Monday, April 28, 2008

Khelo aur Jhelo - One of a kind

Controversy theories have plagued Indian sports in the last week much to the delight of some of India's acclaimed serial killers. Ekta Kapoor, in an exclusive media interview to SaaS TV, thanked the Indian sportsmen for her inspirational new biopic, Khelo aur Jhelo (JLo?). In her usual candid self, Ms. Kapoor spoke about the various problems troubling the cricketers of today. So, in her typical style, she chose a name starting with 'K', and says that this is one of a kind serial, bringing to the forefront, the relationship between sportsmen and their in-laws. In-laws? Yes, as she has repeated often, this is a "one of a kind" serial. Media sponsors are thronging her house, in a bid to gain valuable advertisement spots for her 1199 episode drama. When quizzed why she has to offer only 1199 episodes, she said that the story will take its course, and depending on the response, she plans to continue the plot. The interview has generated never before heard of TRP ratings, and the title has already evoked considerable curiosity and speculation. Every news channel is flashing the news of Ms. Kapoor's new serial-killing venture, and as per latest media reports, it is the title that is keeping people on their toes. Is it Jhelo or JLo? Is there a connection between the Indian cricketers (which other sport have we heard of?) and Ms. Jannu Lopu (JLo)? For people who haven't heard of JLo, she is the latest Bollywood Diva, who has plunged into the world of Indian Personalities League (IPL). IPL is all about big bucks, and you can see why various film personalities and cricketers have signed up for this entertainment bonanza. IPL is a world of connections, rather cross connections, between cricket and films, and there are unconfirmed reports from highly reliable sources, that there might be some cricket played in this league to entertain the big bad world of Bollywood personalities. So, obviously, there is big money involved!

As the IPL entered its first week, two big theater personalities, always known for their notoriety and mischief, created havoc on the sets. Bhajji, the fighter and Noshanth, also nicknamed sissy poo, brought out their true selves in front of the world, after putting up a show of quiet and poise for a week. In front of the entire media (obviously it is such a big show that everyone was present on the sets), Noshanth was slapped by Bhajji for provoking him in front of a whole lot of theater artists. As always, there are unconfirmed reports that Noshanth played with the sentiments of Bhajji. JLo, the current Bollywood sensation, is supposed to be a very good friend of both these comic characters. After the famous monkey-gate scandal, she began to maintain a safe distance from the protagonist Bhajji. She also liked the on-screen, rather on-field, performance of our volatile hero, Noshanth. His so called aggression, matched by none, coupled with his histrionics on the field drew her towards him. This led to small skirmishes between the two jokers, and gradually in one such encounter, Bhajji, unable to bear any further taunts, in a fit of rage and jealousy, broke the shackles with a big slap. Noshanth could not handle this unexpected physical injury, and in front of the entire media network, sobbed uncontrollably. The organizers of the IPL could not let this pass off easily, and summoned the victor and the vanquished. Obviously there had to be a witness in spite of the fact that about a billion people witnessed the fracas. Who else could be the witness, but our very own Satyanand Dulkar, who has stood by Bhajji many a time, performing the rescue act whenever called. His outright opinion almost helped Bhajji being let off with a mild warning. But our super artist, Noshant is no loser. He made sure he brought his tear glands to action once again, and having run out of napkins, the IPL governing body, with great difficulty slapped the ban on Bhajji. For eleven months, Bhajji is supposed to abstain from seeing any Bollywood personality, and especially JLo.

As always, people are talking about the pros and cons of the harsh outcome. But Ekta, the only one who has seized this great opportunity with both hands, has made sure that she hits the headlines before any other director can use this concept. With a so much to reveal title, Khelo aur jhelo, she has put the people of this country in a quandry. Even though she has clearly said in the interview, that she is going to harness the emotional quotient by depicting the relationship between sportsmen and their in-laws, the media is speculating that this could be about Noshanth, Jlo and her prospective in-laws.

Again, there are unconfirmed reports that after the tear-gate scandal, JLo has split up with Noshanth. The last we have heard of about JLo is that she is with Bhajji, truly admiring him for his valor. Sadly for the unlucky Noshanth, he is supposed to be in tears again. Poor guy, he has to go through so much mental trauma after the physical assault. It is a classic case of Sleeping with the enemy! So, this biopic could well be about why JLo broke up with Noshanth because of difficulties with her prospective in-laws (even though it had nothing to do with in-laws)? Ekta, after all, can change the script just minutes before it airs on the television. Well, we are in for an interesting ride, aren't we?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Taxing the alien

Finally, I made up my mind. Yes, I can fill up the 1040 EZ form to file my tax returns. Wait a minute. What if this is not the right form? I went back and forth, getting into discussions with like-minded, not fully informed gentlemen, individuals, who had as much proficiency in accountancy and related information as I have, in say, Carnatic music. I tried to reach every information I could avail with a faint hope of procuring the maximum possible in some way. It is also important to fill up the right form; you don't want to be hauled up for filling out a wrong form!

I wanted to believe whatever others said as far as tax forms were concerned. I thought that everyone other than me had better knowledge when it came to filling these forms. It was after careful deliberation that I was sure of two things
  • I am capable of filling these forms on my own instead of going to a consultant, even if that meant additional complications in figuring out the obscurities.
  • That I cannot fill the online returns through one of those innumerable online tax helper sites, because I am still a non-resident alien (what a name! Gosh!)
I thought I knew what an alien meant when I watched those sci-fi movies as a kid, but for nothing in the world did I imagine that one day I would be in a place, where human beings are considered aliens. Thank God, there are no official scary outfits associated with these creatures (I meant us!!). So, finally, I was sure about one thing - that I am a non-resident alien; a proposition I would have dismissed ludicrous some years ago!

Apart from knowing what form to fill, it is important to know what has to be filled. Sometimes, it is great to know that you are single; unmarried. It would be great not to be single (a girl friend would have solved the problem here) and also be single (unmarried). So, when I had to check the box against SINGLE, I was absolutely sure that I was single in all aspects. That was a revelation not too pleasing personally, but gave me immense satisfaction for tax purposes. The other options were too intimidating when it came to personal exemption; married - joint filing, married - but separate filing and a whole range of options that can confuse any living being on the planet. So, safe, single and sound!!!

I have always cribbed about not getting enough interest amount from the local banks. I guess this was the only time in the whole year when I felt happy about not having to enter any money against the bank returns column. No interest amount meant no filling up the column; more importantly, no complex calculations. I would have willingly given some money back if it meant that it would ease up the calculations. Thank goodness, I had no property, no mortgage, no investments, no stock options. I don't know whether I would have been so happy without these things at other times, but now, it felt like I was in heaven!

So, there it was, the federal tax form was filled. Now, I took on the two state tax forms. It was like David taking on the Goliath. I had to take care of every tiny detail to make sure I was getting the calculations right. That's the problem with filling up these forms manually. You have to rely on your weak Math to help your cause. After filling up both the state forms, I realized that I had goofed up some of the additions. There went all my effort down the drain. Back to square one, with a different set of print outs (Knowing me, I had taken some extra copies!), same data with improved Math skills. Finally, after a complete brainwash, I placed the forms with all the supporting documents in three different envelopes, kept it in a place where I just cannot fail to notice the next morning. So, on the last day meant for filing, I sent in the postmarked envelopes gloating over the fact that I had filed my returns independently, and hopefully, not incorrectly!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

I had no idea about Jhumpa Lahiri's latest release until I got many of those promotional mails from Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon offering an attractive discount. It was a perfect way to start the month. Obviously, my first intention was to check up at the local library, and on finding out that I was 81st in the queue, I quickly went to the nearest Borders store, swiped my Amazon (what an irony!) credit card for $15.75 (inclusive of tax), and there I was clutching the beautiful hardcover bound book as if I was the proud author.

Even though Interpreter of Maladies was her first publication in the literary world, I latched onto this only after I had finished reading The Namesake. The Namesake has left a lasting impression in me (link). The feeling lingered on for some days, as the emotional aspect of the book ebbed on to me in seamless fashion. Her topics are not out of the world; on the contrary, they have got a lot to do with day to day situations that we conjure in our daily existence. It is this deft handling of simple situations that enable us to fit into the character's shoes, and get a first hand perspective of the way we tackle problems when faced with a similar scenario.

In her latest offering Unaccustomed Earth, she plunges herself into the world of short stories once again, after beginning her career with a well timed Interpreter of Maladies, shifting onto a classic in The Namesake before bringing back a classic sequence of narrations, simple anecdotes with a beautiful touch of finesse and flair; an elegance that bowls me over when I read her books. It was this eager anticipation that propelled me to buy her latest book without a second thought. If The Namesake was about immigrants, there is no surprise to find similar entries stitching the pages in her new book. As she herself puts it across in various interviews (link), she likes to handle only issues that influence her to write, and there is no way that she is going to come out of these issues which impact so many people, and more importantly enable so many of her readers to identify themselves through the book. There is nothing wrong in sticking on with a single genre, if you can convey the message convincingly and in simple style. Let there be no doubts about it; she delivers these aspects in style. It is easy to place her style alongside RK Narayan, and it is a treat to read what she feels about the master (link).

Unaccustomed Earth is all about emotions; the characters fit in neatly to the situation. Her words leave a big impact on you, and at times certain quotes set you thinking. She tours the world from Seattle to Italy, keeping the basic setting confined to the New England Boston area. Malden, Medford, Andover, Mass Avenue, MIT, Harvard, Cambridge Area, Commonwealth Avenue and the T stations; the unique perspective of Boston filled me with a tinge of excitement as I read on. The book has a collection of eight long stories, fitted in 352 pages, striking a rich emotional bond between different characters. She has explored every aspect of the relationship; her first story Unaccustomed Earth deals with the fragile bond between a father and a daughter. This to me is the story of the book as she beautifully brings to the forefront the unspoken relationship between the two protagonists leaving you with a tear jerking emotional ending. The Bengali connection presents a nice Indian touch to the elegantly composed sentences.

Her take on life and happiness is very neatly worded as the daughter reflects on what her dad signs off with every letter,

“Be happy, love Baba,” he signed them, as if the attainment of happiness were as simple as that.

Similarly, her dad contemplates about the futility of migration to a foreign land leaving loved ones behind,

And yet he knew that he, too, had turned his back on his parents, by settling in America. In the name of ambition and accomplishment, none of which mattered anymore, he had forsaken them.

Her other stories deal with relationships; between a sister and brother, between family and friends, between a husband and a wife, between a brother and his little step-sisters. Her deft handling of these characters leave an enriching experience making it an entertaining read as you progress from one short story to another. Her last three stories fall under the sub-section Hema and Kaushik having a sense of convergence and divergence of these two characters. As Lotusreads in her blog rightly points out (link),

Lahiri writes about the everyday life of immigrant (Bengali) families using simple prose that starts oh so quietly and sedately but which almost always holds a big surprise at the end. Definitely give "Unaccustomed Earth" a whirl.

It is this repertoire; a collection of meaningful and strikingly worldly events in life that leaves the reader with an uneasy contemplation. It is as though you want to be involved in it, and at the same time detached from the vagaries of it. Jhumpa Lahiri carefully treads on the fine line striking a delicate balance between the certainties and uncertainties leaving the readers with a sense of attachment and detachment through her brilliantly created characters. So, in order to enjoy the finer nuances of this beautiful book, the best thing would be to grab a copy from the nearest book store or the library and get mesmerized in an intricate web of emotions and relationship.