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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Meditating For Moolah

Posted by anandrr on January 28, 2010

This being my very first trip to an Ashram of any kind, I was expecting to run into a strong cult of personality, but little that would annoy me. The surprises started at the get-go.

The ashram is a huge swath of land in San Ramon covering many hills, valleys, lakes, and what appear to be moderate-sized farms. We visited on a Saturday, the only weekend during Amma’s two weekend-Bay Area visit that she would be meeting with the public. “Giving darshan,” as we Indians say.

The main action is centered around an auditorium, a  middling barn-like structure built on the side of a hill. The area around the ashram had been converted into make-shift parking lots, each with a jarring title: the Kailash lot, the Rishikesh lot and so on.

The Punyam Trail to the Parking Lot

The Punyam Trail to the Parking Lot

The Kailash lot is connected to the auditorium via the Punyam trail that cuts across the intervening hill. No word on whether those who take the longer scenic route to the auditorium are missing out on the short cut to salvation.

As you walk to the event, you are surrounded by cars whose owners proclaim both their love for the mother as well as their extreme liberalism (2-heart-Amma license plates cheek by jowl with bumper stickers sloganeering for Peace) You also find that you are surrounded by a wide variety of Indians, some non-Indian Asians, and a large number of Caucasians dressed in white kurtas, salwars, and donning beads and necklaces. It is then that you realize that this combination of Indian and white is only seen in one other type of event in the Bay Area: classic rock concerts. Those who have been will recognize this readily: if you went to a Roger Waters or Mark Knopfler or Jethro Tull concert in the Bay Area in the nineties you would have come upon a curious demographic mix, old baby boomer Americans with tie dyes, pony tails and young twenty-something Indians raised on a steady diet of  classic rock. Replace the older hippies with a younger version, and you have the demographic mix of the “mother” events. As you approach the auditorium, you realize that the similarity to a rock concert is not entirely incidental, the business model seems to be almost entirely copied. There is one vital difference: the main event, the meeting (and embrace!) with the “mother” is free. But this event is surrounded by commercial merchandising that will take your breath away. To start with, just as the Stones go on tour with the prominent “lick” logo, so does the “mother.” She comes complete with a swooshy logo that would make Nike proud, as well as a slogan for the North American leg of her tour (Embracing the World, natch). Everything is on sale with a high markup. Books, tapes, CDs, holy water, holy ash, holy sandal wood, holy incense, holy puja material, holy everything, all duly blessed. Pictures and paintings of doubtful artistic value but incalculable blessing value. Food of doubtful nutritional and even less culinary value. But the one that had me gasping for air was the table with the offerings to the mother. Devotees like to take offerings to the mother when they gain darshan. Towards this, they can buy at this table a small box of Hershey’s kisses for $4 or a large bag of the same candy for $7. This is chutzpah that would make Donald Trump proud. Buy the items at Costco for a cheap $1-$2, sell them to a devotee at around 4x the price and then, follow me carefully here, get it right back from the devotee as an offering.

‘I don’t understand why you buy eggs for seven cents apiece in Malta and sell them for five cents’
‘I do it to make a profit’
‘But how can you make a profit? You lose two cents an egg.’
‘But I make a profit of three and a quarter cents an egg by selling them for four and a quarter cents an egg to the people in Malta I buy them for seven cents an egg. Of course, I don’t make a profit. The syndicate makes the profit. And everybody has a share.’
Yossarian felt he was beginning to understand. ‘And the people you sell the eggs to at four and a quarter cents apiece make a profit of two and three quarter cents apiece when they sell them back to you at seven cents apiece. Is that right? Why don’t you sell the eggs directly to you to eliminate the people you buy them from?’
‘Because I’m the people I buy them from’, Milo explained.

— Joseph Heller, Catch-22

At least Milo would be proud.

Once you’re past the curious demographics, the branding and the commercialism you finally find the groupies. You can’t have a rock concert without them, and the same goes for a  darshan. There they are, overcome by the mere sight of the lovely lady, alternately rapturous and stunned into speechless wonderment. I was put in mind of this one time that I ran into Vijay Amritraj at the Leela in Bangalore and my jaw dropped to the floor as I stood there and reminisced about his game-changing performance at the Davis Cup against Martin Jaite. I found myself strangely immobile, overcome by the dueling emotions of wanting to fall on my knees and kiss his ring and simultaneously unable to do anything lest this heavenly apparition suddenly disappear. I’ve never  been much for the divine souls myself, but I must imagine the feeling on encountering the amma is somewhat similar.

All told, I suppose the most egregious aspect of the experience was encountering such a blatantly capitalistic enterprise cloaked in so much anti-materialistic spiritualism. In a sense, it is a matter of  some not insubstantial aspiration and achievement that a mere girl from the fishing villages of Kerala has ascended to the head of a huge multi-million (billion?) dollar enterprise, and who am I to fault her for her enterprise and gumption if this is how she chose to get there. On the other hand, it leaves one with the realisation that perhaps nothing is really sacred any more, not even the sacred. That takes getting used to, when I get there, perhaps I’ll have true zen.

Posted in Business, Capitalism, Corruption, Culture, Economics, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Like A Rock

Posted by anandrr on May 11, 2009

Like a virgin
Touched for the very first time

— Madonna, Like a Virgin

Mr Pink: “Like a Virgin” is all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The whole song is a metaphor for big dicks.
Mr Blue: No it’s not. It’s about a girl who is very vulnerable and she’s been fucked over a few times. Then she meets some guy who’s really sensitive–
Mr Pink: –Whoa…whoa…time out Greenbay. Tell that bullshit to the tourists.
Joe: (looking through his address book) Toby…who the fuck is Toby? Toby…Toby…think…think…think…
Mr Pink: It’s not about a nice girl who meets a sensitive boy. Now granted that’s what “True Blue” is about, no argument about that.
Mr Orange: Which one is “True Blue?”
Nice Guy Eddie: You don’t remember “True Blue?” That was a big ass hit for Madonna. Shit, I don’t even follow this Tops In Pops shit, and I’ve at least heard of “True Blue.”
Mr Orange: Look, asshole, I didn’t say I ain’t heard of it. All I asked was how does it go? Excuse me for not being the world’s biggest Madonna fan.
Mr Brown: I hate Madonna.
Mr Blue: I like her early stuff. You know, “Lucky Star,” “Borderline” – but once she got into her “Papa Don’t Preach” phase, I don’t know, I tuned out.
Mr Pink: Hey, fuck all that, I’m making a point here. You’re gonna make me lose my train of thought.
Joe: Oh fuck, Toby’s that little china girl.
Mr White: What’s that?
Joe: I found this old address book in a jacket I ain’t worn in a coon’s age. Toby what? What the fuck was her last name?
Mr Pink: Where was I?
Mr Orange: You said “True Blue” was about a nice girl who finds a sensitive fella. But “Like a Virgin” was a metaphor for big dicks.
Mr Pink: Let me tell ya what “Like a Virgin”‘s about. It’s about some cooze who’s a regular fuck machine. I mean all the time, morning, day, night, afternoon, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick.
Mr Blue: How many dicks was that?
Mr White: A lot.
Mr Pink: Then one day she meets a John Holmes motherfucker, and it’s like, whoa baby. This mother fucker’s like Charles Bronson in “The Great Escape.” He’s diggin tunnels. Now she’s gettin this serious dick action, she’s feelin something she ain’t felt since forever. Pain.
Joe: Chew? Toby Chew? No.
Mr Pink: It hurts. It hurts her. It shouldn’t hurt. Her pussy should be Bubble-Yum by now. But when this cat fucks her, it hurts. It hurts like the first time. The pain is reminding a fuck machine what is was like to be a virgin. Hence, “Like a Virgin.”

— Opening Scene, Reservoir Dogs

I was doing a brief tour of Indian mythology the other day and was reminded of the story of Ahalya. Ahalya, wife of Gautama the rishi, was supposedly the most beautiful woman of her time (hence the name). But presumably not entirely happy with her relationship with a mere rishi, she promptly fell for the seductions of Lord Indra, the chief of the Devas. Gautama on his discovery of this infidelity, got so enraged he turned Ahalya into a rock, and cursed Indra to have a thousand vaginas all over his body. Ahalya was released from her curse when Lord Rama stumbled on her during his teenage expedition with his brother Laxmana and the sage Vishwamitra.

As I was thinking of this story, the arc of Ahalya from promiscuity to frigidity and then back to life on being touched by Lord Rama, the curse of Indra to be covered by a thousand vaginas (for some reason I had once thought a thousand penises, which gives “Dick, dick, dick, dick…” a whole new meaning) all of this indicates to me that perhaps Quentin Tarantino missed the real meaning of Like a Virgin.

Posted in Culture, Films, Funny, Sexuality, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Oscars and the Matthew Effect

Posted by anandrr on February 23, 2009

Anand (Sr) writes about the Matthew Effect and the Oscars. To which we say:

  • Of course the Matthew Effect is dominant. Oscar nominations are a function of PR and lobbying more than anything else,  the marginal PR required for the ninth nom is much less than the marginal PR for the first.
  • Some noms make no sense at all. Button for editing? One imagines even the Academy is somewhat unsure what they are honoring. Or perhaps they think a consolation prize is in order so they nominate it anyway.
  • Winning an Oscar is all about being in the right place at the right time, so yes the Matthew Effect must dominate again. You have to find the right combination of Hollywood liberal guilt, Hollywood elitist condescension, and Hollywood self-preening and then make it work in your movie’s favor. If all of those are pointing in your direction, you win. (Sean Penn just had to win last night, or else who else could lecture all of us for voting against Prop. 8 last year? If Frost/Nixon had been nominated last year, it would have been a lock for many Oscars, perfect opportunity for Hollywood to tell us all how to vote in the upcoming general, but now that the great Hope and Changer has been elected in, its time is past.)

Final semantic consideration: who knew that “the rich getting richer” effect had such a good name and what’s more that the Matthew in question is the Matthew of the Bible specifically endorsing such unequal outcomes? This raises a theological question:

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.  — Matthew 19:24

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. — Matthew 25:29

One surmises that the kingdom of God is not all that it is cracked up to be, or that between 19 and 25, Matthew went from being a commie to an unrepentant capitalist. Perhaps Ayn Rand had made an appearance as understudy prophet. One imagines Matthew 31 being all about the subprime debacle that followed.

Posted in Capitalism, Communism, Culture, Economics, Films, Funny, Media, Philosophy, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

And the Oscar For the Most Ungracious Acceptance Goes To

Posted by anandrr on February 23, 2009

Danny Boyle, for not mentioning any of his cast members who surely helped him direct the movie and get it done (not least his Co-Director)?

Posted in Capitalism, Culture, Films, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Zadie Smith Speaks in Tongues

Posted by anandrr on February 13, 2009

Ever since White Teeth, I have loved Zadie Smith. In a beautiful essay, she riffs on immigration, cultural identity, assimilation, Pygmalion, Cary Grant and much more all in the service of understanding Obama. Of course she is talking about America and its melting pot, but she could very well be describing a rapidly globalising India. Did I mention I love her?

Posted in Culture, English, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

L’affaire Satyam: Two Thoughts

Posted by anandrr on January 12, 2009

Just two quick thoughts about this whole Satyam business.

Not to condone what Mr Raju did, has confessed to doing or might confess to over the days to come, but I’m forced to ask: How much of the cavalier attitude towards the law that seems all pervasive in Indian businesses is fostered by the excessive regulation of business with a low price bar set for (apparent) compliance (i.e., just pay off the official in charge of ensuring compliance)? For a country that prides itself on the entrepreneurial spirit of its people, we make it exceedingly hard for entrepreneurs to start companies. To take a tiny example, just being a Director of private company requires registration with the Government, while I would argue that even for a public company the most that should be required is SEBI clearance. I’m not a Laffer curve enthusiast for the most part, but the situation in India seems very pre-Kennedy and it seems like a reduction in regulation would increase (real) compliance very greatly.

Second, we are now in an environment where a large number of software engineers are suddenly going to find themselves out of jobs with a full blown recession ensuring that they have nowhere to turn. Sounds like a great opportunity for the Central Government. The Government has many fine labs and research centres (DRDO, ISRO, HAL, NAL…) suffering from an acute shortage of good engineers because all the good ones go to the private sector for the money. If the labs have any sense, they’ll all go and set up shop in the Satyam’s parking lot and scoop up the best people from there and make some real lemonade from lemons. If I know my Government well, this opportunity too will pass like many others before and many more to come.

Posted in Business, Capitalism, Corruption, Economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Quickie Film Review: Sarkar Raj

Posted by anandrr on January 1, 2009

We watched Sarkar Raj recently. We waited so long because we had watched Sarkar and had been rather unimpressed. We are not big fans of derivative movies. Except when we are, of course. But Sarkar Raj was good! We enjoyed it thoroughly.  Watching it, we were struck by two things: First, an open-collar-black-jacket, clean shaven Abhishek could stand in for Obama in the movie version of 2008. Second, as often as Abhishek utters the word “change” (except he calls it badlav) in Sarkar Raj, heck, he probably is Obama. I doubt that the word change has ever been uttered more pointlessly and vacuously anywhere else except in the Obama campaign?

Posted in Corruption, Films, Politics, Reviews, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Tale of Two Pakistani Kids

Posted by anandrr on December 14, 2008

Almost a month ago, young Nasir Sultan, 15, was released from a jail in India and allowed to return to his hometown in Pakistan.

Nasir Sultan returns to Pakistan. © AP

Nasir Sultan returns to Pakistan. © AFP

Young Nasir was guilty of sneaking into India. He idolized Shah Rukh Khan and wished to make a career for himself in Bollywood. When found, he was put in jail, but released quickly because who among us has not been guilty of wanting to meet the King of Bollywood? Most Indians would have been sympathetic towards young Nasir, and nobody wished him anything but a safe return.

Exactly one week later, India woke up to this picture in their newspapers of another young Pakistani who had sneaked into the country.

One of the Mumbai terrorists.

One of the Mumbai terrorists.

Both pictures show us a confident, young man, dressed like any reasonably well off middle class kid in the subcontinent, and but for the weaponry virtually indistinguishable from one another. One sneaked into India because he was attracted by the glitz of Mumbai, the other, well, apparently for the same reason, but with different motives.

But here’s the kicker. In the future, expect young Nasirs when they are found to be treated with no kindness at all. After all, who’s to say? Any cop who finds an errant Pakistani kid in India will certainly make sure that the kid pays not only for his current sin of being on foreign soil without a permit, but for all the sins of his fellow-countrymen. And that’s the real tragedy. All young Pakistani boys and men suddenly moved into the enemy column. But mostly, they really just want to be Shah Rukh Khan.

Posted in Culture, Films, Foreign Policy, Politics, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Flashback Friday: India’s Bruce Springsteen

Posted by anandrr on December 5, 2008

I ran into this quite by accident. Is it me or wasn’t there an old Rishi Kapoor song, Rishi Kapoor at a traffic intersection, decked out in red, yellow and green lights making a complete ass of himself or am I completely misremembering a traumatic incident of my childhood? I was searching Youtube for this comedic gem and ended with nothing to show. Instead, let’s all doff our hats to the serendipitous wonders of the tubes, I ran into Mithun showing us how it’s done. The easily excitable aunties in the audience are so enthralled by his moves, it’s all they can do to remain seated! And that shrieking girl, oh precious.

Since I never write about anything until I’ve researched the shit out of it, I just now spent some time on the Wikipedia page for Disco Dancer (while you’re on the Wikipedia page, check out the “Cliche Dialogues” section, especially the, “He’s got guitar phobia. A guitar killed his mother,” priceless! One imagines an army of guitars descending on the guitar phobic, one also imagines a staunch 2nd Amendment defender claiming, “Guitars don’t kill people, People kill people.” One wonders if the purists booed when the guitar killers went suddenly from using acoustic to electric. Sellouts! But enough, back to the res), and what should I find but that the movie was made in 1982. Per the same Wikipedia, Bruce made Dancing in the Dark in 1984. Who copied whom? Does Courteney Cox owe her career to Mithun and Bappi L? We need answers!

To close out this discussion, I’m thinking it would have been cool if MTV India (or Channel V) had launched with this song:

I’m guessing they didn’t. However, for your viewing pleasure here is the original any way:

You’re making the first ever music video, and this is the best you can do? You’re changing the way the world experiences music and you have a little girl turning the dials on a washing machine? WTF? Seriously, WTF?

Posted in Culture, Films, Nostalgia, Showbiz, TV, wtf | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Flashback Friday: Pearls Before Swine

Posted by anandrr on October 17, 2008

A colleague recently told me he was visiting Madikeri for the Puja vacation. That immediately reminded me of the song from Mutthina Hara. The Madikeri Sipyee one, the one with the indecipherable Kodava words. And I just spent the last half hour searching Youtube but damned if I can find the song. All the other fine songs from the movie seem to be on there, but this particular one: no dice. So instead, here for your cringing pleasure is another song from 1990, and I hate to say it, at the time I thought it was good. We were all young once, alas.

Posted in Culture, Films, Kannada, Media, Nostalgia, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »