Friday, June 27, 2008

Persepolis: the best way to criticise religion?

Persepolis. The ceremonial capital of the Persian empire, Pārsa in Persian which means "city of Persians". And Persepolis, the animated movie about the life of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian lady who lived through the Islamic revolution in the late 70s in Iran which deposed the Shah, and threw Iran into a Shi'ite theocracy. I went to watch this movie with a couple of the guys (well, they're the only two left here from the school gang) last evening.

Mostly in black and white (in an era where animated colour pixels come alive in all forms), this is a simple, yet beautifully crafted film, which sends out the message of the oppression brought about by the mullahs of the Islamic religion (the Shia sect in this case). The movie goes on to show Marjane's life being brought up in a liberal, educated, cosmopolitan Iranian family during the regime of the Shah and the atrocities committed against communists by the Shah's secret police (with the aid of the American CIA) and later, the further persecution of innocents by the mullah brigade under the dictatorial, theocratic rule of Ayatollah Khomeini.

The movie shows the recent past history of Iran, and hopefully people go to watch it realising that this is not a fictional story created for laughs, but about what actually happened in Iran and it's descent into the dangerous theocracy it is now under Mahmud Ahmedinejad. It also shows how much we seem to have taken our democracy and freedom for granted, because the restrictions that crop up in the name of religion is mind boggling and numbing, tempered only by the satire that Marjane throws in to keep the smile on the faces of the audience.

A few subtle pointers were made about communism and Marxism, with one scene showing god and Karl Marx giving different pieces of advice to young Marjane. For those wondering why Marx entered the picture, that's because a lot of the Iranian youth who were opposed to the Shah took to Communism via Marxism. In fact, Marjane's uncle too had done the same, and since Communists are avowedly atheists, they (the communists) weren't in favour with the religious nuts who came into power, and many were summarily executed after the Shah's ouster.

Restrictions from religion should not be mandatory, but optional. The religious doctrines should not be viewed as rules, but as guidelines. What's the difference, some peasant minded person may ask. For one, a rule is not something that you are allowed to break, and if you do, there's a punishment attached to it. Guidelines, on the other hand, need not be strictly adhered to as it's optional to choose to follow it or not. Because at the end of the day, whoever thought up of the religious rules for how a person should lead his or her life, would have done so based on his opinion of what is good for a person and what isn't. Marjane effectively shows the hypocrisy in Islam during class: when a senior religious figure addresses the university students, he chides the women about the western trousers they wear and how it tempts men into doing bad things, and how their head scarfs need to be tied lower to cover more of their head, Marjane starts by telling him that as an art student, she has to move about in class and a long head scarf and gown wouldn't allow for free movement, and the western trousers allow them to walk about freely with tripping over. While their clothes may seem to 'tempt' men, what about the other way around: why are men allowed to wear nut-huggers when that could clearly turn a girl on? But the clincher was her question about what god really cares about: is it the fashion sense of the woman? The movie shows how the youth were conscripted into the army to fight Iraq when Saddam decided to invade Iran (with American blessings, of course), but promising them a wonderful afterlife in paradise in the company of 72 virgins (which, by the way, is a very suspicious number-why 72?). That, to me, is the lowest any religion can get: promising sex with virgins is the just downright cheap and low. And this also begs the question: what about women martyrs? Do they get to spend time in paradise in the company of 72 virgin men?

Oh, and did I forget to mention that this isn't an animated movie for children? No siree, kids wouldn't follow a thing unless they're aware of a little bit of history. But on the other hand, when I went to watch the movie, a large number of adults too, sadly, did not know even a little bit of the history of Iran and so (again, sadly), watched the movie as if it was a purely fictional work and not an autobiographical piece. Nonetheless, it's a great movie, and a fantastic way to show how religious zealots can get away with even murder in the name of religion. However, the taste of the pudding is in the eating and so whether this method of how criticism works, without going hammer and tongs at the opposition, remains to be seen.

And after the movie, we caught dinner at Transit (only place open at Forum) and first had some 99% vegetarian ice cream (which we thought was a rip off: 80 bucks for a cup smaller than the palm of my hand). We then went to the Rajdhani counter and ordered a plate of dahi vada (3 in a plate, so it was perfect) and shared a thali with, well, a lot of things in it. Good movie, good food, good conversation; awesome combo to have before you hit the sack.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Pinxx Saturday afternoon

This post is also available on my food blog.

XX and XY. That's how the rest rooms at Pinxx are marked, and if you weren't too good at bio in school and don't know which chromosome combination is for a guy and which is for a girl, then please ask the bearers or waiters.

Going out for lunch with buddies from the famed 'last bench gang' from college is always fun, and this time was no different, in spite of it being just 3 of us. The buffet at Pinxx is indeed a pretty sight: extremely well laid out multi-cuisine food, with a variety of choices between vegetarian and non-vegetarian food (and if you're not fussy about eating non-veg, awesome!!!). We started with the soups: Chicken Manchow and Cream of Mushroom. I'm on a quest to find the perfect cream of mushroom soup, and took a bowl of it. It was good, but not the best. Moreover, I'm not sure if you're supposed to get as many bits of mushroom and what-not as I did. But don't get me wrong, it tasted very good, I just didn't think the texture was very consistent.

The salads (which I guess double up as appetizers) were ok; the two of us who ate non-veg agreed that the chicken sausage salad was the best, while the mushroom salad was probably the pick of the lot from the 'other side' (I mixed both and they are at the top of my plate). The dahi vada was good (right corner of my plate) and it wasn't soggy and stale (that can be very unpleasant). I also ventured into the main course section and added some vegetarian manchurian balls (left) which tasted good (sometimes this dish can be killed by adding too much soy sauce).

After two rounds of the above items (yes, we're a bit of the gluttonous types, so sue us), time for the main course. Let me start from the 9 o'clock position in the photograph: paneer butter masala (cottage cheese), some spicy dish (I can't recall the name), some more chicken sausage salad, fish something, mutton, chicken, Hakka noodles and vegetarian manchurian. The noodles were the usual, nothing special (it wasn't a special dish, so it was as expected), the fish was nice but the inside felt a little dry (I like the inside of cutlets to be moist or to have soaked in a little bit of the marinade). The mutton was the best among the three non-veg dishes; it was tender, juicy and not too spicy - a holy trinity if you ask me when it comes to any kind of meat. The chicken wasn't something special. It was a typical Mangalorean dish, my parents being Mangalorean, have eaten my heart's content of Mangalorean dishes. Maybe that disqualifies me from passing such a comment, but what the hell, I'm writing this, so it qualifies!

And in round two of the main course, starting from the 12 o'clock position, we have barbequed paneer, paneer butter masala, mutton biryani, and American chilly corn. The chilly corn was very good, the biryani was full of flavour and wasn't dry and the mutton in it was soft and cooked well.
Sadly, the best part of lunch at Pinxx, the desserts, will not be visually showcased here as my camera decided to go on a temporary strike and for some reason, it just didn't click and pictures of the dessert. And believe me, if anything, I would have loved to show the desserts here: strawberry cake, fig tart with mascarpone cheese (the mascarpone tasted heavenly), mango jelly, fresh fruits (mango, papaya and the sweetest watermelon I've ever had), a couple of Indian sweets, a sugar-free tart, and another pastry which I just can't seem to remember now. Phew! The desserts were truly the best part of the meal we had (as it usually is with the last bench gang). Ice creams are served upon request, although now the bearers come and ask you during dessert if you would like to have ice cream, and the credit for that goes almost entirely to me. Let me explain why. The last two times I visited Pinxx, I had filled out the comment card suggesting that ice cream ought to be part of every dessert table, and both times a lady walked up to me and told me that ice cream is served upon request, to which I replied something to the effect of not knowing that ice cream was part of the buffet and it's not fair to expect the customers to ask for what's there and what's not. I mean I would have also asked for some nice lasagna if that were the case. In any case, I guess they don't keep the ice cream out on the table with the other desserts because it could melt and become runny. In fact, when she told me the same thing the second time I visited Pinxx, I remembered that it was the same lady who told me the same thing the last time. Well, from now on, in case you visit Pinxx and at dessert time if you're asked for ice cream, the credit for that goes to moi.

Discussing about old classmates, Vishwa jokes (something only we know about) and the whereabouts of other classmates is always a wonderful feeling, and coupled with great food, it makes such meetings truly memorable.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A rainy weekend, a nice chicken sandwich

This post is also available at my food blog.

Saturday was a particularly overcast day and we don't quite expect the weather to be this gloomy here in Bangalore this early in June (this global warming is really screwing up the weather patterns). Indoors, I can think of only 2 interesting things to do: read, or eat, or the best combo, both. I was in the mood for a nice sandwich/sub/burger and didn't want to spend Rs.60 or Rs.70 for it, especially when I could make them for half the cost tasting 5 times better.

Off to the supermarket and I returned with some chicken, cheese and bread. I cut the chicken into long strips (1 inch wide and about 3-4 inches long) and seasoned them with salt and pepper. I then squeezed in the juice from half a lemon and followed it up with 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric (just to give it a golden colour) and kept that aside.

I hate it when restaurants add a raw slice of onion in my burger or sandwich, and so I decided to cut off a few onion rings and caramalize them (for folks who don't know what that is, it's heating the onion on a pan until it's soft and starts browning - i.e the sugar in it caramelizes). This makes the onion soft and doesn't burn your mouth when you bite into it. A few slices of tomato, and a little chopped garlic mixed with butter to apply on the bread and I was almost good to go. I sautéd the chicken on a pan with a little oil and butter until it was just cooked (didn't want to overdo it and lose the lemony flavour) and still tender and juicy. Plop it onto the bread, some cheese (I like it) and sprinkle some oregano, pick up your favourite book...bliss.

You'll have to excuse the picture quality, the camera on my phone isn't very great when the lighting is poor.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Let them be gay and happy...and married

What is the problem with allowing homosexuals get married? Is it because some religious dictionary defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman? Is that it? Some pathetic piece of scribbling made a few thousand years ago should be the guiding rule for us in the 21st century? Would Jesus really have objected to two men (or women) getting it on for each other? Really? From the guy who spent the best part of his life in the company of 12 other men (this is just to make my point, and I explicitly state that it is not to offend anyone)? And for those who say it's not 'natural' and hence an abomination or a sin, click here and read on.

OK, so far everything I've written has turned out to be a question, but I'd surely like to get an answer to them by those who oppose the 'marriage' of individuals of the same sex. Oh, another question, and this is a biggie: is it because they fear that the next step would be that the 'queers' would then want to adopt children (or in the case of lesbians, have children by visiting the nearest sperm bank)? To which I would ask, 'so what?'.

One possible worrying factor could be that the kids growing up would be ridiculed (possibly by immature children of immature parents) because instead of having a mummy and a daddy, they would probably have a daddy and a daddy or a mummy and a mummy. So what? We're already into an era of single parenthood, where there are times when either there isn't a mummy or a daddy, and no reasons are given to the child in case of separation of the parents during infancy or early childhood. How is the case of growing up with only a mummy or only a daddy different from growing up with two mummies or two daddies? Both are cases that are different from the ordinary, yet both are cases that need to be treated with care and nuanced explanations need to be given to the inquisitive children who ask the 'uncomfortable' questions.

If 'marriage' is something that conservatives want to 'conserve' at all costs, then how about settling for something called a civil union. Not all the 'baggage' that comes with a marriage, but certainly those that allow for parenthood. The finer points can be sorted out later.

Now let's dwell a little on the most important aspect of homosexuality: is it a disease as most religious and homophobic people make it out to be? The answer is quite simply no, it is not. At least, medically, it hasn't been established to be a disease, and certainly not something that can be 'cured', either by reading verses from holy books or by 'smoking' the devil out of your body, or with western or eastern medicine. And contrary to popular (or not so popular) opinion, homosexuality isn't something that cropped up in the early 20th century; it's been around for ages, and was initially ignored or tolerated by the church. However, from around the 12th century, hostility towards this 'unnatural' behaviour began taking root, and soon legislature was passed banning it (at the behest of the church).

It's important to know that a person doesn't 'decide' to 'become' a homosexual; it's not like they wake up one Saturday morning and after realising that they didn't get a date the previous Friday night, they decide to try their luck with the opposite sex. A person is born with that sexuality and will have to live with it for the rest of his or her life. The odds of 'converting' a homosexual into a heterosexual person are about the same as converting a left handed person into a right handed person: just not possible (and James Bond doing it to a lesbian in Octopussy doesn't count!) . So if religious fanatics want homos to be killed or jailed because they aren't the same as the majority and are termed 'unnatural', so are left handers; I don't hear any noise about asking them to be thrown into prison or sent to treatment for doing things differently from the mainstream.

J K Rowling unleashed upon the world the 'true' sexuality of Dumbledore; didn't that warrant an explanation to children by their parents what it meant? And if a series of books, several hundred pages thick that deals with magic and heresy and mystical serpents (thanks to Her Majesty GS for the correction: 'talking' to 'mystical' serpents) and a whole lot of unbelievable stuff, has a character who is the head of a large organisation (almost an institution) and wears a funny hat and colourful robes and a carries a big wand, who ultimately turns out to be gay, then what about this guy?

All with love of course (and a pinch of salt), so please, don't take offense. And just in case there are those who are worried about my orientation, I'm straight!
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