Saturday, June 17, 2006

Review Central - the beginning.

Back in 2003, I put up a battalion of reviews on another site, among them two movie reviews and one of my college. Since I have a blog now, I thought I might as well migrate them here. Of course, the movie reviews (both for Tamil movies) especially invited some pretty strong comments. I have no desire to relive that sort of back and forth bickering. For one, a review of a movie falls is bound to be to some degree subjective. For another, I don't need to justify my right to have an opinion. There is nothing wrong with opening up a meaningful debate, but with some individuals, the 'discussion' tends to degenerate into name-calling. Let's just agree to disagree. To-ma-to, To-mah-to.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Review central - Anna university

I am a former student (Computer Sc) of College of Engineering, Guindy - one of the constituent colleges of Anna University. So what's so great (or not) about this college? Let's take it one by one...

THE FACULTY The faculty will range from the absolute morons to exceptional geniuses. In your four years you will come across some wonderful professors many of whom will change your life forever. This is not an exaggeration! They will teach you to think outside the box, to apply what you have learnt, they will help you if you want to know some more about a subject AND even if you are interested in something that is non-academical, your professors will give you whole-hearted support. By the end of the semester, you would have put these people up on a pedestal and with good reason too! If you are generally reticent and don’t interact a lot with your classmates or your faculty, you will anyway put these profs on a pedestal because of their teaching. And if you are more active in class and you try to interact more with the faculty they will become a life-long friend, guiding light and a mentor.

That’s one side of the coin. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the lowest of the low, the scum that feeds on the bottom of a pond, the most stupid lackadaisical moronic nitwits you will ever meet in your entire life. You will never believe that profs as bad as this are allowed to teach. They will not turn up for classes, they will grade you based on your handwriting or on your gender. Sometimes you can get a distinction just becuz you are a girl and sometimes you can fail becuz of that one reason. I will not say that this effects your grade becuz it doesn’t.... it is simply your whole grade! Watch out for these ppl, you will nvr learn anything under them, you have to learn by yourself and not get discouraged if your efforts are not gettin proper recognition. You may be the topper in your class and know more about the suject that anyone else, but you will still get a lower grade than half of the class (who won’t know even 0.01 of what you know)

To summarize, it’s just a gamble, you will see the worst of the worst and the best of the best. How your college experience will be depends a lot on the profs you get and the profs you get will be like playing russian roulette - it’s all abt your luck. No matter whom you get, make it your point to get it your best shot. At least you will learn something even if your grades are not good and if you have really been trying hard and doing well, they will find it hard to give you a lower grade than ’average’. In the end, the experience of being under good profs (even if you find yourself under only one good prof) are more that enuff to counterbalance being under a bad prof a hundred timea over. They are THAT good!

A word of caution, don’t expect to be spoon-fed they will treat you like a colleague and be quite informal with you, you have to make the best of it. That will not be a problem because even if you are a laid-back person, just being under these profs will motiveate you to think laterally and come up with innovative ways of solving the probs.

THE FACILITIES
The facilities are great. The college will not spare any expense in that issue. You will be in contact with state-of-the-art stuff. Sometimes, when you go to another department for a lab session, you will find that they will give you the worst stuff. Equipments that don’t work or are faulty. This is to be expected. You will definitely find outdated, faulty equipment but in general, the facilities are very good.

THE STUDENTS
No matter what ppl say about quotas and reservations, the students are top class. Definitely, there are ppl who have got in when their marks are not up to the standard. But out of a class of 50, 30 will be merit students and the remaining will be quota cases. I will tell you this, out of those 30, 10 will be geniuses in the true sense of the word. The kind of people that are 1 in a thousand. I mean that. The cream of Anna are the cream of the country. They are exceptional people and just rubbing shoulders with them is enough to motivate you. These 30 students will be top class - really brilliant , hard-working and dedicated. Because of them, regardless of how you got in, you will find yourself pushing harder. A very competitive environment, you will learn to give it your best becuz if you give it anything less that all you’ve got, you cannot survive in this college. It is about learning to swim or drowning.

One small word of advice, generally the students are not very helpful, you have to go out and get what you want. Some students will be willing to help you with your academics and other probs but in general, it’s very competitive and everyone is watching his/her own back.

THE ADMINISTRATION
I MUST say a word on this.Be very careful of the bureaucracy. It is fat, sluggish and collapsing under it’s own weight. No one will help you out. They are not bothered about the students at all. They want to do the barest minimum that is expected of them. Now of course, it not completely an incompetent, tottering bureaucratic system, after all they are very strict about ragging, so to some extent your interests are a priority. But that’s where the buck stops. If you find something that can be improved or you want to make a difference and try and help the students or college in some way, be prepared to wade through a lot of red tape and eventually confronted with a brick wall. The ppl ’in charge’ only want to find ways of making the college seem like heaven while putting in minimum effort. The guys who run the place are just not bothered about students. Period. End of Story.

I think I have said enough to give you a fair understanding on this college. On a final note, Anna University really is an excellent place to learn, academically you can reach your peak. You can really realize your potential if you so wish. They are very interested in getting students to engage in real-world applications and get a hands-on experience so don’t expect to be confined to books. You will find a whole world of opportunities to test and fine-tune your skills - academic or otherwise. All in all, AU does warrant its praise.

Review Central - Boys (uncut, uncensored remarks!)

’’When the truth was depicted without pretense, some scenes were not acceptable to some and are hence removed’’

This is the gist of what director Shankar wrote alongside a big ad claiming MUST-WATCH-FOR-THE-WHOLE-FAMILY for his latest venture.

Mr. Shankar’s statement is an insult to the collective intelligence of his audience. However hard it may be for a person of such bloated ego as Mr.Shankar’s to swallow, we do not shy away from ’truthful’ scenes; We shun from offensive scenes.

Offensive adj utterly unpleasant or distasteful to the sense or sensibilities.

And now, what I found offensive in the film AND how inspite of my disbelief that there could exist something even MORE offensive than this shabby, crude, illogical farcical attempt at something masquerading as a film, the director’s ’statement’ has managed to make even the most mild mannered film-goer see red.

Ladies and Gentlemen, without further delay... I give you... BOYS, the review!

What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? That is is vile? No, I believe that word has been used to describe the film already a 100 times. Disgusting? No no, that single word has summed up this mockery of the cinematic experience about a 1000 times already. Putrid? Insensitive? Servile? Sordid? Squalid? Despicable? Rancid? No no, they have all been used (with good reason) by reviewers before me...

Ok, how about this? This movie is an absolute FARCE.

Farce noun An insincere, contemptible, or impertiment imitation of something worthwhile.

Why the strong sentiments you ask? Where shall I start..... At the beginning would be a good place!

Our opening scene shows 5 boys and their ’normal’ outlook and approach to life and love. One boy’s sole aim in life is to catch glimpses, whenever he can, of women’s breasts... mothers, sisters.. in fact, middle-aged women seem to form the crux of his repertoire. How touching, How wholesome, How heart-rending his attitude is. Another prowls the streets of Madras with his fly open. When a girl laughs at him, he hounds her with questions as to the cause of her mirth and in reply to her subtle ’’YOUR FLY IS OPEN!!’’ he laughs and then replies that he intentionally did that because otherwise such a pretty girl wouldn’t have noticed him. *sigh* Absolute poetry. Warms the cockles of my heart. How true and unpretentious Mr.Shakar has been in the depiction of these 5 normal boys with their normal behaviour. Thank you ever so much Mr.Shankar for reconnecting me with my childhood memories, when I was truthful and unpretentious and prowled the streets of Madras like a sex-crazed fiend.

But wait, we must not begin to wallow in nostalgia just yet! There are miles and miles of film-reel to review before I sleep.

After such an excellent introduction to our friends the audience must now accompany them on their journey (As if we care, I would have applauded had they jumped off a cliff and died then and there) As is essential in any boy’s transition from boyhood to manhood, on hearing that the parents of our protagonist, Munna, will leave town, his upright and respectable friends come over to his house under the pretense of studying and decide to call a prostitute.

Now, I will be fair. Such a situation is not new to a regular movie-goer, however far (or near as Mr.Shankar claims) it may be from what is universally accepted as a truthful and unpretentious depiction of a normal boy’s life. I have watched far worse in Austin Powers. A claim made by some people that we are hypocrites for shunning Boys while we do not blink an eyelid while watching English films, fails to take into consideration one vital point.

In most English films (for there are quite a few English films that try and fail miserably to make light of sexual situations) Sex is depicted either in a humourous or a sensuous vein. In the former case, the actual scene would be largely elevated to its hilarious heights by some excellent acting. Case in point: American Pie scene where the boy’s father tries to discuss sex with his son. Or, if the acting is not the highlight of the scene, no doubt, a humourous mood is induced with the right music/setting/props in the background.

Sadly, in Boys, both these features are missing. The prostitute scene thus falls flat. There are genuinely funny moments when a certain member of the troupe lacking the grit to actually perform the act but still aware of the fact that his friends are listening with their ears pressed to the door, violently shakes the bed to lead them to believe he is ’’now a man’’. Unfortunately, the prostitute was too slutty and the music too sombre to really uplift the scene to the side-splittingly-funny entertainment that could have been achieved. Laughing in my seat? More like casting furtive uncomfortable glances at the row after row of grandparents and children of my extended family who had to endure 3 hours of this torture.

And so the movie ran on... and on... and on... Vivek, for all his idiocy, has carved a place for himself as a comedian and makes his appearance in this film too. However, one usually welcomes his appearance and anticipates his mindless albeit humorous jokes with glee. But in Boys his jokes are virtually non-existent and instead we are subjected to speech after boring speech on the cause for the decay of our society, cries of our fast-growing youth and their search for answers and the head-in-sand attitude of the elder generation toward their children’s questions and thoughts of sex, love and desire.

No doubt, there was a point in all this ambling rigmarole - the truthful and unpretentious fact (No sarcasm intended!) that at such an age feelings of love and lust are only natural. However what could have been an enlightening and paradigm step in the right direction as regards Indian attitudes or even Indian cinema was bogged down by scripts of self-righteous, patronizing monologues. Had it been executed better, it would no doubt have opened the eyes of the parents in the film as well as the audience and instead of the director having to vehemently (and vainly) declaring his film as truthful and unpretentious, it would have been realized by the viewer himself. But alas, in true filmi style, the director tries to manipulate the audience’s feelings with long condescending speeches, which needless to say, make no impression on the stick-in-the-mud parents.

And so it ran on... and on... and on... the story is illogical and unimportant. The execution of this dastardly script even more so. In a nutshell, Munna, our hero falls in love, marries the heroine, tries to prove to his parents that it is possible to be victorious in love AND life! (Gee, what an original idea. No doubt, the very foundations of our film industry will shake with the weight of this truly original and never before explored idea!) They come across many hardships before finally making it big as musicians. Of course, this being a Tamil film (truthful and unpretentious, I must add!) I will not raise my eyebrow at the ridiculously simple manner in which they with no prior music experience or background land huge contracts with Sony and go on to sweep the MTV music awards. At the climax, our hero and heroine part ways based on a misunderstanding but as expected, get back together and all’s well that ends well.

At the roll of the credits I could find only one word to best describe this movie. It was in fact the one word I heard my younger cousins constantly exclaiming loudly all through the movie..... CHEEEEEEEEEE!

Review central - Virumaandi

I watched this movie at the preview held the day before the release. Even before I got into the theatre, there were drums and dancing and shouting happening outside. I wondered if the movie would live up to its hype. It did.

Virumaandi is a good film , it’s not exceptional, but it’s not bad either. The story starts with documentary-type footage. A female reporter played by Angela Kathamuthu (Rohini) and her cameraman are interviewing prisoners and prison officials. Their stance is a solid one against capital punishment and their aim, to enough footage for a documentary elucidating their viewpoint.

They interview two prisoners, Kotthalathevar (Pasupathy) and Virumaandi (Kamalhaasan). Similar to “Courage under fire” the first half of the movie delivers the story of Virumaandi and the village of Chinnakkolarpatti, Theni District. First Kotthalathevar gives his version of the truth, painting our hero in an unfavourable light as an angry and impulsive youth who knows no fear and is incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong.

Virumaandi is interviewed next, after some coaxing, telling his own version of the truth. Just as he finishes, riots break out in the prison and the 1.5 hours that follow after the intermission are nothing short of action packed entertainment.

I watched this movie without high expectations; in fact, I was bracing myself for another half-baked attempt. Like Anbe Sivam and Hey Ram, there are numerous sub-plots (sub-ideas are a better word) which are not fully developed. However, unlike its predecessors, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts in this case. Simply put, although Virumaandi does venture into other elements and sub-plots that are neither central to the general theme and idea of this movie nor played out to its completion, the fundamental part of the movie remains untouched and wholly gratifying to the viewer.

The movie gives us an insightful perception of the life in the village. Innocence mingles with primitive brutality in this embodiment of rural Tamil Nadu. The everyday activity of these villagers seem horrifying to the educated movie-goer. But at the same time, in spite of the strangeness of their emotions they are nonetheless understood.

The villagers, shrouded in sheaths of animalistic emotions and violence are nevertheless made more human by their primitive portrayal of the very basic emotions of love, anger, hate and passion that distinguish us from animals. The love between Annalakshmi (Abhirami) and Virumaandi is fragile and beautiful even if the lovers themselves are not.

The love-making scenes, seeming at first excessive and unreal for depicting a pure love between two villagers, on retrospection seems consistent with the character of Annalakshmi, a passionate and valiant woman.

The actors have all done an excellent job. Their portrayal of the characters is moving and truthful. The movie tastefully depicts rural life without condescendence. Violence is seen as a vital part of the film instead of just extra-padding to make this an ‘action film’. The love scenes, although between two hardened individuals, seem innocent and pure. And finally, the social message it conveys is understood and felt without seeming manipulative or over-bearing.

The ambiguous ending may get mixed reactions due to the film’s refusal to take the easy way out by satisfying the viewer with a definite stance on a controversial topic. It leads the viewer to make his own deductions and is all the more richer by it.

The only fly in the ointment for this impressive film is the graphics (which seem unreal and over-the-top especially during the ending) and inclusion of some ideas that are not fully realized within the 3 hour span – like the fight over water a basic and elusive necessity, capital punishment, the lassitude and corruption of our legal and justice system.

But that is a minor distraction and on the whole this film is a very good accomplishment; taking us on a journey of innocence, love, hate and passion set against the captivating and strangely innocent backdrop of Chinnakkolarpatti, the heart and soul of the Tamilian experience.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Of weekend getaways and government colleges


Back from a weekend trip to Bangalore. No, not business... I went to watch 3 films.

Sounds excessive doesn't it? Well, yes and no. Da Vinci Code is banned in Tamil Nadu (hurts religious sentiments apparently) and also most 'new' releases hit the theatres oh about seven years after it's actual release in the rest of the world. Ah anyone who lives in this glorified village will tell you, besides Satyam there aren't many cinema's playing English movies. And the movies themselves... well, any given day at Satyam Cineplex there would be about 10 movies playing. 5-6 Tamil, the rest Hindi and maybe two English movies of which one is an obscure animated flick that released in the last century. The sole English movie would play every Wednesday at 10pm (to add salt to wounds, I am banned from watching night shows. My father still thinks he is living in 17th century Kumakonam) and after a week it gets pulled.

Now why so? For starters, apparently English movies jus don't pack theatres like a Tamil flick does. I have seen packed theatres and been forced to hear 'Sorry, no tickets, Housefull!' a little too many times for my liking and for many an English flick. But I suppose my opinion doesn't count. As long as we are forced to rely on Satyam for our daily fix of English films, we play by their rules. V for Vendetta incidentally never released in Madras. Never. I waited three months for it before I finally flew to Hyderabad to watch it. Things like this make me want to stand outside their ticket counters distributing pirated DVDs of all the latest films. Public service and all you know. Very generous-like, for the upliftment of society and all that.

So anyway, I watched three movies this weekend - The Omen, X Men 3, and the Da Vinci Code (none of these were playing in Madras) and they were crap, decent and good respectively. First off, the Omen. I wanted to rip the theatre screen. The original was never really a pinnacle of cinematic achievement but at least it was entertaining! This one plods along, tries to manipulate the audience into sympathizing with the characters - yes, please show me another extreme close up of Julia Stiles' tear-marked face so I can pontificate about how much this woman deserves an Oscar for her performance as I gaze up at her 3 feet wide nostrils on the screen. But wait, this isn't a deep, profound movie; it never claimed to be anything but a horror remake (released 'cleverly' on 6/6/6), so it's not really fair for me to expect depth and poignancy.
Right. Well, even so... apparently, the director's idea of horror is to have painfully long sequences (preferably, silent and in a room that’s startlingly white) where the characters move as comatose sea mollusks and then BAM, loud noises and a flurry of unrelated images – blood dripping from slit wrists, shot of sledge hammer, close up of boy’s evil fang-filled grin – shown in 3 seconds. That’s what it takes to make a horror flick. Oh yes, if you haven’t gleamed it already from my completely objective review of the film, I hate it I hate it I hate it!

X Men 3. Decent fare, decent length, decent action-filled sequences, decently entertaining. Enough said.

The Da Vinci Code. Somehow, even before I have begun to type a single word about this movie, I have a feeling that anything I have to say will probably seem redundant. Nevertheless, this is my blog and I am king and I will prattle on till the cows come home, so there! (Whoooooo’s your daddy?! Who’s your daddy’s daddy!)

Right. Now that I’ve got that outta my system… DVC was pretty good. It’s slow, and plods along unlike the book (not that the book was fabulously well-written, although it was ‘gripping’) but having said that, the movie is entertaining. There were some nice touches, and although over-long, it was overall an enjoyable movie. I really can’t fathom what provoked such scathing reviews of it upon its release! I’ve seen far worse films.

Which brings us to the second thing. Why is it banned? The Indian government already ruled that the movie will only play with disclaimers both at the start and end of the movie, claiming that it is completely and utterly a piece of fiction. So why ban it? Personally, I don’t quite fancy this new censor-happy wave that’s sweeping the country. From blanket bans on cellphones to dress codes to prohibitions on women and men talking to each other on campus (This is an institution of learning! How dare you defile it with your immoral activity that is so against our tradition!?) and now to movies. If anything, I think it’s high time the censors did away with their A, U and U/A rating and came up with something a little more informative. Like age based ratings (PG, PG-13, 15, 18) and possibly a reason why it warrants the rating – PG (sexual references), PG (mild language), PG (Violence), PG (Mature themes)… you get the drift.
But since we haven’t that option, to ban or not to ban, that is the question. I’d say ban it in India… not because it’s controversial, not because it’s insensitive, not because it’s blasphemy, but purely because we have a penchant for banning outright anything and everything that might possibly ruffle a few feathers, no matter how accurate it really is. Anyone remember Rang De Basanti and how some ppl wanted it banned? Specifically how people cried hoarse because revealing the truth about MIGs was deemed unpatriotic? Anyone remember Gaddar? Fire? Water? Practically every movie that Deepa Mehta tried to make? Sexually perverse. Unpatriotic. Insensitive to religious sentiment. Misleading/contorts the truth. How can I ban thee? Let me count the ways.

Sidenote: Banning movies that are ‘sexually deviant’ (read: about homosexuals) is something I still can’t understand. Forget about the milk of human compassion and tolerance and whatnot from the land of the Kama Sutra and its 862352 sexual positions. Last week I read a news report about a woman who married a snake, because it appeared in her dream and said it was in love with her. So she breaks off with the man she is about to marry one day before the marriage and weds the snake instead, the ceremony presided over by the village panchayat no less. Apparently, it was the snake lord’s wish and we mortals must do his bidding. Since he didn’t fancy much sitting around the wedding pyre, they had to make do with a clay model instead. The week before that, a 16 year old girl married a stray dog. These are by no means isolated incidents; they go on in many remote villages in India. Completely acceptable and sanctioned by the panchayat – a government of the village, approved by the state. It’s just the man-on-man or the woman-on-woman action that’s especially perverse.

But I digress. The reason why I grudgingly accept the ban is because to not ban the movie is blatant discrimination against a minority. When a few disparaging remarks about India renders a movie unpatriotic and thus banned, when movies that depict communal violence are deemed insensitive and thus banned, when a few anti-hindu comments renders the movie inconsiderate to religious sentiment, then why must the DVC, which shatters the very cornerstone of Christian belief be let off with a little slap on the wrist? Take two disclaimers and see me in the morning. No, if one must be fair… however illogical, however stupid, however unfair, this step sadly had to be taken. Having said that, come ON, do you really think that people who watch this movie which stars evil albinos and Harvard educated symbologists and the descendant of Christ (who looks like a hot French woman. Of course, she must look like a hot French woman! Who cares that Jesus was actually from the Middle East and that the blond hair and blue eyes were penciled in so that Europeans could identify with the Lord our savior more. We must have a hot French woman! Where’s Angelina Jolie?! She’s half French isn’t she?) will be so compelled by this wholly believable and irrefutable evidence that they will turn disbelievers? If the Church’s faith in its followers is so shaky, I think the problem lies deeper than the DVC.
So there you have it, a movie weekend at Bangalore. Now that the rant part of the blog is over, a pretty miraculous thing happened this Monday. I had gone to college to get my transcripts. Normally, this is the procedure for getting any official work done at our coll

1. Get some arbitrary form and fill in relevant details – name, batch, inseam length…
2. Get a DD in someone’s name.
3. Submit DD and form to some random office
4. Realize that you need a signature from 2 souls before doing this
5. Get signature. Realize that this took 6 days.
6. Go back and submit form with DD
7. Realize that you need a covering letter.
8. Submit all documents.
9. NOW you are finally ready to receive the actual form that you will be needing
10. Rinse and Repeat.

So imagine my surprise when this Monday I went there with a million transcripts to be verified, sealed and signed and it only took one morning. I suppose it’s because coll had just started and the Controller’s office was fully staffed but they hadn’t too many pressing jobs. So it was good that I had gone there armed with my battalion of forms, DDs, letters, envelopes and various other paraphernalia and they sat me done and started right off verifying each document and then stamping and sealing and signing. Very VERY impressive.

So with all that done, all that remains of my B school aping journey is the essays and recommendations – the most taxing part, according to some ppl. Well, I do have some time before that at any rate seeing how I’ve taken the tests and gotten the transcripts ready already. Gives me about a month to spend in Bombay on some work I’d been meaning to do. And after that, another weekend in Bangalore. On business? No.

It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s…

Thursday, June 8, 2006

An idea of bliss


We live in a cold country, or perhaps it is just the season. I am lying on a thick white rug in front of the fireplace, safe from the nippy air in my cocoon of warmth. In an armchair by the fireplace, He sits. There is a book on his lap.

Words flow out, dark and glittering, from the old bottle and circle and swirl in my ear while I savor the taste, the richness, the body and let the gentle fumes rise and intoxicate my senses. He has a clipped, crisp accent muted by the deep resonance of his voice and the slow pacing of his words. Whimsical phrases, elegant constructions, delightful alliterations, brisk sharp dialogues come tumbling out in crystal clear intonations. He slows down with the story, his full, luscious lips perfectly shaping the words, sensually caressing them before letting them go out into the air where they drift down to where I am. His voice rises and drops with the words, at times playing catch up to the wild uncontrollable beasts, at times easing away and slowing down and waiting for them to come back to him. There are dark undertones to the story. He knows this. His eyes narrow ever so slightly, his voice drops, my heart paces. A deafening silence is stretched out for an eternity. Then. An explosion of words, sounds, consonants! A twist in the tale, his eyes shine, his lips curve up by the faintest of fractions, his pristine white teeth are barred, the words flow out faster than I can catch them, snippets of dialogues and guilty imagery burst into the atmosphere, briefly jostle for space and then suddenly die, leaving a void, a vacuum, a negative of noise, an afterimage of an afterimage. It’s not over yet, there is more, his breathing slows, his voice drops to a whisper again. The words are gently nudged, shy and naked, into the outside air…

And I… I lie on the rug clothed only in my skin and I listen.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Four birthdays and an exam

Well, now THAT was an eventful week!

Weekend especially, marvelous time. Last Saturday was my birthday and the Friday before was one of my closest friend's so we did the decent thing and he treated the whole jingbang of friends to lunch and I to dinner. The weather gods being particularly benevolent that day smiled upon me and so the time between, we spent at the beach.

Ah, Bessie Beach… It has been so so long since I last went down there. The sight of the sea, that vast expanse of blue for all the eye can see, is one of the most reassuring sights in the world. At least for me, it'll always have strong associations with the concept of home.

But I get ahead of myself. It started on Friday night. Dad being away in Australia, Mom and bro decided that we’d celebrate my 22nd over candlelight dinner and whatnot at the Taj, just the three of us, and then usher in the special day with cake and gifts and celebrations at midnight. I was getting ready to leave and multitasking as I usually do – fidgeting with the music system with one hand, picking out the clothes with the other and then having no more spare arms, just staring into the monitor. One of my very close friends came online and we were chattin a bit. I never thought I was a superstitious person by disposition; I only realized how much I set store by sentiment and stuff while chattin with him and reminiscing my 20th birthday celebs a couple of years ago.

A little heads up. I got to know this amazing set of friends only in my final year at college, so my 20th, which fell in the summer hols before my final year commenced, was ushered in by yours truly and around 15 college friends (all girls) and the only guy in college I was remotely close to - the chap I was chatting with. The only thing I remember about that day was lunch – my treat at the Meridien – and my poor friend who was kidnapped (or so he claims!) and unceremoniously dumped into the boot of my SUV. To add salt to wounds, it being a new car hadn’t got all the ‘accessories’ in yet (read: the boot was a singularly unappealing place to spend 40 minutes of your life being escorted over the world-reknown madras potholes)

Ah but lunch itself was a magnificent affair. Well, what can you expect when 15 good friends get together at a five star hotel and throw decorum and etiquette and whatnot to the wind? Besides, good food and the company of close friends are really all that make a perfect day.

It was only when thinking back that I realized how much I was wishing that this day would go off just as well. Ever since I was ten I’ve believed that how your birthday unfolds is an indication of how the rest of the year will turn out. I thought I had left my silly sentiment behind but apparently not!

So this marvelous chap, watching me get all misty-eyed (well, as misty-eyed as one can get over yahoo I suppose) just calls me up and we have a nice long talk and… after a year, an apology! Truth was, toward the end of last year we had a sort of falling off. Nothing dramatic I suppose, but a growing resentment that finally just created a gap too wide to be bridged. Of course, time does heal all wounds and ultimately, it’s foolish to hold on to the anger and hurt instead of forgetting the insignificant little tiffs and remembering the good times. I had you see, forgotten all about this… or at any rate, it’d been like such a long time ago, I really didn’t consider it significant enough to commit to memory. So I was quite surprised when he starts off in his trademark sheepish, apologetic, floppish, meandering-sort of way about the past and fights and forgiveness and whatnot. And then he tells me since I felt that way about birthdays being a sort of premonition about the coming year, he’d just wanted to start it off on the right foot, clean slate and all that! Wholly unexpected but very, very sweet and such a touching gesture.

Ah then, the dinner itself was nice… pleasant, normal-like, except for the fact that dad’s missing but then at midnight my dad calls (4 30am Australian time! He’d actually set his alarm so he’d wish me) so really it was quite nice in all, with incessant calls from all my friends for the next hour or so.

Saturday was pretty fantastic. Thin, wispy clouds… Thick, bulbous white ones (like breasts full of milk! Lol) the caress of a wayward breeze… the ghost of a sun… shy, hesitant drops of rain and then none altogether… all in all a perfect day. You wouldn’t think it was a midsummer Madras day. Weather really does make all the difference and a sleepy, laidback Saturday is one of the best reasons to be alive.

So there we were, fifteen of us and among us some college mates I hadn’t seen in over a year, squeezing ourselves into an already over-crowded restaurant. There’s something very comforting about sitting amidst a gaggle of cacophonic, over-excited college friends. This is me in my element: Catching snippets of garbled conversations floating overhead, sitting between two screaming girls talking about a bargain buy, catching up with friends you’ve not seen for a year and being amazed at how much has changed and yet how little they have changed. Ah days like this, it’s good to be me.

The rest of the day was pretty much the same thing. After turning the restaurant upside-down and literally being pushed out by the scruff of our necks, a lot of us meandered down to Bessie Beach and just lazed about. Ah simple pleasures… tracing little random patterns on the sand while talking nonsense with friends, walking along the shore with a close friend and the strong, salty breeze hitting your face, digging your fingers into the clear white sand (yes there are places with clean, white sand at BB… at least I sincerely hope so) while laughing at some mindless joke your friends cracked. The surprising thing was, this was my first time to the beach in some 6 months. I am a beach person, but it’s really no fun going there all by yourself.
Dinner was my treat, the ‘second’ birthday of the weekend (Actually there was a third, the same day as mine so had a bit of a split of friends between this and that but there weren’t many overlaps to begin with so that was quick and easy!) and it was at, no surprises there, the Meridien. A marvelous time, especially since three of my school mates joined us. Fashionably late as always, we trickled in one by one over an hour and a half. So there we were finally, girls all in our glittery finest and boys all groomed and posh-looking – a far cry from the shenanigans on the beach just a few hours ago.

The best part though was how effortlessly a perfect evening fell into place. Even though some of my friends were meeting each other for the first time, there was no stickiness, no pregnant pauses, just laughter and free-flowing conversation like little glittering gems that hover over the evening and linger like sparkly stardust after all the guests have gone. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. So finally, yes, I suppose 22 is going to be a great year after all!
Between that and today, there was a play (that my friend starred in and that was incredibly hilarious) another birthday (My father’s this time. Quiet family affair with dinner and a cake afterwards) and an exam (TOEFL – need it for B school). Unfortunately the birthday and the exam fell on the same day, Friday in fact so we had to cancel the movie plan and just head straight to dinner.

First, the exam. My TOEFL exam was hilarious to say the least, for the fumble ups that I made and that the other test-takers made in the speaking section. For the uninitiated, the new TOEFL iBT has a speaking section where you’re given a question and about 15 seconds to prepare for it and 45 seconds to answer. The fun part is that all this inspired speech is just off the cuff! Now imagine if someone asks you ‘Think of a conflict in your life that you have faced and what you did in the end. Give specific examples to support your answer’ (no, that’s not the actual question; I can’t reveal the actual questions since I’ve signed the confidentiality agreement) and gives you all of fifteen seconds to think up of an insightful, profound reply. It’d probably go something like this

Fifteen. Fourteen. Thirteen.

Ok, right, conflict… um, lets see… There was that time… oh no that turned out badly..

Nine. Eight.

Oh shit, losing time! Um.. ok ok! Got it, what about that time? Oh crap no, that’s not really a conflict…

Four.Three.

Oh bloody hell! Damn! Ok ok.. well, there’s! Argh, no there isn’t… Um.. oh shit… uh..

Ding! You may now speak

Well, one conflict I had… you see, have… Um, webster’s dictionary defines ‘conflict’ as… Uh, so basically what happened was… Well, that is to say… Uh, the moral of the story is…

You have finished your 45 seconds. The next question…

Oh bugger, bugger, bugger and sod it!

So this whole song and dance routine continues for six questions. Yours truly should have prepared for the speaking section at least, knowing her affinity to turn into a verbally incontinent Hugh-Grant type when the stopwatch is ticking. Unfortunately, cocky arrogant snob that she is decides her English is probably too posh for the queen so refuses to prepare for a bloody English test and balls to anyone who tries to grade her anything less than the highest percentage. Besides, who the bloody hell thought of this whole speaking section nonsense in the first place anyway?! Test of English my arse, let’s see you try and put a few Americans on the hot seat, speaking under pressure as it were, with the clock tic-tocking and all that! I dare say I’d be much more eloquent than THAT. Sigh. Sour grapes and all that… Still, it was funny. And funnier still when the chap next to me kind of lost it and cursed under his breath (into the mic too!) and then remembered what he’d just done. Ah, there’s hope for me yet.

Fuck-ups notwithstanding, I was pretty much over the moon to be out of that centre. Four and a half hours! Of course, I don’t check and double check and I don’t make use of any leftover time I may have. I think I shaved off a good hour or so and left rather early. Bring on the food I say, and I’m always game for cake! Wild horses couldn’t hold me back; a measly speaking section was no match against my ravenous appetite.

So that was the week… Lots of birthdays, new restaurants, the company of friends, outdoor cafes, the beach, a play and an exam. I feel I’m getting younger by the day.

Let the good times roll.