Something personal to share

I’ve never written, so far as I can remember, to feel better. I am talking about writing therapy. You must have heard of it. It involves expressing your thoughts in written form in order to deal with the after-effects of an emotionally damaging incident. Although I’ve gone through depression and anxiety attacks (I still do, actually), it never occurred to me to try writing therapy.

But since my anxiety and stress levels are at an all-time high these days, I figured what’s wrong in trying, huh? It certainly could not do any more harm, can it? Of course, I don’t really know what people do exactly when they say they are indulging in writing therapy.

Do they just write whatever comes to their mind? Do they maintain a daily journal? A diary? My experience and knowledge of this phenomenon is limited to Martin Freeman’s Watson trying to cope with post-war trauma in BBC show Sherlock. So, probably not extensive. And while we are at it, writing therapy did not work for him.

I am just going to assume it means sharing the details of the incident. So, here is the incident. As you probably guessed, it is a relationship. I cannot flesh out much, since this is a public platform and I don’t want many people – anybody, really – to read this. So why am I writing this here? To tell you the truth, I don’t know.

Perhaps I have taken leave of my senses? Ha, maybe madness would be preferable to this… whatever is happening to me. Which reminds me of this Joker quote from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. It goes, “So when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant train of thought, heading for the places in your past where the screaming is unbearable, remember there’s always madness. Madness is the emergency exit.” I have read the graphic novel and that particular quote many times before, but it is only now it is really clicking with me. Yikes.

Anyway, the girl I love has made it clear that she does not love me. That’s the long and short of it. Why don’t I move on, you ask? I have tried. God, I have tried. I cannot reveal her name, for obvious reasons (if they are not obvious to you, you are crazier than me). And I cannot blame her, as that would be like blaming a coconut for not being an orange. If she does not love me, she does not love me. There is nothing I can do to change it.

Except keep wallowing in self-pity, of course.

That’s all I can write for now. I don’t know if writing therapy has helped me. It does not look like it has so far. I am not sure if writing just one blog post is enough. So I will wait and see. In the meanwhile, if any of you have any suggestion for me as to how to deal with this crap, please tell me.

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Thor: Ragnarok

The superhero is a joke.

We do not like to think about that. But deep down we are perfectly aware of this obvious fact. Consider this: in all seriousness, we enjoy watching superpowered beings clad in gaudy spandex take on similarly clad bad guys, who are also mostly overpowered. There are cosmic journeys across parallel worlds and fictional realities and bridges connecting several universes and whatnot. If we did not enjoy seeing them in action so much, superhero movies would have been dismissed to the ignoble realm of kids’ movies.

The self-serious thing worked well for, let us say, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy because of Batman, who was too much of an ordinary man. Although he was equipped with advanced gadgets and weaponry and immense physical strength, but he was still safely inside the sphere of possible. Batman of comics was already pretty down-to-earth, and Nolan brought it down even further. It is easier to suspend disbelief when it is just a muscular man fighting criminals who are not demons or alien monsters but routine drug dealers and mobsters… and psychopaths with clownish makeup.

In today’s superhero movies, though, villains throw our heroes on buildings that fall down like they were made of straw, and more often than not the superhero emerges from the wreckage wholly unscathed (I am looking at you, Man of Steel). This is conveniently explained away by the fact that they are alien, thus not susceptible to earthly damage, or their powers are a result of an experiment, and so on.

How are we, we grownups, able to stifle our laughs whilst watching all that? We pretend that there is nothing absurd in that. No suspension of disbelief required.

Well, in Taika Watiti’s Thor: Ragnarok you don’t have to take anything seriously. This film begs, nay forces, you to laugh at it. It is almost a self-parody. It knows everything that is happening is ridiculous and wants to take you along for the ride, to bask in the elaborate farce it has put together for you.

Watiti was a terrific choice and kudos to Marvel Studios for giving a comparatively lesser name a chance. Having seen his charming little comedies, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in Shadows, I was sure he could do wonders, and he did. His brand of self-effacing humour worked well once again and his own performance as a mild-mannered, revolution-loving Kronan called Korg in the film epitomises everything about his style of filmmaking.

The story is generic. Thor finds himself half a universe away in Sakaar facing his old friend Bruce Banner (stuck in his Hulk form) in a gladiatorial arena overseen by the Grandmaster, played by the gloriously insane Jeff Goldblum, who is my favourite character in the film. The reason for his forced exile is Hela, his long-lost sister who has taken over Asgard, but not before breaking Mjolnir and banishing Thor.

It took two mediocre movies for the God of Thunder (and Chris Hemsworth) to show what he was capable of, and you would never imagine that a film about the literal end of the world could be uproariously funny. It is not perfect, but you’ll be laughing too much to notice any flaws. Humour apart, Thor: Ragnarok is also a very very solid film – a fast-paced, thrilling, exciting, and dynamic adventure.

The hype-machine of Disney and Marvel had already elevated a comparatively minor superhero movie about a dreadfully dull superhero (see Thor in the original Avengers to know what I am talking about) to an Avengeresque crossover thanks to loads of humour, return of the Hulk, a villain in the always magnificent Cate Blanchett’s Hela, a little team-up with Tessa Thompson’s awesome Valkyrie topping it up, and clever but sparing use of Led Zeppelin’s timeless Immigrant Song. And the movie, astonishingly, manages to live up to that massive build-up.

Taking back Hinduism

Shashi Tharoor’s Why I am a Hindu is a book that goes much beyond answering the question its title asks. This is not just one person contemplating about his faith; it also describes Hinduism’s glorious tradition of acceptance and spirit of enquiry and how Hindutvawadis, followers of the political ideology (Hindutva) that pretends to be derived from Hinduism but is actually quite foreign to it, are bastardising it to gain votes and power.

This is a very readable book, but I feel all the arguments that Tharoor puts forward could have been summarised in a long-form piece. There is a lot of repetition and paraphrasing, especially in regards to Hinduism’s assertion that all religions are merely different pathways to the same God, embodied by Gita’s “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.”

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I clicked this photo during the closing debate of JLF 2017.

Be that as it may, this is an important book. We have often read and heard of how Hindutva is not Hinduism from liberal Hindus, but the how and why has never been explained in a comprehensive way. This book fills this gap fairly eloquently. It is also written in remarkably simple English and you would not be able to tell that writer is the same person who is not able to tweet without his farragos and his rodomontades (you will come across ‘farrago’ a couple of times in the book). Clearly, Tharoor’s books are easier to read than his tweets.

Why I am a Hindu taught me little I did not know already about Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma) or Hindutva, but it did put many things in perspective. It should serve as a crucial reminder to people that the BJP-RSS, the current ruling dispensation at the centre, has roots in people like ‘Veer’ Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, complete bigots who were more inspired by Nazi Germany and Benito Mussolini’s fascistic policies in Italy than anything from Hinduism with its inherent openness and diversity. The Hindutva ideology is more Abrahamic than Dharmic.

In the latter part of the book, Tharoor exhorts liberal Hindus to take their faith back from those who seek to monopolise it. By this, he, of course, means the proponents of Hindutva and this is where the books may seem a little political because of obvious reasons (one being that Tharoor belongs to the opposition party). To be fair, though, he says nothing in the book that a liberal Hindu would in good conscience disagree with at all. I, for one, do not think Rahul Gandhi is the answer to the Hindtuva (the Congress party has its own set of problems) of BJP-RSS, but this ideology, whose ultimate aim is to make India monocultural, with its propaganda and state machinery may have a lasting or even permanent impact on Indian politics and society. It need not be said that the said impact would not be the good kind.

JLF 2018 diaries

I have been hearing a lot about how literature festivals are not really or wholly about books for quite a while. I agree. But that does not mean that they are pointless since that is how the people who say that conclude their point. I have not been to other literature festivals that have sprouted up across the country in the wake of JLF, but since Jaipur Literature Festival is the oldest and grandest of them all, I’d wager I am a good judge of the whole literature festival thing, being a regular participant since 2014.

 

For those who love books, current affairs, learning new things, meeting new people, discussions by learned people on various topics, and so on, Jaipur Literature Festival is a just about perfect. It has a great atmosphere, it is free (with paid options), and you can leave the venue and come back whenever you want.

5032077264_IMG_0901Jaipur is a beautiful city with a rich culture and heritage apart from a tradition of literature, poetry, and art going back hundreds of years. Also, the weather in Pink City is quite pleasant this time of the year. Even this time,  when I found the festival considerably less interesting than any year before, I really enjoyed my time there even though I could not attend some of the sessions due to work.

 

The only thing that continues to bother me is the crowd. This year, thanks to the lack of big names, the crowd was thinner than usual, but it was still at times difficult to make your way through the seething humanity. Most of the people who come to JLF come just to ‘have a blast’ as they put it themselves, which I understand involves clicking lots of selfies and creating a ruckus in general. Whilst I agree that JLF is not completely about literature (despite its name, and that is okay), those who hog space (and chairs) and treat the event like a picnic spot should be discouraged. Frankly, there are better spots in the city for those purposes.

The Ocean of Churn

A couple of years ago, I read an article by historian Ramachandra Guha wherein he decried the lack of right-wing intellectuals in India. Only intellectual he found worthy on the right side of the spectrum, if I remember correctly, was Arun Shourie. While I agreed with him partly, I think he should have found space for many others like Sanjeev Sanyal. For somebody who is not a historian, Sanyal writes brilliant history books. I can say that because after reading (and adoring) Land of the Seven Rivers, his geographical history of the Indian subcontinent, I finished The Ocean of Churn last night. I loved it, and I wanted to write down a few thoughts about the book – and revive my moribund blog simultaneously!

The Ocean of Churn is about the Indian Ocean and how it shaped the history of the countries situated on its rim. Sanyal’s writing is fluid and for merely a dabbler (he is mainly an economist), the book is extraordinarily insightful and peppered with flashes of genuine humour and tidbits that help make it accessible to even laymen (to maritime histories) like me. As Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

Sanyal, over the course of the narrative, dismantles traditional schools of thought according to which the history of erstwhile European colonies began with their becoming colonies. Before that, apparently, there were only ‘beastly people with a beastly religion’ to quote Churchill. In The Ocean of Churn, history begins millions of years ago when the first Homo sapiens evolved in East Africa.

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The colonial schools of thought that Sanyal rightly condemns also fit with the worldview that validated subjugation of native peoples. The justification was that the white man ventured to distant lands to bring ‘civilisation’ to those hitherto bereft of it. This does sound a lot like how the United States wants to bring ‘democracy’ to ‘despotic’ countries… whether they want it or not.

For a maritime history, The Ocean of Churn includes a lot of text related to things that happened on the land. But without it, this book would arguably have been incomplete, as pivotal mainland events directly affected coastal areas and islands on the Indian Ocean. Butterfly Effect, if you will.

The Ocean of Churn is a quick, breezy read that remains engrossing thanks to simple, unadorned writing. This is not a dry recounting of events, but a gripping tale of how entire civilisations on Indian Ocean Rim were moulded into their current form by various factors. History has rarely been this interesting.

Why Breaking Bad is a landmark in television

Television these days is considered the entertainment medium for grown-ups. There have been some really, really good TV shows in the last decade and a half with thematically strong content. They make the best film has to offer look like over-priced eye-candy. HBO should be considered as the frontrunner as their ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire’ completely changed the television landscape in the early 2000s and paved the way for future. Then came ABC’s Lost, AMC’s Mad Men, and others. And, of course, Breaking Bad. On this day, the last episode of this remarkable AMC show was aired four years ago. Let’s have a look at why the crime drama revolving around just one character turned out to be a masterpiece.

Breaking Bad is mainly an examination of one single character who ‘breaks bad’. The show follows a man called Walter White as he goes to the dark side, if you excuse my Star Wars reference. A meek chemistry teacher, a diagnosis reveals he has terminal lung cancer. Teaming up with Jesse Pinkman, a former student, he starts a tentative ‘cooking’ business and that is the moment when he crosses the Rubicon. Jesse Pinkman may have been a meth addict, but Walter White was the real junkie.

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At the beginning, you sympathise with him. He is, after all, a man trying to make sure his family’s future is secure. But then he does certain things that make the worst villains in the series look misunderstood. Bryan Cranston, in an absolutely outstanding performance, encapsulates the character of Walter White so perfectly that it is hard to imagine he was the same person who played Dad in Malcolm in the Middle. During the course of the show, his persona alters. And Cranston manages to nail them all. He is believable as a picked-on chemistry teacher, he is believable as a caring family man, he is also believable as the ruthless Heisenberg.

The cinematographers do a marvellous job in bringing out the lines on his face in clear contrast. Which reminds me of the visual element of the show. Breaking Bad has solid writing and acting, but visuals are a strong part of it. Best visual touches are those that you don’t notice. They seamlessly blend into the narrative. The clothes Walter White wears get darker as he turns evil. Sometimes the camera stays on one scene for a painfully long time, and recurring motifs (like the ominous one-eyed teddy bear) contain the theme of a particular episode or things to come.

You cannot truly appreciate Breaking Bad until you have finished it completely. In the end, Walter White himself admits what the discerning viewers have suspected for some time – that he did everything for himself. There are a lot many themes the show explores, but one supersedes them all: you reap what you sow. Actions have consequences, in other words. Walter White gets away for a long time but ultimately what he has done catches up to him. But for all the evil he did, he remains human right till the end. So believable in spite of the things he did.

The term gets thrown around a lot, but Breaking Bad really is a masterpiece.

(This article was first published here at indianexpress.com)

 

The Dark Tower

A very happy birthday to Stephen King! Dude, your stories and your monsters have frightened generations of readers and Pennywise made at least a week of my sleep fitful, but I love you anyway. 

Ah! The Dark Tower. The magnum opus of one of the most prolific writers of our time: Stephen King. The title still elicits goosebumps. I have read a lot of fantasy and I have read a lot of Stephen King, but somehow The Dark Tower did not appeal me all that much…  until I read it, that was. Perhaps it was the Western feel to the story – I’m not too keen on the genre and frankly, do not see the appeal. Instead, I read other, less popular fantasy series like Malazan Book of the Fallen and The First Law and was enthralled. And all the while I also kept reading other Stephen King works and was scared shitless – It, The Shining, Pet Sematary, Salem’s Lot, The Stand, Skeleton Crew and so on.

Even then I knew that many of King’s works tied in with the story of Roland and his ka-tet. But I resisted the temptation. I even tried reading the first few pages of The Gunslinger and was not much impressed. The prose was denser than most of his books and it seemed rambling. Then one day I just bought the book for my Kindle and began to read and promised myself I would not stop until I’d finished it. It did, and it was a crushing disappointment. All that mindless chasing… and no resolution. No explosive ending. What exactly happened?

Then I started the second book and it was then I knew I would read on until I’d read the last sentence of the last book – which was, incidentally, the same as the first sentence of the first book. The legendary, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” Boy, I remember thinking as I finished it, what a story!

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The primary plotline of The Dark Tower follows the last of the gunslingers (gunslingers in The Dark Tower are basically Arthurian knights with guns instead of swords) called Roland Deschain, his companions, and their quest to get to the Dark Tower – an imposing edifice that lies at the centre of all creation and reality. It is the literally the centre of the universe. The story sometimes branches into smaller threads but throughout the series the quest to reach the Dark Tower always dominates the narrative. The story is a blend of Western, fantasy, and horror. There are also many heartbreaks in this journey, and the ending is not what you’d call a happily ever after sort, but is more on the bittersweet side. There is also a surprise at the end, but I don’t think you need to know that.

“I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I aim with my eye.

I do not shoot with my hand; he who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I shoot with my mind.

I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
I kill with my heart.”

If somebody were to ask what is the central theme of the series, I would say it is sacrifice. Roland is a tragic figure. He is singleminded in his quest and he believes what he will do once he reaches the tower will right every wrong he’s done during the journey. Every sacrifice will be worth it once the enemy is defeated.

What about the enemy? In the first novel itself, we are introduced to the Man in Black who Roland chases across the length and breadth of a desert. He is a mysterious figure who Roland believes can provide him with answers about the Dark Tower and who Roland also has cause to hate. There is also the Red King who the Man in Black serves, but he does not appear until the very end. Other servants of the Red King include the vampires (yes, the one in Salem’s Lot), and other unearthly beings who look like men but are something else beneath.

I loved The Dark Tower. And I’m glad I overcame my misgivings. As Roland might have said, I did not forget the face of my father.

 

The Man in the High Castle

I find alternate history fascinating. Wondering about that elusive what if. Imagining hypothetical situations is, in fact, one of my favourite pastimes. What would have happened if the Syrian father of Steve Jobs had not immigrated to the United States? What would have happened if Mahatma Gandhi had stayed in South Africa? What would have happened if the British had not come to India?

Contemplating such situations is tempting to me, but sadly I don’t have the means to experience the life in those parallel worlds that must surely be lurking just beyond my perception. Also, while these situations are important they are but insignificant what ifs as compared to what is called the hypothetical Axis victory in World War II.

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Times Square under Nazis

Those who have read enough of what occurred in World War II know how close Germany and Japan came to subjugate Eurasia. So many things could have gone catastrophically wrong. The United States might not have intervened. Colonial soldiers enlisted in the British Army might have refused to fight. And so on. So how the world might have looked like had the Axis powers won? Enters The Man in the High Castle.

Based (loosely, Wikipedia says) on Philip M. Dick’s 1962 novel, this Amazon Original series explores probably the most important what if one can imagine. I am sure we all are sick of American hawkish foreign policy and imperialistic tendencies, not to mention its Big Brotherly deep state. But we should still be grateful that it was Uncle Sam and its allies who won the war. The current reality is far lesser of the two evils.

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American Reich flag.

In The Man in the High Castle, the Axis powers won the World War II. The United States was divided between the Nazis and Imperial Japanese into two parts that are called Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States respectively. There is a thin strip between the two regions that is lawless and called the Neutral Zone. The year is 1962. Although Japan and German were allies in the war, there is a tension between the two, not too different from the Cold War tensions that dominated the political landscape of much of the latter half of last century. To end the war, German had decimated the American capital Washington DC including Pentagon.

Even though it is alternate history, The Man in the High Castle is not escapist in the sense that the world is so well-realised that it is perturbing. Nothing seems fantastical, all thanks to top-notch world building and production values. And also the fact breathing down your neck that what we are witnessing almost happened.

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Juliana Crain

Both the Nazis and the Japanese are not surprisingly totalitarian regimes and unflinching in their cruelty. Small acts of resistance prompt utter destruction of not only the perpetrators but also their families and even friends. Both the regimes are looking for a mysterious man who few have seen. He calls himself The Man in the High Castle. This man might hold the thread to the last of the resistance in America.

More mysterious than the man himself, however, are the films he either propagates or collects or maybe both. Those films show different realities. The what ifs I was talking about. The Führer himself is interested in these films. One of those show Allied powers winning the war and the United States dropping atomic bombs on Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Funny, huh?

Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) is a woman who has made peace with the life under Japanese occupied San Francisco. She gets entangled with the resistance and the films thanks to her sister and becomes wanted by the Imperial authorities. Her boyfriend does not want anything to do with the resistance and tries to discourage her, but gets involved himself anyway when he becomes the topmost target of Kempeitai – the Imperial Japanese police.

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Nobusuke Tagomi

Then there is Japanese Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. He is one of the few morally upright men in Japanese high command. “Perhaps too good for this world,” as his assistant tells him. He wants to live in a better world and is unusually kind to those beneath him. He concocts a conspiracy with the help of a Nazi official having a similar line of thinking to stop the hostilities between Japan and German using the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. The performance by the venerable Tagawa is brilliant – measured, thoughtful, and wise.

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Obergruppenführer John Smith

British actor Rufus Sewell plays Obergruppenführer (try saying that thrice continuously) John Smith who is a loyal Nazi – the highest ranking German official in America. He is utterly ruthless, not only towards subversive elements but also to his political opponents. But he is also fiercely dedicated to his family, a loving husband and father – the quality that humanises him. As far as villains go, John Smith is pretty compelling and I found myself rooting for him at times even though he is a Nazi through and through.

If you were wondering whether to subscribe to Amazon Prime Video, The Man in the High Castle is a very valid reason to make the jump. I’m not underrating other Amazon Originals (like my personal favourite American Gods), but this show is unlike anything you have seen and really very necessary in this era of militant nationalism and burgeoning authoritarianism. Of course, there are many good alternate history television shows and movies, but none as relevant as The Man in the High Castle. It is not only high quality television but also a timely reminder of how the world would look like if we let fascism win.

Game of Thrones Season 7 review: More gorgeous than ever, but scant logic plays spoilsport

In terms of spectacle and drama, every season of HBO’s epic fantasy drama Game of Thrones has outdone the one that came before, and season 7 was no exception. We finally saw convergence of major players in the finale giving a sense of “it’s all going to come together now”. The Wall is down and the dead are in the realm of the living. There were also some really satisfying payoffs like Starks dispensing retribution to their foes. The last is something viewers had been waiting since Ned Stark was deprived of his head.

But somewhere along the line, the show has stopped being what really made it so compelling. To be honest, most of it has stopped making sense. Make no mistake, it is still one of the most gorgeous looking things on television and this season even more so. The captivating battle between dragons and the White Walkers in Beyond the Wall would have given Peter Jackson a run for his money. When it comes to production values, the show has no rival. But Game of Thrones was not about style, it was always about substance. What made it fantasy for the mature and different from, say, Harry Potter was the political intrigue, machinations and well-rounded characters, not dragons and White Walkers. The fantasy elements were a small part of the story. People like Tyrion, Varys and Littlefinger used to matter before. Now Littlefinger is dead and Varys and Tyrion have been rendered more or less irrelevant.

And then there are numerous plot holes and inconsistencies, which is all the more dismaying as this used to be a tautly written and paced show. Writing in a word has been terrible. That’s clearly because Game of Thrones no longer follows the source material that spawned it. The showrunners were apprised of the broader plot of the entire story by George RR Martin (the scribe of the book series) but not the fine points. Since they are free to paint the relatively minor details themselves, they are mucking it up royally. They are actually listening to fans instead of subverting their expectations. Jon and Dany in a relationship? You got it! Avengers-style Westeros ensemble? There it is! Night King vs dragons? Stay tuned!

Consider this. Jon agrees to go Beyond the Wall to bring a wight and showcase it in front of Cersei Lannister who is a woman he may have seen once and has every reason to hate her for what she did to his family. Tyrion knew that his sister could have just ignored the evidence. She could have ordered everybody murdered instead. Or promise them help and later backtrack as she did. Jon, Davos and Gendry meet Tormund and Brotherhood Without Banners. Jon takes a look at them and decides to trust them instantly? In an almost suicidal mission where his choice of companions may make the difference between life and death? “We’re all on the same side. We’re all breathing.” Is that really enough?got

Now, of conveniently flexible distances. Jon leaves Winterfell for Dragonstone… and he is there. He leaves for Eastwatch and… he suddenly turns up. Compare this to Robert Baratheon and his retinue’s journey from Winterfell to King’s Landing. Or even Catelyn’s journey to Vale. They were rich with details which made the world of Game of Thrones believable. We do not know if Jon’s ship faced high tides or storms or was ever in danger of being capsized on its way to Eastwatch. There are no specific details. No gristle or bone anymore, just the meat. It is like reading an abridged children’s book. The raven that was sent from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea by Davos to Daenerys has to be the fastest bird that ever lived in Westeros or the real world. Daenerys arrived exactly when Jon’s band were going to be overwhelmed by wights. The Night King chose Viserion to kill, not the much bigger target that was Drogon right in front of him. Or Jon. Or just about any human being.

It is not a co-incidence that the show’s decline from a complex, nuanced and detailed saga with a sprawling cast of compelling characters towards just about any swords and sorcery fantasy story began since the show got ahead of the books. Call me a pedant but A Song of Ice and Fire series of books are the lore and although the last two books may be called a little tedious but they nevertheless are set in a painstakingly detailed world and Martin does not pander to his readers, and still manages to subvert expectations.

That’s not to say it was all bad. Season 7 had a lot of cathartic moments as mentioned already and before experiencing them I did not think events unfolding in a fictional production could affect my own emotions to such an extent. Arya decimating the Freys was an amazing scene. The battle in Beyond the Wall was visually perfect. Dragons are more detailed than ever and the whole sequence was masterfully shot. Wall coming down was suitably devastating as such a huge event is meant to be. Game of Thrones has blurred the lines between television and film production. There were some very good editing too this season – the downright disgusting Sam and poop scene in the premiere episode comes to mind.

But to match up to the standards set by itself, Game of Thrones has to do a lot. It has been going downhill from season 6 in terms of writing and logic. But one can hope in the final season the writers actually spend time embellishing the story and characters and stop rushing it to conclusion. Nobody likes tediously paced television but an epic drama like Game of Thrones that made fantasy palatable to grownups with its dizzying scale and intelligent storytelling deserves a great send-off.

(This article was first published here at indianexpress.com)

Gandhians with Guns?

When the peasants of Naxalbari lifted crude weapons to wage war against the Indian state in 1960s’ West Bengal, they could be sympathised with. Their violence, if not condonable, was understandable. It was clearly borne out of desperation against the exploitation by their landlords. They had been left with no choice. Their grievances had gone unheard, and they were utterly voiceless, faceless, leaderless. When leftist revolutionaries like Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal gave them a direction, they saw hope. It was an alternative to the daily toils for bread. They jumped in. Thus began the infamous Naxalite or Maoist insurgency.people_s_liberation_guerrilla_army__naxals__flag_by_santiagosoto-d8t7wuz-800x445

The peasants’ struggle which began about half a century ago was not for a Communist utopia – only the uppermost echelons of the leadership were anxious about that. The peasants were fighting for their right to land, against the unmitigated suffering inflicted upon them by an uncaring nation and people – their own. Their violence, while still absolutely condemnable, could not reasonably be termed as ‘terrorism’.

Now? Now, nobody knows what the Maoists fight for – not even I suspect them. They have no perceptible direction despite there supposedly existing ‘urban Naxals’, the left-leaning intellectuals from premier educational institutions, who guide them and endorse their ’cause’, whatever it is.

All the sympathy Maoist guerrillas had has now evaporated into thin air with the 2010 Dantewada attack and now the Sukma incident. Their wanton cruelty shames the Jihadis of ISIS and al-Qaeda. They are the topmost threat to the country’s national security. Rest, like Islamic and Hindutva terrorists, do not come close.

Gandhians with guns? Not so much.