Jun 24, 2015

Song of the Swan (Play) - a review

I have been living in Mumbai for more than 10 years now, and yet I have not managed to watch many plays. Pretty shameful, indeed.

My friend and colleague had this interesting new-year resolution aspect about watching one play every month. I guess I must have been triggered by it. Plus, one of J’s friends is part of the cast of many plays.

A combination of these two factors has started to have it’s effect, and I have been to three plays that she is acting in in the last two months­­—The Vagina Monologues, Boiled Beans on Toast, and Song of the Swan.

The play is a recollection of stories revolving around the tragic beheading of a Norwegian theater artist, Hans Christian, in Kashmir a few years back. Hans, while chasing his dream of being a successful playwright, visited India because he was attracted by its spirituality. He visited Kerala and took Kathakali lessons from a local master. Then he went to Mumbai, where he accidentally met the Song of the Swan’s director Asad Hussain at Prithvi after a play that Hussain was in the cast of, before heading to Delhi on his way to Kashmir. In Kashmir, he was held captive by Mujahideen for several days before ultimately behind beheaded after failed negotitations.

The entire play was a continuous narrative, with the five-member cast performing the various roles within the various scenes. The transitions between the scenes were abrupt and were startling at times. I often found myself getting lost in the narrative monologues of one character, only to be shaken back to reality by the the almost intrusive entry of the next. Plus, during the more schizoid scenes, there would be two or more characters talking over each other, representing to the chaotic environment inside the minds of the various characters.

Song of the Swan has deep-rooted political and philosophical narratives. The political aspect comes from the obvious terrorism-related story. But the various scenes set in Kashmir near the Dal lake bring the viewer to painful awareness of the struggles of the natives, how they are being played out like Pawns in the game between India and Pakistan, and how they consider themselves as neither nation. The play seems to attribute some empathy to the negotiator representing the Mujahideen, and the narrative of the phone conversations between the two negotiators was an aspect that I have never come across. The most important part, however, is how the state of affairs plays with the sanity of the different players in the Kashmir theater.

The philosophical aspect comes from the fact that Hans, who is described as an absolute gem of a person with many enviable attributes (singing/acting), has had a miserable life, with multiple rejections in different fronts. He was coming from a failed marriage and had been rejected admission in some theater schools. He is lured by the spirituality aspect of India and has this dream of writing a play and getting it on the best theater in Oslo. His mother’s character often wonders if he should have been a more “normal” boy without such big aspirations. I thought that was symbolic of several artist friends that I know (including myself) who seem to struggle because of their seemingly overambitious dreams.

I loved the play. But as my friend rightly says, I’m very pleasable. So although I compeltely recommend it, I also hope that you like it as much as I did.

Jun 19, 2015


I have an idea.

How about inventing a way to enjoy things in life where you spend less time but have the same quality of cognitive experience?

Something like how speed-reading is for reading?

Imagine this:
  • Full-length songs needing only 30 s.
  • South Park episodes needing only 2 min.
  • Game of Thrones episodes needing only 6 min.
  • Full-length movies needing only 15 min.
  • T-20 games requiring only 20 min.
  • Full-length books needing only 1 hour.
  • Working days being only 1.5 hours.
If I could pay for it, I would. Wouldn't you?

Jun 18, 2015

"I’ve outlived my dick" - A Poem - by Willie Nelson

Our genitalia play a vital role in our pride and lives. You may have heard anecdotes from men in the lines of "I go where my cock/dick takes me." I have been in relationships with older men all my life and there are times when their appendages let them down. 
My hilarious friend Dom from New York shared with me this poem about older men this morning.
"I’ve outlived my dick."   
A Poem - by Willie Nelson

My nookie ​days are ove​r
​My pilot light is out.
What used to be my pride and joy,
Is now my water ​spout.

Time was when, on its own accord,
From my trousers it would spring.
But now I've got a full time job,
To find the friggin' thing.

It used to be embarrassing,
The way it would ​behave.
For every single morning,
It would stand and watch me ​​shave.

Now as old age approaches,
It sure gives me the blues.
To see it hang its little head,
And watch me tie my shoes!!

Jun 12, 2015

Why inter-generational relationships work

In a couple of recent dinner conversations, I had opportunity to explain how inter-generational relationships work. In my monologue, which in such cases is like a disclaimer to break down the myths behind such relationships, I touched upon the philosophy/anecdote that my friend Matt told me once. By the way, I met Matt, like I have met a bunch of my friends, on SilverDaddies.com, a site for gay inter-generational dating.

Some background. Matt is a 60-something man interested in younger men. He's well-to-do and has recently retired from a high-profile job in the oil industry. He married his boyfriend Bil, a younger man from the Middle East, earlier this year, and is still on a relatively long honeymoon. The couple seem very happy and enjoying their time.

Matt is the typical older gay man. He likes younger men, both for sex and romance. Bil is probably not the typical younger gay man, but he is the typical younger gay man seeking older men.

But Matt was not always into younger men. When he was younger, he had multiple relationships with men, and some of them with older men. He discovered that by being in relationships with older men, he gained access and exposure to social circles that he did not have access to otherwise. He enjoyed this and was able to leapfrog his peers in terms of pure social/emotional/intellectual growth.

When he grew older, his tastes in men became more conventional--younger men. He thought that it worked out well for the younger men, in the same way as he was when he was young. And it works both ways.

So I narrated this to my friends. My Japanese straight friends were fascinated by this, but J thought that this was just an excuse.

I agree with Matt's philosophy. I also believe that being in a generally trans-generational social circle has enabled me to get experiences that my peers have not been able to. What kind of experiences? Everything--culinary, artistic, cultural, intellectual. And I feel sorry for them.

Jun 11, 2015

Three books

I started three books last night. Entirely unlike me, I will admit. Not because I don't like reading, but because I don't have the kind of time I would have like to have had to devote to it. I have a gruelling full-time job, I'm a part-time musician, I live by myself for all practical purposes, I'm in a demanding relationship, and I live in Mumbai, which means I spend about 3 to 4 hours in commute every day. But that's not what this post is about. It is about the three books that I have started yesterday.

What were they? Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompson, and The Giver by Lois Lowry. How these books arrived in my consciousness is interesting.

My friend/colleague/book-clubber forwarded a TED talk by Dan Gilbert to me and J. I usually do not warm up to such video shares. First, because I rarely find myself in a situation, when I initially check the thread/conversation, where I can comfortably watch and comprehend what I'm seeing. Poor connectivity, environmental distractions, etc., you see. Second--come on, admit it. Who wants to hear another talk about the elusive "happiness"?

Anyway, I watched this talk--I was at my apartment late in the night when I checked and I immediately watched the video. Mr. Gilbert was not only persuasive in terms of his argument about how happiness is relative and difficult to attain, he was funny and had interesting references. Hence, I decided to download a sample on my Kindle. I was hooked and I bought the book immediately. I am now past the second chapter and it remains interesting.

Clive Thompson's book about technology changing our minds and the way we communicate was inspired by, ahem, another talk. This time, I was at the talk that Mr. Thompson gave at the plenary address at the Council of Science Editor's Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. The talk about the Future of Thought, and I, along with some other conference attendees thought this speech was the best at the conference.

Even in the talk, Clive was able to successfully demystify the notion that the changes in the way we communicate--the reliance of texting, social media, spending time online--which are generally considered bad for you, are not bad at all. We are thinking differently and that's fine. We are getting more information, which is benefiting us. He stresses on the "ambient information" from "weak ties" as the most useful information that you will get for your day-to-day life.

In other words, you will probably be more benefited from random status updates of your casual social acquaintances more than the in-depth discussions that you have with your spouse. Pretty cool, eh? If you want to find out more, please get the book. It's a smooth and fast-paced read.

Plus, Twitter now makes reading books on topics like these by being cool like this:

The third book, the Lois Lowry classic, is the book of the month this month in the book club. I came to know about it around the time the movie was released. The concept is fascinating, and is one of the more plausible dystopias that you can expect to be reality soon. Plus, the writing is crisp and fast paced. I'm so glad we chose this book for the young-adult fiction category.

(PS: I realized that fiction tends to make me sleepy (because of I'm perpetually tired and sleep deprived) whereas non-fiction does not. This is probably the fourth neuroscience-related book that I've picked up in the last year or so.)

Jun 10, 2015

My sister made everyone proud

My family is somewhat known for academics. Well, I know that holds true for most the Tam-Bram families that you know. Yet, my sister and I have been very good academicians throughout our academic careers. But yet, this news caught be my surprise initially, and pride and happiness immediately after.

Yesterday, my sister texted me stating that she had cleared the IIT-Madras MS entrance.

I'll try to put this in perspective. She is turning 41 this year. She graduated in Civil Engineering 19 years back. Since then she has taken some correspondence courses (e.g., MBA). For the last few years, she has been busy with her kid and her parents in law, who have not been in the pink of their healths.

Of course, I congratulated her and wished her the very best. She responded in a rather nonchalant manner that she may not be able to join because of her commitments to the family.

I feel sad about that, but I very well know that she can't do anything else. She, unlike me, has chosen to put family over everything else, thus, in my opinion, not taking care of herself as much as she should.

Jun 9, 2015

Everybody else is doing it, so why can't we?

I guess most people of my age have heard the title catch phrase because of the debut album of the '90s band The Cranberries. What people don't realize is that this phrase is a catch phrase of India as a nation. Why else would everyone do things that are outright stupid and unproductive? For example:
  • Why would people ride motor bikes on sidewalks, scaring the shit out of pedestrians, and feel no guilt?
  • Why would people walk at a slower pass flinging their arms around without being aware of how they are being jerks by obstructing and impeding pedestrian traffic?
  • Why would people out-honk each other at red lights?
  • Why would people talk so loud in public transport setting so that everyone else is forced to listen to their dinner plans?
  • Why do people spit out of cars in traffic-congested roads?
  • Why do people push and shove each other despite realizing that it is not going to achieve what they think it would?
The only way to rationalize--yes, I'm ashamed to--is this: everyone thinks that it is okay to do all this because everybody else is doing it and; so they can and should as well. I believe such behavior starts in childhood. Why? Probably because of the lack of proper nurturing opportunities, the lack of infrastructure, poverty, the paucity of resources.

Is there a way out? Maybe in a couple of generations. When/if the present generation try to educate their offspring about what could be done differently?

Oh yes, for those who think that this happens everywhere around the world and not just in India, here's an analogy. Religious extremism happens everywhere in the world, but it is sort of more common in the Middle East. So...