Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Oriental Occidental

My earlier post (and memory) was triggered by one of Maugham's books that I was recently reading - The Razor's Edge. Placed in early 20th century and with Maugham's frank illumination on his society, the book creates a very realistic picture of Europe compared against the infallible impression on my childhood mind. It is a Europe where class distinction was a proud truth, socializing and social standing were paramount values and marriage was seen as the 'most profitable employment' for women.
No doubt the reality of Europe (or the west in general) was (and is) different from the reality of India (or the East in general), but they are not unequal realities. In comparing their values and standing, it would be very difficult to say which was superior, and in my view the suggestive classification of First, second, third, fourth worlds is open to suspicion and questioning.

Perhaps then, a valid classification seems to be the division of these two realities into Occidental and Oriental. That is a classification which does not place one over the other, but places them at different ends of a spectrum. While Occidental depicts material progressiveness, pragmatism, industrial development and dominance of Christanity, Oriental is associated with spiritualism, rudiment, elementality and a multidue of Gods. The two terms, thus depict a different orientation and both have a different measure for development. Of course, measured from each end, the other end would look degenerate and regressive and therefore both Oriental and Occidental worlds have sneered at each other for lack of spiritual awareness and economic backwardness respectively.

With the progress of time, however, it seems that nations are no longer ready to commit to any one end of this spectrum. Simultaneously with the wave of saffron clad westerners roaming the streets of Rishikesh and Benares, also arose a wave of industriuos Easterners attempting to make a mark in the materialistic world, often migrating to the west for better prospects. Today, the world seems full of 'money searching easterners' often passing by 'soul searching westerners' on their way to the international airport. It seems remarkably parallel to the diffussion of cold and hot waters, each bringing its temperature to merge into an equillibrium.

May be like the yin and yan, or the God and the devil, the two realities exist simultaneously in the world, manifesting themselves in different degrees in different places and cultures. Or may be it is just my Oriental fancy :-)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Experiments in Physics for boys

It was a strange experience - finding that book and reading the title. For a while, I just stood with it wondering what it meant.
The book had dropped innocuosly in my hands while I was searching in the library for a suitable topic for my physics project. The unexpected post-script "For Boys" in the title both confused and teased me. I put down the book on the library table with an annoyed jerk and saw a 'Boy' classmate look at me with a wry smile after having looked at the cover.
I opened the book to glance through it, almost ready to dismiss whatever it offered. In part, I was also curious to find the exclusive 'boyishness' in the contents. I was a little irked to see that it offered interesting (and fun) experiments that I could use for the exhibition, but there was nothing that would limit the knowledge to a specific half of the world population as the title declared.
As soon as I got a chance, I asked the librarian about it, unable to hide either my surprise or my annoyance. My surprise was of course at the post-script, finding mention in a british book.
And it was then that the knowledgeable lady opened my eyes.

Up until then, I had believed that gender bias was a phenomenon exclusive to India. With a smirk so typical of the convent going kids, I would love to point out to anyone who would listen that ours was a degenerate society plagued by ills such as female foeticide, dowry deaths, sati, gender bias, religious fanaticism (this after the infamous riots of '91) and explosive population. Somehow, in the history books that were read to us by the nuns, only the Indian ills found repeated mention, while the extreme conservatism, racism, nationalism of the west were mellowed out.
Thus when the librarian described for me the conservative English life, where formal education was reserved for men while women only so much as attended finishing schools if at all, I was nothing short of shocked. Her description of strict disciplinarian schools of Britain further horrified me. It was a picture beyond my imagination. I had always assumed the western world to be the perfect world - a society diametrically opposite to the Indian where all plagues of the latter did not exist (and never had). I do not know nor remember where I picked up that impression. For until then I had not watched any English movies and my reading of English books was limited to Enid Blyton's Secret Seven and Famous Five which hardly supported this view.
Perhaps it was the convent education itself then. Or a curriculum that had deeply borrowed from the British education system. But subconsciously, we had been spared the awareness of western evils.
Post this incident, I picked up a lot of history books and attempted to read about the British society. The enthusiasm did not last long, but I read enough to realize the folly of my previous assumptions. I read of crusades and holocaust and figured that Christanity was not absolved from religious intolerance. And I read classics where I found british girls faced with the same predicament of finding a suitable catch that Indian girls have to often worry about.

I still wonder why was it so easy for me to believe the worst about my own nation and its history, while aparently gloricising the west.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Hours

There is no particular reason for my sudden surge on movie blogging except that I have fallen into a pattern where I am watching almost one movie a day (thanks to which the reading has taken a big hit!). I have realized that my earlier life has been seriously deprived of movie watching and therefore I have a near compulsion to make up for the loss and clear the backlog.

So I watched another great movie that I had missed watching in 2002. The Oscar winning film (Best actress: Nicole Kidman, also nominated for the best film) based on a Pullitzer winning work by Michael Cunningham: The Hours . I have written before on books made into movies and the plight they generally suffer. Not having read the book, I am unable to make the comparison in this case, but the movie in itself was remarkable and has enthused me to pick up the book sometime in near future.

The movie is a set of three stories - not exactly parallel, but connected strongly. The strong connection is provided by Virginia Woolfe's book 'Mrs. Dalloway' (which is another book that I have not read and would like to, after watching this movie). One story is that of Woolfe herself, as she writes the book. It also dwells on her mental instability that finally leads to her suicide.
The second story is that of a woman who is reading the book and begins to identify with the character.
The third story is of a woman who is called 'Mrs. Dalloway' by her closest friend, due to her terrific closeness to the character.

I have not particularly liked the two Woolfe books that I have read. Going by some references in works of some authors of her time, I always her as imagined a neurotic, impatient woman floating in the upper society. And somehow her two books confirmed that image. However, 'The hours' brings her to life in a very compelling manner. Its almost enviable to see her so absorbed in her other world - the world created in the book that she is writing. She seems so connected with the story that it almost seems like the events were happening to her. And strangely, in the movie this particular phenomenon comes out more strongly due to the connection in the life of her and her reader.

Nicole Kidman is brilliant. She is unrecognizable, and is able to live the neuroticism so well. Merryl Streep and Julliane Moore also impress, especially Streep in her epitomization of Mrs Dalloway.

The movie is great - one of those movies which leave you a little unsettled. And thoughtful.

Monday, May 21, 2007

12 Angry men

I watched this classic to overcome the disastrous effects of watching one really painful movie : '1:40 ki last local' , which is, without doubt, the worst movie that I have watched this year. '12 Angry men' not just helped me overcome the bad taste, it also made me feel quite refreshed.

The movie is a 1957 movie, and a brilliant portrayal of a jury's examination of a case. The case under trial is that of murder, where a young man brought up in slums is alleged to have stabbed his unkind father in a fit of anger. As the discussion begins, 11 out of the 12 men are convinced that the verdict is guilty and there is no room for further discussion. However, when asked to give reasons/explanations, there are very few who are able to give logical arguments. Each of them has simply presumed guilt given the circumstances. As the discussion unfolds, a lot of hidden agendas of the jury members come out - prejudices against thankless sons, prejudices against the slum dwellers, urgency to wind up and go for a baseball game and inability to go against the majority.

The movie is quite fast paced, realistic and engrossing. It brings out beautifully the responsibility of justice and how easy it is for people to sometimes shrug it. It also depicts how each man can bring to the table some new perspective accumulated from his life, which could be very relavant to making the decision.

Henry Fonda was remarkable in his role as the sole propenant for a "Non guilty" verdict. The other jurors too did not fail to leave a mark and lent remarkable drama to what could otherwise have been just a discussion amongst 12 men.

Great classic, with a theme that is not dated even today.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The modern woman?

Recently, a fellow blogger wrote a post on how his mother got offended by the idea of divorce to a brutal husband. To me, with all my airs of modernity and independence, it sounds very clearly an irrational reaction. Perhaps in her case, it can be explained away with the mindset of her generation, or perhaps a social/financial dependence.

However, it appears that the persistence of women in unhappy marriages continues. Just yesterday I watched a movie "Life in a metro", where the portrayal of a modern woman by Shilpa Shetty was bound with the same cliche' constraints. She gives up her attachment to a sensitive man when her erroneous and disgustingly chauvinist husband returns home. Perhaps this was only a cinematic exaggeration of reality and cinema's obsession with portraying the heroine as morality/selflessness personified.
Yet some small incidents indicate that even the modern, well-educated, financially self-sufficient woman finds it hard to put her terms in the marriage. Perhaps one of the biggest indicators is the number of well qualified women who leave their jobs and sit at home. In my own small circle I know women educated from IITs/IIMs who are not working anymore. And I cringe when I hear of each such case. Then there are many friends who continue with overpossessive, abusive boyfriends, unable to break away.

Though I am not a feminist, being a woman myself has led me to have several debates with some of the 'broad-minded' men of today. Some of them arrogantly claim that they will not mind if their wives want to work - as if it was their prerogative to decide. Others explain that the motive of education is not only to work and earn money but to open the mind as well - therefore a non-working woman is not 'wasting' her education. It is ironical that the same men sometimes are seen explaining the importance of hard-earned money to these wives. There are yet others who say that why should their wives go through the hassles of working when they have the capability to feed them!!

I am not claiming that things have not improved from before. The financial independence has given significant self esteem to most women, and at least some manage to break away from unhappy marriages. The domestic burdens too are shared with greater equality in many homes, and working couple is a common term.
Yet there are those gaps that remain. Most 'seperated' women either stay single or enter into another compromising marriage. The arrival of a child often brings about a termination of the mother's career. And women like me are often asked in interviews about my career goals post marriage. I can almost always see them mentally calculating the time when I will plan a baby and either quit or stop being useful for the firm.
I don't know who is to blame for these small gaps. Is it the burden of ages that we have been carrying? Or the stubbornness of men to let go of their carefully protected dominant position? Or the biological factors that make women more accepting (the whole XY,YY explanation)? Or better still, we can blame it on Eve and her lust for the apple - after all she is not even there to defend.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Trois Couleurs

Trois Couleurs ("Three Colors") is a trilogy of three french movies: Bleu ("Blue"), Blanc("White") and Rouge("Red"). After searching for a long time and more than an year since watching the preceeding version , I was finally able to watch the final part of this trilogy: Rouge. The movie certainly was worth the hunt.

Each of the three movies center around a color (the three colors of the French flag incidentally). They are losely based on the political motto of liberty, equality and fraternity respectively- though I think that is more of an explanation of the theme and way to define the trilogy rather than the actual essence of the movies.

The three stories are disconnected and therefore can be watched in any sequence. The first one depicts a woman trying to deal with the death of her husband and child and learning to live by herself and become free. The second is a story of revenge from a man who has been abandoned by his lover/wife. In the third, a retired judge spies on his neighbours by tuning in to their calls, and sees a parallel of his own life in one of the young men he is spying on.

Each of the movie is brilliant, artistic and almost poetic. They mostly seem to be like the reading of a book rather than watching of a movie, enhanced strongly by the persistent use of colours. There is very little dialogue/interaction, which is useful as it leaves very little to be lost in translation. However in all stories, you can't help feeling a strong, pressing sense of loneliness -which almost appears to be a curse of individuality.

My personal favorite amongst the three: Blanc - perhaps that's owed to its interesting plot, and a more identifiable and formed ending.