Sunday, February 4, 2024

12th Fail

Movie Review: 12th Fail
Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra

Genre: Biography

Language: Hindi

Starring: Vikrant Massey, Medha Shankar, Anant Joshi, Anshuman Pushkar

Released: 2023

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Only once in a while you watch a movie and feel that you have watched perfection in storytelling, not just brilliance (which also is rare, I must say). As you can easily guess from my rating of 10 out of 10, “12th Fail” is such a movie for me.

This is the story of Manoj Kumar Sharma (Vikram Massey). As the movie opens, we see him as a student living in a remote village in the infamous Chambal area. He is preparing notes to carry with him in the exam hall, so that he can cheat. Not because he is a bad person, but that’s all the kids in that school know and are expected to do In order to clear the 12th exam. Even their teacher helps them cheat. This nicely sets up the context for the rest of the movie. This is the life, this is the environment, this is the reality from which Manoj Kumar Sharma has to start his journey to clear one of the most competitive exams in India and become an IPS Officer. He gets that inspiration from an honest police officer who is unafraid to fight against the system.

Getting inspiration, as we all know, is the easy part. Everywhere in the world and definitely in India, the odds are stacked against people like Manoj. The movie follows his struggles along the long road to his eventual success. This is not a spoiler, as it’s not a suspense how the movie is going to end. 

What I found to be one salient feature of this movie, is the focus on positivism. This is not a tear jerker, although I did cry at the end, but with happiness. Along the way, Manoj gets help from many sources. His family gives him unconditional support, in whatever way each can.  A restaurant owner (and a complete stranger) feeds him without taking money. Another stranger, Pritam (Anant Joshi) becomes a friend and takes him to Delhi and allows him to stay with him. Gauri Bhaiya (Anshuman Pushkar) tutors him and offers him a room to stay. I will let you notice other acts of kindness, but suffice it to say, Manoj doesn’t fight a lonely battle, and others see his battle as their own and genuinely want him to succeed. Of course, the most important support comes from his girlfriend and future wife, Shraddha Joshi (Medha Shankar).

This focus on positivity during a tough struggle with honest no-frills storytelling is what I found so refreshing. I don’t know if this is unique, but it’s rare. I didn’t notice any melodramatic moments, any cinematographic tricks or anything that feels forced. Maybe there were. I was so riveted watching the people in the story, that I certainly didn’t notice any, if there was. The scene near the end of the movie, where the results of the exam are announced, manages to move us, even when it’s completely expected, because it feels so real. This is how people would react in real life. I cried with them, joining in their happiness.

Which brings me to the people in the story, the actors. Everyone is incredible. Perfect casting, perfect acting. I will have to praise each and every actor, and the list is long, so I will skip it. But it would be criminal to not mention Vikram Massey, who has given a performance that I will list amongst the greatest ever. It doesn’t even remotely feel like he was acting. A true definition of “natural”. To use the cliche, this is an Oscar worthy performance. 

Many years ago, I watched a movie that I thought was unlike any other I had watched till then. That movie was “Parinda” and it made me forever remember Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s name. Some of his later movies, where he collaborated with Raj Hirani (3 Idiots, Munnabhai) are amongst the best of the Bollywood movies, but they don’t have the stark reality of Parinda and 12th Fail. Parinda, and the pervasive atmosphere of dread stayed with me for many days afterwards. This movie 12th Fail, also stayed with me for many days, but for exactly the opposite reasons, for its positivism and inspiration. And this time too, I feel like I have watched a movie unlike any other.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. If you don’t watch it, you are depriving yourself of a chance to enjoy one of the best movies ever made. The movie is very family friendly, and I am sure, teenagers would enjoy it.


Sunday, January 7, 2024

ChromeOS Flex

I installed ChromeOS Flex on my old laptop, and you should too!

I have been using Chromebooks for a while now, and I have been a vocal fan. My first Chromebook was purchased just because it was very light and available for about $200. I didn’t really know what to expect. I just wanted to try, and the price was awesome. As I started using it, I noticed that the performance of Chrome browser was a lot better than my expensive laptops, both Mac and Windows. Considering that the Chromebook had a very low end CPU (Pentium), only 4GB in RAM, it was quite a shock.

Then I noticed how long the battery lasts, how quickly it starts up and shuts down, and how light it was to carry around. Eventually, the chromebook became my main laptop. Sure, I still needed my other expensive laptop for editing audio and video. But that’s not my main usage. On a daily basis, most of my laptop usage was just on the Chrome browser, and hardly on any other app. And the Chrome browser on a cheap Chromebook with a very low end CPU and just 4GB RAM was easily beating Chrome (and any other browser) on a Mac and Windows laptop. 

Though, I also noticed that as the tabs on the Chromebook browser increased, the tab switching was getting slower. At this point I was so hooked to the light weight, long battery life, fast start up and fast browser of the Chromebook, I decided to buy another one having a better CPU (Intel i5) and it has been the best laptop I have ever bought.

There are many other pros and cons of Chrombooks. You can read about them on your favorite review sites. It may or may not convince you to buy a Chromebook. What I am recommending you is to try the free ChromeOS Flex on an old laptop that you hardly ever use, and are thinking of throwing away.

Yes. That’s what ChromeOS Flex is aimed at. You can install it on your Windows or MacOS laptop. The older laptops probably have a CPU/Memory combination that’s not enough for today’s applications. But … that’s going to be way more than enough for ChromeOS Flex.

You can read more about it on Google’s information page on ChromOS Flex. 

Personally, I really really liked the benefit of reducing e-waste, and I liked ChromeOS anyways. So I gave it a try. I followed the steps to install ChromeOS Flex on my older laptop with an Intel i7 and 8GB RAM. Even though my specific laptop model was not in the list of supported devices, everything went smoothly. It’s very important to note that this process is irreversible. You will lose all the data on the laptop on which you install ChromOS Flex.

The resulting performance improvement was very noticeable! The CPU/memory combination is way more than what ChromeOS needs to deliver that speed. The startup/shutdown is superfast and the battery lasts longer. I have not encountered any sites that don’t work with configuration. I have been using this laptop with ChromeOS Flex for about 4 months now, and have been very happy.

ChromeOS Flex is not exactly the same as ChromeOS. For example, the Chromebooks are generally far more secure because of specific hardware enhancements. So your laptop is not going to become a Chromebook. You can read more about the differences Google’s information page on the differences between ChromeOS and ChromeOS Flex. 

Based on my experience, I highly recommend that you try it. It’s completely free. I am pretty sure a laptop that you have stopped using will again be used, and possibly for most of your daily browser tasks it will perform better than your newer laptop.


Sunday, April 9, 2023

Book Review: The Elephant Whisperer

Book Review: The Elephant Whisperer
Author: Lawrence Anthony My Rating: 4 out of 5

The complete title of the book is “The Elephant Whisperer: Learning about Life, Loyalty and Freedom from a Remarkable Herd of Elephants”.


I came across this book by luck, even though it is a bestseller by a celebrated conservationist Lawrence Anthony. The title intrigued me, and I decided to give it a chance. And I am so happy I did.

I do not read much about a book beforehand, except the blurbs on the back. So I didn’t have much idea as to what to expect. And the book started very slowly for me. In the beginning I had questions, as to what exactly is a “Boma” and how exactly is an entire elephant family transported? But quickly, the book moved on to the real story. The story of a herd of elephants, in the Thula Thula reserve owned by the author.

And what a story this is! This is a deeply personal account of how the author Lawrence Anthony, acquired the herd, won their trust, and eventually their friendship. I must clarify, the herd remains wild and more importantly “free”. The author is requested to take responsibility for a family of elephants. Since they had been causing trouble, the only other option was to kill them. The author, who has no experience in dealing with elephants, let alone “troublesome” elephants, decides to do his best to save them from certain death. After the herd is transported into the reserve, or the “Boma” part of it, which is an enclosure to keep them safe till they get acclimatized, they make numerous attempts to escape. These are intelligently planned attempts by the matriarch, and they almost succeed. But their escape and attempts to return to their original habitat means getting too close to human settlements and once again invites certain death for them.

Eventually, the author manages to make the elephants comfortable in their new habitat. The herd thrives and grows. And the author gets to know each of them. He learns about their personalities, manages to establish communication with them and even shares their rituals. The encounters are amazing to read. Some are heart-warming, some nerve wrecking scary, some tear-jerking and they all will leave a mark in your memory. There are many ups and downs. Not everything goes on as planned. There are tragedies and terrible mistakes. And there are also many moments of joy and wonder. It’s life after all.

The book tells how amazing these creatures are. What shines through all this is the respect the author shows for them. He doesn’t venture into their space unless they “invite” him. The elephants remain truly in charge, as they should. He also doesn’t romanticize everything about them. He shows keen awareness of life in the wild and has a bit of a philosophical approach toward dealing with it.

Elephants are extremely intelligent and empathetic creatures. I have been lucky to have visited Africa and saw them roaming freely in the wild. See the photos here. The word that comes to mind is “majestic”. It’s not only important for the ecosystem to have the elephants thrive, but also as a reflection on humanity, that we can peacefully share this planet with all creatures. People like Lawrence Anthony and many other conservationists who dedicate their lives to this cause are the rays of hope, and we must thank them.

It’s a fabulous book. Not written in a literary language, but in an honest personal style. Read it.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

साबुदाण्याची सांस्कृतिक खिचडी

साबुदाण्याची सांस्कृतिक खिचडी 

साबुदाण्याच्या खिचडीची पाककृती शोधून महाराष्ट्राने समस्त भारतवर्षावर अनंत उपकार केले आहेत असं मी ठामपणे बऱ्याच लोकांना सांगितलं आहे. अर्थातच ह्या विधानाला सिद्ध करायला माझ्याकडे काही पुरावा वगैरे नाही आणि असे सगळे वाद केवळ गंमत म्हणून. पाककृतीचा शोध कोणी का लावला असेना, त्याने प्रत्येक घासातला अवर्णनीय आनंद काही कमी होत नाही. 

हा अस्सल महाराष्ट्रीय पदार्थ किती अस्सल आहे? पाककृती बहुतेक अस्सल मराठमोळी आहे, पण त्यातल्या घटकांचं काय? 

सगळ्यात आधी, अस्सल हा अरबी मधून आलेला शब्द (اصل अस्ल = शुद्ध, तत्व, सत्य) ज्याचं अनेकवचन उसूल (اصول). (हो, हो, दीवार मधल्या त्या सुप्रसिद्ध dialogue मधला उसूल). आणि तुम्ही ओळखलं असेलच की नक्कल हासुद्धा अरबी ( نقل नक़्ल) मधून आला असणार. 

तर, साबुदाण्याच्या खिचडीमध्ये मीठ आणि फोडणीशिवाय चार घटक असतात - साबुदाणा, बटाटा, शेंगदाणा आणि मिरची. ही नावं कुठून आली? आणि मुख्य म्हणजे हे पदार्थ कुठून आले?

बटाटा हा पदार्थ (आणि त्याचं नाव) भारतात पोर्तुगीज लोकांनी आणला हे सर्वश्रुत आहे. बटाट्याचा उगम दक्षिण अमेरिकेतील पेरू ह्या देशात झाला. हे नाव Taíno नावाच्या Carribean भाषेतून आलं आहे जी आता अस्तित्वात नाही. हिंदी मधलं आलू हे नाव फारसीमधून (آلو म्हणजे plum) आले आहे. बटाट्याचा दूरचा चुलतभाऊ रताळं (sweet potato) हा ही अमेरिका खंडातला पदार्थ. 

आज स्थानिक मिरचीचा अभिमान खूप ठिकाणी आढळतो. मग ती कोल्हापूरची लवंगी मिरची असो, वा आंध्र मधील गुंतुर मिरची असो. मिरची शब्द संस्कृत “मरिच” वरून आला आहे पण मिरचीसुद्धा अमेरिका खंडात मेक्सिको मध्ये जन्मली आणि युरोपियन लोकांबरोबर जगभर पसरली. आज मिरचीचे असंख्य प्रकार आहेत, दुसऱ्या कुठच्याच फळात इतकी विविधता नसेल. (हो, मिरची हे झाडाचं फळ आहे.) इंग्लिश मधला chilli हा शब्द मेक्सिको मधल्या Nahuatl भाषेतून जसाच्या तसा आला आहे. 

आणि शेंगदाण्याचं काय? हो, तोही दक्षिण अमेरिकेमधलाच!

पण दाणा हा शब्द फारसी मधल्या “दान: (دانہ)” वरून आला आहे. आपण अगदी ण वापरून त्याला मराठमोळं करून टाकलं. फारसी मध्ये दुसरा शब्द आहे दाना (دانا) - म्हणजे बुद्धिमान, ज्ञाता. दानिश (बुद्धी) असं नावही आहे. इथे फारसी आणि संस्कृत मधल्या शब्दांचं साधर्म्य सहज जाणवतं. दानिश म्हणजे ज्ञान, आणि दाना म्हणजे ज्ञानी. हा योगायोग नाही. वेदकालीन संस्कृत आणि प्राचीन फारसी ह्यांचा उगम एकाच अतिप्राचीन भाषेतून झाला आहे. (फारसी चा उगम संस्कृत मधून नाही झाला आहे, पुन्हा एकदा स्पष्ट करतो. असो.) 

ह्या संदर्भात दोन शेर ऐका, दाना आणि दान: ह्यातला फरक दाखवण्यासाठी. आता ग़ालिब आणि इक़बाल, ज्यांची काव्यप्रतिभा माझ्यासाठी देवस्थानी आहे, त्यांचे शेर सांगण्याची संधी मी कशी सोडेन?

हम कहाँ के दाना थे, किस हुनर में यकता थे 

बेसबब हुआ, ग़ालिब, दुश्मन आसमाँ अपना 

(मी कुठे कोण बुद्धिवंत होतो, कुठच्या कलेत अद्वितीय होतो

विनाकारण दैवाने माझ्याशी वैर घेतलं)

फार अर्थपूर्ण शेर आहे. पूर्ण गज़लच छान आहे. गज़ल सम्राज्ञी बेग़म अख़्तर ह्यांनी अप्रतिमरित्या गायलेल्या ग़ालिबच्या “ज़िक्र उस परिवश का” गज़लचा हा मक़्ता आहे. 

महाकवी इक़बाल ह्यांची कविता अतिशय आध्यात्मिक आणि संकेतात्मक असते, हे ध्यानात ठेवून त्यांच्या एका सुप्रसिद्ध कवितेतल्या पहिल्या ओळी वाचा. 

आश्ना अपनी हक़ीक़त से हो, ऐ देहकाँ ज़रा 

दान: भी तू , खेती भी तू , बाराँ भी तू , हासिल भी तू 

(केवळ शब्दार्थ लिहितो आहे. ह्यातले आध्यात्मिक संकेत तसे स्पष्ट आहेत. 

अरे शेतकऱ्या, स्वतःच्याच सत्याशी थोडा परिचित तरी हो 

दाणाही तूच, शेतीही तूच, वर्षाही तूच आणि प्राप्तीही तूच)

आता राहिला साबुदाणा. हो, बाकीच्या तीन घटकांसारखा हाही दक्षिण अमेरिकेतूनच आला आहे. Cassava ह्या मूळच्या दक्षिण अमेरिकेतील कंदमुळाच्या पिठापासून साबुदाणा बनतो. ह्याचे Tapioca हे नाव ब्राझील मधून आलं आहे. मात्र पीठांपासून असे गोल दाणे बनविण्याची पद्धत मलेशिया मधून आली आहे.

बघा. साबुदाणा खिचडी सारखा अस्सल मराठमोळा पदार्थ, जो आपण एकादशी सारख्या धार्मिक दिवशी खातो, तो बनवायला लागणारे सर्व मुख्य घटक “परकीय परधर्मीय आक्रमकांनी” भारतात आणले आहेत. तेही केवळ तीन चारशे वर्षांपूर्वी. खूप विचार करण्यासारखी गोष्ट आहे. मग “आपली संस्कृती” म्हणजे नक्की काय?

ह्या प्रश्नात अवघडून जाण्यासारखे काहीच नाही आणि अशी “खिचडी” सर्वत्र आढळते.

हिंदी चित्रपटांनी आपली अशी समजूत करून दिली आहे की, शतकानुशके पंजाबी आया त्यांच्या मुलांना गरम गरम “मक्के दी रोटी” खायला घालत आल्या आहेत. पण हा मका देखील मूळचा अमेरिकेतलाच आहे. यूरोपीय लोंकानी तो जगभर नेला. 

भारताबाहेरही सर्व प्रदेशांची हीच गत आहे. स्वित्झर्लंड आणि बेल्जियम मधल्या जगप्रसिद्ध चॉकलेट मधला मुख्य घटक “कोको” (Cocoa bean) मूळचा दक्षिण अमेरिकेतलाच. टोमॅटो शिवाय आज इटालियन जेवणाची आपण कल्पनाही करू शकत नाही. हा टोमॅटो सुद्धा दक्षिण अमेरिकेतूनच आला आहे. हे नावसुद्धा मेक्सिकोतल्या Nahuatl भाषेतून आलं आहे.   गंमत म्हणजे टोमॅटोचं आगमन जरी चारशे वर्षांपूर्वी युरोप मध्ये झालं, तरी कित्येक दशके त्याचा वापर केवळ शोभेच्या झाडांसाठी व्हायचा. कारण टोमॅटो विषारी आहे, अशी लोकांची समजूत होती. पिझ्झावर टोमॅटोचा वापर सुरु होऊन जेमेतेम दीडशे वर्ष झाली आहेत. 

अजून एक. तंबाखू सुद्धा अमेरिकेतलाच. ह्या शब्दाची व्युत्पत्ती सुद्धा अमेरिका खंडातल्या जुन्या भाषांमधून आहे.

मूळच्या अमेरिका खंडातल्या ह्या पदार्थांचं आता सर्व जगावर राज्य आहे. कोलंबस ने अमेरिका खंडाचा “शोध” लावल्यामुळे संपूर्ण जगाच्या इतिहासाला जे एक अतिशय मोठं आणि मूलभूत वळण लागले, त्यात जागतिक पाकशैली वरचे परिणाम हा केवळ एक पैलू आहे.

मग “पारंपरिक पाकशैली” म्हणजे नक्की काय? भारत असो वा इटली, जरी प्रदेशांचा इतिहास खूप प्राचीन असला, तरीदेखील किती तरी “परंपरा” त्या मानाने आधुनिक आहेत. केवळ पाककलेत नाही, तर पोशाखात, आचारात, विचारात सुद्धा आधुनिकतेचं मिश्रण सर्व प्रदेशातील सर्व परंपरांमध्ये आढळतं.   

आज अशी तक्रार खूप ऐकू येते, की मुलं “आपलं जेवण” जेवत नाहीत, आणि त्यांना सारखा पिझ्झा, पास्ता हवा असतो. पण मला वाटतं, जेंव्हा बटाटा आणि शेंगदाणा असे “परकीय परधर्मीय” पदार्थ आपण आपल्या धार्मिक उपवासांना खाणं सुरु केलं, तेंव्हाही तक्रार झाली असेलच की! पण आपण आपल्या पद्धतीने बटाटा आणि शेंगदाणा असा काही वापरला की आज त्यांच्याशिवाय महाराष्ट्रीय जेवणाची कल्पनाही करवत नाही. मग काही काळानंतर पास्ताचा वापर आपल्या जेवणात आपल्या पद्धतीने होणारच नाही असं कशावरून? फोडणीचा पास्ता छान लागतो. अर्थात फोडणी दिल्यावर काय चांगलं लागत नाही म्हणा? :-) 

त्यामुळे माझं असं मत आहे की, संस्कृती ही नेहमीच बदलत असते. सर्वच बदल चांगले असतात असं नाही, पण सर्व बदल वाईटच असतात असं अजिबात नाही. जेंव्हा ह्या बदलांची सवय होऊन जाते, तेंव्हा तीच आपली संस्कृती असं वाटू लागतं आणि त्यात मात्र बदल होऊ नये असा आग्रह धरला जाऊ लागतो. पण महत्वाचं हे, की “आपली संस्कृती” म्हणजे केवळ एका सीमित प्रदेशातल्या हजारो वर्षांपूर्वीच्या प्रथा नाहीत. त्यात जगभरच्या विविध संस्कृतींमधून आलेल्या आणि मिसळून गेलेल्या गोष्टीही तितक्याच महत्वाच्या आहेत. 

आता ब्राझीलचंच बघा. Tapioca तिथे हजारो वर्षांपासून खाण्यात आहे, पण त्याचे गोल दाणे त्यांनी कधी बनवले नव्हते. मलेशिया मध्ये, एका प्रकारच्या ताडाच्या झाडांमधून (Sagu) जो पिष्टमय पदार्थ येतो, त्याचे गोल दाणे (Sago Pearls) बनवण्याची खूप जुनी पद्धत आहे. ह्या दोन्ही गोष्टी यूरोपीय लोकांनी जगभर पसरवल्या. मग ब्राझील मधला Tapioca आणि मलेशिया मधली पद्धत ह्यांपासून बनले Tapioca Pearls म्हणजे साबुदाणा. आता ब्राझीलमध्ये ह्या मलेशियन पद्धतीने Tapioca चे गोल दाणे बनवून एक गोड पदार्थ बनवला जातो ज्याचे नाव ठेवलं गेलं आहे - Sagu :-) आणि अशा तऱ्हेने हे वर्तुळ पूर्ण झालं.

विविध संस्कृतींचं विविध प्रकारे सतत होत राहणारे मिश्रण. माझ्यासाठी तरी “वसुधैव कुटुंबकम्” चा हाच खरा अर्थ आहे.


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

कशाचा कशाचा मला राग आहे

 कशाचा कशाचा मला राग आहे 

धरावे सदा का तुझे हात दोन्ही 

तुझ्या कंकणांचा मला राग आहे

कसा रोज न्याहाळतो हा तुला गं 

तुझ्या आरशाचा मला राग आहे 

कटी भोवती मेखला घट्ट का ही 

तिच्या ह्या मिठीचा मला राग आहे

तुझे ओठ स्पर्शून जातो कितीदा 

चहाच्या कपाचा मला राग आहे 

- अभय अवचट 

October 6, 2021

Saturday, September 18, 2021

We Have No Idea

Book Review : We Have No Idea
Authors: Jorge Cham, Daniel Whiteson My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “We Have No Idea : A Guide To The Unknown Universe”.

I love reading books on Science and Math, and within Science especially Physics. I have written many reviews of popular science books, and have highly recommended quite a few of them. I can unequivocally say that “We Have No Idea” is the most readable book of all of them. If you have read many popular science books, you should still read this. If you have avoided reading any science related books so far, please do yourself a favor and read this one.

In the early part of the 20th century, new advances and discoveries in physics revolutionized our understanding of the universe, both at the atomic scale as well as the galactic scale. These discoveries, quantum mechanics and theory of relativity, are counter-intuitive to say the least. It takes time to understand them even at the superficial level. Still it’s worth spending the time, because the universe is mind bogglingly weird. Even a glimpse of this knowledge is enough to make you philosophical about everything. Since the topic is really hard, a large number of books have been written to explain these concepts to laypersons. Many are good. Of all the ones I have read, none is as easy to read and as fun to read as this book “We Have No Idea”, by the duo Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson.

As the title says, the book emphasizes what we don’t know, even after so many advances in the last nearly 100 years or so. That’s what makes the book so accessible and non-intimidating. Let me explain what I mean by examples.

I have read books that try to explain the Theory Of Multiverse or the latest advances in String Theory and so on. The thing is, many such topics are speculative, as in, these have not been proven. There is a good chance that these theories might turn out to be true, but we really don’t know that. That’s precisely the point of this book. Instead of advertising how cool a theory is, the book honestly admits that we have no idea.

For example, we know that the universe contains many times more “dark matter” than regular matter that we can see as stars and galaxies. What is dark matter? We have no idea. The universe contains something else in even more quantity - what we call “dark energy”. What the heck is that, we have no idea. And to even more basic questions - what is really “space” and what is “time” at a fundamental level? We have no idea.

Of course, just the admission of lack of complete knowledge is not a reason to read this book. The book is organized into many chapters which can be read independently of each other. Each chapter tackles a topic, explaining what we know and then explaining what questions remain unanswered and why. So you can pick up the book, just read one chapter and then later come back to read some other chapter. 

That organization, the diagrams and the lucidity of the language makes it an easy read. What makes it fun is the quirky humor. Many puns and jokes (admittedly geeky) are sprinkled throughout the book. I decided to not give any examples, because I don’t like to include even a tiny spoiler in my reviews.

The topics are very advanced but you will come out with an understanding of the questions the scientists are trying to answer. This is really a book about the questions and not the answers. Sometimes I wonder, are we even equipped with brains smart enough to comprehend the universe? Well, even if we are not, the quest is still a lot of fun for laypersons like us, because of books like these.

I cannot recommend this book enough, and including it in my "Must Read" recommendations. Especially for those who have not tried reading any popular science non-fiction. Read it, you will thank me.

Friday, September 3, 2021

भारतीय संगीताची अरबी/फ़ारसी परिभाषा

शास्त्रीय संगीत हे माझ्या दृष्टीने भारतीय संस्कृतीचा सर्वोच्च ठेवा आहे. काही लोकांचा अशा विधानाला आक्षेप असेल, काहींना राग येण्याचीही संभावना आहे. गणित, तत्वज्ञान अशा इतर विषयांपेक्षा संगीत मोठं कसं, हा प्रश्न योग्य आहे. पण हे केवळ माझं मत आहे, अजून कोणाचं असावं असा माझा मुळीच आग्रह नाही. मला तरी भारतीय शास्त्रीय संगीत अद्वितीय वाटतं. 

सगळ्यात आधी एक स्पष्टीकरण - ह्या लेखात मी केवळ “उत्तर भारतीय” शास्त्रीय संगीताबद्दल लिहिणार आहे. प्रत्येक वेळी “उत्तर भारतीय शास्त्रीय संगीत” असं म्हणायच्या ऐवजी “शास्त्रीय संगीत” असे लिहिणार आहे ते केवळ त्याच्या संक्षिप्त आणि सुटसुटीतपणा मुळे. ह्यात “कर्नाटक संगीत” आणि इतर प्रकार ह्यांना कमी लेखण्याचा हेतू अजिबात नाही.

आज मराठीमध्ये आपण जेंव्हा शास्त्रीय संगीताबद्दल बोलतो, तेंव्हा आपल्या वापरातले बहुतेक शब्द हे मूळचे अरबी किंवा फ़ारसी मधून आलेले असतात. अगदी “बेमालूम” पणे आपण ते वापरतो. जर शास्त्रीय संगीत इतके प्राचीन असेल, तर असं का? म्हणजे धृपद शैली चं नातं जर थेट सामवेदाशी असेल तर हे सगळे अरबी/फ़ारसी शब्द कसे काय रुजले?

हे समजण्यासाठी इतिहासाकडे बघावं लागेल. पृथ्वीराज चौहानचा ११९२ सालचा पराभव हे भारताच्या इतिहासातील एक प्रमुख वळण. त्यानंतर दिल्ली वर मुस्लिम राज्यकर्त्यांची शृंखला सुरु झाली. सुरुवातीचे राजे जरी अफगाणिस्तान (आणि आताचं उझबेकिस्तान) मधल्या प्रदेशातून आले असले, तरी त्यांची भाषा फ़ारसी (किंवा फ़ारसी वरून आलेली) होती. ह्यातले बरेच राजे क्रूरकर्मा असूनही काव्य आणि संगीत कलांचे आश्रयदाते होते. 

अमीर ख़ुसरो हा विद्वान आणि “हरफ़न मौला” (polymath) त्याच्या हयातीत दिल्लीच्या बऱ्याच सुलतानांच्या दरबारात होता, अल्लाउद्दीन खिलजी च्या दरबारात सुद्धा.  खुसरो संगीत आणि काव्य ह्या दोन्ही कलात अतिशय निपुण होता. प्राचीन काळापासून असलेल्या “वीणा” वाद्यात त्याने काही बदल केले, आणि तीन तारा वापरून एक नवीन वाद्य बनवले. फ़ारसी मध्ये तीन म्हणजे “सेह” - त्यावरून त्याने नाव ठेवले “सेहतार”, (سہ تار) ज्याचा पुढे अपभ्रंश झाला “सितार”. (आधुनिक सितार मध्ये ३ पेक्षा जास्त तारा असतात.) तार (تار) हा शब्द ही फ़ारसी आहे. जरतारीची पैठणी मराठमोळी असेल, पण ज़र (زر) - अर्थ सोने - सुद्धा फ़ारसी आहे. तसंच सरोद हा शब्दही फ़ारसी आहे (سرود) - अर्थ “मधुर गाणं”.  

अमीर ख़ुसरोच्या नावाने बऱ्याच आख्यायिका आहेत. तबला ह्या वाद्याच्या निर्मितीचे श्रेय जे काही ठिकाणी त्याला दिले आहे, ते चूक आहे असे जाणकारांचं मत दिसून येतं. तबला ह्या शब्दाची व्युत्पत्ती मात्र अरबी मधील तब्ल ( طبل म्हणजे drum) ह्या वरून आहे. तसेच क्वचित प्रसंगी खयाल (अरबी ख़याल خیال - विचार) शैलीचे श्रेय त्याला दिलं जाते ते बहुतेक पूर्णपणे चूक आहे. पण आज “तराणा” म्हणून जो गायन प्रकार आहे, तो नक्कीच अमीर खुसरो मुळे जन्मला. तो शब्द आला फ़ारसी मधल्या “तरान:” (ترانہ म्हणजे गाणं) वरून. “तरन्नुम” (म्हणजे चालीवर म्हणणे) हा त्याच्याशी निगडित असलेला शब्द. आणि आज ज्या तऱ्हेने कव्वाली गायली जाते, ती त्याच्यामुळे.

अमीर खुसरो ने फ़ारसी आणि प्राकृत ह्या दोन्ही भाषांतील शब्दांचा एकत्र वापर अगदी जाणूनबुजून सुरु केला - दोन संस्कृतींना जवळ आणण्यासाठी. त्याने लिहिलेली एक सुप्रसिद्ध ग़ज़ल, ज्यातल्या अर्ध्या ओळी फ़ारसी आणि अर्ध्या ओळी प्राकृत (हिंदवी) भाषेत आहेत, तिचा वापर गुलज़ारनी “ग़ुलामी” चित्रपटातील गाण्यात केला आहे. 

ज़े-हाल-ए-मिस्कीं मकुन तग़ाफ़ुल, दुराय नैनाँ बनाए बतियाँ

कि ताब-ए-हिज्राँ नदारम ऐ जाँ, न लेहू काहे लगाए छतियाँ

(Do not ignore my plight, by looking away and making up tales

I don’t have the patience to suffer separation, why don’t you give me a hug?)

आणि एक गंमत म्हणून माहिती. वरील गज़लेचं फारसी मधून आलेले वृत्त (मुतक़ारिब मुसम्मन मुज़ाअफ़ मक़बूज़ असलम) आजही खूप वापरात आहे. उदा. एक प्रसिद्ध गाणं “न जाओ सैंया, छुड़ा के बैंया, क़सम तुम्हारी मैं रो पड़ूँगी, रो पड़ूँगी”. त्या गाण्याच्या चालीवर वरील शेर म्हणून बघा :-) 

अरबी/फ़ारसी मधले शब्द भारतीय भाषांमध्ये येण्यामध्ये अमीर ख़ुसरो चा मोठा हातभार आहे असं म्हणता येईल.

नंतर मुगलांची सत्ता सुरु झाली आणि ही महत्वाची सांस्कृतिक कला जोपासली गेली आणि विकसित होत गेली. अकबराच्या दरबारी तानसेन होता हे आपण जाणतोच. तानसेन धृपद गायचा, त्याच्या उपलब्ध रचना धृपद मध्ये आहेत. त्यावरून असे अनुमान बांधता येतं की खयाल गायकी त्यावेळी खूप प्रचलित नसावी. 

मुगल राज्यकर्त्यांची संगीताला आश्रय देण्याची परंपरा सुरु राहिली. औरंगझेबाच्या काळात खंड पडला पण त्याचा पणतू मुहम्मद शाह “रंगीला” हा संगीताचा मोठा आश्रयदाता होता. एक राजा म्हणून तो फार निष्प्रभ ठरला. आधी थोरले बाजीराव पेशवे, नंतर इराणचा नादिरशहा (जो मयूर सिंहासन घेऊन गेला) ह्या दोघांकडून त्याला मोठे पराभव पत्करायला लागले. पण त्याच्याच काळात खयाल गायकी प्रतिष्ठित आणि नंतर प्रमाण झाली. 

त्याचं मुख्य कारण म्हणजे त्याच्या दरबारातील राज-गायक  “मियाँ नेअमत अली खान साहेब” ज्यांनी खयाल गायकीला आजचं स्वरूप दिलं. “सदारंग” ह्या टोपण नावानी लिहिलेल्या त्यांच्या “चीजा” (फ़ारसी चीज़ چیز) आजही गायल्या जातात - अगदी नवशिक्या विद्यार्थ्या पासून ते भारतरत्न पंडित भीमसेन जोशीं सारख्या महान गायकापर्यंत. ते आणि त्यांचे पुतणे अदारंग ह्यांच्या चीजा अनेक रागांचे प्रमाण बनल्या आहेत. 

ह्याच काळात उर्दूला सुद्धा एका प्रतिष्ठित भाषेचा दर्जा मिळाला. नंतर खयाल गायकीची घराणी बनली. जवळपास सर्व घराण्यांचे संस्थापक मुस्लिम असल्यामुळे उर्दू / फ़ारसी / अरबी शब्द शास्त्रीय संगीताच्या परिभाषेत शिरले आणि आज ही तेच शब्द प्रचलित आहेत.

ह्या शब्दांची यादी खूप मोठी आहे. मैफिल (अरबी महफिल محفل), उस्ताद (अरबी استاد), रियाज (अरबी ریاض), तयारी (अरबी تیّر), तालिम (अरबी त’अलीम تعلیم), वजन (अरबी وزن) अशा शब्दांच्या व्युत्पत्ती बद्दल आश्चर्य वाटायचं काहीच कारण नाही. पण संगीतातला मूलभूत शब्द, आवाज (फ़ारसी آواز) सुद्धा अर्थासकट आला आहे. हरकत बद्दल तर मी आधी लिहिलंच आहे. कदाचित आश्चर्य वाटेल वाचून - दाद (داد) आणि वाह (واہ) शब्ददेखील फ़ारसी मधून अर्थासकट आले आहेत. 

काही व्युत्पत्ती गमतीदार आहेत. “समा बांधला” असा एक प्रयोग केला जातो, तो समा “यह समाँ, समाँ है यह प्यार का” मधला समाँ (अरबी سماں) नाही - त्याचा अर्थ दृश्य. समा (سما) असा अरबीत एक शब्द आहे पण त्याचा अर्थ आहे आकाश. इथे जो शब्द आला आहे त्याचा उगम अरबी मधील “समा’अ” (سماع श्रवण) मध्ये आहे. उर्दू मेहफिलीत श्रोत्यांकरता “सामईन” असं संबोधन तुम्ही ऐकलं असेल. आणि “दर्दी श्रोते” म्हणजे “दुःखी श्रोते” नव्हेत हे सांगायला नकोच. 

संस्कृत मधील स्वर चा अपभ्रंश सूर होण्यास सुद्धा उर्दू / फ़ारसी लिपी कारणीभूत असावी. हा केवळ माझा तर्क आहे. उर्दू मध्ये स्वर लिहिला जाईल سور असा. पण त्या प्रकारे लिहिल्याने उच्चार सूर सुद्धा होऊ शकतो - कारण उर्दू मध्ये लिहिताना बऱ्याच वेळा स्वरचिन्ह गाळली जातात. 

मला आवडणारा एक जोडशब्द आहे - हमनवा - म्हणजे आपल्या बरोबर एका सुरात गाणारा. एका प्रसिद्ध पाकिस्तानी मालिकेचे शीर्षक गीत आहे 

वह हमसफ़र था मगर उस से हमनवाई न थी

(तो सहप्रवासी होता, पण आमचे सूर जुळले नाहीत)

नवा (फ़ारसी نوا) म्हणजे आवाज/स्वर/गाणे. त्यावरून शब्द आला नवाज़. म्हणजे वादक. म्हणून सोबतीला (अरबी सुहबत صحبت) “तबला नवाज़” असतात. नवाज़ शब्दाचा दुसरा अर्थ आहे - कृपा करणारा. जो सेवकांवर कृपा करतो तो “बंद:नवाज़”.


ह्यातल्या बंद: चा मूळ फारसी शब्द आहे बंद, त्या वरून बनलेला फ़ारसीतला दुसरा शब्द बंदिश - हा आता शास्त्रीय संगीतातला अतिशय महत्वाचा शब्द बनला आहे. पण ह्या फारसी शब्दाचा मूळ उगम अतिप्राचीन “Proto-Indo-Iranian” भाषेत असू शकेल कारण संस्कृत मधला “बंधन” हा त्याच्याशी खूप मिळताजुळता शब्द आहे. हा ही केवळ माझा कयास आहे, भाषाशास्त्रज्ञांचं मत वेगळं असू शकेल. 

असो. बराच मोठा लेख झाला आहे. ह्या ही पेक्षा अधिक किती तरी शब्द असतील. पण जे शब्द मला पटकन आठवले त्याबद्दल ही थोडी माहिती. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Dark Matter

Book Review : Dark Matter
Author : Blake Crouch
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

It’s been a while since I have read any science fiction. The name of the book, and the praise it received got me curious. Blake Crouch has multiple books on New York Times Bestseller list, and his trilogy has been made into a TV Series on Fox. I haven’t watched it, but this is enough to get me to read one of his books.

The story is told from the point of view of Jason Dessen, a quantum physicist who is happily married to Daniela.  As the story begins, Jason gets out of his cozy home in a nice Chicago suburb to have a drink with his friend. On his way back, he is kidnapped by a person who seems to know a lot about him, a bit too much to seem possible. His attempts to get out of this situation fail completely. When he wakes up, he finds himself surrounded by total strangers, who on the other hand seem to know him very well, but what they know about him is not at all familiar to him. It takes a while for him (and the readers) to figure out what’s going on.

This is just the first half of the book, but it would be inappropriate for me as a reviewer to give any more details about the plot devices used by the author. Unfortunately, many other reviews on the web clearly spell them out. Now, it’s possible that many readers, especially SciFi readers, may easily guess what the underlying scientific premise is. Still, I would prefer to not spell it out.

The first half of the book is very captivating. It’s written very well, and draws the reader in. The suspense builds up, and we can feel what Jason feels. The characters are well developed and their interactions are authentic. A good science fiction also needs to be a good fiction and the first few chapters start with a great promise.

That promise is kept all the way till the end as far as writing is concerned. Along the way, difficulties arise in the plot because the author boxes himself in a situation from which there is really no convincing way out. It remains an engaging and mind-bending story, but fails to wow us. 

Most science fiction has to transcend existing laws and knowledge. For example, without hyper-space how can authors make their protagonists travel at a speed faster than light? This book takes such liberties with the speculative theories that are in fashion currently. That’s perfectly fine, in spite of a few logical holes in the plot. The liberties taken with the laws of physics is not the real issue, rather how they are used to construct a plot, a plot that has no satisfying resolution.

I enjoyed this book. It's good fiction and good science fiction. Although it’s not completely satisfying, it’s a page turner of sorts. In spite of the concerns I outlined above, it still gets my recommendation.

Sunday, July 11, 2021


 रुबाईसी क्रमांक १६

Wrote something after a long time. It’s Rubaai in spirit and in the rhyming scheme. But Rubai in Farsi and Urdu demand only a few very specific meters. I don’t see a reason to be restricted by them and would prefer to use whatever meter works better. So I am going to call this रुबाईसी (रुबाई जैसी). 

गीतांत कोकिळेच्या आवाज तूच आहेस 

मोरास नर्तनाचा जो बाज तूच आहेस 

सृष्टीत चालणाऱ्या सगळ्या अखंड नाट्यांस 

तालात बांधणारा पखवाज तूच आहेस 

(Inspired by a Meer Anees rubaai :

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Aamhi Doghi

Movie Review: Aamhi Doghi
Director: Pratima Joshi

Genre: Drama

Language: Marathi

Starring: Priya Bapat, Mukta Barve

Released: 2018 My Rating: 7 out of 10

Gauri Deshpande (1942-2003) is one of the best Marathi authors ever. In my opinion, she is the most underrated literary figure and deserves much wider fame. I haven’t read all her stories, but whatever I have read is phenomenal. Her stories, that I have read, are very character focused, and all those characters are interesting and off the beaten path. Even in short stories, she could paint a multi-dimensional character in just a few strokes. Her stories, almost always, eschew any melodrama and still have the power to affect you. Once you read them, it’s impossible to forget them. One reason is her language that can be shocking in its honesty and outspokenness.

Yes, I know I am writing a movie review and not a book review. But this is perhaps the only screen adaptation of her work. So giving the background is necessary.

I haven't read the original story “Paus aalaa mothaa”, so I cannot comment on the differences between the story and the movie. Of course there are some changes as the story in the movie happens in the present time, but they are cosmetic. There could be other changes, but the characters and the story, both are still in Gauri Deshpande’s signature style.

As the movie title suggests, this is the story of Savitri or Savi (Priya Bapat) and Amala or Ammi (Mukta Barve). Actually, it’s more a story about Savi, often narrated in her own voice. Savi has lost her mother when she was very young. Her father, a wealthy lawyer, Jagdish Sardesai (Kiran Karmarkar) raises her to be a strong minded person. “We are practical, not emotional fools”, is their mantra. Savi’s life takes a very unexpected turn when one day her father comes home from a trip with a woman, and unceremoniously announces that she is his new wife. The woman, Ammi, is only a few years older than Savi. They are very different individuals. Savi is an extraordinarily bright student, always at the top of her class, winning gold medals. Ammi, on the other hand, is completely uneducated and can barely read or write.

After a few days, Savi warms up to Ammi. As a teenager she is rebellious. Her and her father’s curtness eventually ruins the father-daughter relationship. Savi moves away from home for education with the intention of never returning back. The rest of the movie shows her personal development, and evolution of her past and future relationships.

This is a character study, like most of Gauri Dshpande’s work. Presentation of such movies depends on the script and the acting. The direction by Pratima Joshi is competent. This is her debut, and I am looking forward to more movies from her. The script is good, but the dialogues are average, not great. The strength of the movies is the actors and every single actor has done justice to their roles.

The main actors deserve special praise. Both Priya Bapat and Mukta Barve have many well known and successful movies on their resume. Mukta Barve is a seasoned actress and perhaps with the best acting skills of the Marathi actresses today. She is also a fantastic stage actress, I have watched one of her plays. Priya Bapat was amazing in Kaksparsh, an unforgettable movie. There she didn’t have a lot of dialogues, here she does most of the talking. She also has to play the character as a teenager as well as a grown up young woman. She doesn’t really look like any teenager, in spite of the makeup. The period of her growing up also feels much more in the past, so there are some weak points in an otherwise good movie.

I highly recommend this movie. I missed it when it came out. Thankfully it’s available on Amazon Prime. It may not be a typical family movie, but it is safe to watch with your kids, like most Marathi movies are. I think even people who cannot understand Marathi might enjoy it.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

आपका क्या होगा जनाब ए आली

 Once in a while, Hindi movie songs can throw an expected pleasant surprise.

On, Riya’s Retro podcast was playing a song from Amitabh Bachchan’s “लावारिस”, a movie I remember not liking much. “मेरे अंगने में” was a huge hit then. This particular song, Kishore Kumar’s “आपका क्या होगा जनाब ए आली” became a hit too, but I really did not care for it. I have never played any of these songs on my own. Lyrics of this one are by the producer-director Prakash Mehra.

Now Prakash Mehra, one of the most commercially successful directors, being a lyricist is not a big surprise. He has written a few songs, and some were hits. For example, “सलाम-ए-इश्क़” from “मुक़द्दर का सिकंदर”, or “मंज़िलें अपनी जगह हैं ” from “शराबी”. What took me by surprise was the lyrics of the antara.

आप भी मेरी तरह इन्सान की औलाद हैं

आप मुँह माँगी दुआ हम अनसुनी फ़रियाद है

वो जिन्हें सारा ज़माना समझे लावारिस यहाँ

आप जैसे ज़ालिमों के ज़ुल्म की ईजाद हैं

(ईजाद == creation)

Now, that’s a Rubaai structure for the antara! Something Sahir has done on many occasions. And Prakash Mehra’s effort is not bad at all. Nothing great. But ok enough. Just like his other songs. The second antara also has a Rubaai. Having noticed the Rubaai structure, I decided to check if it is in any meter. 

And it is indeed metrically correct. Now that’s a pleasant surprise! It’s not a meter prescribed for Rubaai, but it’s a very common meter used in Urdu for ghazal and Hindi movie songs. It’s called रमल मुसम्मन महज़ूफ. It goes 2 1 2 2 / 2 1 2 2 / 2 1 2 2 / 2 1 2. The Marathi version of a metrically equivalent वृत्त is named कालगंगा. 

In Urdu the most famous example would be the very first ghazal of Ghalib’s Deewaan - “नक़्श फरियादी है”. And, one example of a famous Hindi movie in this same meter is “आप की आँखों में कुछ महके हुए से  ख़्वाब हैं” by Gulzar.

Finding a Rubaai like antara with a correct meter in a song written by Prakash Mehra, a small and nice surprise for a weekend.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Knives Out

Movie Review : Knives Out

Released : 2019

Director: Rian Johnson

Genre: Mystery

Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Knives Out” is a recent movie that feels like such a welcome blast from the past. A movie that singularly fits the “Mystery” genre and will remind you of none other than Agatha Christie. I had nearly forgotten how enjoyable such stories are.

The mystery here is about the death of a rich and famous author, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). It seems like he killed himself by slicing his own throat with a knife. (Now that might perhaps be the rarest type of suicide.) He had a large family, with children and grand-children. As the pair of cops question them, we learn that many of them could be the suspects, including the central character of the story, the young nurse, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas). Joining the cops is a detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Yes, with a French name, interesting mannerisms, distinct style of speaking and all that. Alas, no mustache. 

The story has all the standard, and beloved elements of a classic mystery. A rich estate, squabbling members of a large family, many suspects with motivations, questionable details around the death. The approach is also familiar. We know more than the detectives - while the characters are telling a version to the detectives, the director tells us what really happened. So we know who is lying and about what. 

Like any good mystery, this is a bit more than just a whodunit, even though that is the main plot line. How it happened and why Detective Blanc is involved are also unknown to us. The additional minor details about the characters are not novel but amusing nonetheless. Their interactions are often filled with dialogues that make a political and social commentary on the current state of affairs. Just to be sure, all that is kept as a sideshow. 

Visually, the movie is beautiful, and tends oh so slightly towards the noir style. And that’s a good thing. The movie never turns dark, as has become the norm lately. It remains faithful to classic mystery style. There is no gore, no boo moments. We like and dislike characters, but we never get too emotionally involved with any. There is no melodrama, no emotional manipulations. The movie absolutely never stops being fun and a puzzle to solve, with many memorable scenes along the way.

In such an approach, the screenplay becomes extremely important. It takes skills to figure what frames to show in only the two hours available. They need to be just enough to keep us guessing and not figure it out. And at the same time, be more than enough to make us accept the resolution as perfectly valid and not make it feel like a forced or cheap trick. When accomplished masterfully, as done here, it feels like reading a good book.

It’s not a character centric movie, but capable actors of course help. Ana de Armas, a relative newcomer and Daniel Craig play their roles perfectly, and get more screen time than others such as Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Christopher Plummer.

This is such an enjoyable movie. It uses all the familiar motifs and still feels fresh. It stays completely committed to present us a mystery with a very satisfying ending. I highly recommend it. It’s correctly rated PG-13 and should be fine for teenagers.

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