Friday, February 10, 2017

Closing cycles: Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho has always inspired me with his thought-provoking writings.The principle in the below excerpt is something I understand so well, yet I know, not as easy to follow.

One always has to know when a stage comes to an end. If we insist on staying longer than the necessary time, we lose the happiness and the meaning of the other stages we have to go through.
Closing cycles, shutting doors, ending chapters – whatever name we give it, what matters is to leave in the past the moments of life that have finished.

Did you lose your job? Has a loving relationship come to an end? Did you leave your parents’ house? Gone to live abroad? Has a long-lasting friendship ended all of a sudden?
You can spend a long time wondering why this has happened.

You can tell yourself you won’t take another step until you find out why certain things that were so important and so solid in your life have turned into dust, just like that.
But such an attitude will be awfully stressing for everyone involved: your parents, your husband or wife, your friends, your children, your sister.
Everyone is finishing chapters, turning over new leaves, getting on with life, and they will all feel bad seeing you at a standstill.

Things pass, and the best we can do is to let them really go away.

That is why it is so important (however painful it may be!) to destroy souvenirs, move, give lots of things away to orphanages, sell or donate the books you have at home.

Everything in this visible world is a manifestation of the invisible world, of what is going on in our hearts – and getting rid of certain memories also means making some room for other memories to take their place.
Let things go. Release them. Detach yourself from them.

Nobody plays this life with marked cards, so sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.
Do not expect anything in return, do not expect your efforts to be appreciated, your genius to be discovered, your love to be understood.

Stop turning on your emotional television to watch the same program over and over again, the one that shows how much you suffered from a certain loss: that is only poisoning you, nothing else.

Nothing is more dangerous than not accepting love relationships that are broken off, work that is promised but there is no starting date, decisions that are always put off waiting for the “ideal moment.”

Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: tell yourself that what has passed will never come back.
Remember that there was a time when you could live without that thing or that person – nothing is irreplaceable, a habit is not a need.
This may sound so obvious, it may even be difficult, but it is very important.

Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life.

Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust.

Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.

Original link here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Casa Loma: the courage to dream

Though a not-so-good student of history in high school, as a traveler history has me enthralled. To see what a person yearns for, fights for, gathers, wages wars for, amassing wealth and territories, the opulence and grandeur of an era gone by...all these hold a great fascination to me.
Yet, a visit to Casa Loma palace bowled me over for a different reason altogether. Princes, kings, queens, lords living in opulence is well-established in history but for a common man like you and me living in a palace is a dream and that is what Sir Henry Pellatt aimed for. He built and lived in a palace, the grandeur of which is beyond the wildest dreams of a common man.
Pellatt rose from a very humble origins as a stock broker. He made fortunes through his ambitious hydro-electric and railway projects. His larger-than-life persona sought to make a mark in history in the form of this grand castle in the North of Toronto built on the top of a hill in 1914.
Casa Loma on a foggy day

The very ambitious plan for the castle consisted of 98 rooms, 30 bathrooms, magnificent fireplaces, 3 bowling alleys, a swimming pool, a rifle range and huge grounds all around for walking. The best architect was hired to plan the construction of the palace, begun in 1911, with the help of 300 men at a total cost of  3.5 million dollars.The best of mahogany, oak, walnut, teak and marble from across the world used for the interiors added another 1.5 million dollars to the cost.
The Hunting Lodge and the stables right across Casa Loma were constructed first. It also housed the servants' quarters. It is said that each of the stables had the name of the horse embellished in gold.

The Hunting Lodge and servants' quarters

When the city built a road cutting across this property, Pellatt had a long 800-ft tunnel connecting the palace to the Hunting Lodge dug beneath the street. This long passage is said to have helped Pellatt protect himself from cold winters while walking from the palace to the stables.
The ground floor of the palace consisted of a palatial main hall at the entrance, a large library with a collection of 10000 books, the dining and serving areas, Pellatt's study and the impressive conservatory.
An example of Pellatt's ambitious plan is his collection of  50 various telephone instruments in the castle, accounting for more than half the telephones in Toronto, with its own exchange system.

One of the 50 phones in the palace
Pellatt had the grand Napoleon's desk replicated in his study. There were two secret passage ways from each side of the fireplace, one led to his bedroom and another to the basement. The movement across floors was also assisted  with the help of lifts that Pallett had installed...again an unheard of luxury in those days. Strangely there was no staircase from the central hall to the first floor.

Pellatt's study

The Oak room was one of the most formal rooms with grand interiors where Pellatt entertained important guests. Off the Oak Room are the huge Smoking Room and the Billiards Room.

The Oak Room
Towards the end of the main floor, there was a conservatory with the best floral arrangements. Steamed water helped maintain normal temperatures during harsh winters.
Between the huge library and the conservatory was the equally spacious dining room. A passage from the kitchen led to the Serving Room where all dishes were assembled before serving. Attached was a small hideaway where the orchestra would play in the background
The first floor consisted of palatial bedrooms of Henry Pellatt and Lady Pellatt. Only the rich could afford a bedroom each for the husband and wife in those days.The bedrooms showcased exhibits brought from all over the world.
Apart from the many bedrooms for guests, he had a special bedroom, the Windsor Room, for the Queen. Ambitious as he was, he hoped that one day he would boast of a Royal visit.

In anticipation of a Royal visit

The fireplace in Windsor room
Despite a temporary recess during World War I, the construction resumed in time to enable Pellatt and his wife to move into the near-completed palace in 1914.
The post-war recession witnessed Pellatt's fast-depleting reserves. He owned 1.7 million dollars to the Home Bank which collapsed in 1923. Adding to his woes, the property tax increased from $600 a year to $1000  a month! In addition, mounting fuel costs for heating the palace, the cost of maintaining the 40 servants, the lavishly-held parties which had the who's who of those times...all these led to Pellatt's bankruptcy.
The couple had to move out of the palace in 1924. Lady Pellatt died shortly after of a heart attack
Most of the assets in the palace were auctioned to repay debts.The artifacts lovingly gathered from all over the world were given away at throw-away prices: "A Persian rug for the cost of a doormat." Pellatt is said to move out with just three van full of belongings.
The grandiose plans for the palace were never completed and the whole of the second floor lies vacant. Once abandoned, the palace lay itself wide open to heavy vandalization. Not knowing what to do with the palace, the city thought of demolishing this 'appalling' structure at a point of time.
It is now restored and is open to public view. It is also used for conducting events and film shootings. In the now Gift Shop, you can see plans for the three bowling alleys.The grandly planned swimming pool houses the theater which runs a documentary film on Henry Pellatt.

Pellatt's story has me awed due to his sheer guts and gumption in building this palace. Common people would never dream of such ostentation but he dared to dream beyond the possible, to live in this imposing structure even if it was for nine years only. He shrugged away the label of being mad for his seemingly absurd plans. He had one son who in turn isn't survived by a progeny.
He never regained that opulence but yes, some redemption for Sir Henry Pellatt as people turned out in thousands to bear witness to his funeral procession held on a cold winter day in March, 1939.

(Most of what I have written comes from the audio tour provided during my visit to the palace and looking up several articles on the internet.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dangal: a battle

Aamir Khan has taken such giant strides as an actor that  his stature has become nearly untouchable. To pass judgement on his acting skills has become tougher for the reviewer; and for Aamir too, to keep scaling up from his previous movie as he sets the bar higher with each one of his films.
His one film a year is worth a hundred other releases. Apart from Dhoom, I have gone to watch his every film without a thought. He has done it again with Dangal.
Dangal is a film on sports. It starts with a young Aamir who was once a national wrestling champion but one who has failed to win the gold for his country. Subtle references are made to the uncongenial circumstances in India that do not help foster one's sporting capabilities and then you are forced to take up a job to support yourself financially instead of concentrating on furthering your interest in sports.
Aamir is supported very nicely by Sakshi Tanwar as his wife, who despite her TV acting background, has proved that subtlety is something that a good actor is capable of. Her quiet presence was what the movie needed...of a mother who is caught between her husband's dreams for his daughters and  the demands of a bigoted society in Haryana where the protagonists live.
As it happens in Haryana or maybe any other place in India, Aamir can only think of a son fulfilling his dream for a gold medal. Therefore, when his wife gets pregnant, he eagerly awaits a son. But the first is  a daughter, and the next and next and the next...
He gives up on his dream till one day a complaint against his daughters who had beaten up a few boys from the neighborhood makes him realize that he doesn't need a son to fulfill his dreams. Even the daughters are good. "A wrestler's blood runs in his children," he says.
The two daughters (Fatima and  Sanya) are then trained vigorously to enable them to take up wrestling at the state, national and international levels. Despite this obsession for the fulfillment of his dreams, it is commendable to note that Aamir makes a point never to raise a hand against a girl.
Though Aamir's thrusting his dreams on his children cannot be condoned, yet, for a father to dream of a career for his daughters beyond cooking, marrying and producing children, to go against the societal dictates is something to be highly lauded. He fights with the society and with his own children. The reluctant children  strive to live up to their father's expectation only when a friend who is getting married at fourteen, says she wished for such a father too.
Aamir takes them to dangals, a first time dangal where he has his girls wrestling with the boys. Though sniggered at initially, the wrestlers soon realize what they are up against. The girls eventually become the pride of their father when they return to their village with trophies won in game after game.
The girls are sent to Patiala, a city, for further training to prepare them for the international game. In a few touch-and-go scenes, Aamir shows the dark side of such academia. He continues to support his daughters till Fatima goes on to win the gold.
Aamir has excelled himself as a young wrestler, as a middle aged and an old father. He shows no qualms as an actor, putting on weight, adapting a slow gait, sporting a grizzly beard and acting older to his real age. He doesn't believe in being in every frame as the main lead, and allows the girls to take the center stage whenever necessary. Though this does go to the director, Nitesh Tiwari's, credit you'd seldom find our heroes let other actors hog the limelight.
The movie is based on real life story of Mahavir Singh Phogat who has made sure that all his daughters excel in their game.
Aparshakti Khurrana, (Ayushmann Khurrana's brother) makes an impact as the narrator and the goofy nephew of Aamir Khan. He provides the necessary comic  relief to the otherwise serious narration. 'Bapu sehath ke liye' song adds to the fun. The main leads' attempts to have a son through following various superstitious beliefs also is hilarious! Watch out especially for the line, 'kal subah panch baje..."
The two girls and the nephews' younger selves have done some great work too.
In some places, I felt that the film was holding itself back with a very cautious approach to some plausible provocative issues, given especially the backdrop of the very vocal condemnation of Aamir's statements last year.
The story maybe accused of having a simplistic approach but it doesn't fail in its gripping narration. My reviewer's eye was forgotten as I lost myself in lapping up every scene greedily.
For me the story works for what it stands for...a supporting father who stands against the world to give shape to his daughters' career. This film, coming from Aamir's stable, will surely give hope to all daughters in India.
My rating: 4 and a half on 5.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Toronto: an Indian tourist perspective

A long vacation of two months in Toronto was a revelation in many ways. After the first few days of jet-lag, it was time to go around. Below is what I observed about Toronto. This post may prove useful to a first-time visitor.
The Travel:
In the beginning, the whizzing cars on Toronto roads scared me immensely. But then I realized, as a pedestrian, I was the queen. All I needed was to press the button at the crossing...and the red light would turn green for me. I would scamper across as I saw the timer begin its countdown from 22. I would be delighted to watch the vehicles wait even when the timer showed a 0 and I didn't have to zigzag across the road with my hand held up hoping to make it across the street alive! The pedestrian here is respected.
Despite those scary speeds at which the cars traveled, they would strictly adhere to their lanes. Lane changes are indicated well in advance.
And how much I miss the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission)! The TTC is a combination of subway, the bus and the street car. For a mere $3 we could travel anywhere...however long or short the distance! We traversed the whole of Toronto gleefully at these rates. Multiple ticket options are the Presto card, tokens, weekend and the monthly pass.
The subway consisted of two lines, Line 1 and Line 2, running perpendicular to each other. A big advantage was to have trains running every two minutes and so there was hardly a wait period.
TTC apologizes for any inconvenience caused due to the slightest delay or even when a train does not run at its optimum speed between two stations.The coaches are all air-conditioned and pretty clean, more so those on the newer Line 1.
Ours was Islington, almost the last station on Line 2.

The TTC Subway Map

The subways stations are all equipped with uninterrupted and strong WiFi signals. Not just that, WiFi is abundantly available through the town, almost at every restaurant and tourist destination. As a tourist when one does not have local connectivity, this comes as a blessing!
At the Stores:
When you step inside a store, you are greeted with a loud cheerful 'Hi!' Back home, I am used to browsing the store quietly and then select what I need. This loud cheerful "Hi" threw me initially. Their exuberant greeting would be met by a very meek and shy 'hi' from me. It's another story that hearing this day in and day out, it rubbed off on me so much so that when I returned to India and greeted the bank official in the same style, he was perhaps a bit thrown off and returned the greeting with a very hesitant "Yes, madam?"
This initial greeting would quickly give way to, "What would you like today?" I used to loathe this pressure of getting you to quickly select something and get moving. Eventually I learned to reply firmly, "I am looking and will let you know when I decide." Of course, this was not so at the bigger marts.
Unlike in India, where there is only exchange on items  you are not happy with, here, you get a full cash refund for items returned in 30-90 questions asked. It is so easy!
The mind-boggling array of brand choices in most of these medium-to-large stores is amazing! I took ten minutes just to select one shampoo. So, imagine the time I spent in the stores shopping! There is a wide variety of pharmaceutical products too...huge jars of vitamins and supplements to choose from!
A new experience was the absence of a standard MRP on the products. And as each store has the freedom to charge as they want, we got many a meaty deal. Walmart had select deals on select products on some days but Costco (membership-only) offered products in bulk at the lowest prices in Toronto. For comparatively smaller quantities, the No-Frills store claims to be the cheapest in Toronto.
Though electronic items are available at half prices as compared to India's, what I brought back are all those food items that are available at select shops in India and/or exorbitantly priced.
Every store, big or small, accepts the debit and/or credit card...that is the norm of payment there. We were one of the very few people to buy with currency. There was never an instance of 'chillar nahi hain' repartee. We even got away with paying with a torn note once. Some of these marts had self check-in. You can total and pay on your way out. You don't need a cashier to help you.
Most of these stores are grouped in a cluster in one place and no 'kirana' kind of places that you can quickly run to in case you need something.
The People:
What I found similar to India are its helpful people. Everywhere I went, I found that it was easy to ask a stranger for help with directions.The bus drivers, the TTC personnel were also very helpful in providing directions.
There was checking by the TTC once and I was quite amazed by their approach. They would ask everyone with equal respect and patience, "Please show the ticket proof". Once shown, a wide smile and a "Thank you". They don't make you feel like a criminal but treat you with dignity that a ticket-holder deserves.
I found a new meaning for tolerance in the acceptance of every nation, race and religion in Toronto. In fact, Air Canada had Punjabi and Hindi films on its flight. Brampton in Toronto has its signages in Punjabi!
The concept of space is brilliant here: The physical space includes vast expanses of greenery all around you, in the parks and in marked conservation areas.. Lesser population also meant more space available. Joggers in vast open spaces is a common sight.  The air smells so deliciously clean!
The unwritten rule is to walk on the right-side of your path (footpath, mall, walking area, or stairs) and give way to people coming from the opposite direction. Even the trains travel towards their right. While standing in queues, you are expected to maintain a distance of approximately a foot from the person in front. If by mistake someone bumps into you, there is an instant apology. 
The Public Place:
Most of the public places have a fully-equipped, very, very clean washrooms along with drinking water faucets. The tourist places come with the coats hangers room in the entrance.
All streets have  pavements which dips onto the road at the junctions making it accessible for the wheel chair. Not just the streets but all public places have ramps to enable easy wheel chair access.
The Home:
Most of them are condominium accommodations. The condos and apartments are accessible with a key fob at the entrance and managed by a building management inside it. You are similarly provided a key to the parking. No puny watchman guarding the building here.
The biggest blessing for me was to sleep in a noiseless house. Thick and double-glazed windows  and doors help keep the noise out and let you sleep  in peace. No sounds of cars (no honking anyways) or sounds from the neighborhood disturb you.
Must confess, Toronto has grown on me and I would have stayed on if not driven out by the onset of its harsh winter.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

Ae Dil Hain Mushkil revolves around the hip and happening crowd, the kind that the youth secretly aspire to be a part of. This is established through the movie as one watches affairs, indiscretions, flings, sharing rooms happening in the most casual way.
The movie explores the unexplored (at least in movies) in relationships, and seeks to establish that a girl and a boy can be 'just friends'.
The lead pair Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor happen to meet in a pub and bond quickly. They soon break up with their respective partners and get friendly with each other. They share a common for Bollywood 80s and 90s songs.This is manifested in the movie through various instances when they sing and dance to songs from old Hindi movies.
What keeps you interested and enraptured is the palpitating energy that the lead pair bring to their performance. You root for them...when they find an echo in each other...when they are comfortable saying everything and anything to one another, when Anushka makes Ranbir realize that he doesn't sing as well as he thinks he does. The movie spends a good hour establishing this bonhomie.
All's well till Ranbir falls for Anushka. Even before Ranbir could find if she reciprocates, we have Anushka's ex  (Fawad Khan) return.
Anushka looks beautiful and so does Ranbir...that is till Fawad appears on the scene...and does he look hot?! After having seen him in a prim and proper role in Khubsoorat, this look as a dapper  DJ was a revelation. He is gorgeous. Unfortunately, due to all the brouhaha over Pak actors and all that, his role seems to have been chopped down.
Fawad's reappearance makes Anushka realize that she still loves him. A heartbroken Ranbir takes solace in the arms of Aishwarys Rai, an Urdu poet in the movie. I have tried my best to understand this casting. Why Aishwarya? The only conclusion I came to, is just because Karan Johar (the director) seeks to break another one of the dictates of the society...that it is okay to go around with an older woman.The expressionless Aishwarya adds nothing to this meaty role. Wish we had someone like Vidya Balan here...the ultimate seductress!
Well, as it has to happen, Anushka and Ranbir return to each other ultimately. The story till now is fine.
But what are termed as tear-jerking moments in the movie etc etc...for me, were so funny! The momentum garnered by a well-put-together movie ended in a rather tepid denouement.
And something that doesn't end well, is just not well!
My rating, a 3/5.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story

Dhoni...never ever thought I'd want to write about him. Especially, as since 2000, I lost all interest in cricket.
As far as movies are concerned, we are just through watching one on cricket, and then watching another biopic (after Milkha Singh, Mary Kom, Azhar)? Yawn, yawn. But wait, don't we have Sushant Singh Rajput in it? Yep, and that evoked my interest. Still, there was a skepticism...will I be able to watch three hours of cricket?
But once I started, there was not a moment I wanted it to stop.
What is the story ? It is about how the real life cricketer, Dhoni, a small town boy makes it big as he fervently clings to his dream of playing for India. Otherwise, the movie doesn't tell you anything that you already don't know about Dhoni, the cricketer. But Sushant Singh plus director Neeraj Pandey have literally pulled off a coup with this one.
The movie  does not boast of a great script and, according to Pandey's own confession, it wasn't easy finding dramatic moments from Dhoni's life. Sushant Singh puts this across in a beautiful manner. His inscrutable expressions don't give away how his mind works...whether it is the disappointment of not getting selected, or joy of getting selected, his love life, his job as a Ticket Collector...he is in great control in the movie as he underplays the portrayal of Dhoni.
What is evident from the very beginning is the single-minded  pursuit of his goal.This certainty determines his behavior and his decisions through every phase of his life, in the process exhibiting an amazing gamut of changes (professional, personal, physical, emotional) right from his High School life to the present. We get to see a man well in control of his life. In a rare moment, one sees him break down during an adversity.
An example of subtle portrayal can be seen when his old time colleague and roommate comes to meet him. He greets him warmly despite the gaping chasm in their economic conditions but then quickly moves on as he realizes that the gap is not just economic but in a growth that reflects a broader outlook of life.
A brief insight into Dhoni's  personal life is provided through (real or fictitious) engagements with two women.The expression of those moments are beautifully captured as a younger Dhoni tries to balance between playing his first set of national matches and his love interest. The second affair sees a more mature and confident Dhoni who has done well in life..
The movie takes us through all ups and downs of his cricketing career, of the many who were catalytic in the achievement of his dreams and how he maintains these relations through life.
The movie, of course, ends with the brilliant World Cup 2011 victory, culminating into all that Dhoni had aspired for.
All along you feel as though you are watching the real much so that you wish that he indeed was the real one. For me this movie works as one that I'd score a 3.5/ 5 but  the hero's performance deserves more than a 10 on 5.
Go watch it. Rarely does one get to watch such performance!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kensington Market, Toronto

One of the sojourns while here in Toronto was to the Kensington Market.
It is surely one of the most vibrant and diverse places in Toronto. It can be called the 'khau gali' of Toronto but offering much more than just food.
On entering, the Market looks deceptively small. You'd be dismayed by the few options and hoping that there are more inside. And were there more?!
Kensington Market is bounded by Nassau Street, Spadina Avenue, College Street and Dundas Street on its four sides. It abounds with restaurants, eateries and patios offering cuisines of many countries....Moroccan, Tex-Mex, Middle Eastern, Italian, Latin American, Chinese, Indian... and even three vegetarian restaurants! There are many beer & wine shops spread across the Market.
On a leisurely trip, we sauntered along, planning to first assess the market and then decide on what to have. Soon we realized that viewing and remembering the selection was not as easy as we thought. So, we started with a soup in one of the vegetarian eateries. Continuing on our journey, we next had a cheese garlic bread. Priced at $ 3.50, it was a foot long .Warm from the oven, it exuded a heavenly baked taste.

Cheese garlic bread, Kensington Market
After  a 45 minute walk, we went to an Asian eatery where we ordered a salad. The salad, though exorbitantly priced at $11, was a splendid example of how fresh, tasty and crunchy a salad can be. Apart from the many vegetables, it also came with sesame seeds, and the crunch of Ramen noodles.

Asian Salad, Kensington Market

Further on our journey, we discovered an alley that encouraged graffiti. Among the many graffiti on the streets was this one that took our breath away.

Graffiti, Kensington Market

In front of the spectacular wall was this car in which grass and plants were allowed to grow. From what I discovered later, the graffiti on the car is changed every once in a while.

Graffiti, Kensington Market

The meandering walk took us to the adjoining China Town. We entered the street and saw the many Chinese eateries and clothes. Not really in the mood to explore further, we turned back to the Market and walked into a bakery to have churros priced at $1.25. After another 30-minute walk, we entered our last eatery for the day, a gelato shop which offered two scoops for $5. The variety of gelatos and yogurts were amazing.
We walked eagerly into a restaurant named, 'Vegetarian Restaurant' and discovered to our great amusement that their 'vegetarian' concept included the sea food as well! Well, new things to be learned from new places.
For the wine and meat lovers, the  Kensington Market offers mind-blowing options.The market also abounds with the freshest vegetables and fruits that range from the most common to the most unconventional choices.
There were other shops that dealt with clothes, spices, natural products, incenses, tattoos etc.
Towards evening, we viewed a small band of three singing and playing on their instrument, catering to the requests of the audience.

Music, Kensington Market
On Sunday evenings, we were told, that the street remains closed to vehicles and entertaining acts are performed.
Two things I'd suggest: Go with an empty stomach and a full pocket. The place is not inexpensive.