article, movie review, Uncategorized

Christopher Nolan outdid himself with Dunkirk

The movie is practically immune to spoilers so you may read this without fear

Nolan’s movies have an uncanny tentacular grip in my head and I often go back to them when time permits. I never expected any less from the man who gave us the Batman Trilogy and Inception. The mastermind Anglo-American director has never believed in a linear plot as his movies transverse several timelines. He does the same with Dunkirk, where he basically throws his audience in the deep end of the pool – an intense evacuation. I was at the edge of my seat throughout the film. Hans Zimmer’s music perfectly complements the cinematography. Travelling through land sky and sea, with the divisions never too clear, Dunkirk is one of the finest films I have ever seen. Like the sea which is a constant presence in the movie, dawning both death and life, the movie bobs and weaves for 2 hours, managing to keep you on your toes.

Centred around the historical rescue of stranded British and French soldiers at Dunkirk during the second world war as they are incessantly pounded by the Nazi forces, you may realise that you know the story before its even begun. But you don’t. The characters, adrift in time and experience are what make this story multi-dimensional – the soldiers barely surviving on the beach at Dunkirk, grasping their helmets and lives; the brave requisitioned civilian rescue boats that fight their way through treacherous seas and the pilots who circle the skies, taking down enemies.  Nolan pursues larger questions about life, time, memory and identity, deliberately stripping off all specifics of all character, their beginnings and ends like loose strings that can be tied at will. The experience is ethereal – the lost soldiers, dealing with personal identity amid a crisis that is manifested both internally and externally. These experiences on screen – Nolan-esque in portrayal – are metaphors of our daily life experiences anchored in great screenplay and outstanding cinematography. The different storylines run parallel yet overlap and it is heartening to see all of them come together in the end after a diligent struggle in space and time.

Unlike war genre movies that I have seen so far, Dunkirk doesn’t shove over-sentimentality down your throat nor does it rove on about struggle and some moral enigma. This film is less about war and more about survival – it brought to my mind GB Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’ which deviated from the norm of showing buck swaggering valiant soldiers to show the grim reality, the fear of death even in the bravest of men. Dunkirk is nothing but cinematic perfection and is yet another feather in the Nolan’s cap.

 

Picture: YouTube/Warner Bros

 

article, bosphorous, istanbul, life, LOVE, traveling, turkey, Uncategorized

ISTANBUL – A trip to the Turkish Delight

Istanbul, the gorgeous capital of Turkey, can boast of many things, being an exciting amalgamation of the old and the new, the traditional treats and the modern breath. Napoleon Bonaparte rightly exclaimed- If Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital. It has had an adventurous journey, having been founded in 660BC as Byzantium, and then falling into the hands of the Roman conqueror Constantine, who christened the place as Constantinople. It earned its new name, Istanbul, in 1930, after Turkey became a republic in 1923.

Sitting on the famed European-Asian border, the city has much to offer in terms of stunning architecture, historical delights and boat trips on the Bosphorous, one of the world’s busiest waterways, connecting countries to the Mediterranean.

The Grand Bazaar

The bazaar is famed for being the oldest and the largest covered market in the world, with over 4000 stalls to entice any shopaholic’s interest. Situated in the Old City, Kalpali Çarsi has an assortment of thoroughfares from carpets to brassware. Be sure to haggle, for the merchants are known to often bend a little.

The Topkapi Palace

Home to the stunning 86 carat Spoonmaker Diamond, the palace was once the palatial residence of the Ottoman Rulers. The garden is a stunning piece of art, and overlooks the Sea of Marmara. Containing four courtyards and a number of other smaller structures, the palace’s Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II. It became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985. It is now a museum and shows on display beautiful Ottoman jewelry among other artifacts.

Hagia Sophia

It transcended a journey from a church to a mosque and now finally rests as a fine museum and one of the city’s favourite destinations. The byzantine architecture, with the intricate mosaics and marble pillars make for a beautiful scene.

The Basilica Cistern

All Dan Brown fans out there will remember the mention of this place in his book titled INFERNO, where the 6th century structure does not fail to impress even the most unassuming. Known locally as the Sunken Palace, one must make an eerie-full descend into the cavern which houses three hundred and thirty six columns with bases in a few feet of water. It was earlier used to store water for the nearby buildings. It might remind you of the nail-biting end of the movie, the dramatic setting of which will make you visit this place for a closer look.

The Bosphorous

Istanbul’s waterway, which forms the continental boundary between Europe and Asia, is straddled by the metropolitan population. It divides the Asian Turkey from its European counterpart, but what it does better is give the travelers a beautiful boat-ride.  The city’s official ferry company, Sehir Hatlari, offers short, full and night cruises to suit individual needs; and for a more breath-taking local experience, hop onto a ferry bustling with Turkish tea-sippers and catch a glimpse of the sun setting across an orange sky.

Hamam

For those jet-lagged days and sore travelling feet, the experience of Hamam is a must. The traditional spa experience in the old city includes masseurs engaging in the ritualistic series of soaking, scrubbing, exfoliating and rinsing treatments. It all varies according to the bathhouse; however, if one wishes to splurge, most hotels offer modern versions of the same experience.

Galata Tower

The spectacular view of the city from this towering structure is a must see for all first-timers.

Istanbul Modern

A perfect glimpse into the contemporary art scene of the city, the converted Warehouse near Karaköy on the banks of Bosphorous, showcases works of Turkish artists, sculptors and photographers. Book a table at the outdoor terrace Restoran Im and mix Cuisine with culture which makes for a sumptuous visit.  A set of Rainbow stairs nearby join Findikli to Cihanger.

Rumeli Hisari

The ruins of an old fortress, Rumeli Hisari,are located in the Sarıyer district of Istanbul, Turkey, on a hill at the European side of the Bosphorus. Since the 20th century, the place has been a museum and also doubles up as an open-air theater for various concerts at festivals during the summer months.

 

Lastly try the Turkish coffee, which is a thick concoction of black unfiltered coffee. ‘Mandabatmaz’ is one of the most famous variants!

*Featured picture credit- onorient.com

article, bhutan, road trip, traveling, Uncategorized

A Hidden Kingdom: In the lap of Bhutan

Bhutan is very near yet almost unknown and mystic to most, who happen to relate it with last kingdom in the world and also the last Shangri-La!

Bhutan’s pristine environment offers ecosystem which is rich and diverse, due to its location and great geographical and climatic variations. Bhutan’s high, rugged mountains and valleys boast spectacular biodiversity, earning it a name as one of the world’s ten most important biodiversity hotspots. Bhutan does not have GDP but a Domestic Happiness Index. Gladly one country has its priorities straight.

The journey to Bhutan is possible in two ways. You may start by flight to Paro from various places such as Bagdogra or New Delhi also but you miss the very essence of Bhutan which you capture once you start the road journey from Phuntsholing which is about 4 hours drive from Siliguri, West Bengal.  This is not the only road entry but happens to be the most popular. There are two more road entry points from India only and there is no entry from any other country to Bhutan.

Once you enter Bhutan the calm atmosphere is as loud as anything else. The aromatic luxurious nature of the country rejuvenates one instantly. From Phuntsholling the journey to the core of Bhutan begins and it’s an exhilarating and adventurous journey to say the least. Through the mountain roads, it is almost 160km to the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu.

In Thimphu are many places that are feast to the eyes and speak to the soul.

Buddha Dordenma:

This is a short drive from Thimphu city and a lovely place on the hill. The golden statue of Buddha, one of the largest in the world, was built on the 60th anniversary of the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It’s almost 55 meter tall and is visible from Thimphu. You can see the Thimphu valley and enjoy the peace and chants of monks while the prayers are in progress. The Kuensel Phodrang nature park provides the forest cover which surrounds the statue.

Punakha Dzong

Called Pungthang Dewachen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness), this Dzong is the second largest and the second oldest palace in the country and competes for the title of the most majestic of them. The spring season is the best time to visit the valley, for beautiful Jacaranda trees surround the palace, lending it their beauty and borrowing some from it in the process. Nestled between two rivers, Pho Chu and Mo Chu, it is connected to the mainland by a wooden bridge.

Tashichho Dzong, the main Dzong of Thimphu:

Situated on the western bank of the river Wang Chu, it is massive, beautiful, and timeless. It’s a Dzong along with palace for the royals. Traditionally it was the seat of the country’s civil government, the Druk Desi, and also the summer capital.  The surroundings are beautiful and mystic. The carving on the walls, prayer wheel and majestic charm make for a delightful sight.

Dochula Pass: On the road to Punakha, this pass in the snow-capped Himalayas, is the one of the highest place in Bhutan and that makes it an excellent vantage point to see the mountains. With 108 Stupas or chortens known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” in the middle, it’s an amazing experience while you can sip your coffee or something stronger in a small but well made café.  The pass leads to the Royal Botanical Park.

Tiger’s nest or Taktsang Monastery:

This tops the chart for all the reasons to visit this country. Also called Tiger’s nest, Tiger’s nest is perched at a hill top not meant for anybody with week knees. The steep 900m climb is strenuous but the view of the Paro valley makes you forget pain. Perched on a cliff with a dazzling view of pines and rhodendrons, the monastery’s entrance descends to a waterfall close to the Snow Lion Cave. Inside the monastery, the holy atmosphere among the monks makes it very serene.

Chele La Pass:

It’s a view point 4000 meters above sea level! A breath-taking view of the pass which separates Haa and Paro valley. A lovely drive with a view of Mt Jumolhari is definitely worth the visit but be very careful in winters as the temperature drops to the wrong side of zero.

And finally for those who like to indulge in high spirits, Ara a local spirit brewed from rice or corn can be tried and for little refined taste, a local raw fresh beer brand name “Red Panda” is fresh and good for the tingling taste buds. Cheers!

*featured image credit: makemytrip.com

 

animals, article, cat, life

Diwali Blues

via Discover Challenge: Animal

While most of my peers were busy uploading Diwali pictures in pretty clothes, much to my chagrin, I was nestled in the warm albeit dark corner of a cozy closet, which had doubled up as the nursery for my pregnant and visibly-in-labour cat, Hyde*. It all started on the night before Diwali, and the entire day was spent comforting my little kitten that was quickly (and annoyingly) on her way to motherhood.

With my phone in one hand, I probably spent hours surfing the internet, and hissing at random posts of people busy in Diwali festivities. I am not much of a festival fan, but I like getting together with people and dressing up in great clothes once in a while, so yeah, you get my point. I was almost fuming, as I sat on my bed, comforting Hyde, who was getting more anxious by the minute, with her tail constantly fluttering around my face, her way of catching attention. I petted her head and ran my fingers along her shiny coat. I could almost read her mind, as she jumped from the bed to the table, knocking a few things in the process. She must’ve been blaming Zaru, my elder male cat, who was probably the reason why she was now visibly exhausted (and fat).  Exhaustion was something we both had in common I guess.

So Hyde’s pregnancy had limited my Diwali revelries to the confines of my room, with my sister and mother in tow, who were both busy in stocking supplies and preparing probably the most weirdly comfortable birthing area for our cat. And that’s how the closet was chosen since it was dark and cozy, both things a cat’s favourites. We all manned the gate and alternated between attending to guests and pampering Hyde. Her condition worsened and we were overcome by a sense of foreboding- maybe her inexperience was hindering the delivery. Three years ago I had lost a cat to labour pains, and I couldn’t bear to think of past repeating itself.

In all the tension and chaos,Diwali came and went. The next morning, my mother called up the Vet in order to ensure that Hyde was tended to by a professional instead of us amateurs. But of the only two days his clinic is closed, Hyde had inadvertently chosen one. My mother hustled to find another doctor. In the entire frantic search for help, we left Hyde alone for a while. When my mother next checked on her an hour later, at around 9 in the bright sunny morning after Diwali, Hyde had become a gorgeous mother to two babies who looked just like her and were nestled carefully in the curve of her stomach.

One look at the kids and all my vanity vanished into thin air. I couldn’t remember the disappointment but only joy enveloped my mind. My mother finds solace in the belief that our love for them comes back to us through each happy day that we spend with each other. And I’d like to have faith in her faith. The quiet Diwali blues are a thing of the past. Those tiny fur balls were worth sacrificing any damn festival.

Always.

 * the cat in the picture is Hyde, with her two pretty kittens, Max and Cooper.

 

article, life, psychology, Uncategorized

In The Middle of It All- The Conundrum of Introversion

I’ve been on both the ends – the oft quoted vibrant extrovert- your typical life of the party person, to the obscure introvert you just make eye contact with while going to class. I have now happily settled with ‘ambivert’, quite interesting right? Or maybe I am just a pretend extrovert. That makes so much sense, doesn’t it?!

I don’t recall as to how being called an introvert started becoming a curse in today’s world. It’s as if some moderator turned on a switch as globalization set in – that we all needed to have public projections that correlated with the modern world’s understanding. Our individual traits became objectified to an extent that we became replaceable as well as repeatable. An associate gave me some sane advice, that we need to market ourselves in order to attain something in life, and that life is after all, easily definable as a paradigm of supply and demand.

We choose to manufacture our wholeness – our traits, integrity, dreams and aspirations are ours to possess. We individually, and very systematically over a period of time, delineate our own character. But put that in a social context and the conundrum of existence takes over. We are expected to be a certain way, our expression is bound in a box of social requirements and your modern-day introvert is stretched like a rubber band, with his strings being pulled by the jubilant extroverts. We are expected, mind you, to reveal the selves that we choose not to, or risk social alienation…

In an extroverted society such as ours, it is not easy to be an introvert. We are the marginalized group, who often find it difficult to minister to our needs without being condemned. From being interpreted as shy individuals to intellectuals lost in deep thoughts, we have to endure social stigmatization of the meaner kind. We are labeled rude, with limited social skills, without which our existence in this party-world seems obscure.  The animated, energetic people that are bustling with life add to our plight.

But simply reducing the debate of introvert versus extrovert to a binary of shy versus outgoing is to limit the spectrum. How introversion manifests itself is a matter of personal choice and psychological make-up. I have been an introvert all my life and yet have managed to make great friends and go partying on weekends. It still doesn’t say how I expect or imagine my world. I prefer a quite dimly lit dorm, with coffee, drooling over a good book or movie, to a room full of people. Unfortunately, our society tends to bombard individuals with ideas to reinforce extroversion, demeaning introversion in the process as something that is an absence of social traits. The absence of vocal expression of your thoughts is also associated to a lack of intellectuality. The deal is – if you know something, then you must profess knowing it.

Susan Cain, in her 2012 non-fiction book ‘Quiet’, asserts that temperament is a core element of human identity, citing different studies that have already proved Introversion as ‘normal’ and even quite prevalent in men of great importance. When the culture of personality overtook the culture of character, extroversion came to dominate the stage. The extrovert ideal – the concept of an ideal self being gregarious and comfortable in the spotlight leads to a sea of difference between our notion of an ideal self and the real self, which tantamount to introverts being akin to second-class citizens with gigantic amount of untapped talent.

She also, very validly toys around with the idea of how extroverts are heard in open brainstorming sessions, which as opposed to their seemingly important objective, are in fact counter-productive. This means that the conversation might flow towards the direction suggested by a charismatic leader but may in fact trespass a better idea that is conceived in a quiet atmosphere by any individual.

It is imperative that people understand that some people are satisfied with the cornucopia of ideas brimming in their own head – that they are, both mentally and physically satisfied in solitude. Their curiosity towards life needs no external outlet, and it is nothing that needs any apology.

The concept of selective approachability, as often practiced by introverts in any environment, is jarring to others. What we need to understand as a society is that introversion and extroversion aren’t mutually exclusive; they are conveyed in varying levels of each in all of us. It is necessary to understand how undervaluing introversion as a contributing force to the society amounts to creation of a negative space that inhibits growth. This is not written to promote a cultish affinity towards introversion or a bias against extroverts at large but to explain the former phenomenon with respect to rising affiliation towards greater vocalisation by the extroverted society.

So the next time someone asks you to ‘crawl out of your shell’, give them a piece of your mind. And maybe some space.

 

article, HATE, TERRORISM, Uncategorized

THE COLOUR OF HUMAN DECLINE

Stephen Hawking lists rise of artificial intelligence as one of the threats to human species because once robots reach a stage of independent evolution, their conscious goals and desires may be unpredictably different from ours. However, with the rising beast-like behavior in the form of insane cruelty towards humans and animals alike, by humans themselves, it appears that we won’t have to wait a millennium to witness a catastrophic decline in human civilization as an evolved species. We might as well turn time and go back the good ol’ ape ways.

Incidents of terrorism can be discussed in the wake of recent attacks in Baghdad, Dhaka, Turkey, Medina and many other states which came under fire from terrorist groups or even home-grown militant outfits. As I am coerced into taking off my glass of optimism and say that this was an act by misguided religious fanatics, I do believe that these events have a colour. And it is Red.

I see Red each time I read such incidents and worry for the sake of all those affected. I see myself in the 19 year old girl who lost her life to the colour of religion. Or in fact, to the colour of human decline. We have been degraded to a state of no self conscience; where a verse from a religious text is the tight rope on which the condemned walk; which decides the value of one life over another. If they are fighting in the name of some deity, do they believe that human creation is an act of the divine and the value of human life must not be the prerogative of certain individuals whose religion supposedly surpasses ours in value? I don’t condemn Islam. No religion is at fault. No text teaches brutality but these acts are committed by brainwashed groups of psychopaths. Nobel Prize winning Physicist and atheist Stephen Weinberg said: “for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” It is ironical that I cite a quote that speaks in opposition to my belief but I do it because that is the most easily assumed reason behind any act of mass violence.

It has come to light that some of the attackers were educated elites, one even being the son of a politician. While extremist ideologies of a secular nature can be regarded as one of the primary causes of terrorism, political factors are not far behind. Under the garb of religion, many turn to such extreme measures due to political or even personal reasons.

I kept my nose close to newspaper articles and comments made by individuals on this matter. One comments criticized the events, clearly lamenting the degeneration of Muslim ideology, asking what kind of Muslims would kill Muslims and others in the holy season of Ramadan. I almost laughed. Is this what all our education and calls of secularism come to? It is despicable on the part of a person to question the actions of member of a community, expressing concern over the time of the year.  Will you have taken the pain with a grain of salt had it happened, say, around September maybe? This is precisely the reason I don’t question religion. Religion is only a garb for a polished external existence, while internal hatred spews such measures under personal misguided fanaticism.

It is however true that certain factions have misinterpreted sections of a holy text and thus unleashed a volley of social destruction and hatred. It is a matter of great concern that humans have been reduced to mindless machines that are out to kill their own kind. Is the cost of human evolution so diminutive that it flows in the streets unhindered?

Complexities of the causes of terrorism are widely known and accepted. But no cause can change the face of the result. It is besmirched with Red. No homage can bring back the dead. The only acceptable compensation would be to unearth the root of this evil, unmask the face that hides behind religion or any other origin, and fight it from ground up.

 

article, HATRED, politics, religion, Uncategorized

Nihilism, Death of religion and rise in Organized crime

Angry

The internet spells doom for religion, and an ever-rising graph for organized crime, which has become a bane to our modern society. While the murder of Akhlaq over beef consumption was the writing on the wall for organized religion and its dominance, which often transcends notions of moral law and societal constructs, it spits straight in the face of those who claim that religion is adequate moral police for individuals. While faith without religion is a vain exercise for self-affirmation, religion without faith only aims to train men to toe the religious line of man-made dogmas without any inherent understanding of their individual beliefs. While virtual life creates a parallel world of greater self expression and social cohesiveness among faiths that did not necessarily pre-exist before modern times, it also in a varied sense, limits the real perception of the individual and the moral tone which binds us irrevocably with our environment.

By death of religion, which is apparent in my essay’s title, I do not mean the literal death of religion as an organized social construct, but as a life-force which dominates man’s actions which provide a pathway to heaven, nirvana or any other zenith of self-realization and oneness with God. As we see, there is a rise in the number of Atheists, Agnostics and generally the ‘nowhere in particular’ kinds of people all across the world. That is not to imply that religion has died; just that it holds less credence with its populace. To practice faith without an over-arching system of imposed religious practices is what people at large are turning towards. It only seems rational, to dissociate oneself from tenets of organized religion and exercise one’s faith independently. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that as religion is moving away from being pathway to the creator and increasingly becoming insurmountable defense to facilitate immoral activities under the garb of religious fervor. Moving from the issues of organized religion to those of organized crimes, there is an increment in the incessant tussle between the rational and religion. Incidents such as those that recently occurred at Mathura, and those in the recent past, as the Akhlaq murder incident, I see undertones of Nihilistic philosophy of the self-proclaimed Godmen/Cult leaders who manage to lure the impoverished, illiterate masses, and on occasions, even the rational.

Nihilism, as a philosophy propounded by Nietzsche, believes in total boycott of established rules and institutions, and often, a need for violent activities, or for that matter, any revolutionary activity, that is aimed at being destructive to oneself and society. Nihilists more oft than not, try to transcend the boundaries of moral laws as well as those established by the society, in order to prove their own ideology as superior to others. A similar theory is expressed succinctly and ostracized by Dostoevsky in his opus magnum, Crime and Punishment, through the characters of Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov. Absence of absolute religion and ideas of social influence lead men to the path of heinous crimes and gross misinterpretation of their own actions as being rationalistic as opposed to utilitarian. Self proclaimed leaders like Ram Vriksha Yadav, with their inordinate demands along with other ‘Satyagrahis’, are real-life nihilists who jump the lines of law and order with the grace of a lame frog.

What connects these modern nihilists to the concords of followers of organized religion is the methodology with which they work. Absence of a strong groundwork of faith, which is often replaced by fanaticism and absolutist ideology, shakes the very foundation of such unions. Forceful super-imposition of their rights over those of others and resorting to inordinate methods to exert power leads to unfortunate circumstances as those aforementioned.  While there are a number of reasons like cultural political and social factors, many studies have claimed to show a positive correlation between crime and dearth of adequate religious fervor. While religious hypocrisy holds its shaky stand on faith, these vigilantes need to rein in their bovine love and attach it to a more realistic understanding of humanity. Religion cannot, and must not be used to justify murder. Taking the law in one’s own hands is no solution in an apparently democratic and secular setup. Ambiguous religious identity and nihilistic attitudes that exacerbate tense situations need to be guarded from becoming absolutist ideas.