This weekend I sat and watched the first volume of Malgudi Days, the much fondly-remembered Doordarshan TV serial from the late 80s.

I finished the ‘Swami and Friends‘ story arc in one marathon stretch, and I’m saving the rest of the episodes for the next few days (There are 39 in total).

In a way, I’m glad that I have no particular nostalgia for the series (even the apparently legendary theme song): I was much too young when it aired, and I didn’t catch any of its subsequent runs on TV. But Narayan’s books (particularly Swami and Friends) were deeply influential in my early years of reading books, and I’ve kept a copy of it with me for nearly a decade now. I was quite curious to see how it would translate into a serial. 

Happily, it was all quite lovely. The actors playing Swami and Mani nailed their parts perfectly (though some of Mani’s flourishes are a bit too theatric), and the initially cold, son-of-an-important-person Rajam, while a little stiff in the early episodes, settles into his part fairly competently. 

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The attention to detail is quite excellent. The series establishes, and reinforces, a sense of time and place very early, and very effectively.

Infact, we know the exact month and year 10 minutes into the first episode, through a newspaper Swami finds on the ground near the school (which he subsequently converts into a paper boat):

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That news places the first episode to be set in the early months of 1931 (Willingdon succeeded Lord Irwin officially in April). 

1931, of course, was a year of enormous political upheaval. The Gandhi-Irwin pact, signed in March, made promises for granting India ‘dominion status’, paving the way for the 1931 Round Table Conferences (the second of which Gandhi participated in) leading, eventually, to the signing of the Poona Pact the following year. 

1931 was also the year Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar were hanged by the British government. The series references all of these events in the backdrop of Swami’s early irreverent adventures, and there is a sense of continuity in this background political unrest that is most pleasing.

For example, one episode sees a group of men (in white caps, seated behind Swami) discussing an ‘appropriate response’ to the British injustices while Swami and Mani chase a laddoo thief:

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Their response manifests itself as a protest march (sort of visible in the background) the subsequent day, as Swami, Rajam, and Mani discuss their next move in tracking the Laddoo Thief (who is still at large):

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My favourite, however, is the moral science question paper Swami has to answer. It’s a lovely, almost casual detail visible only for a second, but brimming with subtext:

 

If you look closely at the 'Thought for the Day' at the top, some of the proverbs used on previous days are still visible. Lovely.

If you look closely at the 'Thought for the Day' at the top, some of the proverbs used on previous days are still visible. Lovely.

 

But, rather worryingly, Malgudi Days seems to have some rather overt pro-Hindu imagery in this early story arc. Whether this is true of the entire series remains to be seen, but the early episodes don’t set a very good precedent. 

There is, admittedly, a lot of Hindu imagery in Narayan’s original material, but most of this is either directly tied to the plot or presented with a dry irony and wry humour that mocks more than preaches. 

Some of the changes the serial makes, however, are a little troubling. Mildly troubling, and not ZOMG troubling, but troubling nonetheless. 

Barely five minutes into the first episode, the gods have made an appearance, and the serial seems to posit the calm and peaceful presence of the Hindu gods (with calm and peaceful music, no less):

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…with the ‘fanatical rage’ (The serial’s words, not mine) of the Christian missionaries. The very next image, after the above two, is of the Scripture teacher  twisting Swami’s ear, who screams in pain:

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The twisting of ear prompts Swami’s father to draft a letter to the headmaster:

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A move his friends are entirely in support of:

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Now, in the original book, this particular situation is nuanced much differently. The scripture master, while still described as a ‘fanatic’, launches tirades against Hinduism, and Swami, as a brahmin boy, cannot bring himself to accept a god who ‘drinks wine and eats flesh’:

Ebenezer’s face became purple with rage as he thought of Sri Krishna…’Did our Jesus go about stealing butter like that arch-scoundrel Krishna? Did our Jesus practice dark tricks on those around him?’

Swaminathan put to him another question, ‘If he was a god, why did he eat flesh and fish and drink wine?’ As a brahmin boy, it was inconceivable to him that a god should be non-vegetarian.’

Swami and Friends, R.K. Narayan (Chennai: Indian Thought Publications, 2008) page 4.

The serial doesn’t feature this exchange at all.

In the book, Swami’s friends are not entirely in support of the complaint about the Scripture master: and even if they are, its for no other reason than the sheer boredom they face in his class. The mock outrage of  ‘Why does he make fun of our gods?’ is not present. Also, one of Swami’s friends – Samuel the Pea – is caught in a rather difficult moral situation because of the complaint.

In the serial, Sam’s religion is left ambiguous (He’s never called Sam, only ‘The Pea’), and its almost an implied assumption that all of Swami’s friends are Hindu. 

 

Anyways, more on this later. I’ll need to watch further to come to more definite conclusions. If you’ve never seen Malgudi Days, though – now is a good time…the DVDs are cheap, and easily available, and its a well-made, sweet serial with simple, but effective storylines. (Twitter-worthy review, right there).

Homecoming

May 22, 2009

Ah, home.

I’m back just in time to see a new front opening in the ongoing war between my father’s arsenal of chemical weaponry, and an increasingly mutant cockroach army.

Resilient to all known sprays and powders, and no doubt smug under the mistaken impression that they’ll be the rulers of the world once the inevitable nuclear war comes along, the super mutant cockroaches have begun brazenly overstepping ceasefire lines, carefully delineated with those ‘Lakshman Rekha‘ mystery sticks that are either pest control placebos or stolen alien technology. 

The aforementioned new front is, well, the actual house. Discontent with skulking along dark corners, and scuttling under kitchen counters, the cockroaches are taking advantage of my parents’ absence, and freely roaming the floors and passageways. 

I don’t condone chemical warfare (and its not like its having any use anyway), and random sweeps of the broom seem to do little.

The little alcove near the back door is already theirs, and large ant concentrations in the second bedroom suggest a tactical retreat, which means they’re massing near the kitchen corridor. Reconnaissance missions have so far revealed little, but atleast four Skulker divisions have been sighted (the needlessly expensive Binoculars finally put to good use), and Ant forager units have been disappearing on previously neutral ground.

A scout reports seeing little plumes of smoke from the back, and the distinct (to insects, atleast) corrosive odour of nuclear radiation. 

Power plants. War factories. Protoss Pylons. Siege Workshops. 

But war is not coming to Customs Colony.

Not while negotiation channels are still open.

Things I’m leaving behind:

The historical marker and ever-vigilant Spiderman

The historical marker and ever-vigilant Spiderman

My wall of Chacha Chaudhary posters

My wall of Chacha Chaudhary posters

Towels (They're a bit of a health hazard)

Towels (They're a bit of a health hazard)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Weekend Adventures (notice the grammatical conundrum the title presents), and since I’m leaving Delhi, it seems like a good time for some out-takes from my year here.

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The empty, bombed-out floor in my old office building. I used to love running away from my desk to come stare out the windows here. And play ominous post-apocalyptic music in my head.

More post-apocalypty goodness

More post-apocalypty goodness

The sentiment is understandable.

The sentiment is understandable.

If meals at 3:30 A.M had a name, this would be the best place to have them.

If meals at 3:30 A.M had a name, this would be the best place to have them.

The 'Computer Man' mascot we saw all over Uttarakhand.

The 'Computer Man' mascot we saw all over Uttarakhand.

Professor Layton and The Lego Man from an old birthday gift I made.

Professor Layton and The Lego Man from an old birthday gift I made.

He's famous, apparently.

He's famous, apparently.

En Route

May 6, 2009

So, yeah.

Anger is pretty rare for me, and even in the unlikely confluence of events that leads to its manifestation, my facial muscles tend to confuse ‘latent rage’ with ‘wave of nausea’. What they should be doing, cheeky little bastards, is putting on convincing public displays of affectation that agrees with the boiling fury inside: you know, clenched mouth, heavy breathing, fist thumping and the likes.

Instead, my dubiously  confident friends conjure a combination of facial twitches better suited for attempting to keep your lunch inside. People usually ask me if I’m feeling okay when they should be cowering in fear, or reaching for their defensive apparatii. This tends to confuse my anger a bit, and it usually retreats to under the metaphorical mental dining table, where all my other mental states (who are all mental haha) sit around eating ice cream and talking disjointedly about….i dunno, balloons or something.

So, why am I angry?

Well. I’ve been working this job, you see, for the last few months, and I’ve been really enjoying the work in itself….it’s exposed me to a fascinating set of viewpoints and opinions that have not so much affected my wordview as firebombed it. repeatedly. (Why I’m making this sound like radiation, i will never know).

But shit has happened, as it always does, and things are a bit difficult right now. I know the blog has suffered for it, I’ve hardly had time (and place) to draw, or think, or play. I promise a larger, and more straightforward update soon: but let me sum it up in one sentence. I’m broke, unemployed, homeless and shifting cities.

Right then. Enough of that. Have some comics, internet peoples!

filmfest

summer

office1

weekend