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Cowboys- Packers, Memes

After watching a string of one-sided playoff contests, NFL fans finally had something to cheer about with not but two absorbing games last weekend. First, the Atlanta  Falcons held off the Seattle Seahawks and then the Green Bay Packers edged the Dallas Cowboys in a classic. What a terrific match ! When Green Bay surged to a 21-3 lead, I thought it was going to be a cakewalk for them. Then, as Dak Prescott chipped away at the huge deficit and quarterbacked the Boyz to a 28-28 tie, I thought that the momentum had shifted decisively in Dallas’ favor and that they were going to pull off a miraculous win. Even after the teams traded FGs, with barely 35 seconds on the clock I thought the match would go to OT and that the Cowboys would prevail. Except for Aaron Rodgers and his teammates, I don’t think anyone envisioned what followed as Jared Cook pulled in a laser-like Rodgers pass and Mason Crosby calmly kicked a 51-yarder to send the Packers to the Conference championship game. Wow!

Dallas has nothing to be ashamed off. After a slow start, the two rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot pulled their team back into contention only to be denied by a red -hot Aaron Rodgers. Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and others also did their part in making this a game to remember. With a stellar offensive line and a more experienced Prescott and Elliot can anyone doubt that the Cowboys will be back next year?

My two favorite teams are the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers, in that order, and I was unhappy that the two had to meet in the wild card game. I didn’t really think the Giants had a chance and I wasn’t too upset when they lost after their defense had kept it close for most of the first half. However, the injury to the Packers Jordy Nelson was dispiriting because it kept him out of the game against the favored Cowboys. I need not have worried as Aaron Rodgers turned in an unbelievable performance even though he was missing his favorite receiver. Fans tend to judge a player by the number of Super Bowl rings he has, which I think is unfair because a player on a weak team is at a disadvantage in any such comparison. In my book, Aaron Rodgers is superior to both Tom Brady and Payton Manning even if he never wins another Super Bowl ring.

One of the memes, after the Packer win, was a circle chart  purporting to show the reasons why fans were happy with the result. A very thin sliver of the circle supposedly represented the fans who were celebrating a Green Bay win. The rest of the circle chart ( more than 95% ) allegedly showed the people who were just glad the Cowboys lost. I myself have a foot in both camps… I was happy the Packers won AND I was also happy  that the Cowboys lost.

Indeed the number of football fans who hate the Cowboys is legion. As one meme put it ” Cheering for the Cowboys is like watching the movie Titanic and rooting for the ship.” Another said ” My favorite team is whoever is playing the Cowboys“.

I was not always against the Cowboys. Along time ago, when Don Meredith and Roger Staubach were the quarterbacks and Chuck Howley, and Leroy Jordon were shoring up the defense I actually rooted for them. But then three things happened. I became a die-hard Giant fan, the Cowboys styled themselves America’s team and Jerry Jones became the team owner. I just can’t stand the man’s arrogance and his management style. There are plenty more who feel as I do. One fan wrote in to say” I felt nothing but joy watching Jerry Jones ‘ team get trounced by a team that is actually owned by the city it represents a nd isn’t just a rich man’s toy financed by hapless taxpayers.” I couldn’t agree more.

 

Paying Paul

The well – known mystic G.I. Gurdjieff once led a spiritual community in France. Almost all of those  living there got on well together but there was one old man who was just impossible. He was easily irritated, picked fights with everyone and refused to help clean up or do any chores. Finally, after many frustrating months of trying to stay with  the group the old man decided to leave on his own and set off for Paris. The other community members were overjoyed. Not so Gurdjieff, who followed him and tried to convince him to return. The old man refused at first but finally agreed when Gudjieff offered him a very large monthly stipend. When Gurdjieff returned with the man in tow, everyone was aghast. And when they heard that the man was being paid, (at a time when they themselves were paying to live there), they were furious. They went to Gurdjieff en masse and demanded an explanation. Gurdjieff listened to their complaints , laughed and explained, ” This man is like yeast for bread. Without him living here, you would never really learn about anger, irritability, patience and compassion. That is why you pay me, and why I hire him.”

In the Active Adult community that I live in, there is a ping pong club of which I am an enthusiastic member. It’s a great bunch of fellows except for one sore-head,” Paul”. None of the others gets along with him. Paul is past 85, has been playing for over 50 years and still plays fairly well. He persists in trying to ‘coach’ others, even though they don’t want his advice. He also yells at others, accusing them of damaging the ping pong table or of coming close to injuring him with their swinging paddles, and cracks the same stupid ‘ jokes’ over and over again. In short, he is a pain in the you-know-what. We have lost at least ten potential members who were turned off by his antics.

The other day, Paul was absent and I was talking to some of my buddies at the club. I told them the story about Gurdjieff and posed the question, ” Should we be paying Paul?”

The answer was unanimous. ” Yes… to stay away and leave us in peace!”

Dangal, A Sidelight

The reviews for the movie ” Dangal” have been uniformly good with most critics giving it 4 or 4.5 stars out of 5. The acting, the theme, the music, the cinematography have all in for praise but one review had an interesting sidelight. It said, in part,

The elevation of women is still a manifestation of an unfulfilled male dream. It is still the male who emerges as the true hero, not the women. ….. Geeta is nothing without her father, her man.”

For myself, I don’t agree. I can see how one might come to such a conclusion but I don’t think it is warranted. While the early part of the movie necessarily focuses on Mahavir Singh Phogat and his efforts to turn his daughters into world class wrestlers, the focus gradually changes to the daughters, particularly Geeta. In fact, in the climactic sequences as Geeta battles to a gold medal, Mahavir Singh is not even in the audience, thanks to the machinations of the coach. During the match, she remembers his words of advice but it his her skill and dogged will to succeed that carry her to victory. Afterwards, when Geeta seeks out her father and shows him the gold medal, he looks at it, then places it around her neck. How can anyone say of the film that ” Geeta is nothing without her father“.?

What you think?

 

On a gray winter day, what can be better than a movie and a pizza in the company of good friends ? And when that movie is a wonderful… outstanding!

Last Friday was just  such a day  and the movie we saw was ” Dangal” (The Wrestling Competition), the Bollywood blockbuster that has been breaking all box-office records since its  December 23rd release. I am not a particular fan of Bollywood movies but I have to say that Dangal is superb. If you have not yet seen it, I would urge you to do so ASAP. The movie  has English sub-titles and can be enjoyed by everyone, Indian or not.

Dangal  is the story of Mahavir Singh Phogat and his daughters, Geeta and Babita. Phogat was a prominent wrestler who had to give up his wrestling career in order to earn a living. He decided to train his sons to succeed in the wrestling arena but his wife and he were blessed with four daughters , one after the other, no sons.Unwilling to give up his dream of bringing honor to the nation on the sports field, he transferred his ambitions to his two oldest daughters,  Geeta and Babita. He got the idea when they beat up two neighborhood boys who had been harassing them. Subjecting his daughters to a punishing training program and a strict diet, he had them enter wrestling competitions against boys. How they bought into his ideas and achieved national and international wrestling prominence is the story of this film; I will not spoil it for you by giving you more details.

Aamir Khan plays a large part in the success of this film, and I mean that literally. In order to play the role of the wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, he put on 60 lbs. and has also delivered a bravura performance. He convincingly depicts Mahavir Singh’s single-minded determination, his resourcefulness , his never-say die attitude and his struggle to put aside his love for his daughters in order to spur them to greater and greater heights. He is to be applauded for taking such a role at a time when he is still a box-office draw in hero roles. Aamir’s is only one of many fine performances. Sakshi Tanwar as his wife Daya Kaur, the two girls who play the young daughters,  and Fatima Sana Shaikh in the role of the grown up Geeta are all excellent. Indeed, the entire supporting cast is to be commended for its fine acting.

While the scenes of Geeta competing in the Commonwealth championships are exciting, I thoroughly enjoyed the early part of the film set in rural Punjab and Haryana. The village atmosphere and the wrestling competitions have the feel of authenticity and flashes of humor enliven a film that could easily have become serious and leaden.The narrow minded small- town attitudes towards girls and women are subtly but unflinchingly depicted, making it all the sweeter when Geeta and Babita burst the barriers. The upbeat musical sound track by Pritam is also a huge plus.

One of the most powerful scenes in the movie is when the young bride details her fate ( and that of girl children in rural India) and causes Geeta and Babita to drop their resistance to their father’s diktat. Hopefully, this film will play an important part in changing the way girl children are regarded. Realizing this, four Indian states have given Dangal tax free status to promote the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao ( Save your Daughters, educate your daughters) program, the object of which is to eradicate female foeticide and promote female education. The film also casts a harsh light on the arrogance and hide-bound attitudes of India’s sports bureaucracy.

In an otherwise  terrific production, there are two minor blemishes. One is the portrayal of the national coach who goes to extremes in trying to discredit Geeta’s father and take the credit for her success. The other is the slighting nature of the pre-match remarks of Geeta’s Australian opponent. Neither happened in real life and one wonders why it was necessary to fabricate them. Why do we need a villain ( or villains) in the story?

Still, this should not detract from the excellence of the film and one wishes it much box-office success both for its entertainment value and its uplifting, inspiring message.

P.S The pizza at Bertucci’s Brick Oven Pizza was good too… but not as good as the movie.

I have been reading the Readers Digest almost all my life. My first exposure to it was on vacations at my grandfather’s house in Mangalore in the early fifties. I was the only kid there, more often than not, and in the afternoons I used to climb to the lone room on the second floor, a room that no one ever seemed to go to. It was bare except for a couch and two glass fronted cabinets filled with books, mostly bound copies of Readers Digests from the forties.  I spent many happy afternoons there reading those volumes, aware of the passage of time only by the chiming of the grandfather clock on the landing.

As a kid of nine or ten, much of the Readers Digest content was beyond my understanding and of no interest to me. But there was plenty else to fascinate me. Among my favorite features was ” The Most Unforgettable Character I have met”, ” Life in these United States” and ” Laughter is the Best medicine”. I also liked to test myself with the Word Power Quizzes. ( I was terrible at first, but gradually got better). These and articles culled from The Saturday Evening Post, the Atlantic Monthly, Cosmopolitan, Colliers etc. nurtured my fascination with the United States and things American. This was my only exposure to the larger world since none of the magazines themselves were generally available in India. There were articles by John Steinbeck, Paul Gallico, Clarence Day, Carl Sandburg, Thor Heyerdahl, Booth Tarkington, Ernie Pyle, A.J. Cronin and other famous writers though, at the time, I didn’t know how famous they were.

One of my favorites was a reminiscence by James Norman Hall who later  wrote ” The Mutiny on the Bounty” with Charles Nordhoff. Titled ” Transaction in Tahiti”, it told of a time in his life when he almost gave up on his dream of becoming a writer. In 1925, Hall was living in Tahiti down to his last few dollars and with no prospects of selling his work. He was living on a meager diet of tinned beef and coffee and had given himself three months before he chucked it all and gave up his dreams of becoming a writer. Earlier he had tried to grow his own vegetables but given up the effort after several failures. So he gave away his seeds to an elderly Chinese, Hop Sing. Three days later, Hop Sing turned up unannounced and gave him three watermelons, a bottle of wine, a basket of eggs and a hen. Another neighbor  showed him how to catch and eat the land crabs that had destroyed his kitchen garden and Hop Sings brother-in-law , Lee Fat gave him even more gifts. All this fortified Hall’s resolve and when he dashed off some more articles, his luck changed, they were accepted and he was on his way to becoming a successful writer. I can’t in a few sentences convey how magical the article was but it has beautifully written and remained in my memory long, long afterwards.

After I came to the U.S in 1968, I occasionally tried to read the Digest but it was not the same. I preferred to read the originals in the magazines themselves rather than the condensations in the Digest. And I was turned off by the political bent of the publishers, Dean and Lila Acheson Wallace, which was far to the right for my liking. I did like certain features such as ” Points to Ponder” and  ” Quotable Quotes” that I learned to cherry pick but I gradually lost interest in the Digest.

When I picked up a couple of issues of the Digest at the library last week , it was over 15 years since I’d last touched one. Having now gone through them, I have to say that the Readers Digest today is not a patch on what it once was. That the issues are so much thinner was understandable. After all, as print readership has declined, newspapers and magazines have cut back on the page count. However, what saddened me was the quality of the articles. Many of them were how to articles ( ” Genius uses for your microwave”), medical advice ( “Seeing my diagnosis differently”; “Urine trouble”) and lots of short features without much depth ( ” 100 Word true stories”). Several of the features were collections of anecdotes, which may have been ” cute” or  funny but ultimately felt like  the print equivalent of America’s Funniest Videos.

I also felt some of the old time favorites had been dumbed down to suit today’s readership.  For example, “Word Power” tests readers’ vocabulary with fifteen multiple choice questions. The old Digest, I seem to remember, asked readers to choose the correct answer from four choices; now there are only three alternatives to choose from, thus making it easier for the reader to get the answer right.

I’m sure the publishers have done their market research and are giving the public what it wants. The short fluffy content is no doubt what today’s TV addicted public with its fondness for 30 second sound bites wants or can handle. More’s the pity.

P.S  Some time ago, I picked up a Readers Digest Anthology (” The 30th Anniversary Readers Digest Reader, published 1951) at a library book sale. It was the best fifty cents I ever spent. It contained many of the old favorites including “Transaction in Tahiti”. The new Readers Digest may not be to my liking but I now have something to remind me of what it used to be.

(Earlier this year, I joined a writing group in our Active Adult community and it was a most entertaining experience. For our first assignment, we were given the words ” The door opened and what a surprise..” and asked to write a story around them. This was my entry).

The door opened and what a surprise…

There was no one there… or so it appeared. She looked all around. Still no one. Then she looked down and saw the puppy. It could not have been more than a month old. But how had it got there? The nearest house was half a mile away and there was no way the puppy could have got to her doorstep on its own. Someone must have brought it there . But who? And why?

Her thoughts were interrupted by a whimper. The poor thing was shivering, half-dead from the cold. There was no way she could leave it there. Impulsively, she stooped down, picked it up and brought it inside to the warmth. The first thing was to get it dry and warm. She fetched a towel and gave it a quick rubdown. Now to give it some food. She went to the kitchen and laid the puppy, still wrapped in the towel, on the floor. Then she went to the fridge, got out the milk and poured some into a saucer. Since the milk was cold, she decided to warm it. She was reaching for the microwave door when she heard a low growl behind her.

She whipped around and looked at the puppy… only it wasn’t a puppy any longer. Before her horrified eyes, it grew and grew. Gone was the smooth silky skin; it was now a shaggy bristly coat. Gone was the cute little face; it was now a wolf’s head. Pointed snout, bloodshot eyes, cruel mouth. She shrank back against the counter as the wolf fixed its baleful eyes on her. Then it launched itself at her. Just before its slavering jaws found her throat she s-c-r-e-a-m-e-d…

One last despairing scream… she sound of which shocked her awake. She found herself sitting bolt upright in her bed, heart pounding frantically, a cold sweat on her brow.” It was only a dream! Only a dream!” she kept repeating, as her heartbeat slowly returned to normal. Sleep was an impossibility, so she threw off the bedclothes and padded to the kitchen in her stocking feet to get a drink of water.

As the ice-cold water trickled down her throat, she asked herself  why. Why had she had the dream? The answer came to her as she thought about it calmly. It must have been that movie she had watched on Netflix. ” The Werewolves of Lublin.” Yes, that must have been it. Then and there, she resolved never to watch scary TV shows at night. Never again, girl.

She thought about her situation. Living alone in a big house in the country, far from neighbors. It was different when John was alive and the kids still lived at home. Now John was gone and the kids lived far away. One in Atlanta, the other in San Diego. She was lonely now. Just an old woman in a big house. Perhaps she should sell the house and move in with the kids. They had been after her to do just that. It would be nice to be around people again, watch her grandchildren grow up. Yes, it was time.

She rinsed her glass and put it in the sink. Then, she took a last look at the kitchen and went to the bedroom. Before she got into bed, she looked out the window. So pristine the landscape, so beautiful the snow-laden boughs of the trees, the icicles hanging from the eaves. Could she really leave all this behind? This was where she had lived all her married life, almost fifty happy years.Was moving in with the kids the right thing to do? And the grandkids … fine in small doses but could she stand them all the time, day in and day out?

Still thinking these thoughts, wrestling with the choices before her and what she wanted to do, she got into bed and drew the bedclothes around her. She was slowly drifting off to sleep when she heard the noise. The same that had woken her up before. There it was again!

Slowly, unwillingly, she got out of bed, stole to the front door and glanced out through the sidelight. Nothing. The snow covered landscape was bare and beautiful in the moonlight. But she simply had to take a look. She unlatched the door and turned the doorknob.

The door opened and what a surprise…

 

 

 

 

 

A Right Proper Mishmash

Picking through the Mystery/ Thriller section at the library, I came across Her Nightly Embrace– Book I of the Ravi P.I series by Adi Tantimeoh. The cover showed an Indian face, a facsimile of an Indian actor whom I remembered having seen in a CBS series three or four years ago. Ravi is a popular Indian name and yet the author’s name definitely did not sound Indian. I decided to look a little closer and peeked at the back flap to find out more about him. Adi Tantimeoh, it turns out, is of Chinese – Thai descent and grew up in Singapore and London. And here he was , writing a book about a private detective of Indian origin who operates out of London… a book for which the blurb was penned by Deepak Chopra.

Is that a right proper mishmash of a novel or what?

Out of curiosity I checked the book out and I must say it isn’t bad. The protagonist, Ravi Chandra Singh, is a former high school teacher and religious scholar who now works as a private investigator for Golden Sentinels, an upscale security firm in London. Ravi has an unusual affliction; he constantly has visions of gods, usually Hindu but sometimes Buddhist. They shadow him as he works on cases, chatting with him , taking great interest in his work and giving  him  unwanted advice.  His co-workers are equally eccentric. There’s Benjamin Lee, a McGyver like techie, David Okri an ambitious lawyer from a well connected Nigerian immigrant family, Olivia Wong, a Hong Kong heiress and financial analyst who is also a hacker par extraordinaire and Ken and Clive, two gay ex-cops with  a mean streak who are up for anything including murder. Overseeing them all are the smooth talking Roger Golden  and Cheryl Hughes.

The cases Ravi tackles are equally odd. The book’s title refers to the first of his cases, one in which the UK Prime. Minister- to- be complains of being forced into sex by the ghost of his dead fiancée. Other cases involve searching for a Pakistani girl from a rich family who runs away to escape an arranged marriage, an author whose books are regularly trashed by flash mobs who invade bookstores and a banker whistleblower who  fears for her life.

The author, Adi Tantimeoh, has over twenty years experience writing radio plays and TV scripts for the BBC and various Hollywood studios. He also writes graphic novels for DC comics as well as a weekly column on pop culture. All these influences show up in his writing. Her Nightly Embrace is fast paced , heavy on the action but light on  descriptions and character build -up.  The characters are larger than life, utterly unscrupulous and given to all manner of debauchery. It is fun to see them get their just desserts with a little push from Ravi and his colleagues. The book is slickly written and a fun read but one volume is enough for me. I don’t think I’ll be reading the next two which are as yet in production.

Her Nightly Embrace . Book I of the Ravi PI series. Adi Tantimeoh. Atria Books ( Simon and Schuster). Published 2016. $ 26.

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