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30 Sep 2010

Eleven minutes of sex? (Paulo Coelho)

I love reading Paulo Coelho. I have found his writings profound, more often than not. One of my favourite blogs is his. Here is a piece I found rather interesting. (I would provide a link to it here and leave it at that but decided to copy the contents so it is easier to read than have to click and go)

The men she had met since she arrived in Geneva always did everything they could to appear confident, as if they were in perfect control of the world and of their own lives; Maria, however, could see in their eyes that they were afraid of their wife, the feeling of panic that they might not be able to get an erection, that they might not seem manly enough even to the ordinary prostitute whom they were paying for her services. If they went to a shop and didn’t like the shoes they had bought, they would be quite prepared to go back, receipt in hand, and demand a refund. And yet, even though they were paying for some female company, if they didn’t manage to get an erection, they would be too ashamed ever to go back to the same club again because they would assume that all the other women there would know.
‘I’m the one who should feel ashamed for being unable to arouse them, but, no, they always blame themselves.’
To avoid such embarrassments, Maria always tried to put men at their ease, and if someone seemed drunker or more fragile than usual, she would avoid full sex and concentrate instead on caresses and masturbation, which always seemed to please them immensely, absurd though this might seem, since they could perfectly well masturbate on their own.
She had to make sure that they didn’t feel ashamed. These men, so powerful and arrogant at work, constantly having to deal with employees, customers, suppliers, prejudices, secrets, posturings, hypocrisy, fear and oppression, ended their day in a nightclub and they didn’t mind spending three hundred and fifty Swiss francs to stop being themselves for a night.
‘For a night? Now come on, Maria, you’re exaggerating. It’s really only forty-five minutes, and if you allow time for taking off clothes, making some phoney gesture of affection, having a bit of banal conversation and getting dressed again, the amount of time spent actually having sex is about eleven minutes.’
Eleven minutes. The world revolved around something that only took eleven minutes.
And because of those eleven minutes in any one twenty-four-hour day (assuming that they all made love to their wives every day, which is patently absurd and a complete lie) they got married, supported a family, put up with screaming kids, thought up ridiculous excuses to justify getting home late, ogled dozens, if not hundreds of other women with whom they would like to go for a walk around Lake Geneva, bought expensive clothes for themselves and even more expensive clothes for their wives, paid prostitutes to try to give them what they were missing, and thus sustained a vast industry of cosmetics, diet foods, exercise, pornography and power, and yet when they got together with other men, contrary to popular belief, they never talked about women. They talked about jobs, money and sport.
Something was very wrong with civilisation, and it wasn’t the destruction of the Amazon rainforest or the ozone layer, the death of the panda, cigarettes, carcinogenic foodstuffs or prison conditions, as the newspapers would have it.
It was precisely the thing she was working with: sex.

27 Sep 2010

The Ballet

What are your first thoughts when you hear the word 'ballet'?

In my mind's eye, I see a horde of little girls in white tutus, prancing around, on their toes, in the most graceful and light-footed moves in an elegant form of dance. If I drew the curtains a bit further back, I might include a lithe dame or two, again in the pretty white and translucent ballet dresses, gliding across the floor... hands raised in the air, one high up, the other on the way, feet raised to the tip of the big toe. No matter what else may change, the picture in my head consistently has the signature 'on-the-toes' pose, light, graceful moves, short white skirts with a well-fitted bodice.

The promos of the Queensland National Ballet's Hunchback of Notre Dame at The Old Museum and the internationally acclaimed Ballet Nacional de Cuba's Don Quixote at QPAC have pictures of the female protagonist flying in the air, arms and legs raised in difficult straight lines, both clad in red frilly skirts that look incredibly inviting to watch the performance. All the pictures of both ballet have various difficult poses and lifts of the ladies (some also include men) in their red garb. The scene in my mind opened out further to include red dresses and tall, slim beautiful women. 

You can imagine my surprise when I went to watch QNB's Hunchback of Notre Dame last week and the scene started off with a man in loose black clothing, curly hair falling all over his face. It was as if the scenes being played in my head had been hit by an earthquake. He was one of the characters. Why was I so upset? I can't explain. With the entry of another man, a priest and their miming acts, it started off seeming more like a play and less of what I had imagined a ballet to be. Soon, the ladies came on the stage. Tall, slender beautiful women, no doubt. I was already crying in my mind after the appearance of the black villainous creature instead of sweet children in white. Watching the women in long, frilly frocks, nothing like that in the pictures did not help! Worse? They did not do the toes act. Their feet thumped on the floor at their lifts. As they moved about with less grace than a ballet requires and more like the other forms of dances, my heart began to sinking. Fast and furious.

Eventually, the lead lady in red came into the picture. She had her ballet shoes on (the others had been in bare feet so far) was in her red frilly dress. She flew across the stage gently, stood on her toes and performed the signature light-footed steps of the ballet. In the light of my muddled feelings of the moment, I failed to appreciate her performance and wrinkled my nose at the grey dust under her ballet shoes. "These shoes have been used long enough, they fail to seem to blend with the feet", I found myself thinking. I did not quite like the shade of red that her dress was, either.

Eventually, as the turmoil in my heart settled and there was more of Talia Fowler with her ballet performance, I began to enjoy the show. I began to understand the genearl story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, if not the intricate details. Every now and then, students of different levels appeared on screen and performed their bits. It was clearly a performance by students, coming through like one of those shows we watch when in college or school. Like one of the shows my dance school had put up in the earlier days.

Even though it did not quite live up to my expectations, it was not unenjoyable. Talia Fowler, as Esmeralda the gypsy girl, was good and so was the guy who played the hunchback Quasimodo. While I was not unhappy about the $35 I spent on the tickets, I could not bear to part with another $25 to drive a cab back home. It was much too much to spend on a night as such. I took the public transport back home. A good night but not memorable enough. My first experience of a ballet felt like expecting Nando's fiery chicken and ending up with bland pasta. Not quite the anticipated flavour, so hard to tell how good or bad it really was.

I might have loved to watch the Cuban show too but their tickets are priced way higher than I can afford. Plus, I've decided that if I'm watching a ballet again, I'd rather it be pretty little girls in white. To satisfy my inner self. That picture is worth a thousand times more than any lady in red.

26 Sep 2010

Chaya Chaya Everywhere

It has been a fairly popular joke since years ago and continues to be - There is no place in the Universe that you cannot find Mallus. You can go to the moon and have chaya where you get off your aircraft, for there will be a Mallu with his tiny chayakkada already there. 

As I travelled outside of India, I noticed the same about the 2 most populous countries in the world. Wherever you go, you find Indians and Chinese. As Rajesh Kootrapali says in The Big Bang Theory, "There are so many of them, they are everywhere!

It is unbelievable how many of us exist in every nook and corner of the world! This is in addition to the exploding population in their own respective countries. How did there come to be so many of us? Every friend of mine on Facebook is putting up pictures of their new-born babies and it worries me. No, not because I do not like babies. I love babies. I can't help wondering how we are going to manage so many more of us we are bringing into this world. 

After my 8k run today, I decided to sit in a nearby park for a while because the weather was so beautiful. I saw a few guys playing cricket and remembered what someone had once said to me, "If you see boys playing cricket in a park, rest assured they will be Indians". True to that statement, these guys were. Not just any Indians but mallus. I could not help laughing. About half a dozen guys with twice that number of kids. Enough said.

25 Sep 2010

Bullied By A Box

If you have used (or still use) Microsoft, you know about the innumerable patches they seem to force us to download every day or other, threatening that the current software would not work otherwise. One such day incident interrupted my beautiful life.

There is this little blue chip flashing at the bottom right corner of my screen, saying "Hello, look at me, click on me, get your updates. Do it now. Do it now! Do it NOW! DO IT NOW!"

With a gun to my head, I click on the 'Get Updates' button and allow MS to download all the updates it wants to. Everyone is happy now. Right? Wrong. 

You must restart your computer for the changes to take effect, MS says. 

I am in the middle of a very important status update on Twitter. Or maybe I was writing a blog. Or reading one. In any case, I do not want to restart right now. 

"Fuck you", I say as I close the window. 

A few seconds later, a message pops up discreetly, at the bottom right corner of my screen. It warns me that it will restart the computer, unless I notice it accidentally and set a time that it should wait for before reminding me again. 

Remind me after 10 minutes, I clicked, and went back to whatever (un)important activity I was involved in. Choosing a theme for my Twitter homepage.

Five minutes later, the little blue window appears again, taking up a quiet corner of my screen, so that I don't notice it and it can restart because I did not select on the remind me option again. I'm too smart and sharp for a dick-head computer, you moron! 

Remind me after 10 minutes, I click again, laughing inwardly at the computer's stupidity, for I intended to do exactly the same thing in another 10 minutes. Whatever happened next, I did not see it coming... Although, now that I think of it, why didn't I?

All hell breaks lose after that. MS gets irritated. The screen goes blank. When the screen comes back on, couple of windows flash on and off. It threatens to close my windows but, thankfully, it doesn't. The screen goes blank again. A few seconds of tantrums before everything is back on and things go quiet. 

I mean, really quiet. Really, really, fucking quiet! I click on a tab on Chrome and it refuses to budge. It won't tell me if it's doing anything. It will not even acknowledge that I clicked on something. A few frustrated clicks and it comes to life. Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, it starts to shift from one thing to another, pretending to be dragging itself to action one click of mine to another, while all I can do is watch and wait. I dare not click again, for it will insist on heading there too, before it will let me do anything else. Finally, I think it has covered all my clicks and I can click one more time to get to where I want to actually go. 

Hell, no! Windows flashing again, switching tabs, more tantrums. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I've hit the 'Start' button, so the menu pops up. I can hover all I want but it won't select an option. Maybe it would have, if I had waited another century! 

Silence again.

Okay, I give up. I'll let you restart. Show me what you have got, I'll hit the right buttons. The buttons YOU think are right, I mean!

Yes, I am mighty pissed! Can you blame me? I am supposed to be the master of my computer. How can a dumb-fuck machine tell me what to do? Yet, here it is. Bullying me. Throwing me ultimatums - Either you restart me or you can stare at my screen like an idiot, unable to do anything.

I click on the little light blue icon again, mentally cursing, the angriest words popping in my head. I'm too scared to speak out aloud and offend the stubborn monster in front of me. 

Why does it give me the option of restarting later if it won't allow me to do anything until I restart? Why the lie? I didn't refuse to restart, merely said to wait a bit. If you cannot apply the updates until I restart, so be it. Let me just work with the old version until I am ready to restart. What is your bloody problem, Mother?

Now, where was I? Oh yes, I click on the evil blue icon. Nothing happens. What the??! What now? I have accepted defeat. I want to restart now so I can get on with my pathetic life. What is the problem? It seems to take pleasure in torturing me. After what seemed like ages, during which I was terrified of clicking on the icon (or anywhere else) again and so waited patiently (seething inside), the small window quietly comes up on my screen. Restart, I clicked hastily, before it would disappear on me and taunt me for not being quick enough!

You would think the computer would just shut down all the windows (@#$*$##@^&*@#) and restart. Think again! After being such a bully and forcing me to abandon whatever I was doing, in favour of restarting my session, the fella wants to make up. 

Now that I've had my way, let me be nice to you, you poor little idiot. (I'm pretty sure that's what it was thinking)

The screen lists all the sessions I have open, with two buttons at the bottom asking if I want to Cancel or Force Restart. What a joke! If you are thinking it's waiting for me to make my choice, try again! It knocks off one item after another on my list anyway, closing windows as I watch powerlessly. 

When it stopped a few windows later, I click on Force Restart, ignoring the cautionary warning in italics just above the button. It says that if I force restart my machine, I will lose all unsaved data. How funny! Don't I know that? 

Are you sure you want to Force Restart? You will lose all unsaved data. Click cancel to go back to your session.

I am paraphrasing here, of course, but really! Really! Is that even an option? If I cancelled whatever it is that you want to do, will you really let me continue to work in peace? Even if that were remotely true (I don't believe it for a moment, by the way), what about all those windows that you just closed? There was nothing to save there but for God's sakes, I need those damn windows open to continue what I was doing!!

Seriously, what option do I have? So, I authorize it to forcibly close all my windows and restart. As it proceeds to kill my sessions, I can almost see it smiling. The Evil Grin of a victor. The ruffian cruelly forced me to act against my wishes, yet made it look as if I authorized it. What better way to win than humiliate your opponent as he helplessly wriggles under the strength of your grip, especially a mental one?

A lovely way to begin my weekend. I can't wait to experience the rest of it! (Hint: sarcasm)

Two Poems by Tagore (P Coelho's Blog)

Originally written by Rabindranath Tagore, reproduced in Paulo Coelho's blog and now, again, by me.

Where the Mind is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is lead forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action–
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
What is anxiety playmate?
What is anxiety playmate? Playmate, what is agony?
You all say day and night ‘love, love’-
Tell me, playmate, what is love! Is it only torment?
It is only shedding tears? Is that only sorrow’s breathing?
Why then in what expectation of joy
People hopefully embrace such sorrow?
In my eyes all is handsome,
All fresh, all spotless, blue sky, darkgreen wood
Liberal moonlight, soft flower-every thing like me.
They only smile, only sing, wish to die after a sportive game-
knows no pain, knows no crying, above all kinds of agony.
Flowers laugh while they get shed, moonlight smilingly disappears,
In the sea of light the star, all smiles, does his form abandon.
Who is happy like me? Come playmate, come near to me-
The joyous song of a happy heart will feed your mind with solace.
If everyday you cry, why not laugh for a single day-
Forget all sadness for at least a day, let all of us sing together.

Rabindranath Tagore, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

24 Sep 2010

When Dreams Come Alive

As a strong advocate of dreaming, whether one hopes to realize the dream or not, I have had a number of dreams over the years. In time, the list grows longer. Sometimes they get archived in the head until they are recalled by a trigger of some sort. Sometimes, they drop off the edge, never to be realized or remembered. Then there are those dreams that are fresh and oozing with hope. Not to forget the ones that are on the list and go crash boom with fireworks as one sparks them off, bringing happiness at having come true.

On my first day in Sydney last weekend, I picked up a map at the concierge of my hotel and made a random sketch of my day, while I had coffee and banana toast with butter. The plan was to walk through Hyde Park, The Domain and The Royal Botanical Gardens, soaking in the sights and sounds of the roads that ran alongside them, at the same time experiencing the bountiful freshness nature accorded me. It worked to perfection, as I saw lush green around me, dancing fountains, sculptures, old and new buildings juxtaposed in a contest of grandeur. Interspersed with these visuals were the occasional road crossing, bridges, traffic signals and, of course, the traffic itself in terms of people and vehicles. A good blend of quiet and noise. In other words, beautiful and lively. 

The Royal Botanical Garden is a splendid park, with plenty to see. The variety of birds, flowers, trees and life in so many forms bewildered me. The cacophony of scores of flying foxes, the other quiet varieties of birds looking for a feed, majestic trees, endless carpets of grass and the assortment of local flora I had never known about left me marvelling. After having spent a fair amount of time in the garden, I kept moving forward to see where it would lead me. I arrived at what looked like a castle in fairy tales. Like a 5-year old, I wondered what princess lived in there. Suddenly, I heard music flowing from the side of the castle. I walked towards it, to find a man in suit, playing for his lady in white. It truly looked like a scene from an old movie. I was almost disappointed to know that it was The Government House. I believe I could have gone inside but I was not sure and it did not hold my interest for I had another place to be, very soon.

I walked along the sea-side, to find out where it would end. Imagine my astonishment when I stumbled upon a structure I had only until then dreamed about! It was one of my dreams that had long been archived and migrated to the recesses of my dreamland. I used to watch it on TV and wonder if I could ever visit the place. Even when I made my weekend plans for Sydney, I had not comprehended the awe that this structure would inspire in me. Nothing had prepared me for the heart-stopping reaction that comes when one's long-forgotten, unexpectedly realized dreams come true! I nearly took a step back at the jolt I got from stumbling upon this structure. I stood there, the sea on my right, the lovely garden on my left staring at this magnificent structure that lay ahead of me. I walked slowly towards it, afraid the bubble would burst, if I rushed towards it. Just before I arrived at the stairs that led up to the building, I chanced upon a pontoon to my right. A wooden bridge, gently swaying to the breeze, that led straight into the sea. 

I needed a moment to gather myself. What better than walking towards the enormous body of water, with it's amiable waves and soothing sound? At the edge of the pontoon I stood, taking pleasure in the cradling of the floating bridge. I took a picture of myself, with one of Australia's icons in the background, before finally arriving at it's base. I ascended the stairs, excited with each step. I walked all around it. The sea goes around The Opera House in a semi-circle, disappearing into infinity. 

On the opposite side to where I started off, I saw The Harbour Bridge. That was my final destination for the day. I was going to be climbing the bridge shortly. In a short while, the awe of stumbling upon the mighty Opera House was subsiding. I had my fill. I made my way towards the next of Australia's greatest icon. To see what the beautiful world around me looked like at 134metres above the Sydney Harbour. 

The Bridge Climb itself is another experience to write home about. Standing on the top of The Harbour Bridge, with a 360 view of Sydney - The Opera House and beaches on one side, The Harbour below, Blue Mountains on the other and the vast Sky above that changed colours rapidly as dusk set in. It was magical! Much more beautiful than any dream might have been. It was like seeking a bar of chocolate and finding a chocolate-laden 7-course meal that is sinfully delightful!

12 Sep 2010

The Tattoo Dream

"Cheap tattoos are not good tattoos and good tattoos are not cheap tattoos", said Jon to me, as the plumber-turned-tattoo-artist, who said he was Aussie but he spelt his name like a French, set about getting his instruments in order. I'm pretty sure that was not the case with the tattoos on his arms, though. He explained that his colleagues and he did that to kill time on slow days. I saw 2.5 yrs worth of tattoos on there, like someone's resume carved on his body. 

Getting a tattoo is an activity that consists of many phases, each seemingly tougher than the other. The most important bit is picking a design that you can carry for the rest of your life. It involves finding the right design, deciding where you want it, how big/small you want it, whether you want it in black only or with a dash of colour and finally knowing that this is what you want when you fit it all in together. 

Once the art is finalized, the hunt for the artist begins. Finding a hygienic  parlour, a good artist and hoping to get a good price. The cost depend on the size and complexity of the tattoo, which means it is a rather unverifiable estimate. Colours or lack thereof do not count, leaving one with more options until the last minute. You can either book in or walk in, to be carved, depending on their schedules. 

What one might consider the toughest phase - the tattooing itself - is the easiest of them all. In a few steps and some time, it is all over.
  • You hand over your choice of art to the artist, who makes a drawing and finalizes what the actual will look like. Then he makes a stencil of it.
  • He cleans the skin with an anti-germ solution (if he doesn't, run!!) and slaps the stencil on there, over a layer of cream, pressing gently to leave a mark on the skin that is his new canvas
  • His 'brush' is an electric machine into which he inserts a long (about 5 inches) needle. The palette may consist of one or more colours.
  • Armed with a clean tissue to wipe off excess colour and blood every few seconds, he dips the needle into the colour, filling the end of it that goes into the skin and makes contact. Vrrrrrrooooom, it goes before the first sting. Like a needle being dragged deep along your skin, it bites but is bearable. I presume the vibration of the machine eases the pain of the pricks. As the needle goes in and out of your skin, it deposits the colour a few millimeters inside the skin. The colour consists mainly of water, some alcohol dissolvent and dyes that are safe to be injected.
  • Once the tattoo is done, the area is cleaned up, moisturized and bandaged, while the colour settles in and the wound forms a definite picture. 
  • A couple of hours later, the bandage can be removed, the area washed with warm soapy water and moisturized again. Whether to continue the bandage on for a couple of days or not is a choice. The point is to keep the wound clean and moisturized at all times, to avoid infection. 

That was the easiest part. The after-care is as important as the pre-tattoo research phase. Keeping the tattoo clean, washing it twice a day with soapy water, leaving it moisturised at all times and finally resisting the itching as the wound dries, forming scabs that will drop off in a few days. Salt water and sunshine are strictly taboo. If the artist has done a good job, the colour will not need a re-touch for atleast 20 years. 

Armed with a mandatory course in sterilization and an optional course in art, the tattoo artist undertakes a 2 - 3 year apprenticeship before being a full-fledged artist. The apprenticeship is not quite a government recognized certificate, so the tattoo artist is mostly in the job more for the love of it than anything. Possibly the wages too. I could not help but wonder about their job prospects. What goes on their resume and how is it verifiable? What is growth for them? In any case, I would add people skills on their certification course, for without that it is impossible to stick a needle in and out of a customer towards a happy ending. 

Jon, Ivan and some others told me that it was addictive. People keep coming back for more. I now know what they meant. What they forgot to tell me was that it was also contagious. More people keep coming back.

11 Sep 2010

A Dragon In My Garden

I finished my book, finished my blog and was about to log off after a quick check of my emails. I heard leaves rustling in my backyard. I figured it must be a possum. It sounded a little less heavy but it was definitely the sound of a short sprint. I turned to find a giant black and white lizard. He took a quick sprint, like a little puppy and stopped, looking upwards at the sky. I grabbed my camera and hoped he would not go away. He stayed still like a rock for a few minutes. Looking through my lenses and trying to place him, I almost thought I was pointing at a dried root or a small rock. I looked away, placed him in his surroundings and went back to my lenses. The rock was him. Click!

Ring-tailed Dragon (Ctenophorus caudicinctus)
He stayed in that position for another few seconds while I turned and came back inside. Another few quick steps, like a puppy that could only be a few days old, and he stops. Looks up. Stares at something for a few seconds. I stare at him. He does not have the flat face of a lizard, it is shaped like a more developed animal, almost like a dog if you stared long enough and tried to match it. Then he takes off again, I hear the rustle of leaves and silence but I can't see him. 

Who is he? I am not even sure he is a 'he'. So, I turned to my best friend, Google. I had thought it might be easy enough to find a picture with a name to it, if I searched for a black and white striped lizard. Not so. First of all, it could be a lizard, gecko or something with an entirely different nomenclature. Second, I had forgotten about creatures that could camouflage against the colours of the garden. I had simply assumed that this fellow could not because he was black and white against the brown and green of the garden. Looking at some of the features listed, I realized that my picture was not good enough to tell me. I could not even say for sure that this one had lidless eyes. I tried to narrow down my search to Queensland garden lizards. Better but still not enough. 

I plodded on. I had to find out what roams in my garden! I found out that skinks and dragons are the most common ones that prowl the gardens in summer. Brilliant! I kept changing the criteria of my search until I finally arrived at a website called the Aussie Photo Guide. There was a picture of a lizard (at least I had that right) that was Aussie and looked like the one I had seen a few minutes ago. The tail was a definite match. The body, well, close. This was it! My guest was the ring-tailed dragon. Scientific name Ctenophorus caudicinctus.

While I was on my search, I chanced upon something that was unique to Queensland. The world's most beautiful lizard, the stunning Golden Tailed Gecko. I am pretty confident I will never see one of these in my garden but I felt it deserved a mention anyway. Pretty as it can get.

I am getting to know the friends in my garden better. It is lovely to see animals wander in your garden. Of course, only as long as the doors are kept closed so they do not decide to visit me inside the house. Like the big sticks-for-legs spider I found in my sink the other day. It is a pity I identified him as a pest and chucked him out, without as much as a picture or a mention in my blog. It took a dragon for that.

Noisy possums, the graceful turkey, bees & other insects, pretty butterflies, spiders, dragon and a whole range of unidentifiable but loud and noisy birds. Who next? There must be something else I cannot see, for I can still hear my dragon friend slinking around among the dried leaves. Good luck to him. Or her.

If you are interested, there is a lovely list of Aussie lizards and frogs, with photographs, compiled by one John Sullivan in February 2003, here

The Scarecrow Series by Matthew Reilly

If you have not read Matthew Reilly's Scarecrow series and intend to, watch out for ***Spoiler Alert*** and skip those lines of text until you hit the next blank line.

It is as if Reilly has a load of these 'ideas' and can't decide which to use in his book, so he uses them all. Each one is better than the last one - faster, bigger, whackier, whatever. Every one of his books, including the promotional one makes an impact right from the start. 

He creates a line of history across each of them for those who read all the books in sequence, still maintaining an integrity that allows you to read each book as a standalone. There is a start, an end and enough punch in between that simply throws you into the midst of all the action before you get up and dust yourself out.

One thing I noticed is that he consistently maintains Shane Schofield, call-sign Scarecrow, on the defensive side of the attack. At the start of every action, well not right at the start but halfway through losing half his men but still the beginning of the attacks, Schofield tells his men that their aim is to "keep moving" to "stay alive". Every one of the Scarecrow books has that theme - staying alive. The books start with a certain mission at hand that goes awry and is filled with surprise attackers, modern technology (as modern as the book can get i.e. the next book has something more modern than the last, noticeable if you read it in sequence), disobedient Marines or infiltrators in his team. 

The books follow a general blueprint without each being the same book. It is as if the blueprint keeps the books under one canopy even as they can be detached from the previous or the next one. The action scenes are different in all. 

***Spoiler Alert*** 
Take Gina 'Mother' Newman, for example. She is one hell of a survivor but her methods are entirely different each time. She survives the worst of the offenders and near-death scenes in all the books, not once repeating tricks. The tactics and techniques used the Marines are different in all the books. They blend with the situation and, without standing out, become life-savers for one or more Marines, almost always involving the Scarecrow. In one, I learnt about the Sydney Harbour Bridge action of the Maghook, another spoke of the leapfrog technique. He just has so many different kinds of unique action scenes under his belt. 

Another remarkable thing is the Bond-like license that Schofield has, the freedom to blow up buildings and cause massive destruction. In fact, that is his trademark. The books carry that on rather proudly. In fact, in Scarecrow, there is a time when Mother asks him about the destruction he has caused, while they patch up over their headphones. When she arrives at the castle in France and sees the damage, she knows Schofield has been there. It is that liberty that adds much flavour to the drama. It is like salt in your food. No matter what else you add, if there isn't a pinch of salt, the food never tastes the same. (Note: No spoiler alert here because it is a fairly insignificant detail that reveals itself in the early stages, as the story unfolds)

In the end of a book, Schofield survives. You know that. There would not be a series if he did not. Except for the last book, where you do not know whether he survives. Yet, you can't help wondering if something might go wrong, if someone else (like Mother, who seems to outlast everyone else in his team) might die. Reilly has, from time to time, shown that none of his characters are safe. It is his secret weapon to keep the readers on their toes, to be unpredictable.

 ***Spoiler Alert*** 
When he killed Libby 'Fox' Gant in Scarecrow, it was heartbreaking. The story was heading somewhere, with a hint of a loveline when suddenly he yanks the cord and snaps it off. I kept waiting to find out she had survived it somehow, even when I knew that the Knight had seen her head being cut off. It is a book, poetic license, she could come back - that's what I kept thinking. However, he kept it real. He did not use his poetic license there. It added to the reliability of the story. Added to the flavour of the drama. It brought out emotions his earlier books had not.

Schofield's mission is never what it started off with. In all the 4 books of the series, it is the same deal. Reilly does not lose time getting to the point. Buckle up and arrive at the destination. Bam! Yet, each one is different in some ways. When he is finished, it is not merely the end of an action but a final say in a story. Somehow, Reilly manages that. 

 ***Spoiler Alert*** 
In one, he just goes back home alive, another he tries to saves the President of the US, in another he foils an explosive plan by the negative protagonists of the book. There is always a purpose, always something that was righted in the end. By the time you reach the last book, you might expect him to go on another purposeful mission that goes haywire. Hell, no! The mission itself is to right something that has gone haywire. If I thought it was because the book was, as someone told me, a 'promotional' attempt, he proved me wrong. There was a twist towards the end. Then another, so he could end it with the Scarecrow series signature.

Another common thing in all of the books was the presence of scientists and their fantastic, ultra-modern, secret experiments. There is the appearance of at least one non-Marine in their midst that may or may not live to tell the tale. One that helps them where they have no knowledge or leads them on to something. One that could be a burden while they are trying to save their own lives but it all fits in snugly. The backdrop of the story is the United States and the fact that it is a Superpower. I was impressed with the research and the wealth of information, albeit he has professed to using a fair bit of poetic license. Initially, I wondered why an Australian chose to write about the US army. By the end of the series, I knew the answer. That is where the canvas is the vast as the sky, allowing for the most creative, not to mention powerful, imagination to unfurl. 

Whether it is the regular novel-sized story that the first three were or the slim book that Hell Island was, there are all the elements that make Reilly's books what they are. Powerful and racing like a bullet.

7 Sep 2010

Tattoo Shopping

When my dad decides to buy something, he walks into a store and looks. For a very long time. He walks out without buying. He goes back later - maybe the same store, maybe a different one. He looks some more. He does this until he's satisfied, before he finally buys something. For some reason I always found that annoying (tch tch). So, it is rather amusing that I've been to the tattoo parlour thrice in the last week and half - actually, two of them - and met different guys each time, stared at each one of their drawings on the walls every time.

The first time I walked in, I was clueless and obviously lost. I flipped through their books and picked a couple of tattoos, which Ivan said would cost me $200 at a minimum. I was convinced that he was ripping me off. My budget was about 50 - 80 bucks. I left saying I would do some research and come back with my own drawing. I went to the other place on Elizabeth Street, where a group of burly guys in black, tattooed all over their body, worked. The place had no name, just ads indicating tattoos and body piercing. I looked at some more drawings and spoke with a Rob (I think) who was ready to give me one for $160. I did not need to book in and I could do it that weekend. He definitely seemed less like he was trying to cheat me. 

I went into City Body Art the second time and met Ivan again, to show him my drawings. He took me to an artist who said that two of my drawings would cost me $300 and one of them was $400. I was flabbergasted! There was no way I could buy that. And here was I, thinking I was going to get all 3 tattoos. After haggling for a bit (not sure if that was the Indian in me or the girl in me), he agreed to do 2 of them for 400 bucks if I did them in one sitting or $250 each. The 3rd one, he insisted, was no less than $400. With a sigh, I booked in for the 2 in one sitting deal. 

I spent the weekend, mentally preparing myself for the pain. I visualized them poking needles into me and then me walking out with gauze bandages, looking like I had just been out of a car wreck. I imagined the pain I had to go through, in the first few days while it healed, and winced. I could almost feel the pain, even though I was not sure where. By the morning of the D-day, I began to question why I wanted a tattoo. Was it worth spending $400 to get myself pricked? Could I not spend it in a better way? Maybe I could do the more expensive one of The Bridge Climbs in Sydney. Maybe I should stick with streaking my hair.

I did not run to work, took the train instead and tried to keep myself occupied with Shane Schofield, my new best friend from Matthew Reilly's Scarecrow series. By the time I reached office that morning, I had freaked myself out completely. I stood in the elevator, fidgeting and waiting to run out when it opened. Incidentally, I did not have to swipe myself in, for somebody else was heading to the same office. So, when I got out on my floor, a colleague I did not know stopped me and insisted on checking my id. Even after she stared at it for 2 full minutes, she did not seem overly convinced that I was not a thief or terrorist. I ignored her and went in anyway. Only much later, when I was at the desk of a fellow-colleague discussing work, did I realize what a nutter she was. She seemed to have convinced herself that I was plotting to steal secrets from her office and got herself all worked up. Anyway, I digress...

So, I spent the morning like a bomb on timer, ticking down to 12 'o' clock, when the action would begin. 

As I sat at the parlour, waiting for my tattoo artist to show up, I began to feel dizzy. I tried to look at the art on the walls but my eyes were hazy. I could still turn and go back. I did not have to do this. I have not paid for it. I do not really need a tattoo. I do not have the dough to pay for this. Suddenly, there were two of me... one refusing to chicken out but quivering in the seat, the other who could not believe I intended to go through with this! What the fuck was I thinking? I stood up. Guess which one of me won the argument that day!

4 Sep 2010

QBE RiverFire

Finally, the much-hyped RiverFire is over. The show was spectacular, as one would expect one of fireworks to be. From Kangaroo Point, we had a view of the fireworks from five different spots - in front of us and either side. It was a beauty to watch the fireworks in sync across all five points, and with the music on station 104.5

The first dump-and-burn was the longest and most spectacular! To watch a black jet shoot past spitting fire from it's tail... fire that grows bigger and bigger until the tail is larger than the F111 itself.... it was amazing to watch it zoom past us. When the second one was about to start, the fireworks stopped and there was silence for a while, as the music slowly changed. Everyone looked up and voila, there it was! The third one was unexpected and streaked across with a dazzling purple fire-tail that burned a bright orange as it got bigger. It was totally worth changing my mind in the last minute and head to Kangaroo Point, for the dump-and-burn was definitely the highlight of the event for me.

The fireworks themselves were spectacular. My favourite was the one where you saw a purple fire blazing on the boat and watched as it slowly grew into orange sparks and turned into huge green stars that exploded into a gigantic red ball, before crumbling to a massive ball of golden dust and finally disappearing into the dark skies. The city was a pretty view with lights, coloured smoke, sparkles and starry colours. 

The jam-packed crowds were not the kind of 'jam-pack' that one would find in India, a lot more relaxed. That reminded me that I need to take things with a pinch of salt when it comes to talking about crowds out here. I grabbed a sausage and onion roll while I was there, wish they were selling beer too. It was hard to watch families munch on steaks and take a swig of beer, while all I had was the roll and water. 

Inspite of a prediction of rain and dark clouds in the sky, no such thing happened. The weather remained lovely and perfect for the night. It was a pity that I missed the sights at the Story Bridge. From what I've heard, the best fireworks happen there. It's hard to pick the perfect vantage point, for you can only see so much from each point. Either the 5 fireworks in sync and multitude of colours or the Story Bridge or you miss the dump-and-burn. There's always a catch. Maybe next year, I'll catch to the Story Bridge sights. After all, the F111 jets were the highlight of this year, their last year before they fly off to the Americas for maintenance. 

It was a lovely night. A wonderful way to kick off the Brisbane Festival, starting tomorrow. I bet the free RiverFire event surpassed the paid Opening Night event of the festival, at King George Square. 

9K Endurance Test & QBE RiverFire

9K Endurance Test #1: Managed a non-stop 10k run in approx 75 minutes. 

The plan was to just see if I can last an hour. I was hoping the weather would help. Slathered on sufficient sunscreen for good measure, anyway, laced up and headed out around noon. The weather was rather pleasant. I stuck to the riverside, just to be sure. The sun peeped in occasionally but was rather well-behaved. 

Got a first-hand view of the preps for tonight's RiverFire. The Goodwill Bridge was closed and the entrance caged  up, with large boards redirecting walkers. People had started setting up spots by the riverfront, picnic blankets, chairs & tables, baskets and all. Some had settled on benches, under the trees. Everyone was with families and friends at the Botanic Gardens. Also noticed, thanks to kids playing, that the Botanic Gardens have a children's playground. 

On the way back, I got a good view of crowds forming at the Southbank. People have started picking spots and settling in, at their fave vantage points, 8 - 9hrs before the event. Triple MMM, docked in at Rockstar Lounge at Southbank have started their countdown, amidst playing variety music that kept me company all through the run. Next endurance test might be in slightly hotter weather.

Back home now and all set to get ready for the RiverFire. With 16000 kilos of fireworks, fabulous Blackhawk performances and the famous F111 dump-and-burn lined up, it's no wonder that most of Brisbane and surrounding suburbs will be there. I missed the Blackhawk and F111 rehearsal in the city yesterday but can't wait to watch. Thanks to Nathan and the real estate guys, I've got one of the best vantage points for fireworks - level 28 of one of the city's taller buildings! If I was worried about missing the jostling crowd and madness of the outdoor vantage points, the latest plan includes a spot on the Victoria Bridge to watch the dump-and-burn. I've heard so much about it, I can't wait!

Wondering if I ought to make my way to the RiverFire to watch PowderFinger play live or head towards the late night DJ stands in the city centre. The options are too many, not enough hours in my day. 

Triple MMM is hyping up the RiverFire official song so much, I've stuck myself on that station for the day now. Their countdown says 4.5 hours to go. I have about 2.5 before I walk over and secure myself a good vantage point. So much preparations to do and so little time! The excitements kicking in, can't sit down any more. 

After 3 days of warm weather, the bureau says there might be rain in the offing tonight. Hoping it won't rain down the show. After all, I'm about to strike off another item on Queenslands 150-must do things.