Sorry We Missed You

Sorry We Missed You, directed by Ken Loach, tells the story of a family in UK struggling to survive during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Ricky, a devoted family man, is out of jobs. With not much of an educational qualification to call for, he somehow manages to get a job as a a delivery man at a courier agency. The ETAs and rules at the courier agency are stringent, and Ricky is having to work 14 hours a day to meet his targets. His wife works as a home nurse, and she is having to sacrifice her old car to arrange finances for Ricky to buy a delivery truck. At home, Ricky's relationship with his adolescent son is straining too.

I liked Sorry We Missed You for the way various personal conflicts and situations are portrayed in a very realistic way, with excellent performances by all actors. I also found the theme to be a bit odd for a European movie - A straight-forward family drama movie showing people struggling against poverty and unemployment is something not new in India - there have been several well-made Indian movies in this category, but I don't recollect seeing many European movies like this one.

Trespassers on the Roof of the World

Peter Hopkirk's book Trespassers on the Roof of the World - The Race for Lhasa is an epic collection of adventures by explorers who ventured to reach Lhasa and "unravel the secrets of Tibet" from the mid nineteenth century onwards.

Tibet, called as "Forbidden Land" during the nineteenth century, was mostly unmapped territory during the 1860s - the timeline the narrative starts, with the stealth explorations by different "pundits" to collect valuable geographical data for their bosses in British India. Then follows several accounts of people from Europe, in their pursuits to become the first westerner to reach Lhasa. The goal is so tough owing to the extreme difficulties in the vast terrain to be traversed - There are numerous 20K+ feet mountain passes to be traversed which are at temperatures below zero most of the time, and at other places there are bandits roaming around to loot and kill the travelers. Finally after all the hardships they meet frontier guards of Tiber government, who would request, persuade, threaten or force them to go back the same way they had come. The author quotes from a number of travelogues by people - some of them having traces of fantasy in them.

Every single one of the attempts to reach Lhasa by adventurers end up as failure, and finally it takes the military expedition lead by Francis Younghusband in 1904 for the "race" to conclude. After that, the focus gradually shifts to other aspects of Tibet to explore and "conquer" - like the Mount Everest for example, and the various flora and fauna of the Himalayan region to do research on.

Peter Hopkirk's book is a highly readable and interesting one, and it is more than just a survey of Tibetan adventures. It also gives a brief political history of Tibet during those 100+ years, and the book concludes with a brief account of the events leading to Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet in 1950-60s.

Palestine

Read the graphic novel Palestine by Joe Sacco, which is based on his two-months visit to Palestine during 1991-92.

The author traveled extensively through the refugee camps, living in the houses of Palestinians and having conversations with them about their life, hardships, experiences, political thoughts, and future aspirations, and the book is written from this perspective. It was interesting to see him portraying himself as someone who has just come over to gather material for his "magnum opus comic book" and then go back home, and I felt that this semi-satirical aspect of his self-portrayal adds a special touch to the entire narrative. Even though the book is on a grim topic, Joe Sacco also adds a touch of humor everywhere - like in his encounters with "tea and sugar".

The illustrations are brilliantly detailed - be it the large images of sludgy roads and slums, or the closeups of facial expressions of people.

The Kingdom at the Centre of the World

In the book The Kingdom at the Centre of the World - Journeys into Bhutan, author Omair Ahmad narrates the political history of Bhutan.

He Starts with story (which is a mix of folktales, mythology and history) of Guru Padmasambhava's travels that established Buddishm in the region in the eighth century. Then the book goes on to talk briefly about the three saints associated with Bhutan's history - Milarepa, "the saint of Songs", Thangtong Gyalop, "the saint of Bridges", and Drukpa Kunley, "the saint of Madness" before going into a detailed story of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who united and established the Bhutanese nation in seventeenth century, and also led a few wars with Tibet, which asserted the entity of Bhutan as an independent nation . Then we read about the Black Regent, Jigme Namgyal, who had fought with British in the eighteenth century, and set the foundations for the Wangchuk dynasty, in which his son became the first king in 1907. In the last sections, the author delves into the 100+ years of rule by the Wangchuk kings, modernization of the country and challenges it faced in different fronts, etc.

The author has also included a few brief travel narratives of his jeep trips to remote places of Bhutan, to explore some of the key places associated with its history, and also some of his personal experiences in witnessing a few important events of Bhutan, like the 100th National Day in 2007 and the coronation of the fifth Wangchuk king in 2008. It is a very well written book, and I felt that it would have been good to add photographs of people and places too in the book.

Shiva's Drum

Read the book Shiva's Drum, translation of Kannada novel Shivana Dangura by Chandrasekhar Kambar, who was the winner of Jnanpith award in 2010. Though several works by Kambar have been translated to English, this is the first time I am getting a chance to read one. This translation is done by Krishna Manavalli.

Shiva's Drum is the story of a (fictitious?) village called Shivapura. When I took the book for reading, I was prepared, and hoping, to read something in similar lines as a few other translations of Kannada novels I have read earlier, like those by Srikrishna Alanahalli, all set in Karnataka villages of similar timelines. Indeed, Shiva's Drum starts in expected lines. It is just after India's Independence, and Shivapura is still under a feudalistic atmosphere, with the headman Gowda literally ruling over the village. The first part of the book is interesting, as we read about the colorful character of Baramegowda, his relatives and villagers, and the blossoming love affair between his nephew Chambasa and another girl of the village, Sharavva.

However, later the novel slowly reduces to a predictable fare, with caricature-like portrayals of villains and clichéd situations. The author touches upon various social issues, corruption with Government systems, environmental concerns, plight of farmers and so on, and it looked like some sort of a story thread for an old television serial. By the time I reached the last section of the book, I had started feeling bored of it. Probably its not a problem of the book, it may be just that the theme of the novel doesn't have any freshness in today's times and its story has been told multiple times already in many different formats, or perhaps things that are unique in its original narrative were lost in translation.

Mathu Vadalara

Watched Telugu film Mathu Vadalara, an interesting comedy thriller telling the story of a delivery boy who gets trapped inside an apartment and accidentally uncovers a drug racket. It was a bit different from the usual Telugu movies I watch once in a while, and was engaging.

Pinneyum

Watched Pinneyum, Adoor Gopalakrishnan's 2016 film. The film is loosely based on the story of "pidikittappulli" Sukumara Kurup. It seemed like a very unlikely subject for an Adoor film, and I felt that it was the most poorly executed film from the veteran director. At many places, even the craft of the film is amateurish and it looked unbelievable to me that Adoor had directed this film.

When someone like Adoor makes a film based on a notorious incident of crime (on which films have already been made earlier), we would not really be expecting it to be a typical thriller film concentrating on the incident as such. We may anticipate that it would explore the psychology and circumstances behind the crime, or may be it would try to show what happens to the criminal (who is yet to be caught, in real life) and his family later. Indeed, these are the aspects that are on focus in Pinneyum - First half of the film shows the life of Purushothaman Nair (Dileep) as a jobless family man, his later getting a job, and greed catching up on him, etc., while the later film shows mostly the story of his wife (played by Kavya Madhavan) and the last scenes show how she would react to her husband returning after 17 years, in a new appearance. Adoor's basic intentions seem to be all as expected from him, but I felt that the script and execution is where the film failed and eventually it didn't even rise above the standards of old mediocre television films.

Deshanthara Yathrakal

Read the book Deshanthara Yathrakal, a collection of short travelogues from different authors, edited by Saji Varghese, published by Mathrubhumi Books.

There are more than 30 writeups in this book, which are from different timelines with varying narration styles. There is NV Krishna Warrier's memoir on his 1959 trip to Hawaii, and there are 2014 writeups from Mathrubhumi Yathra magazine also featuring in this book. Though individually none of the entries looked like outstanding to me, overall the book was good reading experience based on the theme of Travel.

C U Soon

Watched the Malayalam film C U Soon, in which the entire narration is done over a computer screen. I hadn't seen any such films before, though a search in Internet showed that there have been a few films made in this format earlier, including the recent thriller, Searching. Apart from the curious aspects of its presentation, C U Soon has an engaging story as well, and I liked the film.

After watching it, I managed to watch Searching too, and had a similar opinion about that too.

Whispers from the Wild

Whispers from the Wild is a collection of memoirs by famous naturalist and conservationist ERC Davidar, edited by his daughter Priya Davidar. The book includes his 1996 work Cheetal Walk, which recounts his experiences of living in the Sigur jungle in the foot of Nilgiris during 1950s to 1990s, where Davidar built a cottage in deep forests as his "home in wilderness". The brilliant writeups filled with gentle humor narrate his encounters with various animals, many of whom (like Bumpty the friendly elephant, among many others) had become well acquainted with Davidar during those years. Davidar also touches upon various social and environmental aspects like the encroachment in jungle in the name of "development", poaching, the plight of tribal people as they made use of the welfare programmes from Government, and so on.

The book contains two more parts apart from Cheetal Walk. One part has a collection of childhood memoirs by Davidar, which narrate some of his experiences with animals during his early days spent with his maternal grandparents, when his grandfather Dr A Mathuram maintained a sort of "mini zoo" at his backyard. The last part in the book contains Davidar's memoirs from his days in Padappai near Chennai, where he had settled after his retirement. Animals, especially reptiles, play prominent roles in these stories too.

ERC Davidar was a famous wildlife photographer too, and I wished that the book contained more collections of his photographs. Though there are a few black and white photographs are presented in the book, they lack clarity, and I wished there was a larger collection from his albums, as I wanted to see the images of many of the colorful characters (both animals and humans) mentioned in the book.