Monday, April 30, 2007

There is something about Rolla

On the world map, there is this little tiny speck of dot about the size of a micron in the central part of North America named Rolla. The place is in obscurity, not only to people outside the United States but also to people within. Any trip outside the state of Missouri, and you can see the people straining their ears to come to grips with the township of Raala (as it is pronounced). But, Indians that we are, we find that extension of the aaa to be a little mesmerizing and more often than not, our tongue ends up rolling into a Rollaa. The local community here would give you a silent glare for murdering the pronunciation.

Pic: UMR

The graduate school here at Rolla is quite a famous school in Missouri, and the Indian population just fills up. Yes, but just two streets from the department to the apartment. University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR), now rechristened to Missouri School of Science and Technology is the best of the lot in Missouri for the engineering program. Every year, one can see the international students filling up the area in the hope of getting that degree that could make the difference. If someone comes and asks anyone in the campus as to which is the common hangout for the school kids, you can hear a spontaneous answer "Oh! We have 1300 and 101 West". If you are wondering what that is, that is the hub of the desis (that is how the Indians call themselves in a foreign land). There are about 20 apartments in each of the two apartments and they are totally packed with the desi junta (people). The most important piece of advice to any desi who is coming to Rolla is that atleast for the first semester, the best place to live is 1300. This is where you get to know all the people in Rolla. In short, 1300 is the most happening place in Rolla. Be it regarding studies or worldly matters (in short gossip), this is the best place to kickstart your stay in Rolla. 101 West is supposed to be a paradise compared to 1300, but for the past two years, we have never felt the need to move to the poor man's paradise. 1300, #7 has sent the right vibes to the occupants of this house and there was never a need to shift to another abode. People say that 1300 does not offer the right privacy to the tenants, but then who really cares! 101 W is based on a duplex structure with two rooms at the top and a hall and kitchen on the ground floor. People somehow give this a first preference when house hunting. Coming to the real point, both of them are desi hubs. The other desi hubs are 1301 and 1706. Though 1301 is right opposite 1300, the feel of the place is totally different compared to 1300. It lacks the so called aura of 1300 for whatever reasons nobody can decipher. 1706 is not my favourite hangout joint. The place is very serene and quite, which is not at all desi like. The place has got an eerie touch which prevents me from going there often!

Pic: 1300 - In good and bad times

Pic: 1301 - Right opposite 1300

Pic: 101 West in Winter

Pic: The eerie 1706

Talking about the Indian community here is the high point of Rolla. It is a closely knit group where almost every Indian knows every other Indian. There are about 300 Indians here and it is very easy for me to identify every one of them and get into a quick conversation. The entire Indian community is concentrated in 1300, 1301, 101 and 1706 as I pointed out before. So, it is quite apparent what the hangouts are. On a real boring day, you just have to cross the street and go to one of the other places and all of a sudden, the day is transformed to a rather interesting one. Nobody can imagine using just two streets in Rolla for two years, but that's how Rolla life is. Department to apartment and apartment to department in weird hours is the essence of student life here. It is safe to call up a person at 2 AM in the morning because you know that he would be awake for sure, but change that to 11 AM in the morning, and you can hear your cell phone ringing all the way long without any trace of response. That's the way it is here. Most of them (rather us) are nocturnal creatures. Even if you are not one, you are transformed to one! I forgot to mention one of the important places in Rolla. 1508 was the place where atleast eight people lived for a year. This was the most happening place, as the erstwhile President, vice-president and important executive members of the India Association lived here. At any instant, you can find more than ten people having lunch or dinner at this place. The famous party culture in Rolla started with this house. Large scale parties were a norm in Spring and Summer 2006, as you could see about 150 people clogging the apartment for every party. Almost the whole desi crowd of Rolla was invited to these parties. It was just another way of socializing not that we did not have any.

Pic: On the way to the ECE Dept.

UMR-ECE Department, well, that's where I lived (literally) for two years. It is the most happening department in Rolla and the desi junta here is abundant (understatement!). If you have to know people in Rolla, you have one of the two choices - either you live in 1300 or you belong to the EE department. If you belong to both of the categories, then you almost end up knowing the entire desi community in Rolla. All the plans are made or broken in EE - be it planning for any event or making the presentations for Diwali. 109 is the buzzword in EE for panning and execution. Ask the students out here - on the amount of research that goes on in this room! The EE corridor is another great place to meet up with people. SWBC (South West Bell Center), Havener Center, Rec Center are some of the other frequently visited places. Cricket behind Schuman lake is another important highlight of Rolla.

Pic: Havener Center

Pic: Fooseball in Havener

The Indian groceries are generally purchased from St. Louis. To go to STL is a pain since as students one cannot afford the luxury of a car. Ride request mails fly thick and fast on the list serve, and many a time it ends up irking a few people. Other junk mails too land up on the list serve - one being the famous Me and my shadow. As a result of this mail, my roommate learnt a new word in the English language - predicament for your information is a difficult situation in simple English screamed the mail from the good samaritan (Can you guess the protagonists? I meant the spammer and the teacher?). The general grocery is purchased from Walmart with the aid of one of the local cabs. Walmart people make a lot of business here thanks to the desi junta here. We end up buying in cartloads. It is easy to handpick a few food joints here - El Maguey(my personal favourite Mexican joint here in Rolla. Always my first preference to dine outside), Panera Bread, Pizza Hut, Mandarin Gardens are some of the few.

The India Association here organizes a lot of activities throughout the year starting from Holi and ending in Diwali. Every member of the IA takes active part in these events and it helps everyone to feel at home away from home.

Pic: Diwali Nite 2006 - The biggest event on campus

Pic: ISC Day 2006 Collage

Pic: Garbha Nite 2006

All in all, Rolla is a very closely knit family with familiar faces all around. It is very easy to strike a conversation in any form. It is very easy to find a helping hand for any activity that you plan. Planning for parties was never a problem as almost invariably the work would be multi-tasked in multiple houses. It is tough to move away from a place like Rolla which is always at the center of action.

Pic: Farewell collage 2006

It is almost impossible to leave a place where you have spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year with friends. Friends become an important part of your life and the bonding takes you to a point where the pangs of separation is too tough to handle. But then, life has to move on and invariably you have to do it no matter how hard it is. The feeling of moving out of Rolla is slowing beginning to sink in.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Namesake Captured!

The essence of a novel taken to big screen lies in the way the originality of the book is preserved. It is highly important that the core values of the characters etched in the book is translated to perfectly similar characters on the big screen. It is not entirely impossible, but only very few film makers can pull off such a thing with absolute conviction. Mira Nair had a very tough job on her hands to maintain the standards of the brilliant book by Jhumpa Lahiri. At the end of the day, I now can understand why the entire crew was so confident of the movie.

I had the opportunity to view the movie at Seattle. I generally do not expect much from movies based on adaptations from literature because it is no easy task to realise the originality of the script. This was no different though all the reviews were positive. The movie started off in a brilliant Calcutta setting, reeling off titles in English embedded in Bengali script. The start itself gave me a feeling of an unknown authenticity. I don't know why! Tabu, clad in a beautiful saree, starts her early morning veena recital sending the viewers into a trance. It is just that the scene is set in such an emphatic way that it captures your attention instantly. From then on, Mira Nair takes us through a journey that matches the story in the book to an absolute nicety. The way Ashima (Tabu) meets Ashok Ganguly (Irfan Khan), a nondescript young man from New York looking for a bride back home, is a perfect picture of shyness confronting shyness. That's the way it was way back in early seventies, where the bride and the groom had little chance for interaction. Then it reflects the struggle and the trauma that Ashima has to undergo to live through hostile living conditions in an alien country. It also gives a perfect psyche of parents whose kids are born and brought up in a foreign land. Finally, it is a battle for the parents to maintain the identity of the children as conservative patriotic Indians versus their determination to break the shackles of such thoughts and join the mainstream American society. Gogol, their son, portrayed by Kal Penn is a perfect symbol of such convoluted thoughts as in the end he doesn't know which path to follow. His confusion is highlighted by his inability to enjoy the perfect Indian culture as well as to break into an American style of living. At every point, he questions his parents about his name and is totally unhappy with it. The scene where he gets to know the true significance of his name paralyses him with an unexplainable sorrow and grief. Truly brilliant!

The film sails through the ups and downs in the lives of the Gangulys, sketching each scene with true artistic flavour. In such a character based movie, it is important to find the right people to play the right roles. Mira Nair has got the best out of her actors. The music and cinematography are classy. At the end of the movie, one has to walk out of the theater with a touch of pathos. The namesake has conveyed the right message out of the book. Definitely worth watching!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Kane and Abel

A flight journey has never had the charm to hold me onto something interesting or something that I can look forward to. It has always been a careless "Oh no! yet another" attitude that drives me to boredom. In yet another long journey flight from St. Louis to Seattle, I just wondered at what I should be doing to satisfy my seven hours including the transit time at Chicago. A copy of Kane and Abel lying in one of the many corners wedged in my room caught my attention. I have read that book previously but that did not prevent me from reading the same thing again. As the saying goes, "Something is better than nothing" takes an all important meaning when you really have nothing.

Flipping through the pages of the book, yes, that's what I remember. A second time reading does not generally fascinate me unless the book is really good. Kane and Abel had me in raptures when I had read it first time during my undergraduate days. I would rate it as one of my all time favourite novels by any author. Since then, the fantastic portrayal of two powerful and contrasting, yet strikingly similar characteristics of two different persona never ceased to fascinate me. Jeffrey Archer had it in him to get the reader hooked to eternity. Now, when I was reading the book years later, though the basic plot remained within me, I was still reading the intricate details with the same avid enthusiasm and alacrity. There were sentences that bowled me over and I made it a point to remember them for life. There were inspiring moments that rattled me from within even though I knew what was coming. Jeffrey Archer narrates the lives of two highly powerful characters, one a hotelier and an other, a banker, both of whom are highly capable having led totally contrasting lives, one rising from rags to riches through sheer determination and hard work, and the other, having all the necessary facilities to fulfill his father's dream, achieves whatever he plans to as if following a script. Their struggles, their quest to the top, their inspiration, their independence and their achievements form the backdrop of this brilliantly written book. Anything more than this will surely be a giveaway! The pleasure of sitting in a plane with a book is phenomenal when you have the right book with no disturbance. Long distance travel takes care of the latter part. There were many a time when I felt like racing through fifty pages to find out what happens to the character, and unknowingly, many an emotion within me stirred up. AR Rahman's tunes in the background provided the perfect setting for a wonderful journey.

My onward journey enabled me to finish the book and my stay in Seattle was just the perfect way of taking a well-deserved break.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Media - What a mockery!

You just have to open any Indian news website and the headlines scream forth - Abhiwarya Wedding, What happened in the last one hour, Sangeet at the wedding, Men jealous of Abhishek...and so on the nonsense continues. I just wonder why the media has to give so much publicity to a private wedding affair. Is anyone really interested in finding out what they are upto? There is a limit to all the idiosynchracies and after a point, it really gets on your nerves. It is also apalling to see a new comment everyday from Amitabh Bachchan proclaiming his son to be a demigod or something, praising his acting skills and what not. Why in the world should the world be interested in whether Aishwarya is a good daughter-in-law for the family or not? What is the need for Jaya Bachchan to issue such statements? The front page of every Indian newspaper is hogged by the wedding as if there is no other important issue to tackle at this point of time.

To top it all, the coverage continues as to who the invitees are and why some people are left out. The Shahrukh-Bachchan scandal was taken to new heights with each of them mud slinging the other. The media hyped it beyond proportions though. So what if they are the big guys, what is the need to attach so much importance to a private function? It just does not augur well for the media to give centerstage to such a miniscule event when there are other important issues to attend to. Nowadays, I just refrain from going to some of the Indian news sites for fear of getting bogged down by the unnecessities.

Who cares whether Salman Khan and Vivek Oberoi are invited for the event or not? Who is bothered about how much is spent for the wedding? Who is worried about their honeymoon plans? Who cares whether Aishwarya plans to act after marriage or not? Who cares....

Monday, April 16, 2007


It was one helluva month, what with the thesis defense and course completion. To top it all, the H1Bs were getting over even before it actually began. But, right now, the relatively free state of mind allows me to get back to blogging. I am going to be much more regular with my blog updates. It is like one of those television serials, "Amitabh Bachchan in a brand new avatar making a comeback like never before." I also wonder at all the movie artists who make bigwig statements like "This movie is completely different. Such a sensitive topic has never been handled before. It is a once in a lifetime role." What crap! What nonsense! It would almost make me tear my hair in agony at the cliched statements.

I do not want to create that artificial hype and aura about my comeback to regular blogging. There would be periodic updates on anything I find remotely interesting. I would have loved to write about India's world cup prospects, but the way they have damaged their reputation, nobody wants to know anything about Indian cricket for the time being. Anybody wants to be anything now, but cricketers. Today's news has been highly disturbing. Virginia Tech just went through a crisis and one just has to hope that such incidents are not repeated in the future. Depression is a bane in today's life. Rolla went into mid-March crisis, when one of the guys was involved in a mockery bombing case. Though there was nothing untoward, it was enough to send everybody into a frenzy. It is just not easy to leave anything unnoticed, atleast when the world is in a big turmoil today. Escalation of issues is better any day than to leave it unnoticed. It is better to be safe than to go for the cure.

Now, now, before anybody gets into any doubt. I am not a news reporter, neither a journalist nor a philosopher. I am a simple blogger and I should be coming up with better topics!