Dylan on PBS

"I didn't go to classes. I just didn't feel like it."
- Bob Dylan reminiscing on his years at the University of Minnesota.

See if you can catch the second half of Martin Scorsese's 4-hour biopic: Bob Dylan: No Direction Home on PBS. The first half was the 'folk' Dylan, his genesis and his influences. It is amazing how Dylan connects so many worlds - the Beats, folk singers, Civil rights, rock 'n roll; in my opinion - the most influential musician of the 20th century.

The documentary like its title is generally without direction as it goes back and forth in no particular order with the interviews, songs sung by Dylan, songs sung by people who influenced him (Odetta, Pete Seeger, the Clancy brothers, and of course, Woody Guthrie) and 60s news footage. The rare concert/tour footage and interviews with people (some dead) more than makes up for the lack of a clear narrative. In the movie you will see the rare video footage of his London tour where a heckler called him 'Judas' for betraying folk music and Dylan just cranking up the volume. Among others, Allen Ginsberg and Joan Baez reminisce on their times with Bob Dylan, the 60s and the Greenwich village scene. It was funny to hear an old friend, Nelson narrate the story of how Dylan stole 25 records from his house and then disappeared.

The second half will look at the 'electric' Dylan and the near fatal crash in 1966. Though protest movements have often appropriated his songs, and even Dylan at times, he says with much humility, "Just because you write about people who are fighting injustice it does not make you a protest singer." . Dylan explains on the film how Liam Clancy of the Clancy Brothers would sit him down in Greenwich Village, require him to drink 30 pints of Guinness, and then say to him,
"Bob - no malice, no fear, no envy." . I also think that's good advice for us all.

Swades- Episode II

The food

As always, the food was great. This time I had a chance to show off my culinary skills to the rest of the family. It is true that I cannot cook any traditional dishes really well but give me some fancy stuff and I'll be fine! The secret is that if you cook some exotic dish it will generally be a success since the victims don't know what it is supposed to taste like! A true test of a great cook is how well he/she cooks the really ordinary stuff. I tried really hard to keep running in the mornings to make up for excesses later in the day. As the weeks progressed - the running mileage dropped and the girthage increased. I mean the whole point of torturing yourself through 18 hours in economy class is to simply enjoy this! Right? Then why hold back?

I have been told that there are tons of new places to eat. But given the limited time of time that I had (less than 3 weeks), I simply wanted to visit the old favorites. The pork chop sizzler at Zamu's, the paneer satay at Boat Club, the thin crust pizza at La Pizzeria, the world's best wada pav at J.J. Garden, the mouth-watering Death by Chocolate at Just Baked, the Irani naans with paneer and mint from Radio Hotel, dahi-puri at Vaishali and other Pune classics. Who wants to risk trying new stuff after suffering the horrible, overpriced Indian restaurants in the US? (Not one in Ann Arbor is worth it, trust me!) Mainland China was the only one of the newer restaurants that I tried and the stuff is good though the restaurant is slightly overrated.

Of course Mom's food is always the best and all you want from her is the simplest of all dishes. Thanks to digital technology I was able to take movies of my mom making parathas and I am still amazed at how her chapatis are perfectly round and even.


I lied. The chief purpose of the visit was not food. Sumedha and I got engaged. If something like karma exists then I must done a great deal of things right in my past life to be fated to meet such a fantastic person like her. It could not have more perfect. Thanks!

Swades - Episode I

I was going back after almost 2 and half years and I was apprehensive. Made a couple of notes to myself to not do the following:
One, to avoid the Old-boy Syndrome. Much as I would like Pune to remain frozen in time to August 2002 it would not be. Time rolls on and things change. There will be more ghastly buildings that I won't be able to come to terms with. Live with it!

Two, to avoid the Expat Syndrome and stop talking of how things are different 'over-there' and how we will never rise from the rubbish heap and how everyone is constantly late!

The roads
Both my resolutions were shattered with my first intimate experience with Pune's roads. I have seen bad roads but not to the extent that I wish natural selection had provided Punekars with shock absorbers for their backsides! To travel on them would require, as Ramanand said, "A lunar buggy". Sakal even started a column called 'Pune gayle kHaDyAAt', loosely translated as: Pune has gone to pot! While it is true that due to the unnatural amount of rainfall, roads were bound to be affected. I was not upset with that as much as two general issues which still cause me worry and which this case highlights.
he creation of problems and the solutions or reponses to them.

While most roads were devastated why were some roads still relatively unaffected? Of course, due to differences in material and construction. Reason? How is a contractor supposed to win the tender, provide kickbacks to the corporators and still have money left over for good material and honest construction? There has to be a better way to award contracts and punish firms with poor records. Can you minimize corruption and still ensure that the task gets done well and the public does not have to suffer? Privatisation is not the answer as I was to learn in a few days.

Assume that some problems are inherent in the system. At least, the response to the crisis should be appropriate. The great PMC decided that the best 'temporary' solution was to fill the potholes. But with what? Gravel! In the weeks that I was there, I saw tons of teams doing work (good!) but the fix was so 'temporary' that in less then 2-3 days all the gravel would come loose and the road in addition to the potholes would become a roller-skating rink. It was far from funny to hear that more than a few people died in accidents while trying to avoid the potholes due to a collision with a car or truck.

I was depressed because this problem is characteristic of development in India. A few weeks later, I visited China and saw on what path a country much like our own is on and tears came to my eyes. There are critical differences in terms of attitude between the two countries and because of it we might not make it. We are poor at planning, especially advance planning, and in cases when we do plan we have extremely poor execution. To make matters worse we can't even put out the fire right. It was a bitter fact for me to swallow that despite all the hype and hoopla in the Indian media about India shining in the world arena and other success stories, we not only behind but are falling further behind the Chinese. Only because we don't want it so bad as nation.

Yet, I am happy to be in a democracy where citizen can be furious and can put up such petitions (thanks to Javed for this funny one!).

In Amish Country

(I seem to have a huge backlog of posts. Trying to get them off first!)

I was in Amish country in the Lacrosse-Elkhart region in Northern Indiana in late July. I felt that I was on the set of some 18th century movie. Women in large skirts, wearing bonnets; men with beards and coats without buttons, riding horses or in buggies; and the children dressed like what I had imagined Hansel and Gretel would be. It is indeed amazing how the Amish and a parallel group called the Mennonites (who share similar beliefs and look like the Amish but have slightly more relaxed rules for living) have stuck to a lifestyle from the 18th century. The Amish do not own telephones, have electricity in their homes or drive cars.

While initially it may appear as an idyllic Grimm fairytale, the reality is rather grim in some respects (see Sumedha's account). It may seem surprising that such a church/sect is growing in size instead of losing members because of its antiquated ways. On further consideration, churches or religions which advocate large families (>8 children) growth is inevitable, despite some people leaving. The way Amish life is structured, it is very hard for people to leave. Firstly, children are not schooled beyong the 8th grade and secondly, they do not have much of a social life with people other than the Amish. The tradition of Rumspringa sounds very liberal but is not much of a choice since children are not raised to deal with the 'English life' (as they call it) if they do choose to leave.

However there is much to admire:
their environment-friendly lifestyles;
strong family stucture;
mutal cooperativeness - if a person's house burns down all members of the community provide free material and labour and help him rebuild his house;
their sheer innovativeness;
objection to war of any sort - the Amish do not serve in active combat in the Armed Forces;
independence and self reliance - they have given up Federal funding and Social Security, and;
the definitely follow the maxim of 'simple living and high thinking'.

Then there is much to criticize:
in their naivity of religious belief;
accepting the authority of local bishop blindly - he is paramount with regards to crime and punishment, interpretation of scripture and everything else;
its openly patriarchal society, often leaving women in second place;
poor education - only upto grade 8;
lack of belief in courts - they don't take recourse to the federal courts or testify;
AND of course, undeniably, unwillingness to change.

I realised that it was not an easy thing to decide one way or the other on the Amish and slightly amused to encounter a culture that seems good and bad at the same instant. Of course, the countryside is extremely picturesque and their history is very interesting. Given their closed (or shy?) nature it is hard to avoid the tourist traps laid out in such towns which leaves you wanting a more authentic Amish experience.

More pictures from that trip on my website: Amish country pics

The Indo-China chronicles

I have been away for about 5 weeks. First to India, then to China. Hope some of you you are familiar with this story (read: excuse) - despite your best intentions you never have enough time in India to write posts, and accessing the internet via dialup is not pretty anymore. In China, I could not access blogger.com at all. (More on the freedom of internet access later.)

After having been 5 weeks away from my lab, and also from blogger with 500 photographs and with a ton of stories to tell (some should not be disclosed publicly) I find myself with NO TIME! When you travel every day is worth 3-4 different stories, but a few weeks later you cannot recollect many of them.
We are a sum of our experiences and as time passes it becomes harder and harder to separate the individual components. These stories have the benefit of hindsight but will have lost some of the freshness of an account written the same day.

It was a great break. A couple of important personal milestones and revisiting India after more than 2 years was a little different from what I expected.
The US-India-China-US trip was a good three-way basis for comparison. In retrospect, visiting China was better than visiting Europe. For most people, India and China represent the future and the shape of things to come. Though I might have not had the benefit of extensive sampling - seeing is still believing. Quite a few popular perceptions that were floating in my head were altered and I have more reason not to trust the pop-pundits in the mags and newspapers.
I will try to keep the accounts mostly chronological, though some overlap is unavoidable. Before I lose all of the stories I better write them down. I plan to post one each day. Let's see how that goes.