Quizzing, Weirdness


In a different time and place, this would be a quiz question. For now, this is a story.

Cesare was among the richest of the land, of his time. And he was a good man, from what little we know of him. Unfortunately, the politics of his time did not allow for much leeway towards a man like Cesare. The principal monarch of the province where he lived was the son of the religious head of the time. Together, father and son had pillaged the nation. They pursued a series of wars that, in name, sought to unite the country but was a convenient means to bulldoze all opposition, real and imaginary, to their vainglorious ambitions. And now, with peace dawning on the horizon, the state’s coffers lay empty. Plans were made to replenish the treasury – not in an orderly and legal manner, but much like their wartime maneuvers, through treachery and death. A scheme that would not only repay the money lost, but reap dividends by adding to their personal wealth.

Cesare sighed to himself when he unfurled the invitation and read through it. He and another nobleman named Roderigo found their stature elevated, they were declared seconds-in-command to the Head of the Church. It was an honor that would have flattered other men in his position. Cesare, on the other hand, read between the lines. The fine print that spoke of relinquishing all personal belongings to the state in return for this new post. The fact that the only two people who were entrusted with this responsibility also happened to be the wealthiest men in the land.

It was the final clause of the invitation that made him squeeze the grip of his armchair to keep from fainting outright. It stated the date and time of a personal dinner with the king and his father. He knew that modus operandi and the inevitable fate that awaited him. Other men would have attempted flight or worked on a plan of retaliation. But Cesare chose to be an optimist – he knew of others being asked to attend similar dinners, where the invitation included every single member of the doomed guest’s extended family, by name. Here, the only casualty was his own self, and probably his fortune. Any sign of desperation, any clue that he had seen through the monarch’s ruse would endanger his family even more. He had but a few days  to settle his affairs, and he began to do so in earnest – by writing a his will . A trusted nephew was to be his beneficiary and the sole keeper of  the vast reserves of the family wealth.

On the appointed day of the dinner, Cesare reached the monarch’s palace and made his way to the vineyard. The first person who caught his eye was his nephew, sitting next to the king. The king gave him a meaningful glance – clearly, this was one last jibe at him, showing him how all eventualities had been considered by these fine statesmen. The bottle of wine from which the king poured glass after glass to Cesare’s nephew was now proffered to him. He mutely accepted, resigning himself to his fate. It took one hour for the poison to kill the two of them, uncle and nephew. Cesare breathed his last at the vineyard, still dining with the king. The nephew begged to be excused so that he could see his wife one last time. He died at the doorstep of his own house, his wish unfulfilled.

The king swooped in after the funeral, claiming the dead nobleman’s inheritance for the treasury. But what was this? Except for the mansion where he lived and the contents within, his wealth was nowhere to be found. His will had a few lines in which he bequeathed his library and his collection of books, specifically his favorite prayer book, to his nephew. Despite the ransacking and assiduous searches that followed, there was no sign of the family fortune. Finally, they gave up their hunt – the landed property in that provincial town was hardly worth the effort, and were left to the nobleman’s family. Some of the other heirs tried looking for the money, but that proved futile as well.

Time passed. The king’s father died, poisoned by a political enemy. The king was driven away from the country, history does not even record the cause, place or time of his eventual death. Cesare’s family continued living in a state of moderate comfort, and as generations passed, the story of the missing inheritance became a topic of dinner-time chatter. His descendants became soldiers, diplomats, bankers and men of the Church. The library, the prayer book included, stayed within the family as a source of much curiosity. Sometimes, an adventurous scholar would try looking for clues among the books, others would laugh at their mad quest.

This is where my story ends.

I did not make this up. This really happened, but it is a story that not many people know, because it gets overshadowed by another tale, one involving a young man from a different country. By a strange turn of events, this young man was to become the sole benefactor of this sordid political maneuver.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to complete my story. Connect the dots, if you will.

Myself, Travel

Car-mic Complexities

Most people say that Los Angeles is a bad place to be in if you don’t have a car. That’s just people who do not live in this city. People who live here refuse to believe you when they learn you do not own one. There’s shocked silence, and a hesitant query about how you do your groceries, or go to the office. Much wonderment about your mental (and financial) state. By the time you have been here a few months, you realize that in terms of your social status, being without a car is just one step above being homeless.

But good lord, if you think not having a car causes shock and awe, you should look at reactions when I mention that I take the bus. “THE BUS!!” – people exclaim. “Aren’t they – like – unsafe?” Everyone thinks that buses are filled with weirdos and homeless people who are out to kill, rape or spray body fluids on you. I do not claim omniscience, but nearly 11 months of regular commute has made me realize that most of these assumptions are far-fetched. Most LA people who take the bus are normal. There is the occasional person that smells of pee or the religious nut that babbles about how Jesus will save all of us if we are nice. I even got an arguer this one time, a lady next to me who kept having an argument with herself, a very loud one. (She won at the end, I think. Well, one of her.)

The only problem with buses in Los Angeles is the time these lumbering, polite hulks take to travel. That, and their low frequency at non-rush-hour times, including weekends. Buses on most routes travel close to empty. I don’t have to worry about lack of seats or road rage when travelling, and I get enough read-time. There’s the occasional interesting person you meet, either at the bus-stop or in the bus. There were two different people reading The Hunger Games just a few weeks ago, and we had nice, albeit brief conversations about Peeta’s true intentions – I kept a straight face and did not reveal spoilers, for the record. I’ve also seen a lot of the parts of LA that are considered seedy and unsafe in the nights, thanks to bus transfers. Waiting for a bus at 2 AM in Downtown LA is a peculiar experience that one cannot describe in words. It felt adventurous, but was probably a little stupid. Those may have been gunshots. Or just cars backfiring, I can’t tell.

Taking the bus has also cultivated a few lifestyle tics in me. Like the need to carry a few dollar bills and quarters everywhere I go. My hand involuntarily goes inside my right pocket, when I am leaving the house – key, phone, dollar bills, change. Bus passes? Not really too helpful with the different services – Culver City Bus, Metro Transit, Santa Monica Big Blue. The iPad’s always at hand, and I attach 15 minutes to every journey. Which happens to be the time it takes to get from my apartment to the closest Metro bus stop.

“Yet”, I always remember to add. “I do not own a car yet.” “When are you getting one?”, people ask. “I should, I know,” I say. I don’t tell them that I am postponing this arcane real-life ritual as much as I can. I am not sure why. Probably I have never really been attracted to cars, or tried to figure them out. Until very recently, every car looked the same to me – the only variants my mind could decipher were ‘frog-like’ or ‘bat-mobile-like’. I owned a scooter for a few years in Hyderabad, which served the purpose of getting from point A to point B very well. Except when it rained, but everyone knows that when it rains, you are supposed to sit at home, make hot onion pakodas[ref]http://i673.photobucket.com/albums/vv91/madhuram/spring-onion-pakoda.jpg[/ref] and watch movies or read. Fact is, yes, the lack of obsession about buying a car was also  because my money was always earmarked for Other Things[ref]http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryDetail.asp?GCat=11998[/ref]. One could make do without a car, but not a Dringenberg Sandman page. It helped that I stayed a few minutes away from the office. The only problem with everyday life was negotiating with auto-rickshaw drivers, but I stayed in Bangalore for a year. That inured me to meter manipulation and made me ruthless with scathing remarks about time and distance.

All right, fine, I agree, I make too much light of this. Of course it would be awesome to own a car. I could then go attend concerts every day. Go to Meltdown Comics every Thursday for the Nerd Melt shows. Heck, attend every fucking event I want to go to, without having to negotiate bus routes in my head. Head over to Artesia whenever I want some biryani. Do stuff. Do more stuff than what I do at the moment, at the very least. I generally give up on plans on weekends just because I would have to plan bus routes and keep some time aside for the inevitable delays. (“Not true”, Inner Voice exclaims. “You’re just lazy.” You’re right, Inner Voice, now shut up and think of what will happen in Episode 3 of Sherlock. We still have the last part of the weekend to watch it, right? “Oh, all right. Now hurry up with this tiresome self-obsessed post of yours.” Hmm, ok. Shall we? “Let’s.”)

I should have tried this last conversation with myself in a bus.


Asa Chan and Jun Ray – Jun Ray Song Chan

The album Jun Ray Song Chan starts off with Hana, Japanese for flower. The song is nearly similar to Tsuginegi To Ittemita, staccato bursts of Japanese chanting processed electronically. There are two voices, a guy who sounds like he has had his vocal chords reworked with a heavy hammer, and a female voice that brings to mind a stoned J-pop singer. Backed with a melancholy violin melody and paced by the weirdest sounding tabla you will ever hear. And I mean a genuine tabla, not one of those electronic thingummijigs Talvin Singh uses. The combination makes for one very odd listen, especially when the chants are spliced and precisely echoes the tabla player’s flourishes.

Just when I was done with Hana and was about to dismiss the band as a one-trick pony, ‘Preach’ kicks in. Starts off with a brass signature accompanied by squelching sounds. ( Did these people play a trumpet underwater? Man! ) Then the tabla goes mad for quite sometime – forcing me to reduce the volume on my speakers. Surprise, surprise, the squelching sounds turn out to be spoken voices! There is a sudden burst of an acoustic guitar in the proceedings. Where on earth is this song going?

‘Kobana’ begins with a mouth-organ solo, with the same chants from Hana playing in the background, only modified to a high pitch. This song is like a reworked version of the first song, the mouth organ melody being the focus here. A freaking eerie melody at that.

‘Nigatsu’ is the strum of an acoustic guitar in a thunderstorm. More creepy voices, but a more coherent ( and soothing) guitar melody. The more I listen to the chanting voices, the more they sound like chopped syllables from a random conversation. The guitar goes away completely at the end of the song, replaced by a tanpura and a sitar. And electronic phase riffs.

‘Goo Gung Gung’ is probably the most conventional Oriental arrangement. You do realise that the word “conventional” here is relative to the rest of the album? It’s too short for my taste, as is the next track “Kutsu #2”. ( Incidentally ‘Kutsu’ comes at the end of the album. )

The longest track in the album ‘Jippun’is a frenzy of trippy electronic pitchshifting and kanjira ( Yes, Kanjira ) flourishes. At nine minutes and thirty three seconds, it’s like the bastard child of Bjork and Zakir Hussain ODed on ecstasy and came up with this track. Ditto ‘Tabla Bol (Catastrophe)’, the second last song on the album.

And unless I am losing my mind, ‘Kokoni Sachiari’ has the same sample as the beginning of ‘Beat of Passion’ in ARR’s Taal, the breathy whistle that starts BoP. It also has some sexily processed sitar sounds – sitar in an IDM track!! I didn’t think I would see the day.

I had heard ‘Tsuginegi to Ittemita’ about four years ago, and was fortunate enough to come across a complete package of all of Asa Chan and Jun Ray’s albums ( two in all, not counting an EP ). I don’t think these folks are ever going to attain mainstream popularity any time, considering the kind of music they make. ANd there’s not much information about them available online either, so I cannot even find out why so many Indian elements persist in a Japanese band. Do they play these instruments themselves or are they sampled? I am betting on the former, though.

Here’s the video of Hana,in case you are interested.

Also on the playlist:

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy – Johnny Gaddar OST
The Cinematic Orchestra – Ma Fleur
Guitar Prasanna – Be the Change


Eff-Bay Dot In

I always knew that ebay.in is an effed-up place rife with wannabe fortune-makers selling everything from three-year old mobile phones at market price ( yes, CURRENT market price. Go figure.) , Asterix comics at market price plus inflated courier fees, and CDs of comics for 200 Rs and more. But this takes the cake. There are sellers selling posters of Humko Deewana Karr Gaye for 700 Rs ( 800 Rs buy-it-now price) and a courier charge of 120 Rs. Just to give you an idea of what eff-headedness is going on, here’s what the description reads: “PREMIUM QUALITY FIRST PRINT ORIGINALS MEASURING 28″ X 38″ APP ON GLOSSY PAPER, IN MINT CONDITION. ” Keep your eye on the MINT CONDITION phrase, and then read the next line: “THERE ARE 2 HORIZONTAL BUNDLE FOLD MARKS ON THE POSTERS.” Nice.

That’s not all! You get (OMG GASP SQUEE) “RARE ABHISHEK SHAHRUKH MOVIE MAGAZINE: :DECEMBER 2005”, erm, a copy of the rather-imaginatiively titled movie magazine “Movie” dated December 2005 for 300 Rs only. It has the following:



Go ahead, buy it. It’s rare, didn’t you know? You have got caps lock and an army of exclamation marks saying so.

Aaah, I am done.