Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Three disaster flicks

It's Tuesday and it's time for yet another edition of Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom.

This week I don't have a review of an overlooked or forgotten film, because I didn't get the time to watch any over the weekend. Now that's not entirely true: I did see a major portion of The Rosary Murders (1987) where the 6'4" Canadian actor Donald Sutherland plays Father Robert Koesler, a priest who hears the confession of a serial killer with a penchant for killing priests and nuns, and can't go to the cops because he is bound by the seal of confession. The movie is based on the novel by William X. Kienzle and is written by Kienzle, Elmore Leonard, and Fred Walton.

Last Tuesday, I had to dig into memory to write about Irreconcilable Differences starring Ryan O'Neal, Shelley Long and a little girl called Drew Barrymore.

This morning I dug again, with a pickaxe and a shovel, and managed to come up with three disaster movies I'd seen and liked in the early eighties. All three films were based on thriller novels, released in the seventies, had a fabulous cast, and were big hits. I have vague recollections of these films. Here they are...

In The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the ever-charming Gene Hackman plays Reverend Frank Scott who steers a motley group of people to safety after their passenger ship, way past its prime, is hit by a tidal wave and turns turtle.

"I said I was gonna get everybody out of here and goddamit I'm gonna do it!" the Reverend shouts.

In the end, I think, there are only six survivors but Reverend Scott is not one of them. I guess he wasn't counting himself.

My vague recollection of The Poseidon Adventure is the tidal wave as it approaches the ill-fated ship on a dark-and-grey night. On the bridge, the captain barks orders to turn the ship around but it's too late. It's not F1, you know.

The movie, based on a book by Paul Gallico and directed by Ronald Neame, also stars Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, Pamela Sue Martin, and Leslie Nielsen. 

My second disaster movie is The Towering Inferno (1974) in which a 138-storey glitzy skyscraper in San Francisco erupts into flames on the night of its star-studded opening. The fire is apparently caused by faulty wiring. Fire chief Mike O'Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) and building architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) team up to save lives.

The memorable cast also includes William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire (can you believe that!), Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson (can you really believe that!), and the two Roberts, Vaughn and Wagner.

The only memory I have of this film is Newman's character which runs in and out of the building and up and down an elevator or something like that.

Directed by John Guillermin, The Towering Inferno is adapted from the novels of Richard Martin Stern (The Tower) and Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson (The Glass Inferno).

I now come to my last disaster flick, Airport 77, which was one of three films inspired by Arthur Hailey’s 1968 novel Airport. The other two were Airport 75 and The Concorde…Airport 79.

Directed by Jerry Jameson, Airport 77 is the story of a hijacked luxury airliner that lands under water, in the Bermuda Triangle. Where else? How to bring up the plane in one piece and rescue the passengers as a whole is the focal point of this movie.

The 747 is piloted by Capt. Don Gallagher (Jack Lemmon) and the rest of the cast includes Lee Grant, Olivia de Havilland (61 at the time, 96 now), Joseph Cotton, James Stewart (he was 69 then), George Kennedy, Christopher Lee, and Kathleen Quinlan.

Not much of a memory, I know.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How chess helps your brain

Chess players enjoy the game in a thermal spa in Budapest, Hungary.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Recently, I received an email from Larry Dignan of Online College Courses offering to share an article 10 Big Brain Benefits of Playing Chess published on his site on March 25, 2012, that "clicks with (the) tone of your site..." Ahem!

Being a chess buff and playing the greatest game ever conceived (I like to rub that in) since early childhood, I thought I'd write about the 64-square board game often in this space. It hasn't exactly gone that way.

Then along comes this informative article which is not about chess per se but the benefits of playing chess, on our rapidly ageing and fossilising brains, and things even out a little.

The 10 Big Brain Benefits of Playing Chess, then, are:

01. It can raise your IQ
02. It helps prevent Alzheimer's
03. It exercises both sides of the brain
04. It increases your creativity
05. It improves your memory
06. It increases problem-solving skills
07. It improves reading skills
08. It improves concentration
09. It grows dendrites
10. It teaches planning and foresight

You can read the rest of the article here.

Boys play chess on a street at Santiago de Cuba in Cuba.
The drain cover on the street mirrors the pattern of the chessboard.
Photo by Adam Jones/Wikimedia Commons

Now you know that chess is "A board game for two players who move their 16 pieces according to specific rules; the object is to checkmate the opponent's king."

But did you know that chess is also an "Annual plant native to Europe but widely distributed as a weed, especially in wheat." I didn't know till, nothing better to do, I looked up the word again — it's called Bromus secalinus. No, I don't think it's named after a Roman centurion in Asterix comics.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Jackal wins the 2012 Diamond Dagger

© www.randomhouse.com.au
Last month, the Crime Writers' Association awarded its prestigious Diamond Dagger award for 2012 to thriller novelist Frederick Forsyth whose most famous work, The Day of the Jackal, revolved around a terrorist plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle, the President of France.

"Frederick Forsyth is a hugely deserving recipient and The Day of the Jackal remains one of the greatest thrillers of our times. He has set a new standard of research-based authenticity with his writing, which has had a major influence both on my work and on many of my contemporaries in the crime and thriller field. We are very thrilled that he has accepted this award," CWA Chair Peter James said in a release.

The Diamond Dagger recipient is chosen each year by the CWA committee, from a shortlist nominated by the membership. Shortlisted authors must meet two essential criteria: first, their careers must be marked by sustained excellence, and second, they must have made a significant contribution to crime fiction published in the English language, whether originally or in translation. The award is made purely on merit without reference to age, gender or nationality.

The Diamond Dagger will be presented to Frederick Forsyth at an award ceremony later this year. Some of the earlier winners since the inception of the award were acclaimed writers Ed McBain, Colin Dexter, H.R.F. Keating, Reginald Hill, Ruth Rendell, Dick Francis, John le CarrĂ©, P.D. James, Sue Grafton, Elmore Leonard, Ian Rankin, and Lawrence Block. 

According to CWA, Frederick Forsyth, former RAF pilot and investigative journalist, defined the modern thriller when he wrote The Day of The Jackal, with its lightning-paced storytelling, effortlessly cool reality and unique insider information. He has written a total of fifteen bestselling novels, most recently, The Afghan (2006) and The Cobra (2010). Forsyth’s books are published by Transworld which maintains the official UK books website. He lives in Hertfordshire, England.

Frederick Forsyth was one of several popular fiction novelists I read some twenty years ago, along with Jack Higgins, Len Deighton, Arthur Hailey, Leon Uris, Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Jeffrey Archer, Mario Puzo, Alistair MacLean, and Ken Follett. There were a few others whose names I don't remember now. From this lot the only thriller writer I continue to read is Higgins, a personal favourite. These ten authors have written some of the most entertaining and suspenseful novels of the second-half of the 20th century. Writers like Forsyth, Higgins and Archer are still active. We see more than a shade of these authors and their writing in modern-day thrillers. 

Read my previous post on this topic Bestsellers Indians love to read, October 3, 2011.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Blood on my hands

© Berkley Prime Crime
I bought nearly half the books in my collection by pure chance. That is to say, I stumbled upon them while running an errand or looking for something else or returning from work. Over the past three years, I bought just three new books from a proper bookstore. The rest all came from used and secondhand bookshops. 

For instance, I recently picked up all the books by Tom Sharpe, including his Wilt series, each in excellent condition.

Another prize catch was a hardbound edition of Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by eminent author and lecturer Francine Prose, for Rs.100 or $2.

The reason I seldom buy new books is because I see no point in spending good money on books that I can get for one-tenth of the price. I am not particular about new releases and current bestsellers. There is enough to read, as it is.

The other day I was on my way to a Nokia outlet to have the charger port in my mobile phone repaired when my eyes popped at the sight of dozens of books strewn carelessly on the footpath. The novels were on sale for Rs.20 each (less than 50 cents). I glanced at the titles but since I was in a hurry I decided to have a closer look on my way back. Which I did and I was disappointed with what I saw – most of the books were romance, a genre I have never read.

A couple of promising titles peeped out from underneath a pile of paperbacks with dazzling covers of bare-chested men and scantily-clad women entwined in passion. While I skipped the first, a Star Trek novel, the second, an anthology of mystery stories, caught my eye. I wasted no time in reaching for my wallet.

For, peering at me from ground zero was Blood On Their Hands, a collection of 19 all-new stories edited by the Master of Mystery Stories, Lawrence Block. Presented by the Mystery Writers of America, this 2003 anthology “reveals what people will do when they are pushed to the limit – and see no way out. Get ready to meet ordinary men and women who have…blood on their hands.

Now, you don’t think twice before buying a book with a tagline like that, do you?

Except for Lawrence Block I hadn’t heard of any of the nineteen writers that included Tom Savage, Stefanie Matteson, Rhys Bowen, G. Miki Hayden, Elizabeth Foxwell, Elaine Viets, and Charlotte Hinger. Back in office, I keyed in the names of most of the authors on the internet and, well, what can I say – I was shaken, excited, and raring to read the suspenseful short stories by some of the most versatile mystery writers.

Block has written a brief but brilliant introduction titled It all started with Poe. I wish I could tell you more but it wouldn’t be the right thing to do.

Since Blood On Their Hands is an anthology, I also read and enjoyed Lawrence Block’s description of anthologies on his website and was tempted to quote him here but, as I said, it wouldn't be the right thing to do.

I don’t want blood on my hands…

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Irreconcilable Differences (1984)

This film is my small contribution to Tuesday’s Overlooked/Forgotten films at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom where you will find an eclectic mix of film and television reviews by some very fine writers.

A couple of days ago, the family was watching Music and Lyrics (2007) on cable when Drew Barrymore, who stars opposite Hugh Grant in this delightful romantic musical, got me thinking about her most famous role as a child actor — Gertie in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). She was only seven then. Although Barrymore made her debut with Altered States (1980), which I haven't seen, there was one other film where she created a stir as a little girl — Irreconcilable Differences (1984).

I saw this film in the mid-eighties inside a sprawling auditorium called Akashvani (Voice of the Sky), officially known as All India Radio or AIR, the government-run radio broadcast service and currently a division of Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India). It closed down many years ago.

The preview theatre, located in the traditional central business district of Bombay, screened little-known films that nobody went to. I used to go there often because tickets and popcorn were cheap and there was so much legroom that you slid down your seat. I saw many reasonably good films at Akashvani. For instance, there was this light-hearted movie called Tug of Love about a father and son who vie for the affections of the same woman. While she's a little old for the son, she's not too young for the father. She settles for the old man in the end. I recall this film to this day because of a melodic song in the film that went "How can I believe everything you say?" I don't know the rest of it.

Frankly, I don't remember much about Irreconcilable Differences either and have only a vague recollection of certain scenes in the movie, like the part where Casey Brodsky (Drew Barrymore) is walking down a corridor toward the courtroom (I presume) with her frantic parents Albert Brodsky (Ryan O'Neal) and Lucy Van Patten Brodsky (Shelley Long) on one hand and half-crazed reporters on the other in pursuit. The young girl is divorcing her career-minded parents because they are fighting all the time and they have no time for her. 

Drew Barrymore as Casey Brodsky drags her parents to court.

I am not sure if the film, directed by Charles Shyer, did well at the box office or was talked about much in the entertainment press. The only media that went after it was the one in the movie, for Casey’s parents, Albert and Lucy, are celebrities, he a teacher and she a writer. They fall in love, marry, have a baby, and drift apart, till their daughter decides she’s had enough of their selfish disposition.

As Casey tells her mum: “Mother, you and dad for a long time did not recognise my rights as a human being. You both treated me like chattel (I'd to look up that word!). You cannot do with me as you please anymore. We have irreconcilable differences.” 

Shelley Long and Ryan O'Neal in Irreconcilable Differences.

The irreconcilable differences are reconciled in the end and Casey Brodsky wins back her parents.

Irreconcilable Differences was an engaging film with the young handsome pair of Ryan O’Neal and Shelley Long playing their parts well. The film also stars Sharon Stone but I don’t remember her part. In fact, I didn’t even know she had acted in the film till I crosschecked the cast. I plead irreconcilable ignorance.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stamp of an Actor: Cary Grant

"Insanity runs in my family, it practically gallops."

"We have our factory, which is called a stage. We make a product, we color it, we title it and we ship it out in cans."

"I'd like to have made one of those big splashy Technicolor musicals with Rita Hayworth."

"I have no plans to write an autobiography, I will leave that to others. I'm sure they will turn me into a homosexual or a Nazi spy or something else."

"Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant."

"My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can."

"Hollywood is very much like a streetcar. Once a new star is made and comes aboard, an old is edged out of the rear exit. There's room for only so many and no more."

"I have spent the greater part of my life fluctuating between Archie Leach and Cary Grant, unsure of each, suspecting each." Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Johnny Belinda (1948)

This film is a part of Tuesday’s Overlooked/Forgotten films over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom where you can check out many film and television reviews by other enterprising bloggers.

A little research at IMDb (where else?) tells me that American actress, singer and dancer Jane Wyman was “the first actor since the silent era to win an Oscar without uttering a word.”

 She didn’t say much either in her acceptance speech after winning the statuette for Best Actress for her role as a deaf-and-mute woman in Johnny Belinda. “I won this award by keeping my mouth shut and I think I’ll do it again,” was all Wyman said.

Johnny Belinda, a black-and-white film directed by Jean Negulesco, is the touching story of Belinda McDonald (Jane Wyman), a young deaf-and-mute girl who lives on a small farm with her father Black McDonald (Charles Bickford) and aunt Aggie McDonald (Agnes Moorehead). She assists her burly father in working the mill on the farm. Neither her father and aunt nor the local people from the neighbouring fishing village treat Belinda well — they think she’s too dumb to deserve attention, or affection, of any kind.

Enter Dr. Robert Richardson (Lew Ayres), a young and kind-hearted doctor who feels for the poor, hapless girl and at once realises the potential hidden deep within her. When the doctor asks her father if he can teach his daughter, McDonald is not convinced but agrees to the request because he has nothing to lose, one way or the other. Dr. Richardson teaches Belinda how to identify objects, greet people, and make small talk through sign language and lip-reading, much to the delight and surprise of McDonald who begins to look at his little girl in a new light. 

Lew Ayres and Jane Wyman in a scene from the film.

As Robert makes steady progress with Belinda’s tutoring, a bond of friendship and mutual respect develops between the two, though you suspect the doctor’s in love with her. The girl looks forward to the doctor’s frequent visits and in his absence practices what he has taught her, with a smile gracing her sweet face.

Just as Belinda starts to come out of her shell, trouble arrives in the form of Locky McCormick (Stephen McNally), a local brute who does business with her father and has an eye for women. After a particular night of revelry in the village, McCormick arrives at the MacDonald farm, drunk and wild with lust, and rapes Belinda. Nobody is at home.

Charles Bickford, Jane Wyman and Lew Ayres discuss Belinda's future.

Upon his return from a trip to the city, Robert finds Belinda reclusive but her father has no explanation for her sudden regression. When Robert takes the girl to the city for a medical check-up, to improve her general condition, he discovers that she is pregnant.

The village of rumour and gossip mongers adds to Belinda and Robert’s misery by blaming the doctor for the girl’s pregnancy. Troubled by the false accusations, Dr. Richardson decides to leave the village, leaving Belinda grief-stricken. As time passes, Belinda delivers a healthy baby but the doting mother’s problems are far from over: McCormick, who marries the doctor’s secretary Stella (Jan Sterling), returns to the farm to snatch “his” baby from Belinda, who has no choice but to kill him as he tries to force his way past her.

Belinda is arrested and put on trial but Robert returns to defend her in court and all’s well in the end.

Lew Ayres introduces Jane Wyman to the joys of music.

According to an article at Wikipedia, Johnny Belinda, which is based on the play of the same name by Elmer Blaney Harris, reflects the true story of Lydia Dingwell of Dingwells Mills, Prince Edward Island, Canada, and the events occurred close to Harris’s residence.

Director Jean Negulesco handles several delicate issues — the helpless condition of a deaf-and-mute woman, her horrifying rape and eventual pregnancy, the killing of the rapist, and the final court scene — with a great deal of sensitivity. He ensures that Belinda holds on to her sense of dignity throughout the film. There is no explicitness and even the scene where McCormick confronts Belinda in the dimly-lit farmhouse is only suggestive of rape.

Jane Wyman is superb as the deaf-and-mute Belinda McDonald while Lew Ayres, as the soft-spoken and mild-mannered Dr. Robert Richardson, her mentor, puts in a fine performance. As long as he’s there, you know Belinda is safe.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Spanish Gardener by A.J. Cronin

While I haven't read all seventeen novels by Archibald Joseph Cronin, known as A.J. Cronin, the Scottish physician and prolific writer, among the ones I have read Beyond This Place, The Citadel, Hatter's Castle, Grand Canary and Shannon's Way are my favourites.
My first A.J. Cronin novel was Beyond This Place which I read soon after high school. I was deeply impressed by the good physician's writing style and story-telling, simple and lucid. In this novel, written in 1953, Paul Mathry, a young student, goes in search of his father who is wrongly convicted for murder.

Cronin wrote about the middle-class and for the middle-class. His stories were poignant and captured the pathos of daily life, in situations and surroundings familiar to us. Most of his novels were about love and relationships, and reflected the importance he attached to families and family life.

Towards the end of last year, I read the 157-page The Spanish Gardener (1950) where Cronin introduces you to one of his most intense, and unforgettable, characters — Harrington Brande — a proud British diplomat posted somewhere in Spain. After his wife walks out of their marriage, Brande becomes possessive about his son, Nicholas, who he brings up in a closed environment, away from the influences of the outside world. Brande is so insanely jealous about his son's love for him that he destroys the innocent friendship between Nicholas and Jose, the charismatic gardener, who is framed for theft and dies in the end. 

A.J. Cronin
The Spanish Gardener, which was made into a film in 1956, starring Dick Bogarde as Jose, is the story of a man whose love destroyed everything it touched. When his wife tells him that she wants a separation, Brande hits back, "If you go, I'll never take you back... You'll have no money, no position, nothing. And you'll have no hand, none, in bringing up our child." 

The story revolves mainly around the struggle between father and son. In the end the son tells his father that he wishes to see his mother and stay with her. "...there is no doubt I should spend some time with mother. That is only fair...to all of us," Nicholas, matured by years, says quietly, as his father listens, stunned and speechless. Brande, who evokes pity and loathing at the same time, knows he has lost again.

Cronin was one of the most popular storytellers of his time, and many of his novels were made into successful films.

A.J. Cronin's seventeen novels

01. Hatter's Castle
02. Three Loves
03. Grand Canary
04. The Stars Look Down
05. The Citadel
06. The Keys of the Kingdom
07. The Green Years
08. Shannon's Way
09. The Spanish Gardener
10. Beyond This Place
11. A Thing of Beauty/Crusader's Tomb
12. The Northern Light
13. The Native Doctor/An Apple in Eden
14. The Judas Tree
15. A Song of Sixpence
16. A Pocketful of Rye
17. The Minstrel Boy/Desmonde

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Life in Four Continents by Prakash Joshi

Since I work for a newspaper, I get all kinds of emails, including releases of new fiction and non-fiction books. Unfortunately, I can’t write about them because my newspaper is as far removed from the world of fiction as India is from a corruption-free society. The paper reports extensively on construction and infrastructure projects in India and the domestic and foreign investment that goes into
their build.

Never mind – my paper’s loss is my blog’s gain.

Yesterday, I received an email from iUniverse, a self-publishing imprint based in Bloomington, Indiana, USA, drawing my attention to Prakash Vinod Joshi’s new book Life in Four Continents where the author describes the lessons he learnt living in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. It’s a journey across four continents written with “a sense of humor often needed when everything else seems to go awry.”

“I am proud of my new country, Canada; proud of my heritage, Indian; proud of the country of my birth, Uganda,” writes Joshi, who tells readers of his “honest experiences touching the lives of several people across the globe wanting to help readers improve their lives and preserving the planet for the future generations to come.”

I can’t review the book since I have not read it but here is a small excerpt that came with the release.

“My single parenting days were most joyous and I would never trade them for anything else. I had now moved on my own with Ronak and Milan to our old home which was very close to my work, just two minutes away. Life became busy. It meant getting up early, around 5:00 a.m., getting ready, waking up the kids at six-thirty and doing a paper route. We would then come home, have breakfast and get them ready, pack their lunch, drop them at the babysitter who would drive them to nearby Parkcrest Elementary School at 9:00 a.m.” 

Life in Four Continents was written with a simple purpose, to give readers a new found sense of hope, and teach them to have a positive attitude towards life with the simple message of “Doing things the right way, the first time around, to avoid repeating mistakes, and to take advantage of other’s forgiveness.”

Prakash Vinod Joshi lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife, Darshana. They have three children, Ronak, Tejaswini and Milan.

You can read more about Prakash Vinod Joshi at US-India Writing Station.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Scram! (1932)

The following review of Scram! is part of Tuesday’s Overlooked/Forgotten films over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom where you can check out lots of exciting film and television reviews.

Judge: If the jail wasn't full, I'd give you both 180 days, but since the jail is full, I'm going to give you just one hour.
Oliver Hardy: Thank you, sir.
Judge: To get out of town! And never let me set eyes on you again! Case dismissed.
Stan Laurel: Does that mean we can go back to sleeping on the park bench?

The scowling Richard Cramer in Scram!

Laurel delivers this gem of a line in all innocence. While the judge’s harsh pronouncement ricochets off Laurel’s affable face, the enormity of the situation is not lost on friend Hardy, who is equally innocent but slightly cleverer of the two.

The two lovable vagrants are hauled up before Judge Beaumont (Richard Cramer), a mean judge with a screwed up face, who orders them to get out of town in one hour.

Judge: Scram! Or I'll build a jail for you.

As the homeless duo make their way through rain on a cold night, they come across a drunk in tuxedo (Arthur Housman) who is looking for his car keys. Laurel and Hardy, ever willing to lend a hand, help the drunk retrieve his keys. The search for the elusive keys is not without the usual share of slapstick comedy and a cop is thrown in for good measure. There’s always one or two lurking around the pair. 

A stone drunk Arthur Housman with Laurel and Hardy.

Oliver Hardy: What's the matter, neighbour?
Drunk: I los' the key to my car.
Stanley Laurel: Can you find it?
Drunk: No, thas' why I'm lookin'...

The drunk returns the favour by inviting the boys over to his house, except he takes them to the wrong house. You guessed it! The poor chaps land up in the angry judge’s home where his wife (Vivien Oakland) faints at the sight of Laurel and Hardy. The unsuspecting pair revive Mrs. Beaumont with a glass of water from a pitcher, except it turns out to be gin (the handiwork of the drunk who has quietly stumbled his way out of the house). 

Vivien Oakland forces Hardy to a dance.
Now the poor fellas have a very drunk judge’s wife on their hands. Although Laurel and Hardy don’t know who her husband is, they are aware of the delicate situation and, in desperation, try putting her to sleep. Not one to quieten down easily, Mrs. Beaumont plays music and insists on dancing with the boys who by now are too frightened to even think of their fate should her husband walk in. 

At last, the judge’s wife plops on her bed with Laurel and Hardy on either side. Just as they think it’s the end of their troubles, Mrs. Beaumont explodes into inexplicable fits of laughter that’s so infectious that it catches Laurel and Hardy too. The comic duo laugh their guts out until suddenly, as they are about to have another bout of laugh, they see Judge Beaumont standing in the doorway, a dirty scowl on his face and a gun in his hand. One after the other, they swallow hard – gulp! The judge raises his hand and fires…

You don’t mind what happens in the end because, by then, you’re rolling with laughter too. 

Produced by Hal Roach and directed by Raymond McCarey, Scram! is exactly as the title suggests. But Laurel and Hardy don’t scram out of town. Instead, they stay put without realising the consequences of their action. Blame it on their innocence which, as I have said before, is what Laurel and Hardy is all about. Here are two amiable and happy-go-lucky fellas whose optimistic view of life, in spite of being perennially broke, hungry and homeless, never changes. The world according to Laurel and Hardy is a world you would do well to live by.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Do you have a hobby?

“Do you have a hobby?” is probably the most annoying question that well-meaning uncles and aunts ask their teenage nephews and nieces. They asked me when I was a kid. I don’t recall being irritated, though. My parents probably asked the same silly question. I don’t know if it annoyed my cousins. I’m sure it did.

Flamingo Library was located in the foyer of Hotel Sona.

At times, their cursory interest in my hobbies, after I had revealed them, stretched to: “Oh, so you play chess, do you?” And you know what’s coming next. “Do you think you could teach my son? I will send him over every Sunday morning. I want him to cultivate at least one hobby. Thanks, uh.”

Indulging in a hobby is time spent gainfully so long as you’re enjoying yourself. There’s never a dull moment. For me, hobbies are primarily about passion, creativity, private space, and personal fulfillment.

I had many hobbies and nearly every one of them was introduced to me by my father, hobbies like pouring over his assorted collection of stamps and creating my own album, playing chess or scrabble with him in marathon sessions that often lasted morn to eve, buying and reading comic-books, solving crosswords and jigsaw puzzles together, and drawing and painting everything from abstract to still life.

Speaking of chess, I spent a lot of time playing with Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky during my teens. That is, replaying their games from the controversial 1972 world chess championship at Reykjavik in Iceland.

Between these simple pleasures of childhood, we played cricket at home, with a wooden bat and a tennis ball, using a part of the door as stumps; took potshots at small wooden puppets with a ping-pong ball gun, keeping points, five for every hit; or played table tennis across the dining table,
with a stick balanced delicately on two inverted glasses serving as a net. 

Leafing through the dictionary for strange words and their strange meanings and using latitudes and longitudes to locate mysterious cities and towns in a world atlas were other useful pastimes that helped shape my growing years.

A rather silly pursuit was book cricket: you flipped the pages and stopped at random, the page numbers on the left serving as scores. We even drew up eleven-member rival teams, each a famous cricketer. It doesn’t make sense now, but it did back then. At least you didn’t sweat it out or injure yourself

During my seventy-five day summer vacation, my friends and I, bored playing outdoor games in hot sun, would pick up books and comic-books from the local circulating library and take turns reading them during the week. We, thus, read the entire hardbound Hardy Boys series from the popular Flamingo Library located in the foyer of Hotel Sona in the idyllic and sleepy town of Panjim, the capital of the beautiful coastal state of Goa, a favourite destination among foreign tourists. 

Childhood was never better. It still isn’t. What was yours like?

How others look at hobbies…

“The only insult I've ever received in my adult life was when someone asked me, "Do you have a hobby?" A HOBBY?! DO I LOOK LIKE A FUCKING DABBLER?!”
― John Waters, Role Models, American filmmaker, actor and stand-up comedian

A hobby a day keeps the doldrums away.
― Phyllis Mcginley, American author of children's books and poetry

It's the safety valve of middle life, and the solace of age.
― Mary Roberts Rinehart, American writer, often called the American Agatha Christie