inc, many songs by BoneyM and ABBA and some golden oldies like 'There is a hole in the bucket' and many songs by The Beatles. Also there was a song which I thought was "Save all your Krishnaswamy" and my more westernized friend educated me that it was "Save all your kisses for me".

But this song '16 Tons' was my favorite. The song is in the voice of a coal mine employee during the days of company-owned-towns. The best line was when the baritone voice declares "I owe my soul to the company store"

Today I was pleasantly surprised to hear this song on NPR's Fresh Air. The last I had heard this song was in the 80s. Ken Tucker reviewed the newly released box set 'Portrait of an American singer' which has music by Tennessee Ernie Ford
Try this song. It has the feel of a bygone era.

An open letter to the godess of music Sri Saraswathi from a frustrated singer.

I like to sing. There is no excuse not to, since now there are mp3s, karaoke tracks and oh most importantly lyrics are available.(I have seen many people think that the reason they do not sing is because they do not have lyrics). And finally there are many support groups around me like Sri Shankara Cancer Foundation and Kannada Karoke club which organize Karaoke nights to motivate singers like me.

But still I end up not singing because learning to sing a song is not a pleasant experience for me. Now a days the only drive for me to learn to sing a song is Karaoke events. I sign up to force myself to sing. But the journey from then on to the day of singing is filled with some sense of satisfaction but mostly frustration and discomfort.

The main reason - in fact the only reason is this. "I cannot hit the high notes". When I play a song by SP Balu (SPB) or a Mahammed Rafi song and try to sing along, I will be straining myself to sing like it should be sung. With in a few lines I will realize I cannot sing along with SPB. If I just listen and and later sing by myself (without SPB in the back) then I am not able to reproduce the effect of SPB. Soon head aches, neck pains and stiffness set in and it is time to give up.

I do not mean that I want to be an SPB or a Rafi

But I want to at least sing in the same pitch so that I can follow the musical dance which the singer does. Why do you have to sing like SPB? you may ask. I think that is the best way. What better way to learn than being an Ekalvya when Rafi is the Drona.

Singing in a lower pitch does not sound right because I will not be able to reproduce most of the magic created by the original song. I don't know, to how many people this makes sense, but the kick you get when you can imitate the greats is the real joy. Not being able to do it is frustration.

I am able to imitate the mannerisms and styles of SPB or Rafi to my satisfaction but when it comes to imitate them musically - I am so ordinary. That sucks.

For those who are reading this open letter, who may not know (includes me) the Indian musical system is based on 7 notes which fall into repeating scales. Roughly this is how it looks if you sit in front of the Keyboard (assuming you know the correct way to keep the keyboard in front of you - a vintage Ramesh Mahadevan joke - google 'a gentle introduction to South Indian Music')

Depending on how many keys your keyboard has, the keys and the notes they create are arranged in repeating patterns like this with the notes getting higher to the right.

. . . sa ri ga ma pa da ni, sa ri ga ma pa da ni, sa ri ga ma pa da ni......

I think the good singers can produce notes in 3 successive scales comfortably. Ordinary singers like me can at best produce notes in just one scale. So a good singer has a wider range. Which three of 5 or 7 scales on a keyboard, the good singer can sing, depends on the singer's pitch.

Now coming back to the frustration I experience when I sing, I am not sure if my problem is my lower pitch or my narrow range. The pitch I can sing in is 5.5 (I think that is G ). In the Indian music system of 7 notes which is sa ri ga ma pa da ni, I start straining when I hit the 7th note (ni) or any note in the next scale. And when I start going down the scale like ni da pa ma ga ri sa, any note in the lower scale start sounding the same - a hiss.

So on the day of Saraswathi Puja if the godess of music is pleased with fact that I have been nice, appears in front of me and tells me to make one wish, I would ask for a higher pitch. No wait. I think I should ask for a wider range. Doesn't matter is it? Saraswathi Pooja was 6 days back. Dang, I missed the dead line on this one too?

Let us look at the brighter side. There is no more stress to decide now. I have one more year. Next time I will not only add a reminder but I will seek out the godess of music when my phone reminds me.

PS: I gave the title to post after I wrote the article. So the title is more in keeping with the trend on facebook and other social sites. I hope the readers understand. I think Godess Saraswathi will not mind. So....

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ganesha Habba, 8th cross and the festive spirit

This article was written on the eve of Ganesha Chathurthi Festival on 19th September 2012  

Photo: flower vendor. She gave a long talk about how at least 4 to 5 people come and take her video and picture.

Last night I went to India Cash and Carry to buy Ganesha idol. Since the Ganesha festival was coming up in two days, the place was filled with people wanting to buy pooja material, along with vegetables and other ingredients needed to celebrate the festival. There was a table with Ganesha idols of various types and sizes. There were Ganeshas with a nama and with vibuthi stripes. There were standing, sitting and even dancing Ganeshas. I picked a Ganesha and brought it home. I was driving with Ganesha in the passenger seat next to me. At that moment a lot of memories from my childhood days came back to me.

In those days in order to immere oneself in the festive spirit one only needed to go to the venerable Malleshwaram 8th cross, which is nothing short of being one of the cultural hubs of the city. (I would have said 'The cultural nucleus of Bangalore', but I do not want our friends from Gandhi bazaar to pick a fight with me). On the day before the festival my father would come back from work in the evening and then I would walk with him to Malleswaram 8th cross. The whole street would be bustling with people in a 'standing room only' situation. The joke was that people just had to stand and they would be moved around by the flow of people. This street is lined with shops that sell anything from a nail in a hardware store to high end Saree Palaces selling silk Sarees, But what added color were the vendors on the street side, selling flowers, fruits and vegetables. The day before festival would bring other special items. These included mavina soppu (mango leaves), baale kandhu (banana plants) and banana leaves. The street would be filled with noises of vendors attracting customers and customers haggling with the vendors. During the Ganesha festival I would find one special guy who would call out from somewhere in the crowd "belli nagara, belli nagara, belli naaagra". Both my father and I were attracted to the sing song way he would keep repeating that at frequent intervals with his voice emanating from different directions. But, till now I am not sure what belli naagara is and what it is used for.

The crowd, especially women, young and old, dressed in all sorts of traditional and modern clothes walking around with excitement enhanced the festive spirit and would bring out a sense of community and collective joy. Occasionally we would meet friends and relatives there and chat for a new minutes.

My father would indulge in ceremonial haggling just so as to not feel ripped off. But the vendors never went down a bit and would instead say "habbada timeu. kammi baralla".(It is the festival season. No discount). After shopping with the street vendors and in the 8th cross market, we would join the many people who were walking back home with bags filled with vegetables, fruits and flowers and a pair of banana plants and mango leaves.

A few days before the festival my father would take me and my brother to buy the Ganesha idol. Bringing it home was itself a ceremony. He would carry it on a plate with rice in it. My brother and I would walk next to him shaking the hand bell. We would do this starting from the shops all the way home. My mother and grandmother would be there to receive lord Ganesha.

On the eve of the festival we had to decorate the mantapa for Ganesha. My father had an idea for this. We had a stool which he would invert and keep it on another tepoy. The inverted stool provided a frame to tie the Baale Kandhu and mango leaf torana around it. We would also bring colorful ornaments and crafts made from paper which we hung around the mantapa. Some people would get very fancy and made things that kept rotating behind Ganesha providing a mechanical halo. Oh who can forget the 'serial set' - the string of lights which would go on and off in a pattern.

Large flowers like lotuses or roses would be pinned to the stem of the banana plant. The priest's refrain was "you can keep these flowers for alankara (decoration) only. but you cannot use them for worship because they are not fit for divine consumption."

On the day of the festival we would wake up early and get busy with preparations. It was my job to string mango leaves together and hang them on the doors. My father would do the poooje and I and my brother were assistants. All three of us would wear the traditional panche and moguta after taking bath. My mother and grandmother were busy preparing the special meal and dishes for the day. The pooje ceremony would start when the priest came home. The priest would come early say by 8 only if you had made a 14 advance reservation. Instead if you had made a last minute reservation you had to wait till the priest was done with his services at other houses. Sometime it would take as late as 1.00 pm. Being on empty stomach was required until pooja was over. But owing to a loop hole in this requirement, my father was allowed to have coffee since it was not food by strict definition. My brother and I would get an exemption since we came under the children category and we were allowed to have breakfast - mostly avalakki which was easy to make. My grandmother would make both kaara avalakki and sweet avalakki with jaggery and grated coconut .

Once the priest arrived we would start performing the pooja. My father was the performer-in-chief. The two of us brothers were allowed to worship lord Ganesha at a reduced level. For instance, if my father offered a coconut to the god, we offered a pair of bananas. (The coconut has a higher status in the hierarchy of offerings to the lord)

After the pooja was over, we would feast on the special lunch of the day which included karigadubu and gasagase payasa. This meant that the next program of the adults was to take a nap. Starting at 3:00 groups of kids would start coming asking "ganesha kunDrisideera?" (Do you have Ganesha in your home). They would not wait for the answer but would just enter and hurl a handful of manthrakshate (holy rice) in the direction of the idol, much to the chagrin of my grandmother who was taking a nap right beside ganesha. At around 6:00 pm my friends would congregate near my house and we would go around our area looking at the various public Ganeshas. The evening program would be to invite neighbors and friends for another round of pooje called mangalaarathi. The best part of this was 'usli' a spicy dish made from garbanzo beans. That was then followed by dinner.

After dinner a touch of sadness would creep in since all the excitement was over. More over we had to go to our schools the next day. That was when we would all sigh and say "Oh well the anticipation of the festival was more exciting than the festival itself."

(photos of area around Malleswaram 8th cross)

Movie Review: Baran (Iran)

Just finished watching 'Baran' (Iran 2001) one of the most beautiful movies I have seen in recent times. It is a very poignant story of immigrant workers and their daily struggles. In the dust and grind of a construction site, emerges a story which discovers kindness, love and humanity among the workers, their boss, Iranian locals and refugee Afghans who have fled their country to Iran, in the wake of the Russian Occupation towards the end of the 70s decade.

If you have had any stereotypical notions about Iranians, Afghans or their lives, be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. It is very likely that the outside world especially the western countries have no patience or interest in seeing the humane side of that part of the world. The Iranian city in this movie is beautiful - replete with heavy snow covered tall trees, quaint idyllic villages and a city skyline signifying the urbanization of this country. I could not help thinking that it looks a lot like Russia.

This movie has superb photography and editing. I say that because it captures the expanses of the construction site and the camera captures the movements so smoothly that one feels that the viewer is right there watching from above.

This movie is directed by famed Iranian director Majid Majidi. This is my first film of his. I think I started of with a really good movie of his. My favorite character in the movie was the construction site boss. His character could have been made to be a flat character - instead he is a very likable character capable of a lot of humane emotions.

I will give this movie 8/10. 

Movie Review: Django - Unchained

Django Unchained, like all Tarantino movies does not disappoint his ardent followers. I was quite impressed with this movie except I could not get into the hero's emotions. This has a lot to do with Jamie Foxx's uninspiring performance as the hero Django. On the other hand Christoph Waltz with his beautiful German accented speech, steals the show in this movie. He rightfully won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Oscars. I think he should have been nominated for the Best Actor Role because he has as much a hero's role as Jamie Foxx.

Another stellar performance is by Samuel L Jackson. He plays Stephen who is a house slave but one who enjoys better treatment by his master because he controls the remaining slaves. Stephen hates his own people and is a co-racist with his white master. Jackson's acting brings out this feeling superbly. Leonardo Di Caprio as the master Mr. Candy has a devilishly delicious role and he plays it with abandon. Some of the best scenes in the movie involve Leo and Jackson especially the dinner table scene.

The movie has the characteristic elements one sees in a Tarantino movie. There is a lot violence, blood, swearing and bad language. There is also wacky humor - especially the scene involving the KKK members conducting a ride. There is good music too.

I felt that some parts of the movie were a bit dry - especially the scenes involving Django. The movie could have been a bit shorter. The script is fantastic - full marks to Tarantino. Overall it is a good movie.

I will rate it a 7 on 10.

Movie: Elite Squad - The Enemy within

When it comes to making movies about drug and gang wars, I think South America gets top honors. All the movies I have seen with such hemes are extremely engrossing. The City of God, Sin Nombre, Cronos, Miss Bala are some of the grittiest crime movies I have seen.

The Brazilian movie 'Elite Squad - The Enemy within' is a top notch crime thriller in the same genre. It addresses a combination of real and persistent problems in the country - drug wars, gang violence and corrupt law enforcement officials. Col. Nascimento is a hardened veteran of Rio De Jeniero's drug wars. He heads the elite crime fighting unit BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais). In his attempt to rid the city of drug lords and gangs he realizes that the corrupt police are no less criminals. When Nascimento successfully eliminates most of the gangs the corrupt police take their spot and start making money through extortion. Using this story the movie weaves a dense web consisting of criminals, the police and politicians on one side and BOPE on the other.

There are some very interesting characters in this movie. The left wing human rights activist Fraga and a politician who has an animated TV show are a treat to watch. Wagnor Moura who plays Col. Nascimento gives a natural performance. The movie shows realistic view of life in Brazil including a stark picture of slum and drug lords who use the slum. The gun fights are a thrill to watch.
My rating for this movie is 8 out of 10.