Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: Off Our Back, Finally

If one word could be used to summarise 2009 as far as Malaysia’s socio-political issues are concerned, it would be a very qualified, “shit”. On the upside, I got married, so it sort of balanced things out. Here’s my skewered take on the happenings in 2009. Some incidents are left out basically because of either space constraint or just that I have a memory of a bar stool.

In January Malaysians suffered from splurge of bad economic diarrhoea after the massive breaking of global financial wind with unemployment reaching epic proportions when Malaysian human resources minister S. Subramaniam noting that 45,000 electronic sector workers were laid off temporarily that month alone, and that they can take on training provided by the ministry on how to spend time worrying about the next job.

Anyway, on religious note, the Home Minister allowed Bahasa Malaysia in the Roman Catholic Church’s publication, The Herald. In fact, they are allowed to use any language, except that they do not allow use the word “joH'a”, which is Klingon for God.

February saw an interesting development when the entire Perak state was taken over by a swarm of bees when three state assemblymen from Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition quit the party to become independent to support Barisan National (BN). Dejected, in March, the Perak PR folks held their meeting under the very tree the bees used to reside, where they were immediately shat upon by territorial crows.

On a brighter note, the government pledged a RM60 billion economic stimulus, which were condemned by critics as merely “bail-out” exercise and should be instead used to make trees more comfortable for political meetings.

In the meantime, Samy Velu won Malaysian Indian Congress’ presidency for the record 377th term in party polls making him not only the longest, but only cadaver to hold such position in the history of the universe. He announced that this will be last term for him, and will be stepping down to make way for younger blood, leading others to speculate, and this is perhaps the surprise of the year, his son Vel Pari to take over.

April saw the country welcoming Najib as our new Prime Minister, and immediately, he launched the 1Malaysia initiative with tagline: People First, Opposition Parties Later. Immediately Najib freed 13 Internal Security Act (ISA) prisoners, including two from the outlawed HINDRAF, and others who were never tear gassed or water cannoned.

Speaking of which the federal court again said a big “NO!” to godless communist Chin Peng when he appealed on wanting to enter Malaysia on the account that he left his wallet here. Same month saw three by-elections following either death, resignation or plead of insanity by each candidates due to excessive politicking in three constituencies, each won by BN, PR candidates and a racoon named JoJo respectively.

The month May will always be despised by Malaysians no thank to 13th May incident and that bad 80s Rock Band, but now will possibly be overshadowed by the nasty proceedings during the Perak State Assembly, which included shouting, scuffling, collaring, spitting and very bad rendition of Sinatra’s “My Way” by the new state Menteri Besar. Also, Hindraf’s M. Manoharan, K. Vasantha Kumar and P. Uthayakumar were released with the later wowing to continue to fight for Malaysian Indian’s rights, and said the prison didn’t break his spirit, and instead projected a keen sense of observation when he said that he had not shaven or combed his hair and “has been wearing the same pants since entering the prison”. Add resilience to laundry to that.

Also, the month saw outbreak of swine flue increasing so much so that it met with protest from pigs all over the world whence it was decided that it should be referred to as AH1X4N%#$!!! Virus instead. Most people world over decided to cover their inability to mouth the word with masks.

Nothing much happened in June except the usually boring unemployment thingy and bitching from the opposition party opposing anything the government proposes and whining from the ruling party opposing anytime the opposition parties opposes something. Perhaps that explained why Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium’s roof decided to collapse. It was only after that incident that the RM300 mil stadium billed as pride of the Terenganu state was declared unsafe. Wow.

July should be declared as historic month when the Malaysian government took a great step backwards when it decided that the medium of instruction for Maths and Science would revert to Bahasa Malaysia from 2012 onwards. It should be noted that 2012 is known worldwide as the year the world would end.

The following month, August (as if you didn’t know) saw a collected relief of sigh from opposition party and Malaysians in general when a special task force was set up to investigate the legal and financial aspects of Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) project, where it discovered about RM1 billion of the charges and claims by Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd, the main developer of PKFZ were found to be “overcharged, unsubstantiated or smells fishy, particularly the Salmon variety”.

Speaking of bad smell, Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) party sacked its deputy president Dr. Chua Soi Lek with immediate effect after the party’s presidential council decided that he had tarnished image of the party when his sex DVD failed to win any Adult Video News awards. More nasty news surfaced when about 50 people marched from a Mosque to a 150 year old Hindu temple in Shah Alam herding a cow head, realising that they forgot the poor animal’s body. Only six were charged for indecent exposure.

September is a great month for Indonesian maids as the Home Minister announced that they should be given one day off in a week, where instead of being abused by the employer for six days, they can be abused on the street for that one day by unemployed Malaysians. The country also made another mark in the history when it secured a place in next year’s Formula One, called Lotus F1 Team, backed by 1Malaysia F1 team, led by budget airlines AirAsia’s flamboyant founder Tony Fernandes who immediately declared, “now, everyone can race”, which led to mass arrest of illegal racers.

Speaking of competition, October saw an unprecedented performance from University Malaya when it climbed 50 places from last year according to Times Higher Education – QS, World University Rankings 2009. Never mind the fact that it still has 179 other universities to beat to make it to the top. Also making the news was launch of Malaysia Makkal Sakti Party, formed by a former HINDRAF big wig, joining the ranks of, Uthayakumar’s PAHAM (Parti Hak Asasi Manusia), PPP and Gerakan in BN, BN friendly IPF, MUIP, and other parties with Malaysian Indian members like PKR and DAP in Pakatan Rakyat. As you can see Malaysian Indians are as united as usual.

The month November will be known for crisis in MCA, especially when Registrar of Societies declared Chua is the rightful deputy president, despite his setbacks as screen actor leading to bad feuds involving use of Kleenex on national TV. Speaking of setbacks, Malaysian Prime Minister wannabe and PKR advisor, Anwar Ibrahim (read my 2008 review to know more about him), was appointed as economic advisor by Selangor state government with a monthly token allowance of RM 1, though they are still disputing whether it should be paid in cheque or banked in Anwar’s overseas account.

The highlight during the month of December surprisingly has to do with the aviation industry. One, Langkawi International Maritime & Aviation show took off so well that out of the excitement came the news that two fighter jet engines worth more than RM 100 million was stolen and was traced in South America where it was used for beachside barbecue. When asked if the higher officers were involved, the police brushed it aside saying that it involved lower ranking workers including the janitors and the Mak Cik supplying the Nasi Lemak.

Eventful or not, 2009 is worse than 2008, leading us to wonder if the decade itself was horrible. I shall leave that to you to decide. In the meantime, have a Happy New year. Take it easy with the booze and remember, keep an eye on the janitors and the Nasi Lemak lady.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Creepy, Crawly Caper 2: Operation Cobra!

My article on snakes, Creepy, Crawly Caper caught one very attentive reader, Jeremy De Silva who had much to say about that subject, so much so that I did an online interview with him and came out with a sequel. Jeremy, if readers would remember, was the guy in my past blog post who wore diapers and cycled. Wait, wrong guy. No, he’s in my Cha’ah in USJ post, my schoolmate remember?

First, he caught me on Facebook and registered his surprise that I was scared of snakes. He too grew up in plantations (called “estates” here) and, here’s the best part, he catches snake for money!!! This business never existed in the estates I grew up in, and the most I could have sold is dead squirrels, but Jeremy used to earn RM15 per snake it seems. Before you start doing your accounting, let me ask Jeremy this: “Are you nuts?”. Luckily, Jeremy, also a writer, did not respond and say, “You should be asking, were you nuts?”

It seems at the age of thirteen or fourteen when he first picked up snake hunting. Yes, at the precarious age when we discover, among others, sex, our friend was busy discovering the art that kills hundreds and thousands in India each year.

“The irony of the whole episode was that my dad was actually importing cobras from neighbouring estates as a measure for rat control,” he said in an interview chat with me. “and he never knew then that his son was having easy pickings.”

Jeremy the Cobra Hunter’s technique was simple. All needed as tool was a PVC pipe, the ones used for plumbing, and a long length of electrical wire, creating a loop outside of the one end of the pipe, while both ends of the wire will be at the opposite end of the pipe. Operating with his pal, Ramesh, both take turn to distract the cobra and get it to raise its head while the other have the loop to go around the head and pull both ends the wire and “voila! Captured!”

That was how Jeremy the Cobra Catcher did it and he usually gets about three to five snakes a day and in the meantime De Silva senior is thinking how come those damn rats are still hanging around about despite the cobra imports. Have the snake gone soft!

But how do you locate these snakes? As mentioned they are everywhere, but usually they are slithering about scaring young plantation kids like yours truly, but where do find the spot to catch them red-handed….wait snakes got no hand.

“Well,” said Jeremy the Cobra Head Looper, “if you remember in the oil palm estates they would prune the palms and stack them in between the rows of trees? That's where the snakes are, man!”

Eventually one of them would lift the stacks of these dried branches and they would either throw a firecracker and just poke it with the pipe to drive the snakes out. “Not every stack housed a snake,” he reminded. I know, Jeremy the Cobra Poker, they also house millipede, centipede, meterpede…oh wait, those are monitor lizards.

But I countered with the fact that they might strike as soon as you lift those damned branches. They, meaning the cobras, not Jeremy the Cobra Botherer and his pal, though the distinction between these two groups is beginning to blur.

“No, No, No!” he protested. “Cobra never strikes without warning!”

Rakesh: What? They say “Freeze” or something?

Jeremy: No. They will hiss at least 3 times before striking

Rakesh: Well, probably it means "freeze" in their hiss language.

Jeremy: It means "f*ck off if you wanna live!”.

Jeremy the Cobra Terminator added that some cobras would not even try to attack you; they see you and start slithering for their life. Not where I lived, most of the time. I must add that though we went to the same school, we lived in different estates. If people like Jeremy were to live in the plantations that I lived in, I am sure cobras would have packed up their pots and pans and all and left to greener pastures like…err the next estate. Bloody hell, Jeremy’s estates was sort of next to mine! No wonder!

“But,” interjected Jeremy the Snake Chaser, “if the cobra is nesting, then we bolt as fast as we can coz they actually chase you.” There he admitted himself. In fact, he said he was chased twice, once by a cobra that was about 8 feet long.

“That was a little scary but I had my trusty catapult (Lastik) in hand so I shot it dead,” he said, asking if I used Lastik before, a tool that he describes accurately as “every estate kid's ultimate weapon”, though I would also add “supply of rotten fruits” to that list.

So yeah, we had Lastiks too, but ours was mostly used to shooting squirrels which has been stealing our fruit (mango, guava, etc). But the buggers were too fast for aiming and shooting, so most of the time I end up shooting the fruits which sort of defeated the purpose.

And so, where do these captured cobras go, if you are curious to know. Well, Jeremy the Cobra Annihilator said they were sold to some contractors (outsiders who provide workforce on contract basis) who would…and ye city folks better be ready for this…drink its blood for health purposes. Or more likely to increase energy for certain nocturnal activities (there were no email spam then).

“They believe that the fresh blood of the cobra has the properties to heal all kinds of ailments,” said Jeremy The Cobra Blood Supplier, “Silly people. But what did I care, I wanted the cash.”

These days Jeremy the (Retired) Cobra Seeker’s life is basically sitting back, having left behind the serpent hunting business, and is now heading his own advertisement agency called Sapiens Adwork, where instead of Cobras, he hunts for clients. Frankly I think he would be better off to call his business Cobra Adwork, but then he might go back to his old ways and use PVC pipe and wires to hunt for clients.

More reptile capers:

Creepy Crawly Capers 1

Creepy Crawly Capers 3

Avatar (3D)

In a superb article, A Whiter Shade of Guile, Joe Queenan articulated about how in films Americans, especially whites, are always portrayed as the saviours, representing the minorities, the underprivileged, purveyor of the streets and those endowed with lesser technologies usually involving sharp implements. Hell, even king of the Jungle was Tarzan dethroning the cat with awesome mane back to a level the where it took Disney to put it back to limelight with Jeremy Iron’s voice.

Anyway, that is roughly the plotline of James Cameron’s most anticipated (yes everyone says that, and I didn’t realise that it was most anticipated until earlier this year) Avatar. Great white American told to infiltrate a group of native tribe, learn their language and ways, and instead of working with the evil mighty American in turning against them, he likes them, especially the main chick who happens to be, wait for it, the tribe leader’s daughter. Yeah, you know the drill. They fall in love, he learns the ways from her, then he realises that he is part of them, he defends them from the evil goons led by stereotypical general straight out of Austin Powers movie who had been watching Full Metal Jacket.

The thing is, that’s the plotline Cameron used to actually amaze us with a visual spectacle that last awed me back in 1993 when Spielberg unleashed a horde of dinosaurs, half of them were actually Computer Graphics Imagery (CGI) which was a novelty then, like nanotechnology or cell phone pornography now. There are allegations of copyrights infringement, claiming Cameron took the story from sources uncredited, especially so by Indians who are wetting their pants because Avatar is an exclusive Indian word for reincarnation, and says the plot has to be from ancient Hindu myth. No, it’s simpler plot that Hollywood has used to death to the point where Kevin Costner won multiple Oscars for doing that particular kind of movie, where dancing with wolves made him so popular and rich enough to make mega stinkeroos like Waterworld and The Postman. Happy?

Anyway, Cameron transfers the plotline outer space involving greedy corporate raiders (we even have the return of that Scumbag from Cameron’s Aliens, but not played by Paul Reiser though the actor eerily looks like that unfunny man), bunch of marines (Aliens shadow again, huh?) and a good marine (not played by Michael Biehn) who later becomes the saviour of nature loving tribe of people called Na’vi residing in Planet Pandora. But that is not the point.

It’s the visual splendour that blew me away. There was drama too which moved my tender hearted wife to tears, but again, it’s the sheer imagination, the beauty of a world that is beyond my semi-literate imagination that puts this film high above the pedestal to the point that I declared that it is probably the best film of the decade…probably.

The Pandora of Cameron’s imagination is no different from the best part of his own The Abyss. In fact, he took the best part expanded it in a larger canvass and used the best CGI solution to give one of the most realistic digital creations ever since those darned dinosaurs. I never bought the Lord of The Rings trilogy and was never fascinated with the CGI stuff in it. But Avatar changed all that, it made me to actually believe that what I brushed off as “another CGI shit” when I saw the Na’vi avatar at the beginning of the film. As the film progressed I completely forgot that they are all nothing but digital (of course, there were actors behind it do help with the motion capture thingy).

Cameron’s imagined Pandora is better than the worlds in all the three prequels of Star Wars combined, it’s a beautiful world, where it does not take one lots of effort to be an environmentalist. We have hard time taking care of the nature here, let alone dealing with the side effects of survival namely fangs, claws, poisons and bad breath and these are avoided in Pandora’s glorious forests, beautiful creatures, and breathtaking view from any corner. Adding the 3-D effects just enhances it. This film has to be seen in 3D.

But it’s not a tourism flick as other filmmakers with cool CGI solutions would aspire to shoot. Despite the familiar plotline, Cameron did skew the script make us care about the conflict, and most importantly, really care about Pandora and its inhabitants, namely the chick mentioned, Neytiri, whom, I believe, is lot better loved as CGI character than an actual annoying actress on screen. The final battle scene puts action back to the pre-“cut every two seconds” dizzying shit that we got from the Bourne and the latest Bond film. Its takes us back to the time when great battles scenes were meant to be shown clearly and it was truly, and I hate this clichéd response but let me say it anyway, “mind-blowing”.

My nit-pick about mighty Whitey/Yankie plot apart (man with just few months crash course on Na’vi suddenly becoming the rider of a badass beast???), this film is about, yes I am going to say that “e” word, Experience. To hell with Lord of The Rings, and Harry Potter can show the broom up where it doesn’t shines, I am now a big fan of Cameron’s Pandora. Now, I have not even talked about the awesome machineries and mean arsenals of the future, that will take another 900 words. Blast it, Cameron could just be King of the World.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Creepy, Crawly Capers

A news feed appeared in my email and immediately sent me back into my childhood which was filled with peril, traumatic & venomous moments. No, I was not molested by my Math’s teacher, you dirty brained readers! I meant actual perilous situation involving dangerous, venomous animals in the plantation my family and I grew up in, though I suspect the Mathematics teacher was a reptile too.

Before that here’s the news headline: “WORLD'S FIRST VENOMOUS ANIMALS IDENTIFIED”

Ha! What has that got to do with my childhood you ask, unless of course, I am over 200 million years old. Why? Read on:

A paleobiologist has identified conodonts—a large group of tiny extinct marine animals that lived up to 500 million years ago—as likely being the world's first venomous animals.

These animals, which lived until about 200 million years ago, are considered to have been jawless vertebrates. Most of their fossilized remains are teeth

Pretty funny name for an animal. I can imagine the innuendoes and the puns the dinosaurs then would kid with the conodonts, “Hey conodonts, how are you guys feeling today? Rubbery? Hahahaha!” Now, you know how they got extinct. Bad jokes and venom don’t mix.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the animals we lived with back in the plantation. Various reptiles including snake, monitor lizard, a kind of supposedly poisonous gecko lizard, domestic but still poisonous lizards and the Lizard King himself, one Mr. Jim Morrison.

Okay, kidding abut the last one though some suspicious characters hanging around, doing nothing, looking dazed and spouting gibberish were staple characters in plantation life, so it could have been him, except he got tanned.

Now, let me get started on the most annoying, and unfortunately deadliest of them all: Jim Morrison. Haha, kidding again. I meant snake. Not just any snake. Cobra. Yeah, you read me correctly, the very name that strikes fear in many plantation dwellers heart. The name that sends shivers down Indiana Jones sturdy spine. The very name that was used for one of the stupidest cop movie made in Hollywood starring Stallone!*

Cobras were everywhere those days. Not unlike email spams earnestly offering assistance to enhance certain nocturnal activity. Many times I recall us kids standing on chairs with mom chasing away the black bugger using mere broom. Usually they are not killed, it is deemed to be sinful to kill a snake unless, of course, they have bitten you. Though there had been cases of snake bite, all of our family members made it through without close encounter of the nastiest kind.

The closest, though, could be one with my younger brother Shubash. Remember the infamous scene of Harrison Ford and the Cobra in Raiders of Last Ark. Yeah, Shubash had similar encounter once except it was closer. I am not sure how he got away, but I suspect it may have involved him not brushing his teeth that morning. My brother, I mean.

The closest brush I had was once when my friends and I decided to take short cut through the plantation to go to the temple for some celebration taking place there. My friends, about three or four of them, suddenly started fleeing away from me. None of them said why, and I was sure I brushed my teeth that morning. It turned out there was a slim, dark, cobra, about a feet and a half long, slithering about half a metre away from me (You don’t use metric systems on Cobra, they are not civilised, same when you say “politicians who have a fluid ounce of brain”). Needless to say, despite the head-up on my friend’s part, I was the first to reach the temple and was furiously theistic that day.

Forget about Cobra. Let’s go one step higher than that! King Cobra!

I have never met one so far. Sure, if I were to meet one, I’d be asking, “Is it true your scientific name is Ophiophagus Hannah?” I know that will be the last time you see me, but give me a break! You give a name from Woody Allen’s movie** to one of the most deadly reptile since that last dinosaur that made a condom joke? But that’s true.

I may have not seen one, but my dad has on many occasions. One of the most scariest was fortunately behind the windshield of a plantation lorry and this big mother actually rose up and stared dad in the eyes, before shuffling off, maybe because my dad has one of the biggest mustache in these part of the hemisphere. Kidding. Though my dad never mentioned it, I feel the King was probably under the lorry about few seconds after the encounter. Other than that, I only heard encounters related by uncles, dad’s colleagues and some wise old men who had imbibed one too many cheap liquor.

So, now you will understand when you say, “hey let’s visit some snakes at the zoo” and I respond with snarling, “Snakes! I hate snakes!!” just like brave and bold Indiana Jones. Truth be told, I was traumatised enough that I can even look at them on TV screen at times. Alright, I can get away by saying that I have “ophidiophobia”, meaning fear of snakes, like Arachnophobia (fear of spider) or Arak-no-phobia (no fear of liquor), if only I can pronounce that damned word.

*at least not as bad being the abbreviation of Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). Not kidding, it exists.

** Hannah & Her Sisters. Won couple of Oscars. Could also be a National Geographic series, though.

Reptile follow-up

Creepy Crawler Capers 2

Creepy Crawler Capers 3

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Legally Binded Pt. 3: A New Hope.

The third part of the marriage process is now over. Finally. For those who have been following this blog subject, they are probably relieved that I can finally stop writing about the marriages and go on writing about cycling in diapers or coffee bean poos.

Aside: The sub-heading A New Hope is nothing new. It was initially used by George Lucas when the film Star Wars was re-released after the sequels, to differentiate it from say, Star Wars Episode 5: Empire Strikes Back, or Episode 6: Let’s Kill Ewoks. I used it, having liberated myself from bachelorhood. Now is that a good thing? End of aside.

It started when I dumped my wife back to her parents place, poor girl kicking and screaming wanting to be with me and I had to turn her in in the name of tradition, which would be three days of not seeing her till the traditional Indian/ Hindu/ Malayalam styled wedding practised here in Malaysia and by the Hindu members of my family and relative.

The wedding day started inconspicuously enough with me, the groom, helping my mom to wash the porch. Yup, I did. Already with questionable housekeeping skills, all our previous similar occasions have led to our cousin sisters doing the deeds, only most of them have submitted themselves to motherhood and the cousin dudes are nowhere to be seen in the morning. My brothers, Balan & Shubash, had other outside chores to take care of, and there I was, in my shorts, spraying water all over the place ferociously like the Federal Reserve Unit dealing with peaceful demonstrators.

There was nothing much to do after that except watch TV and they showed Gunfight at O.K. Coral, a dreary affair in another occasion turned to be a delight when other channels were showing what would have been a turgid affair in other occasion. Chow time beckoned followed by minor preparations to be made, and I managed to snatch few minutes for nap, so that I will not do the same when the priest mutters the incomprehensible later in the evening.

At about 5.30pm, I was dressed and ready with my brother arriving with his car decked out beautifully by a local florist. Lots of photo session out there on the porch (I washed it, remember?), we were off to the wedding hall, situated in Jalan Renggam. There were very few visitors when we arrived, and Chitambaram, old friend and now a family member, whisked me to the groom’s room upstairs as he was supposed to help me to wear the Vheshti or Dhothi.

A few words about this apparel. It is usually worn by South Indian male, usually of cotton variety it is a form of white sarong that are flexible and provide, I assume, plenty of air. The one that groom’s wear are made from what I think is reinforced mosquito net, contains heat enough to boil eggs (don’t get no pictures, you hear) and are about as flexible as chicken wire. It took Chitam loots of sweat and blood to get that damned thing tied around my waist (“it’s either too short in length or you belly got bigger”, Chitam complained), and when it was done, I felt I could walk faster in a sack race.

Then, I was left alone waiting…and waiting…and it was not until around 6.50pm that I was called, apparently there was a bit of a screw-up down there and the priest was late. I was ushered to the reception where Mappilai Tozhan (roughly Best Man), also my young cousin brother, according to the custom, washed my feet, applied wet sandalwood powder and kungkumam on it and in return I presented a ring for it. Not bad, eh? Considering that he was only twelve years old, in a totally different perspective, it would have been translated as an act of child labour.

We were led by two musicians; one who blew Nadaswaran, a wind instrument which I found out later is touted as the “loudest non-brass acoustic instrument”. It was accompanied by a guy playing Melam, a slung-over-shoulder percussion instrument which too does not require amplifier and can be heard not only by the last person in a mega stadium but also the cause for many complain by those not getting their sleep in neighbouring galaxy. And we get condemned for listening to Metal music loud, sheesh.

Aside 2: Despite my bitching, one of the reasons for the loud instruments, according to the great late poet and translator of ancient Indian rites, Poet Laureate Kannadhasan, was to drown any negative wibes, and especially bitching from the members of the audience. I felt it would have been easier if we just had burly bouncers with good hearing. End of aside 2.

Anyway, I had my “entourage”, aunties carrying trays containing flowers, fruits, sweets and pair of handcuff in case I change my mind. Haha, kidding about the last one, who needs those if you have aunties who had been bugging about you getting married for more than a decade now.

We walked towards the Manavarai, or is it Manapanthal…well it’s basically a place where the groom sits, where the priest conducts the wedding with fire burning in the centre with enough heat to make the bride and the groom look like they have attended spa from hell. Well, you know what I am talking about.

Sitting on the floor with folded legs is not an arduous thing to do. Not when you are six years old, but when you are thirty six and out of practice, it's akin to attempting contortion. Luckily there was a half foot high platform, which still didn’t improve the situation, especially so when I heard that my wife had swollen ankle that day. Great.

The rituals for the groom was pretty fast, the same entourage then went back to accompany my wife and her parents. Now, this is not normal, as the bride would have her own entourage which often features uncles who should have been the bouncers ready to react if the groom decides “to go to the little boy’s room” at the crucial moment. My wife’s relatives have all attended the previous event (see Legally Binded Pt. 2), so only the close few came along for this one. Her bridesmaid or Pen Tozhi was my cousin sister, Karthika, sweet girl who earlier also helped to make rice-based Ranggoli that she took about same time as the entire Ben Hur flick to finish. And it looked just as epic!

My wife was fine with the rituals that she was totally a stranger too, plus it’s a deeply scaled down version as the Indians of Malayalee extract tend to do here and are usually known for the speed the whole thing is over. You might be on time, greeting you pals and before you are able to ask, “Where’s the buffet”, the wedding would be over. So, naturally me being on the stage has no business in asking where the buffet counter is, so before I can say, “Err…do I have to?” the priest handed me the gold chain with Thalee (sacred pendant symbol for wedded couple).

Usually in the old Tamizh films, this was where the bad guys would walk in and “Niruttungga Kalyanatta” or roughly translated, “stop the wedding” because the scriptwriter, who at that point of time was past trying to commit suicide by overdosing on betel leaf, need a new twist to the plot. Fight would ensue with the groom beating the crap out of the bad guy and then the cops would come, the inspector blessing the couple, the wedding then proceeds and the gigantic Vanakkam (The End) would emerge blocking the happy couple, family and everyone as some sort of eerie message about the lead pair’s individual life.

Sorry, got carried away. No such thing happened, the moment came for me to tie the Thalee…actually it was simple hook job. The Nadaswaram and the Melam’s sounds escalated to the point where it would have shocked bands like Slipknot, and have them to pack up and become mime artistes. Rains of yellow rice assaulted us as I hooked the chain around her neck and yes I did make sure it was her neck.

And so it was over. Scores of relatives came over, wishing us, blessing us, shoving money packets onto my hand (she got hers after the Church wedding remember?), taking pictures, and generally making sure that we don’t get to finish our dinner. But it was fun, it was great seeing my side of relatives making it to the wedding, many of whom have been hanging on to the money packets and wedding gifts intended for me since the Tun Razak administration.

But most importantly, my parents and aunt Sarojini, who really toiled over the entire event, despite mom’s poor health and my aunt’s advancing age, and it was their love that made the whole event go smoothly. I am no believer in religious/ cultural rites and rituals, but this is how I show respect to those who believe in it, and the day was a tribute to these people’s love. I was the last in my family to tie the knot, whether or not I believe in an institution called marriage, I know for fact that that very institution gave birth to a family that made who I am today. It hopefully will spawn similarly loving, affectionate family members sans my goofiness.

Note: To know what my brothers and relatives were bitching about during this wedding, click here

Note 2: Special thanks to avid reader of this blog and good pal, Vino and her hubby Murali, for driving down for this event, despite already making appearance in Part 2.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Legally Binded pt 2: Return of the Couple.

On October 31st, 2009. I got married at the church. Of course, it didn’t begin smoothly as it should no thanks to my punctuality conscious family. Sharp 3pm I was suppose to leave my apartment with the best man who lived a door away from my apartment. When I went there, with my suit on, overnight bag slung over my shoulder, there he was, all six foot of him, topless with a rack of ties, looking as blurry as a mole asking:

“Bro, which tie I should wear?”

The theme, according to my wife, was gold, champagne gold. Whatever it meant, for all you know you might offer me a bucket of charcoal and say its champagne black and I would agree. I am one of the few privileged individuals to share a common trait with Steven Spielberg – colour blindness.

A realisation at which point, the best man, Derrick, asked, “Bro, is this gold?”. Clock is a ticking, buddy boy. Finally the handsome devil (yes he is, it’s in my speech) was ready and we were about 15 minutes late, driving towards my brother’s house when I started getting calls as to what time I’d reach there and usual worrying stuff like that.

We were there, and all of us, my parents, my brother Balan and his wife and two kids, my younger brother Shubash and his wife, and my once good friend, but now family member, Chithambaram, got ourselves distributed into three cars and off we went to the church.

Which should have been a ten minute trip, except it took us a frickin’ half an hour! The traffic jam god decided to play a prank and placed all available traffic in KL, even though they were heading south towards Johore, in that small road from Selayang leading to Kepong. And at some point while crawling, Balan knocked the bumper of a car in front. Luckily there were not ugly exchanges, just exchange of phone numbers. Everyone’s in a hurry, so I suppose they will throw insults using text messages.

About five minute before arriving, I got call from the bride. Haphazard parking later, we found ourselves rushing up the road leading to the church, a green mid-sized affair which stood next to a Murugan temple (we parked next to the temple knowing well that the one with the Vel wouldn’t mind).

The bride was already waiting in the bridal car (her brother’s Estima), and the brides maids rushed over to fix corsage on the our suit lapels. One of them, Stephanie, fixed one on mine and mind you, the darn thing looks huge and a few more of those on me and I’d be Amazon-Man (“saving the forest by sending out useless flowers for weddings”)

Then, it was the first part, the arrival of the groom and later the bride. Derrick and I was asked to walk towards the first row of benches and we must have both forgotten what day it was when the videographer, walking backwards with camera pointed at us, growled, “Slowly! Slowly!”.

I tell you I was not nervous at all up to that time. Not even when there were many many strange faces staring at me with similar expression a farmer with a lost flock of sheep identifying a culprit would have. With oour near crawl walking pace we reached the front row of the benches with, with my family in tow and they took their respective places while Derrick and I stood to wait for the page boy, the bridesmaid, and subsequently the bride's father and the bride herself.

Soon, the wail-like sound of music to the tune, Here Comes The Bride, filled the air as my wife’s brother, Clinton, hammered the organ. Page boy Ethan, Clinton’s son, led with both of his hands holding an opened Bible with the couple’s ring on it. Ethan looked grim. Okay, it was later that I found out that he was asked to clamp shut his mouth cause the little boy has lost couple of his teeth in front.

Ethan was followed by Linda’s best friends, Amanda, Samantha and Stephanie, all looking beautiful in their golden bridesmaid attire, as was my niece (brother Balan's daughter) Sushmeeta who was the flower girl. Right at the back was my father-in-law and his daughter, in white gorgeous wedding gown and the equally gorgeous face I know so well not so hidden behind a thin veil. It took forever for them to reach us, and when they did, Mr. Fernandez, her father, gave me a vice-like grip and hand over the bride to me. Alrighty then, it’s show time.

Off we went towards the side of the altar where two chair and a small desk awaited us. I recalled her reminding, “pull the chair for me to sit, even there’s enough space for it”. What if I forget, I asked. Well, how about getting stabbed with flower boquet? Okay, I’ll remember.

And I remembered. I pulled the chair and she sat, but not without the assistance of one of the bridesmaid as the back of her wedding gown looked like opened mini-parachute. And off it went, the mass and the service. Usually they’d perform only service for mixed-marriage (different religion, not different specie), but her family managed to get permission from the bishop for the mass to be held. Since I’ve had a hand in writing the permission letter, he must have fallen for “the bridegroom-to-be has no objection in his wife to be to continue practising her faith, especially as he is a poverty stricken writer”.

During the mass, the celebrant, Father Mitchell, talked about three rings, “Engagement Ring”, “Wedding Ring” and “Suffer-Ring”. Haha. Yeah, the same celibate priest once had a session on marriage counselling equating marriage to Titanic. It’s a long story.

Aside: Catholicism is not for someone with bad knee, and having had them scrapped and knocked during my younger days. Kneeling proved to be bad experience and was a terrifying sacrifice I had to make for my wife - shades of more horrors to come including watching, on the second night after wedding, Sex and The City The Movie. Doesn't mean that I have converted...far from it, as you will see in my upcoming Legally Binded Pt 3: A New Hope. End of Aside.

Then, came the moment. We were brought in front of the altar, facing each other, the celebrant read the vows, as did we, and was then asked to slip the wedding rings into each others respective fingers. Was I shaking? No, maybe a little. Then, I was asked to move her veil to her back. Then I waited. You know, the part where the priest would say, “now, you can kiss the bride”. I looked at Father Mitchell who simply said, “Well, what are you waiting for?” Damn. I kissed her lips quickly (I assume that any kiss lasting more than three seconds long would require adult certificate here).

And so there we were. Mr & Mrs Rakesh Kumar to the Catholic community. The Church was full of mostly her side of relatives. As I walked down the aisle with the bride, the earlier look as now changed to genuine warmth and love as they congratulated us, some kissing us. One Sister shook my hand and said that she will continue to monitor and assist me so that I will turn to the right side. Where’s Yoda when you need him.

Few hours later, we were back with the crowd at the reception held at OneBangsar Seafood Complex. After the toast, against the usual custom, the couple was asked to give speech. Basically these are thank you speech and seeing that I had a list of name longer than Cuba Gooding Jrs, I had to craft it carefully as to not to be boring. Or so, I think. Most of the ladies thought so. Read on if you have the courage:

Couple's Speech.

Good evening everyone, first allow me few words in Tamizh.

Anaivarukkum Vanakkam. Intha Iniya Manavizhavukku Varugai Thanthu Sirappitta Enggal Nanbargal, Uttraar Uravinarkal, Udan Panipurivor Anaivarukkum En Saarbilum, En Vazhkai Tunaiviyaar Sarbilum Manamaarntha Nandri Kalantha Kadapaattinai Terivittu Kollugiren. Unggal Anumathiyoodu, En Uraiyai Aangilattil Todarkiren.

Back to English.

Okay, I will try and make this short and simple…for the next two hours.

I was kidding, sorry. Just trying to overlap the dancing session that’s coming up… seeing that I can dance as good as The Terminator.

Anyway, it’s so nice to see such a large crowd, a great turnout in one of the biggest events in both Linda and my lives. It’s so wonderful to see family members, friends, relatives, colleagues, ex-colleagues together. Especially ex-colleagues who can’t get along! Hope you people reconcile your differences and hate each other after this event.

But this speech is important because this is where we want to express our gratitude to people who made today’s joyous event work. It’s a long list, and forgive me if I missed out some names and contributions...but then guess who’s the most nervous here!

First, thanks to my parents, Mr & Mr Premakumaran for graciously agreeing to my choice of better half. They blessed us, instead of chasing me with parang for marrying someone from different persuasion. Thanks also to brothers Shubash and Chitambaram for being supportive. Same goes to my aunty Sarojini, all three, and Shubash’s wife, Priya, have come all the way from Johore.

I will most certainly have to thank Mr and Mrs. Herbert Fernandez - my parents-in-law - for giving birth to this beautiful girl. They gave full blessing to this mixed marriage and I shall cherish that. Also Mrs. Shirley Fernandez personally made the fruitcake that is on your table. That’s 12 of them and that is not a mean feat! Not to forget Ammachi, the sole Tamizh voice in the family.

I also like to thank Linda’s three brothers, Clinton, Clifford and Gerard for their blessing and contributions to this event. It must have taken them great courage and wholehearted approval to agree to their sister’s choice, instead of sending a hitman out for me. Chinnathambi padam mathiribaa….

Our gratitude also to the other family members, Clinton’s wife, Pat. (Add) Now, Pat will go down in history as first woman in saree to drive the bridal car. Also, thanks to Pat and Clinton’s children, Becky, Zach, Ethan and Denzel, the little hyperactive guy that you seriously need to keep an eye on, he might be under your table.

A big thank you to Aunt Loretta, Uncle Brendon and Aunt Carol who have been instrumental in arranging this wonderful place and the food. And I tell you the food is excellent…and that means no food fight please.

Aunties Emily, Theresa, Maria, Helen, Veronica, and Rani, thank you very much for your hard work wrapping up the cake. Aunty Irene and Uncle Joe, thank you for always being loving and supporting. More aunties to thank, including aunty Eva and Emma for coming all the way from India to bless us.

Also, a big thank you to the toast master, Uncle Clement, who in addition to this task, has been helping us in many ways. Plus he’s a cool guy. Speaking of cool, thank you Gerry, that’s the MC for tonight, and please don’t miss out on my classic rock songs. And those place cards on the table, we have to thank Sujatha for that.

Our gratitude also goes to Rita Gomez, the lady with sweet voice, our commentator this evening. Speaking of sweet, thanks to the bridesmaid, Mandy, Sam, Stephanie and Becky for your participation. Hope you got the Best Man’s phone number. The flower girl is my beloved niece, Sushmeeta Balan, her brother Vaernand is probably all over the hall and the page boy is Linda’s nephew Ethan. He kept his mouth close shut during the church session as not to show his lost teeth.

You must have seen the bouquet with the bridesmaids, and for that we are grateful to Aunty Theressa.

Special mention and special thanks to Father Mitchell, for celebrating the wedding mass, for the support, guidance and advice. In fact, during one of the counselling sessions he equated marriages to Titanic... Yes, I am as baffled as you are.

I would also like to thank Derrick Jaggan, who agreed to be my best man, thanks for being a wonderful, very helpful friend & no thanks for being so good looking, better looking than the groom.

Our gratitude to the choir group, and Clinton, for that great job with the organ. Still, I would not be satisfied till I hear you pound out Highway Star on your synthesiser.

My very special thanks and lifelong gratitude to my brother and best friend, Balan Kumar and his wife, Nisha, for being there for me through thick and thin, being supportive of me no matter how stupid some decisions I made, and for all those assistances, emotional support or financial aid. I will not forget them till the day I die.

Last but not least, thanks to my wonderful wife, Linda Marina Fernandez to agreeing to marry this balding, average looking dude, and worse, a writer of all people. We’ve been through a lot for the last six years.

It was a slow process, getting to know each other, and worst we have been on and off, breaking up so often that we decided to call it quits and get married.

Still, we went through trials, tribulations and torturous terrors the last few years including one where I was forced to watch Mama-mia. I suppose there will be more to come and we are ready for it. And Linda, I promise to be a wonderful husband and a great father and help to wash dishes the rest of my life.

So, there you go. A gigantic, humoungous thank you to all of you who took time to come here and bless us. Linda and I are very, very honoured to have you here on this auspicious day, and hope you have great fun…that can include dancing on the table, we don’t mind.

Alrighty then, I suppose we have taken too much of your time. Now we shall get the heck out of here before you guys start throwing roasted chicken at us.

Thank you.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Legally Binded

Disclaimer: Okay, October 2nd, 2009 is one of the most important days in my life, so regular readers might just want to skip this as the content mood may not be the same. My wife wanted me to record this, so this is exclusively dedicated to her.

It’s the day when I was legally registered in the government’s office as Linda Marina Fernandez’s husband. We have three more marriages to do, one in Church for her family who are Catholics, another for my family, who’s Hindu, and one more called Suya Mariyathai (self respect) styled little recital for me, who don’t subscribe to religions (see my sceptic links on the right side of the blog).

So, I am now in the process of getting married and no, the title of this piece is not Legally Blinded.

It did not start smoothly as I wished no thanks to one person who is going to be hindrance to it all…me! You see, as I drove towards my wife’s place to pick her up, I forgot to bring the receipt. I already told my future in-laws family and my brother and his wife to be at the registration office at 10 am and like an idiot I forgot the important receipt to show to get things done.

I picked her up and rushed back to my apartment, got up the rickety lift, into the apartment, got the receipt and got back to the car to my wife who, thankfully, did not strangle me with the seat belt.

Driving into town, I managed to sneak into a short cut I know. Yes, for someone who is direction impaired I happened to know a couple of short cuts…not bad eh? So, while we were on the road, her mom called asking where we are and how long it takes to reach the place. We explained and then her dad called, screaming over the phone. I told her to remind them we have one full hours, so no problem. As we approached the Maju Junction building (where the office is), her elder brother called. I mean come on, its government registration, but its not that the Prime Minister himself is marrying us:

Datuk Seri Najib: Rakesh, can you take Linda as your lawfully wedded wife, partner for life, home minister and a good cook if she can.

Rakesh: I do.

Datuk Seri Najib: Good, and vote for Barisan Nasional?

So, we parked, rushed towards the lift and were on the way. By the way, Maju Junction’s office building, up to eight floor, I believe, has parking right outside the office. So, when the lift door opened first thing we heard was a loud angry “Hooi!” from across the parking space. That was her eldest brother.

As we rushed in towards the office, her very religious dad appeared. I tell you, if it’s not the dark hair and skin, and add a white beard, you’d see a mega pissed Moses (think Charlton Heston) waiting to shove the tablet our respective derrieres. He didn’t do that, but he did say something un-religious, but we moved on before he could conclude his dark sermon. I had to restrain my own wife who didn’t like those annoying phone calls and would have wanted her family members burned at command. Don’t mess with a bride to be.

Inside, I was surprised to see her side of relatives, mostly decked in traditional dress. There must be about 15 of them. My brother, Balan, was sitting in one corner, dressed in office wear, with his wife, Nisha. He was cool as usual. He’s a sceptic too…so go and figure.

We got into the counter immediately and were told to wait for the registering officer to call us into the registration office.

Aside: The services are fast there. Really. I went there sometimes back to change my identity card address, and things were fast. Not like those days, where you’d have to be careful not to stumble over corpses that has been waiting for services since the colonial days. End of aside.

Then, the officer called us in. So, all of us shuffled into the office, and gosh darn it! That’s a cosy little set up, with chairs for guests that are nicely done with that lacy bow and all. And there was an arch, as you see in this picture which was taken in the office. There was a big authoritarian table up front for the officer, and two chairs at the side of it for witnesses and two in front for the marrying couple.

My brother is my witness, while her third brother, Gerard, was hers. They took their seat. I had few exchange with the officer, Ramani, and then he asked if we are ready. I mean, if we are really, really ready…and that was when I got a bit nervous. Then he asked us to stand, hold each others hand, facing each other.

Then, he stood and that was when I realised that he could probably be a failed Shakespearean actor. In a dramatic tone addressing Lord Lawrence Olivier’s audience, he started, “WE ARE GATHERED HERE IN THIS….” I mean, who dare to, instead of saying “I do”, “I will”, say “No” or “Gimme a moment” to this man. Well, maybe, “dude, chill, you are scaring the embryo inside” or something. Okay, I was kidding about the baby, she’s not pregnant. I swear.

Thankfully it was a short session, and we were pronounced man and wife. Why not husband and wife, I wonder? So, if you say Husband, the acronym is Woman?

Moving on, we had to sign the marriage certificate, copies exchanged hands and finally when the officer himself signed, I caught my brother’s eye signalling me to look at him. And whoa! I kid you not; the signature was around five inches long! A scribble, a looooooong stretch and a scribble. He even signs his name dramatically!

And so there we were, husband and wife, legally. All congratulated and hugged us, her mother and grandmother was in tears, though not sure in which order. And we got lots of pix taken so much so that I actually became camera non-shy finally. Then, we all had nice lunch in Sentul Curry House and had the rest of the afternoon off. I cannot tell you what both of us did, and whatever it was, it was legal.

NT In the News.

Wow, my story on NT, that got featured in India Glitz and Behindwood are the search results to come up, even ahead of Kamal, if you type Sivaji Ganesan in Google News. I got to record this.

The features:

The screen cap of news search:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sivaji Ganesan & The Sadists.

Note 1: This is a lighthearted piece, so take it easy NT fans.

Note 2: There are many films that need to be cited here. Feel free if you like to include your examples.

We all know what a great onscreen performer Sivaji Ganesan was. Having played many roles in films directed by directors so many, it is easy to assume that Sivaji or Nadigar Thilagam (loosely translated as Greatest Actor & abbreviated in online forums as NT) seriously requires many entries in the Guinness World Book of Records. As such, I want to put claim to the amount of sadistic physical & emotional torture his characters had to endure in that list…while at the same time put the directors responsible in the stand.

Let’s start with his first film itself, Parasakthi, directed by Krishnan Panju team. As soon as the rich, beaming youthful and very handsome NT finds himself in the home soil of Chennai, he was duped, robbed rendered penniless and later became mentally unsound. The final blow came when he had to attack the temple priest. If the conscientious torture of having committed a crime is not enough, he had to be brought to the court and in that famous moment, he had to recount the entire incident again to the bemused judge and crowd. NT was only 24 at that time.

I don’t think any Tamizh film other stars have had their characters endure such a predicament in the first role itself. Well, Rajini comes close. In Apoorva Raganggal, he appears towards the end in an extended guest role as a leukaemia patient who returns only to see his former wife frolicking with a dude much younger than hotter looking than him. Also, he dies standing.

In his first leading role afterwards, Mundru Mudhichu, he successfully becomes the killer, indirectly, of the same younger hotter looking dude to reclaim his girl only to find that she got married to his own dad. Poor bloke.

As a matter of fact, this was not the first time we got such a plot. The first victim of that nefarious plot of having your hot chick getting hitched by your daddy was none other than….yes, Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan. Ethirparaathathu was an experimental flick written by maverick filmmaker, Sridhar. And he had to get NT’s girl married to his dad, played by Nagaiyah who always seemed like he would anytime keel over clutching his heart. Sridhar’s atonement would be to put NT in an action flick, Sivantha Man. Safe and sound this time, except when NT was shot at, almost maimed, had fisticuff with various henchmen and was almost ran over by helicopter. But that’s another story.

When the filmmakers decide to go extra creative and borrow from elsewhere, they can find rich resources in the classic plays and novels from the west. Both MGR and NT hijacked Alexandra Dumas’ tales in the successful Nadodi Mannan and Uthama Puthiran, the latter which saw the second NT’s head caged in metal mask.

But before those hits, the producers decided to have our own version of Hamlet and chose to film the hit play Manohara. Playing the title character, NT was brooding, in conflict with the palace authorities & towards the climax he has to be chained like a dog and listen to P. Kannama over emote. Well, at least it was not Vijaya Kumari.

Anyway, those are just few of what happened to NT. I would like to pin the directors down in this article. Let’s pick a fight with B.R. Bandhulu first. With humble beginning as small time hack director, Bandhulu took the whole world (yes, the world) by storm when he directed Veera Pandiya Kattabomman (VPK) that earned NT best actor award in an Afro-Asia Film Festival held in Egypt. Kattabomman, the role that many swear was NT’s best, constantly had to fight verbally and physically with white faced fellow Indian actors and deliver some ear shattering heart pounding dialogues, the delivery alone more powerful than the swords he swished. Now, how does Bandhulu end this film? With the hanging scene of course.

Fresh from the success of VPK, Bandhulu directed Karnan, a single viewpoint piece taken from the epic myth, Mahabaratha. NT’s title character gets dumped in the river as a baby, grows up to be a warrior under a horse rider’s tutelage, gets humiliated at a royal court, end up being pally with someone you don’t even want to have tea with, fight against his own brothers, and end up getting killed. This is not after he had to cut off the very things that will protect his life, his ear ring (more elaborate type) and body shield….yes, they were attached to his body. During the climactic battle scene, he had about three hundred gazillions of arrow struck on him. Geez. When one of his brothers from the opposite camp, Arjunan, comes running along crying that he had murdered his own brother, his aide/Chariot Rider/mentor Lord Krisha smirks and tells Arjunan something to this effect: “Dude, your brother was, like, dead several scenes ago?? Halloo?”. Thanks Bandhulu.

If you think that I am being unfair to Bandhulu wait till I tell you a tale of comedy. Yes, comedy. Bandhulu decides to make a comedy and you all know how brilliantly funny Bale Pandiya was. Think again. First time we see NT, he is about to commit suicide from a tower. And then, you get a second attempt, only to be saved by the super gorgeous Devika. If you think things are safe for this NT, wait till you learn what awaits the villain NT (three roles remember?). The Maruthu character hardly moves, if so he just walks towards the camera, adjusts his lungi and smokes his beedi. That’s it. He hardly does anything, unlike the notorious MR Radha character, his boss. What happens to this NT? Of course, he got shot at the end. Comedy.

Here’s more about getting shot, with bullets since they deposited all the arrows they had in Karnan. Director T.R. Ramanna will forever be remembered for bringing both MGR and NT together in Koondu Kili, where naturally the first scene was that of NT attempting to commit suicide. But that’s another story. Well, Ramanna resurfaced a decade later when he directed NT in Tannga Churanggam. This film was his answer to the spy flick craze that was hitting worldwide thanks to the success of James Bond films. NT gave our own OO7, Jai Shanker, a run for his bullets, appearing cool, stylish but not without some emotional moments. Just when you thought all would be safe, he is given electricity jolt halfway, and worst, at the time when singing duet mean open space and beautiful garden, our man was given only a small water well to have a duet with his date. Then, all seemed to be safe and sound till the climax. When NT hunts down the bad guy (Ramdass) in a church…of all place…he gets shot at both his hands AND legs. Hey, even Hollywood make do with a single shot in either the hero’s leg or arm, for Eastwood’s sake.

Well, similar slug-related fate naturally awaited NT when he was cast in multiple roles. This time in a beautiful film called Navarathiri, directed by the gifted director A.P. Nagarajan, NT was made to take on 9 roles and the cruel thing was no rubber prosthetics was involved. Kidding. Well most characters are well and healthy; we then meet the brutish NT with a rifle, sling belt full of bullets, really looking very fiery and what happens to him? He gets shot and takes a really long time to die, trashing his feet about till they slowly stopped. Gruesome scene. I bet Savithiri was genuinely horrified that moment. Then, we meet few more NTs till towards the end when here comes crawling, literally on his four a leper. Who played this leper? Your guess is as good as mine. But that’s another story.

Single role or multiple role, number does not matter. All has to suffer. Just ask director A.C. Thirulogachander. Remember Bheem Singh’s plot twist involving acid thrown at NT’s face in Pava Manippu and permanently scarring it? (It also had Nagaiyah playing NT’s forster dad who stilllooked like he would keel over clutching his heart, except that he was propped to the wall by a humongous Quran) Well, inspired ACT had not one, but two NT’s in Deiva Magan to have a really brutish nasty facial scar. Given away to orphanage as a child and originally intended to be killed by the scarfaced dad, NT Jr had to endure enough psychological trauma before at the climax where even the director felt enough is enough and had him take in more than one slug in his belly. Oh, Nagaiah again plays NT’s foster dad and this time dies without keeling over and clutching his heart.

Another director not a stranger to onscreen gunshot wound is P. Madhavan. How can we forget the unnecessary death of the lead character in Rajapart Ranggathurai, where someone puts in real bullet in the gun used for a stage play in which NT, as stage actor Ranggathurai, plays a freedom fighter. Yes, P. Madhavan was also the director of Tanggapathakkam, in which NT plays Inspector Chowdary, whose defiant son goes to the other side of the fence, leaving him with a crippled wife who dies heartbroken. This time it is not NT, but his onscreen son Srikanth who gets the bullet. Who does the shooting? NT of course, but his own son…the trauma he has to live through is worst than death. It should be noted that Nagaiyah did not play NT’s foster or real dad but he must have keeled over clutching his heart somewhere.

And so we saw all that from the 50s to the end of 70s, NT was blinded, half blinded, crippled, shot at, attacked, made to be alcoholics, given various psychological trauma, not forgetting silly costumes (late 70s and preposterous wigs, and other horrific stuff like being paired with Sri Priya. It’s staggering that NT the person remained a sane intelligent man right till the end.

One could go on and recall onscreen traumas mentioned above. But it is perhaps having been through these predicaments throughout the entire 50s, 60s & 70s, that the immune audience failed to give proper emotional response to NT in his 80s films, even though he suffered regularly onscreen, with his characters having multiple heart attacks, dying conveniently to spruce up bad script or sharing the screen with nightmare child Baby Shalini. But history is there to show the sadistic directors and scriptwriters had in their hand a brilliant artist who was willing to suffer in front of the camera. And being fans of this magnificent actor, we too are perhaps, equally, sadistic. But that’s another story.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Unnai Pool Oruvan: A Review

This film is a remake of a hit Hindi language thriller, A Wednesday. A lot has been said about the original, especially the plot, the script, the performance and the overall gritty realistic feel. I haven’t seen it.

But judging from what I have seen here, it’s safe to say that the original is not that original at all. If you have seen the Die Hard films and the films that novelist James Ellroy has been involved in (L.A Confidential, Dark Blue, etc), you know what to expect. Just switch the political viewpoint according to the geography and you can something fresh. A pal of mine who watched this with me keep telling me that there is an interesting twist towards the end of the film that I sort of watched it with twisted mind and came out not surprised at all.

Anyway, to the film. The title roughly means “SomeoneLike You” that means a commoner which the protagonist supposed to be. Played by uber cool Kamal, he is no way a commoner. During the title scene he is shown making a bomb. And during the conversations with the commissioner (Mohanlal), he appears to be intelligent, witty, and man with tremendous knowledge who doesn’t mix his facts. Oh, and he handles a revolver like a pro. Nope, not a commoner. In fact, we got ourselves the super cool Kamal that we know from way back in the 80s. Cunning, shrewd & a masterplanning avenger, this is an updated version of Kamal in Oru Kaithiyin Diary (the daddy).

So, the rough outline of the plot. Kamal plants bomb all over the city and calls up Commisioner threatening him to release four terrorists or else…. So, its cat & mouse game and lots of politics is thrown in, and if you are Indian you are going to relate a lot to what is happening in that country, especially in Chennai (more meaningful in Bomb prone Mumbai, though).

So, you have lots of phone conversation between Kamal and Mohanlal (think In Line of Fire & Die Hard 3), and the frantic Mohanlal issuing orders around to get things under control, but ultimately giving in to the callers instruction which I felt a bit too simplistic. Sure, he gets his team to investigate the caller and has two men on the field to investigate, but he gives in anyway…too soon that is.

But that is the scripts fault. I leave that to Bollywood pundits to beat each other to pulp to figure out whether or not the script is brilliant. I smell Hollywood, that’s all.

Now performance. As I said, Kamal is cool. All he has to do is sit in front of the laptop and talk to his Bluetooth earpiece most of the time and issue instruction, stretch himself like a satisfied cat, stand by the edge of the still-under-construction building and give that demeanour of a man under control. He breaks down towards the end of the film, and wipes the tears with his revolver. Now, how cool is that?

Supporting performances were good too. Lakshmi as Chief Secretary is the typical Hollywood jurisdiction debating authority, crossing sword with the hapless Commissioner. Standing out is one Ganesh Venkatraman (I had to look him up in the internet) who plays Task Force officer, but more of a cop-beater if you ask me. Tall, well built & very good looking (had man crush myself), his could-have-been-cute-face has permanent scowl in it and he didn’t have to beat people up to scare them as we get to see in one interrogation scene. Like Madhavan, here’s another good Tamil actor who will not be appreciated here and is going to have glorious career in Bollywood.

And now let me talk about Mohanlal, or Lal-ettan as his fans call him. Unlike Kamal’s character who speaks to only him most of the time, Lal has to deal with lots of people and that’s not an easy task. The abovementioned Chief of Secretary, issuing orders around, dealing with an ethical hacker (his reaction to this scene is priceless), Lal’s Commissioner Maraar is the epitome of cool amidst explosion, control amidst chaos & bringer of humour amidst the tension that is thrown in our direction. And I mean laugh out loud moments. Such a treasure this man is.

Moving on. The pace seemed fast at the beginning but during the third quarter of the film I started to get dozy. The race and religion politics behind the script felt a bit tame, for if they had been more to the point the controversy itself could elevate the tension and hey, sell the movie. The right wing message of “an eye for an eye” is not new in any film industry, just ask Dirty Harry.

Oh, the background score. Handled by Kamal’s daughter, Shruti Haasan, they hardly register. In fact, the film could have benefited a lot more with very minimalist score, instead of the usual bombastic stuff you expect from Indian films.

Nothing much about cinematography which is very apt at times, and very showy in other times. Also, nothing much to say how much the director contributed, seeing he had a “good” script in his hand.

All in all, a good entertaining flick that will not disappoint Tamil film and Kamal Haasan fans. My favourite moment in that movie has shades of my favourite film comedian Goundamani’s trademark dialogues. When the commissioner asks for guarantee, Kamal responds, “Intha guarantee, warranty kodukkurathukku naan enna pressure cooker-ah?” LOL.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Malaysian Indians: Definitive Definition.

An ad agency babe whom sometimes I freelance with gave me a buzz and mailed me a query on a Deepavali ad layout they have been working on. The note from the client goes:

“Check the word 'Hindu' coz I believe should be Indian friends.

Hindu is only targeted to Singh/ Punjabi?”

It’s mind-boggling because the ad clearly belongs to a Malaysian company and I wonder which cave the knucklehead has been living in and how long since his ancestors stopped evolving. But then, there might be more of them and I guess it’s my duty being a Malaysian born of Indian extract to define what a Malaysian Indian is.

But before that I need a few drinks first.

Phew. Anyway, Malaysian Indians are also known as Indian Malaysians as they are born in Malaysia but are of Indian origin. For example, my grandfather is from Kerala, India, who left his family and joined the Indian national army (1940s) and got himself here, married my grandmother, sired my father who sired me, who at this very moment is annoying you with grandpa stories.

Malaysian Indians, henceforth to be known as MI (I know, it’s also acronym for Mission: Impossible, but we were first, Tom) are mostly Hindu and the Hindus don’t always go to the same temple, they go to 3 billion temples in the country (including the little altars by trees). Apart from Hindus there are Punjabis who are Sikhs who goes with the name Singh a lot and have for long time suffered from the butt end of Sardharji jokes. Then, you have the Christians, but wait! Not only there are MI Christians, but they are divided by two main denominations, mainly the Catholics and the Protestants. The latter is further divided by the Methodists & various organisations with titles like Church of Heaven’s Gate or something. Then, there are Buddhist MIs, Baha’ian MIs and I am not sure, but the possibility of Scientologists and some could even be members of the Raëlian cult. There are of course, atheists, agnostics and freethinkers among them. Also not to mention lawyers who are often associated with different animal category altogether, namely reptile.

That’s religion. What about the language MIs speak? Well, majority are Tamil speaking folks, and some who call themselves a Tamil can’t speak one and when they do attempt to speak you feel like slamming them with folded chair. Then, there are the Malayalees, the Singhalese, the Tamil Ceylonese, and despite the fact that the three names rhyme, put them together they will not be able to understand each other even with sign languages especially as it might end up showing only one finger. The descendents are all from southern part of Indian, and I’ve missed Telugus whose language sound like Tamil amidst crunching Murukkus.

Then of course there are those who’s descendents from other part of India, namely the abovementioned Punjabis, Gujaratis and Sindhis and possibly Bigfoot seeing that the latter is supposedly tall and hairy too. Okay, I was kidding. A word about Punjabis. They are often referred to as Banggali here by other Indians, which really miffs our turbaned friends. Banggali is a modified version of Benggali, most of whom populate Bangladesh and here in KLCC during public holidays. Punjabis should be correctly referred to as Bhayee.

Now, let me go to politics. There are various parties representing the Malaysian Indians. There used to be a party called Malaysian Indian Congress, which was “killed” at the previous election and are now populated by Zombie members. They are still active for no apparent reasons but to be object of hatred by the entire Indian communities in Malaysia. Its president is so reviled that mention of his name, most MI’s would want to spit at both of your eyes, and yet he has been the leader of that party for more than two decades. That’s Malaysian Indian for you.

As to other parties, to make my job easier here, let me hijack a posting from my brother’s blog.

With the formation of Uthayakumar’s PAHAM (Parti Hak Asasi Manusia), Indian Malaysian votes are bound to be split further in terms of political allegiance. There are already substantial Indian Malaysians in MIC, PPP and Gerakan in BN, BN friendly IPF, MUIP, HINDRAF offshoot MMSP while also increasingly in PKR and DAP in Pakatan Rakyat and not to forget PR friendly PSM.

I suspect my brother did heavy boozing after writing that post, poor guy. Don’t laugh, that is a very serious post and I too have gone cross-eyed reading those acronyms. But the MIs, who are already divided by religions & languages swear their allegiance to any one of them…most of which are led by lawyers by the way. Of course there are some like yours truly who would rather impale ourselves rather than associating us with those knuckleheaded parties.

Let’s move on to the cultural side. Each languages mentioned above have its own cultural legacy, be it traditional ones and modern ones. Festivities celebrated differ depending on the religion and language. The most interesting is the date for New Year, whereby Tamils, Telugus and Malayalees all have different ones. The Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi on the same day as Tamil’s New Year, but you still call them Bhayee (okay, enough Bhayee ribbing, you should actually call them Banggaali).

Speaking of culture, the Tamil films (from India) rules supreme here. Well, not supreme but sometimes the collection is on par with Hollywood and Hong Kong films, considering that Indians are only around 8% of the total population and the Tamils are only part of that. Anyway, the Tamil films screened on both big & small screens all over Malaysia serve as important source to credit anytime someone, usually lawyers or politician or both gets jumpy about the high crime rate among MI’s.

So, I have covered roughly all you need to know about MIs. We are a nice bunch of people, keeping our head down, living a regular life, occasionally getting water cannoned and tear gassed for supporting organisations that last as long as a dung beetle, but nice nevertheless, being a good citizen of Malaysia. Unless, of course, if we’ve just watched a Tamil film….

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kota Tinggi: Tourism Haven Sans Haircut.

In one of today’s newspaper, the Johore Menteri Besar (chief minister) was reported as calling for more investment to boost tourism in two towns, namely Kota Tinggi and Mersing. I know these two place well, since Mersing is right next to my birthplace, Kluang and is gateway to Tioman Island and Kota Tinggi as our family was based there for a few years. Despite the fact that I have grouses about the whole money for tourism thingy, I have in my heart special place for one of these towns.

I hardly remember Mersing except for long narrow winding road where if you are not careful would be in a ditch probably face to face with a wild boar and trust me, at that moment, you will not be thinking of it prepared with dry chilly. Since Tioman is enough an attraction I would like to talk about Kota Tinggi.

My dad was and still is a plantation Field Conductor. No, he does not go to the field and sell buss tickets. Actually it’s an underpaid supervisory role in plantation where you get up five o’clock in the morning and face underpaid workers and sort out their underpaid chores and then report to the overpaid assistant managers who are a generation younger than my dad and are about as smart as the rhino beetles.

Anyway, we stayed in a plantation called Ladang Balau, later part of it was renamed Ladang Siang. This was about 40km from the Kota Tinggi town and it bordered various Felda plantations, where you have Felda Air Tawar 1, Felda Air Tawar 2, Felda Air Tawar 3: Revenge of The Sith, etc, I forgot some of the other ones. And everything there, almost, is about oil palm plantations.

Aside: Oil palm is the tree. Palm oil is the oil. Confuse this in front of my dad; the mild mannered man will become a raging bull. You have been warned. End of aside.

But let’s talk about tourism. It is probably the only place we lived and yet acted like tourists in most of the weekends. So much fun we had. For one, there was this beach, Tanjung Balau just few kilometres away which also had a fishing village. Tanjung Balau coastline actually extends to the famous Desaru beach resort.

Speaking of which, when we moved in, we heard that a Japanese tourist was killed by a shark in Desaru. It could have been rumour for all we knew, till one day we come across a shark caught by the fisherman in Tanjung Balau. It happened to be a combination of the most goofiest looking fish and the most dangerous shark of them all – the hammer head. So there story about the Japanese could have been true. As a matter of fact, that could be the very shark that gobbled up the Jap.

So, we’d have picnic and swim in the beach now and then. Our estate (plantation is known as “estate” here) would organise beach side parties. Freshly caught sea creatures are grilled, barbecued and the memory of a live, clawing crabs lowered to a boiling pot of sea water is still fresh in my mind. And so does that goofy looking hammer head shark. Brr...

Here’s what my younger brother, Shubash, who has a memory of an elephant, unlike me, who have a memory of a gecko lizard, has to say about the beach which he visited recently:

“There are now a lot of chalets and resorts at Tanjung Balau. The Fishing village doesn’t exist anymore. Now they have laid tar road and the journey now only takes 10 minutes from the main road (Kota Tinggi to Bandar Penawar road). Previously it took 20 minutes …A lot of food outlets are opened to public. Last time there was none. Yet we still have some fisherman families living nearby and we had the chance to get fresh fishes there.”

That will give you a good picture how it was then. Raw. Untouched. And we were privileged to experience the beach before the invasion of tourists. Shubash also reminded me of the half sunk ship that used to linger sometimes near the beach and sometimes in the distance. It’s no longer there it seems. How I would have loved to see it now? Then, I was a kid and I’d have preferred a half sunk Fighter Jet and would have tried to find out the aircraft type (F16?) and where from (preferably Singapore). Not only no sunken ship now, I also haven’t heard of reports of tourists eaten by sharks. Usually they are ripped off by retailers, but not by sharks as of recent.

Moving on. Kota Tinggi is also the home of that famous water fall. We have been there few times, though not as often as the beach. I recall my dad warning us to be careful as to watch out for “floating Goreng Pisang (Banana Fritters)”, if you know what he means. Nature is not limited to excremental rights.

The Kota Tinggi town itself is not as huge as that dark, evil dungeon called Johore Bahru, nearby but is pretty complete as a supplier of human needs, as we used to go there once a month to buy our groceries and for us boys to get haircuts. I highly recommend it for any of your needs…except haircuts of course which I recall was done by some ancient Indian barber who once got me back in the chair again after I was done, because he got my sideburns shaved wrong and blamed it on some astrological bodies. Really, not kidding here. So, Kota Tinggi sucked in hair-trimming industry.

Now do not confine yourself to the Kota Tinggi town and Desaru. You also have smaller towns like Telok Sengat and Sungai Papan which I recall were known for their seafood. I am sure there seafood restaurants are still around offering fresh seafood like claypot hammer head shark. Kidding.

Recently it was prominent in the newspaper headlines for the wrong reason: flooding. It really suffered heavily about a few years back, but they managed to get back on their foot. Poor folks must have had many “floating Goreng Pisang”s to manage. So, please visit Kota Tinggi and visit those towns and don’t forget the Tanjung Balau beach. While frolicking be sure to say hi to Mr. Hammer Head.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

1Malaysia: The Other Ones.

When I read my cousin’s blog Eastern Prism recently asking what the heck 1Malaysia concept is exactly, and I must say that I am baffled too. I told him it’s basically old shoe, patched and polished and worn again. But I have to think deeper than the current cobbler-esque level.

Aside: Before visiting my cousin’s blog, don’t go with one mind set. The feller’s subject varies from criticising the government to the recipe of making mutton varuval. They do share something though – it involves frying. End of aside.

When the new prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (to non Malaysian readers the first two are his title, like “Sir”, “lord” “His Excellency” or “lunkhead”) took over the office from snoozemesiter Abdullah Badawi, he expounded on us the 1Malaysia. I said expounded because it sounds violent and the whole concept seemed heavy like the e.e.cuming’s poetry except 1Malaysia is even vaguer.

My cousin included an explanation from the PM’s website explaining it. Let me quote my cousin quoting the site: “1Malaysia’s goal is to preserve and enhance this unity in diversity which has always been our strength and remains our best hope for the future. … I encourage each of you to join me in defining our Malaysia and the role we must play in its future. Each of us — despite our differences — shares a desire for a better tomorrow. "

There. Can you understand anything? It looked like something that I would cut away when processing press releases during my journo days. Here’s what my brother has to say about it in his blog. “…1Malaysia is certainly not new, but an old wine in a new bottle”.

That’s right. We need something new. And what do you know? There are some others stuff that Malaysians are united about that Najib and the government has to harp on. There are lots of stuff that Malaysians share which makes us uniquely united & uniformly uncompromising when it comes to some of the things that I shall list below. And these are only few, you will get more idea later and please feel free to add in.


The drive here does not denote “determination” or “willpower to do something”. No, I am talking about plain driving. Like driving a car. Once Malaysians are behind the wheel, there is nothing to stop their sheer determination or “drive” to break every traffic rules. Whether its about not wearing safety belt, or on phone or text messaging, speeding, being non-compliant to the needs of the traffic light, Malaysians aspires to have “been there, done it all” credential in their mental resume, and they are willing to brag about it.

But wait, you say. Wouldn’t they be punished? As in, like getting summons. Well, let me put it this way, when Malaysians are not getting injured or dying on the road behind the wheels, one of their favourite past time is bribing the cop. Some of the rates are downright pathetic, as I have personally witnessed my friend managed to bargain and part with only RM10. For Malaysians, it can be “settled”. Right after “settling” with the cop, they’d go back to the comfort of their office and blog about how corrupt the government is.


Actually this should be grouped together with 1Drive, but it’s so unique that it deserves its own category. It’s amazing how much we Malaysians are so united when it comes to bad parking, double parking and are also enjoying the latest craze, triple parking.

I believe quadruple parking may have enjoyed brief fame, but since I don’t see it around I suspect these drivers were killed by the triple parkers.

But the amazing thing is, no matter how small the space is, and the possibility of blocking the road altogether, these parkers would be there, squeezing their SUVs in, and come out triumphant in managing to avoid paying few Ringgits if they had parked in actual parking and can quickly walk over to spend thousands on lottery or to indulge in all sort of seafood dishes in their favourite restaurant…which too can come to thousands of Ringgits.


A punctual Malaysian is a rare Malaysian…someone should put these people in museum. Well, I am one such guilty party. Not being punctual is a mission statement held on to dearly by most Malaysians, even during the era of Tun. Dr. Mahathir, our former prime minister who was fiercely punctual. This was quickly corrected by his successor, the dozy Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who, while perfected the art of snoozing during parliamentary sessions, has successfully latched on the lack of punctuality culture. I recall being with other journalists waiting for his press conference for almost 2 hours! No wonder Dr. M hated his guts.

Malaysians who are punctual usually can be found being alone…waiting. Time and time again, my brother and I have made mistake of attending wedding receptions at the said time. When they say, “thence to a reception at 7.30pm”, you have to add minimum an hour. Like an idiot I recently appeared at the 7.30pm as mentioned in the invitation card to a colleague’s dinner reception. The event only started at around 9.45pm! And guess what, few guests even appeared 10.45pm. I felt like poking my eyes with the chopstick.

So, these are only few samples where Malaysians are united. Najib should be looking at these and promote them instead of talking about “friendship” “diversity” and all that politically correct stuff. Of course, there are Malaysians who are punctual, who drive safely and following the traffic rules and park their cars with consideration for others convenience and safety. Traitors!