#366days366posts – Day 60 – And the Oscar goes to……

What a night it was! Recognition, redemption and glory all on display on a night when Chris Rock’s one-liners were as much the topic of talk as the awards. Readers will remember that I had attempted to predict the winners of the awards last week. Now that the results are out, let us see how my predictions went. I will list the categories with the winner in bold green and my prediction (if different) in bold black.

Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

Best Director
Adam McKay (The Big Short)
George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Alejandro Inarritu (The Revenant)
Lenny Abrahamson (Room)
Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

Best Actor
Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
Matt Damon (The Martian)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Brie Larson (Room)
Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
Charlotte Rampling (45 years)
Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale (The Big Short)
Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
Rooney Mara (Carol)
Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Best Original Screenplay
Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen (Bridge of Spies)
Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley (Inside Out)
Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight)
Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus (Straight Outta Compton)

Best Visual Effects
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Martian

This means I got 3 categories out of 8 correct which translates to 37.5%. I think this is the lowest success rate for me in the past 5-6 years.

It was quite gratifying to see Leonardo DiCaprio finally covet the Oscars for the first time. His performance in ‘The Revenant’ wasn’t his best according to me but he has been recognized for the hardwork that he has put in. Brie Larson won hands down – there really was no opposition for her as far as the Best Actress category was concerned. Alejandro Inarritu is the dream director now – back-to-back Oscars for him!

However, I was disappointed to see Rooney Mara lose out on the Best Supporting Actress yet again. Maybe, like DiCaprio her time will come some soon. ‘Spotlight’ over ‘Room’ for Best Picture was probably very, very close. ‘Mad Max’ winning six awards was way beyond even my wildest imagination.

I look forward to the next Oscars. Hope my predictions will be more accurate next time. I have a point to prove, don’t I? 🙂

#366days366posts – Day 59 – Doubts

The sky laid a canvas for his dreams;
To paint the picture perfect clouds.
He could hear the claps in his mind;
The hands that didn’t cast doubts.

The equestrian field, an opportunity;
Greatness beckoned the show jumper.
A grand podium finish he did visualize;
The nervy horse cast doubts.

The theatre looked a surreal planet;
With a new star to be unleashed.
She had a spring in her step;
The piercing stare cast doubts.

How do we overcome doubts?
A positive thought, pat on the back.
Rise above the doubts we should,
For glory beckons at the end of it.

#366days366posts – Day 58 – Is the government’s GDP projection realistic?

The Government of India released the economic survey for 2015-16 the other day which says that India’s GDP could grow between 7-7.75% in 2016-17. The GDP growth for 2015-16 according to an advanced estimate has been pegged at 7.6% vs 7.2% for 2014-15. I think the government should have adopted a more conservative approach on GDP projection for the next fiscal.

The outlook for the world as a whole continues to remain bleak. The World Bank projects the world to grow only by 2.9 % in 2016 and 3.1 % in 2017 as well as 2018. Against such a backdrop, I believe the government could have pegged the GDP growth for fiscal 2017 between 6-6.5% which would be far more realistic, not only to achieve but also to believe. It is true that they have provided for a wider margin for the projection for the next fiscal, but the upper end of that margin is simply not attainable. If we are lucky, we may scrape 7% but it looks like 6.5% would be reasonable.

The survey also says that the correlation between world economic growth and growth in India has doubled from 0.2 to 0.42. With the World Bank estimate suggesting a stagnant to decelerating growth rate, such a positive correlation should have resulted in a much more prudent estimate. The doubling of the correlation is a sign that India would be impacted more than before if a recession were to hit – the probability of which is increasing.

In 2014-15, the government had projected the GDP to grow at 8.5% in 2015-16 but even in the advanced estimate, the growth likely to be achieved is only 7.6%. Given that the projection is off by close to 1% with a month to go for end of fiscal, this year’s survey could have addressed the situation a bit better. It would have put the government in a better light if the state of affairs  were to turn out really bad.

#366days366posts – Day 57 – The Baby Sweaters

Gloria finished stitching the third baby sweater. Just one more to go, she calculated.

The four baby sweaters would be all she would leave for her three sons and only daughter who had banished her to the bridge house. She would rewrite her last will. They would not get a single penny. Gloria made a mental note to contact her lawyer.

This would be her retribution. A stinging reminder of a mother’s eternal love for her children.

#366days366posts – Day 56 – The Soiled Shirt (a different take)

“Acha, very happy to see you again,” Mythili exclaimed when she saw her father as she answered the doorbell. It had been more than 6 months since she last saw him.

Her happiness quickly made way for petulance as she saw her father’s soiled shirt. “Why don’t you wear some of the nice shirts I had given last year? You always seem to wear only this one. Look at it, it’s dirty, the white color has faded and you look terrible wearing it,” she complained.

“Ha ha ha, it’s okay dear. You know I only wear this type. This is what I’m. Stop fussing about it.” Rama Panikker admonished.

“But still, look at you,” she pleaded. Her father just smiled.

Mythili realized that each time her father had come to visit the family – she, her husband and her two boys – he had on the same shirt – soiled, the white color drained and in a pathetic condition. She had felt sorry for him as he had to work really hard to bring up a large family. He was still the simple man of 30 years back, even though the situation had improved quite a bit. Mythili decided to do something about the shirt this time.

The family had an early but hearty lunch during which Rama Panikker had shared the happenings at the village.

“You know Keerthana, the daughter of the temple priest?” her father asked. “Oh yes, I know her,” Mythili answered.

“Ah, she eloped with a fellow student from her college last month. The priest and his wife were terribly agitated at this and it took a lot of effort to console them,” her father narrated.

“Oh God, did she come back? Or is she still not contacting her parents?” Mythili enquired.

“No, there is no information about her after the news of the elopement.” her father responded.

“The pawnbroker Kumaran has shut down his shop and gone to the Middle East,” her father continued.

Mythili’s husband Mayur looked up on hearing this piece of news. “The last time we saw him, he said his son was going to the Middle East. Is he joining his son or did he go of his own?” he asked.

“Yes, he is joining his son. Apparently, the son had earned some money and wanted Kumaran to join him. It’s unlikely they will return anytime soon,” Mythili’s father quipped.

Mayur smiled, nodded his head in understanding and went back to his lunch.

Rama Panikker asked about his grandchildrens’ school, happenings in the city and about the new home that Mythili and Mayur were planning to purchase later that summer.

The lunch done, Mythili’s father decided that he wanted to sleep for a while before he headed back home. Mythili agreed to wake him up at 3.30.

A while after he had gone to bed and was sound asleep, Mythili, Mayur and her two boys put a plan into action.

At 3.30 in the afternoon, Mythili woke her father up. “Acha, it’s 3.30,” she said.

Rama Panikker stirred, rubbed his eyes, stifled a yawn and said, “Okay, dear. Get me some tea. Soon after, I will be leaving. It’s a long journey back home.”

“Yes, Acha. By the time you get fresh, I will get tea for you.” Mythili promised.

He washed his face, arranged his bag and then looked for his shirt. It was then that he realized that the shirt wasn’t where he had placed it before his nap. He searched elsewhere in the room with no luck. It was missing.

“Mythili, where is my shirt?” he was suddenly agitated. He was a man or order and detested chaos.

“Please have your tea, Acha. I will search for your shirt. You must have misplaced it somewhere,” Mythili volunteered.

Rama Panikker stepped out and walked to the dining room where tea and snacks had been laid. As her father sipped the piping hot tea and partook the delicious snacks, Mythili and her two boys put another plan into action.

By the time Rama Panikker had finished his tea and snacks, Mythili was by his side again. “Your shirt is on the hanger in your room, Acha,” she said.

“Huh? But it…….it was not there when I looked,” her father was bewildered. He was sure his eyes did not play any tricks on him. It was true that he was getting older, but he trusted his eyes more than any other sense. He quickly went to the room where he had his nap and was astonished to find a white shirt, as good as new, in the hanger.

“This is not my shirt, Mythili,” he called out aloud.

“It is Acha. Just look at the inside of the collar. The label is the same. Your favorite,” Mythili tried to convince her father.

Not one to be easily fooled, her father took the shirt from the hanger and started inspecting it. “But….But….this can’t be mine. I had worn a different one when I came in the morning,” he insisted.

“There are none of your shirts here. So this has to be yours,” Mythili was trying hard to suppress a giggle.

“But how did it become whiter? Besides, the stains have vanished.” With each inspection, her father refused to believe that the shirt was his.

Seeing the confusion on her father’s face, Mythili decided to spill the beans. Her two boys started giggling.

“Acha, when you were asleep, I took the shirt which you had draped in the hanger, washed it thoroughly, laid it out in the hot sun to dry and put it back when you were having tea.”

“What?” Mythili’s father could not believe what he was hearing.

“Look at how better it is now. The dust is gone, the stains are gone. You’ll look more presentable.” Mythili made her point.

Rama Panikker could not believe that his dearest shirt had undergone a makeover. Though he was mildly upset at the state of his shirt, he was happy for his daughter and grandchildren. They indeed loved him.

He smiled finally and put on the shirt. Mythili was exceedingly happy to see her father wear the clean shirt. He looked at the mirror, grinned, took his bag and prepared to leave.

“I had better get going. It’s already 4:00 and I’m late because of the confusion with the shirt. I have to rush,” he was suddenly aware of the time.

“Mayur will drive you to the bus station. You will reach there faster and will get your usual 4:25 bus to the village,” Mythili said.

This was another surprise for him. His son-in-law had never dropped him off at the bus station, not even once.

The sound of the horn woke everyone up from their little reverie. Rama Panikker hugged his daughter and his grandchildren and stepped into the car. “Shall we go?” a smiling Mayur asked.

“Yes, son. Let’s go.”

The car soon started and Mythili’s father waved goodbye to his closest family. Mythili watched with teary eyes while her boys smiled at each other, quite happy at having been part of a prank but with good intentions.

Annotations:
Achan – father

This story is largely inspired from a true incident. However, the names of the characters are not real, they are imaginary.

#366days366posts – Day 55 – The Soiled Shirt

The sun beat down radiantly,
With sharpness unrestrained.
Wilted trees; parched land;
The village struggled to the core.
As she alighted her hut,
Approached a man in soiled shirt.
Frazzled hair and grisly beard;
Skin bone-dry and eyes scratched;
The world seemed to be against him,
So haggard and hopeless did he look!
He gazed left and then right,
Unsure which way his hopes lay.
Feeling pity on the poor soul,
A jar half-filled with water,
She offered the disheveled man.
His sunken eyes brightened,
While he clutched at the jar.
Smiled she as he drank to the brim.
She went inside; fetched a shirt,
As white as an angel’s wings; and,
Happily presented to the lost soul.
Tears welled down his cheeks;
Lips trembled, hands shook;
As he accepted her generosity.
He turned around, began to walk,
To a destination even now unknown.
She smiled as well as sighed;
Cheerful but confused nonetheless!

#366days366posts – Day 54 – Predicting the Oscar winners

With only a few days to go before the Oscar winners are announced, let me get back to the prediction game. Readers of this blog will recall that I had a decent success rate predicting the nominees for the awards. I had promised a piece on predicting the winners as well. This piece is a fulfillment of that promise. The categories of prediction are the same as before and the predicted winner is highlighted in bold in each of the categories. Come Sunday, 28 February night (early Monday 29 February morning in India), we will know how we stand on this prediction. Hope I’m luckier this time!

Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

Best Director
Adam McKay (The Big Short)
George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Alejandro Inarritu (The Revenant)
Lenny Abrahamson (Room)
Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

Best Actor
Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
Matt Damon (The Martian)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Brie Larson (Room)
Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
Charlotte Rampling (45 years)
Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale (The Big Short)
Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
Rooney Mara (Carol)
Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Best Original Screenplay
Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen (Bridge of Spies)
Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley (Inside Out)
Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight)
Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus (Straight Outta Compton)

Best Visual Effects
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Martian

Here’s some interesting tidbits concerning this year’s awards:

♣ This is the second consecutive year that a film from Alejandro Inarritu is running for the Oscars. Birdman won Best Picture, Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay Oscars last year.

♣ If Eddie Redmayne covets the Oscar again this year, it will be the first time since Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, 1993 & Forrest Gump, 1994) that an actor would win back-to-back Oscars.

♣ Our very own Priyanka Chopra is one of the award presenters this time. It is not yet clear the category of award she will be presenting.

#366days366posts – Day 53 – Rekindling a childhood passion

When I was 8 or 9 years old, I had committed to my memory the capitals of all the countries in the world at that time. I believe there were about 170 odd countries then. I was quite over the moon to realize I hadn’t forgotten most of the names as I did a quick mental recall the other day. But several new countries have sprung up since then and some countries have preferred to have different capitals for administrative or legislative purposes, whatever that means.

From the time I was first obsessed with capitals of countries, the world has undergone a sweeping change. It’s quite revealing, when you think of the world from that perspective. As a 9 year old, I had never believed that more countries could surface in future or that countries could consolidate or disintegrate. Of course, at that impressionable age, the world is all a big mystery encased in a globe and by looking at it, it’s quite impossible to visualize how new countries could germinate, unless they spewed out of that vast blue space which I later learned was water. But there were some serious changes which would happen as the years rolled by. The Berlin Wall would come down uniting East and West Germany; Hungary, Romania and Poland would adopt historical name changes thus eliminating any hint of Communism; the Soviet Union would crumble into several small blocks; East Timor would become liberated from Indonesia – these were some of the vicissitudes that posterity had in store. However, by the mid-90s I had lost my obsession with capital cities, partly because it was difficult to keep up with the enormousness of the changes that were happening and partly because I was entering a phase where general knowledge had to be shelved for the time being. But the capital cities were faithful to me – persisting in some remote area of my brain careful not to gather any dust; in the understanding that I would someday have use for it again.

It was quite entertaining to once again enter that cherished territory the other day. The former USSR block countries have really curious capitals. Of particular interest is Tashkent, the place where our former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away under mysterious circumstances, which is now the capital of Uzbekistan. There is a small country in Africa called Benin which has two capitals – one official (Porto Novo) and one administrative (Cotonou). With these African countries, it’s probably the commanding local tribes that have the final word and perhaps they decide the places that should be accorded the seat(s) of the particular country. This might explain why several African countries have the extravagance of more than one capital. Over the last 30 years, the number of countries with multiple capitals has increased significantly. It was also quite informative to find that Sarajevo, a city that comes to my mind for all the wrong reasons thanks to the graphic images and videos of the Bosnian War in the early and mid 90s, is now the bustling capital of a quiet Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The problems concerning Israel and Palestine have grown manifold but interestingly share the same, albeit ‘proclaimed’ capital – Jerusalem. Skopje, the venerated city where Mother Teresa was born, is now the celebrated capital city of Macedonia. Malaysia has adopted Putrajaya as an administrative capital while Kuala Lumpur remains the de facto capital. I was always under the impression that Yangon is the capital of Myanmar, but was quite surprised that it is not; the capital is Nay Pyi Taw! The country of Nauru does not have a capital – it’s a very, very small country in the Pacific Ocean but the place of Yaren holds the government offices. I wonder why the country still does not choose to have a capital! Contrary to what the books say, Colombo is not the official capital of Sri Lanka! It is a place called Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. It turns out that Colombo is only the commercial capital.

The country called Zaire does not exist now. Its capital, Kinshasa is now the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Berlin was adopted as the capital of a unified Germany while North and South Yemen merged in 1990 to become the modern Yemen with headquarters at Sana’a. Czechoslovakia demerged to form the Czech Republic and Slovakia having Prague and Bratislava respectively as capitals. The collapse of USSR was a harbinger for the division of several other nations, though not for the same reasons.

It’s quite fascinating that a childhood passion could come back to you so strongly after so many years. I’m not sure what the trigger was; it was quite spontaneous. And I’m quite glad that I listened to my mind to rekindle that passion. It was all worth it.

#366days366posts – Day 52 – Why we need extended summer break for schools

NASA reported last week that global temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees above average in January 2016, making it the warmest January in record for a very, very long time. This follows unusually warmer traditional winter months of December and November and the next six months could be even warmer. It has been very hot and humid in Kochi these last few days so it looks like the NASA report will be vindicated.

Now, this trend of ‘abnormal’ climate gives some food for thought. We associate the months of January – March as pretty pleasant followed by the hot April and May, which is sometimes interspersed with violent thunderstorms. The monsoon starts in June and continue up until August/September and then things stay pretty pleasant for the next month or so before the retreating monsoons provide another warm/wet September/October. November and December make way for cooler climates before the cycle starts all over again. The logic behind giving schools two months off in April/May is the summer weather. However, with every month now being as warm or warmer than the previous month, and with rains also showing distracted behavior, maybe it’s time to have a re-look at the tenure of the school summer break. It’s abominable to have school kids with their backpacks trudging in the hot sun, which can lead to serious health issues.

A three month break for summer is what is needed if temperatures continue to rise like this. Traditionally, in the state of Kerala, classes are usually completed by end of March with vacation in April and May before the schools re-open in June. But with the weather intelligence we have today, classes should be completed by end-February and kids should be sent home. It think it’s a very fair point I’m making here. Most schools do not have even working ceiling fans in the classrooms. Kids lose plenty of water as a result of perspiration and water bottles more often than not run dry by the time they reach home leaving the kids with a parched throat. Add to this the mandatory physical education sessions – they may not complain because they are too busy playing, but the harsh sun is known to have a dire impact on adults, so you can actually pity with the kids. It’s cruelty, to say the least. We grew up enjoying being in the sun but then the heat was bearable in the 80s and 90s, but today’s kids will not in this phase of the 21st century.

I can understand the logistics of an academic year. With teachers in a race against time to finish the syllabus, it may raise more than a few eyebrows when we talk about sending kids for vacation a month ahead of schedule. However, with a little bit of advanced planning, completing the syllabus can be easily achieved. That is a far better approach than dragging kids to school in March which will only sap their energy further. At a time when we need to change the way we do everything from farming to eating habits because of the weather, it makes a lot of sense to extend school vacations too.

#366days366posts – Day 51 – Vallathol and present day India

‘ഇന്നു മുപ്പത്താറുകോടി മനുഷ്യരു –
മൊന്നാണൊ,രേ തറവാട്ടുകാരായി, നാം.
ഇന്നില നാളെയും, നിച്ചലും നില്ക്കേണ –
മെന്നല്ലി ചൊല്ലുന്നു, യാമതൂര്യാരവം!’

These are lines from a beautiful poem titled ‘ഏഴു വയസ്സ്’ (Seven years old), penned by one of the greatest Malayalam poets of the 20th century, Vallathol Narayana Menon. He was widely known, among other things, for his assiduous nationalism in his poetry. This particular poem was written to celebrate the completion of seven years of the Indian Republic. For those followers of my blog who are not able to read Malayalam, the gist of the lines is that Indians should stand as one big, united family not just today, but forever.

Against the backdrop of things that are happening around us today, these lines have tremendous significance. The India of the 1950s was a land of great hope, a passion founded in the unity of our diverse cultural milieu. The India of 2016 cannot be called so. We have been constantly divided by petty differences, nationalist sentiments, sycophancy, forced ideologies, and what not. It’s a sad state for a nation with such a rich heritage.

The concept of one India is in danger of being eroded as is Vallathol’s visualization of one large Indian family. Indianness should be second nature for our countrymen. Indianness is not belittling other religions or harboring enmity towards Pakistan. Indianness is indirectly but beautifully described in the Preamble to our Constitution. Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – that is Indianness. If we adhere to the Preamble in word and deed, we become Indians. It is as simple that. Instead, we have forces working at cross purposes to derail this.

Somewhere, we have lost our India. We need to get it back on track. And that can be possible only if we are inspired by the lines of Vallathol. That is the relevance of the poem and its lines for today’s generation. We are really blessed to have some beautiful, inspiring lines written by stalwarts which can inculcate immense pride amongst us! If only we could channelize those thoughts into action!