The Kite Runner

Kite Runner : A person who chases after kites that are cut loose in a duel and retrieves them. Can be the same person as the one that flies the kite or a servant or a friend or…

I recently watched this movie by Marc Foster based on the book of the same name by Khaled Hosseini. In short, it’s the story of two kids who are inseparable when young, how they grow apart and what happens in their lives. What makes it interesting is how the story progresses and the depiction of the characters.

The movie starts with a guy Amir, receiving a box of his newly published book. He also receives a phone call from an old family friend in Pakistan and the story moves backward to Amir’s childhood. Here we get introduced to Hassan, the kite runner. He’s the son of the servant in Amir’s household. Both have a passion for flying kites, and Hassan is a very loyal friend to Amir. So much so that he suffers abuse (physical and sexual) from Assef and his friends, their bullies. Amir is reluctant to help and is later embarrassed of this. Hassan and his father leave Amir’s household after this incident though no one but Amir knows what exactly happened. Soon the Soviet invasion happens and Amir and his father move to the US.

In the US, he grows up, gets married, becomes moderately successful and publishes a book (he has always wanted to be a writer much against his father’s wishes) when he gets the phone call from Rahim Khan, a friend of his father and the one guy who appreciated Amir’s stories besides Hassan. Amir makes a trip to Peshawar where Rahim is living after the Taliban took over Afghanistan and learns about what happened to Hassan and who he really is. The rest of the story is about whether Amir has a change of character or remains the same spineless creature that he grew up as. Without giving away any plot details, it involves Hassan’s son and a meeting with his old bully Assef, who is now with the Taliban.

The protagonist and narrator of the story is Amir, a son of rich parents living in Kabul before the Soviet invasion and before Afghanistan is thrown into constant turmoil. He is a very passive person, non-confrontational and doesn’t even stand up to his bullies. Instead he lets Hassan fight on his behalf, which his father despises. He hopes that someday Amir will change and stand up for himself. Hassan is his close friend, his ally, and kite runner. He is from the Hazara tribe, considered lowly and not fit to be equals with the Pashtuns. Nevertheless, he’s extremely loyal to Amir till the very end of his life. Making the protagonist a weak character who the audiences won’t root for is a brave move on the part of the author. This being his first novel and going by the hypothesis that most first novels are autobiographical to some extent, we don’t know how much of Amir was derived from the author. Avoiding sudden changes of character in the second half of the movie and making Amir a sudden hero is a good move, and makes the movie more real. The movie ends on a positive note though, with Amir standing up for himself in his own way.

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2046

Everyone who goes to 2046 has the same intention, they want to recapture lost memories.

Because in 2046 nothing ever changes. But, nobody knows if that is true or not because no-one has ever come back.

So begins Wong Kar-Wai‘s movie 2046. The start portrays 2046 as a magical/fantastical place, where everyone goes to in search of lost memories but never return; except one man. He gives vague reasons as to why he returned and is on the train back (the start is like a science fiction movie). The narrative then shifts to the protagonist living in Hong Kong in the 60’s. He has just returned from Singapore and is starting as a journalist here (the movie is like a non-linear sequel to Wong Kar Wai’s earlier movie In the Mood for Love). He rents a room in a hotel where he spent some time before he left for Singapore and wants the same room as before. But the room is under renovation and so the owner offers the adjacent room and he accepts.

The adjacent room gets renovated after a while, but the protagonist has settled in his new room and doesn’t want to move into the room he originally wanted, the one that held a special place for him, a room numbered 2046. The rest of the movie explores the relationships between the protagonist and the serial occupants of the room 2046. The first is the owner’s daughter who is in love with a Japanese man. The father doesn’t approve of the relationship and the lover returns to Japan. The next occupant is a girl who works in a club, who initially starts out being platonic friends and ends up falling in love. The protagonist refuses to get into a relationship with her. After she leaves, the owner’s daughter returns, depressed after what it seems to have had broken up with her Japanese boyfriend. The protagonist finds that she’s interested in martial arts stories and makes her his assistant, writing stories for the newspaper. It is now that he gets an idea of writing a science fiction story about a place where everyone goes to recapture their lost memories. They even decide to name it 2047 after the room number of the protagonist. Eventually, he develops feelings for her but she doesn’t respond. After a while, she leaves for Japan and hears that she got engaged to her Japanese boyfriend.

The protagonist is reminded of a past lover in Singapore who helped him recover the money he lost in gambling. He thinks back to all his past relationships and makes them all characters in his science fiction story with him as the guy who returned from 2046. The story is told in a very non-linear fashion with the science fiction segments interspersing the actual storyline and a flashback to the time the protagonist was living in Singapore. There are several references to the earlier movie In the Mood for Love but this can be watched on its own too. The movie is a bit slow moving but the pace is well suited to the story. The cinematography is excellent and the dialogues even more so. The parallels between the protagonist’s own relationships with the women around him, who happen to share the same room, 2046 and the way it is used as the object of metaphor in the science fiction story is simply a brilliant piece of work by the director. In the end, despite so many women falling for him, and he too falling for a few, the protagonist walks away from it all. The movie doesn’t show where he goes. Has he finally returned from 2046? What would become of him? Will he change? Or remain the same? There are several unanswered questions… but as a movie, it’s sheer poetry.

God’s Debris

I was reading this book (electronic version available here) by Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic. It’s about a conversation between two people a delivery guy and an old man calling himself Avatar. The book discusses much about anything and the explanations given seem plausible.

According to the book, the only two unchangeable things are the tiniest particle into which matter can be divided, called God-dust, which has not been discovered yet and probablility. Probability is said to be the cause of all events in the universe and he has tried to explain some concepts like the constancy of the speed of light and evolution using this, though the explanations seem to be impossible.

The first few chapters of the book question the conventional (if it can be called that) notions on thought, life and faith in God. The answers following in the next few chapters offer a new perspective to the way we see the world.

To summarise what the book is about in a sentence it can be called “Philosophy for Dummies”,
…in a way.

Life is chaotic…or is it?

The answer to the question lies in this conversation between Rabindranath Tagore and Albert Einstein.


Excerpted from: A Tagore Reader, edited by Amiya Chakravarty.

Tagore and Einstein met through a common friend, Dr. Mendel. Tagore visited Einstein at his residence at Kaputh in the suburbs of Berlin on July 14, 1930, and Einstein returned the call and visited Tagore at the Mendel home. Both conversations were recorded and the above photograph was taken. The July 14 conversation is reproduced here, and was originally published in The Religion of Man (George, Allen & Unwin, Ltd., London), Appendix II, pp. 222-225.

TAGORE: I was discussing with Dr. Mendel today the new mathematical discoveries which tell us that in the realm of infinitesimal atoms chance has its play; the drama of existence is not absolutely predestined in character.

EINSTEIN: The facts that make science tend toward this view do not say good-bye to causality.

TAGORE: Maybe not, yet it appears that the idea of causality is not in the elements, but that some other force builds up with them an organized universe.

EINSTEIN: One tries to understand in the higher plane how the order is. The order is there, where the big elements combine and guide existence, but in the minute elements this order is not perceptible.

TAGORE: Thus duality is in the depths of existence, the contradiction of free impulse and the directive will which works upon it and evolves an orderly scheme of things.

EINSTEIN: Modern physics would not say they are contradictory. Clouds look as one from a distance, but if you see them nearby, they show themselves as disorderly drops of water.

TAGORE: I find a parallel in human psychology. Our passions and desires are unruly, but our character subdues these elements into a harmonious whole. Does something similar to this happen in the physical world? Are the elements rebellious, dynamic with individual impulse? And is there a principle in the physical world which dominates them and puts them into an orderly organization?

EINSTEIN: Even the elements are not without statistical order; elements of radium will always maintain their specific order, now and ever onward, just as they have done all along. There is, then, a statistical order in the elements.

TAGORE: Otherwise, the drama of existence would be too desultory. It is the constant harmony of chance and determination which makes it eternally new and living.

EINSTEIN: I believe that whatever we do or live for has its causality; it is good, however, that we cannot see through to it.

TAGORE: There is in human affairs an element of elasticity also, some freedom within a small range which is for the expression of our personality. It is like the musical system in India, which is not so rigidly fixed as western music. Our composers give a certain definite outline, a system of melody and rhythmic arrangement, and within a certain limit the player can improvise upon it. He must be one with the law of that particular melody, and then he can give spontaneous expression to his musical feeling within the prescribed regulation. We praise the composer for his genius in creating a foundation along with a superstructure of melodies, but we expect from the player his own skill in the creation of variations of melodic flourish and ornamentation. In creation we follow the central law of existence, but if we do not cut ourselves adrift from it, we can have sufficient freedom within the limits of our personality for the fullest self-expression.

EINSTEIN: That is possible only when there is a strong artistic tradition in music to guide the people’s mind. In Europe, music has come too far away from popular art and popular feeling and has become something like a secret art with conventions and traditions of its own.

TAGORE: You have to be absolutely obedient to this too complicated music. In India, the measure of a singer’s freedom is in his own creative personality. He can sing the composer’s song as his own, if he has the power creatively to assert himself in his interpretation of the general law of the melody which he is given to interpret.

EINSTEIN: It requires a very high standard of art to realize fully the great idea in the original music, so that one can make variations upon it. In our country, the variations are often prescribed.

TAGORE: If in our conduct we can follow the law of goodness, we can have real liberty of self-expression. The principle of conduct is there, but the character which makes it true and individual is our own creation. In our music there is a duality of freedom and prescribed order.

EINSTEIN: Are the words of a song also free? I mean to say, is the singer at liberty to add his own words to the song which he is singing?

TAGORE: Yes. In Bengal we have a kind of song-kirtan, we call it-which gives freedom to the singer to introduce parenthetical comments, phrases not in the original song. This occasions great enthusiasm, since the audience is constantly thrilled by some beautiful, spontaneous sentiment added by the singer.

EINSTEIN: Is the metrical form quite severe?

TAGORE: Yes, quite. You cannot exceed the limits of versification; the singer in all his variations must keep the rhythm and the time, which is fixed. In European music you have a comparative liberty with time, but not with melody.

EINSTEIN: Can the Indian music be sung without words? Can one understand a song without words?

TAGORE: Yes, we have songs with unmeaning words, sounds which just help to act as carriers of the notes. In North India, music is an independent art, not the interpretation of words and thoughts, as in Bengal. The music is very intricate and subtle and is a complete world of melody by itself.

EINSTEIN: Is it not polyphonic?

TAGORE: Instruments are used, not for harmony, but for keeping time and adding to the volume and depth. Has melody suffered in your music by the imposition of harmony?

EINSTEIN: Sometimes it does suffer very much. Sometimes the harmony swallows up the melody altogether.

TAGORE: Melody and harmony are like lines and colors in pictures. A simple linear picture may be completely beautiful; the introduction of color may make it vague and insignificant. Yet color may, by combination with lines, create great pictures, so long as it does not smother and destroy their value.

EINSTEIN: It is a beautiful comparison; line is also much older than color. It seems that your melody is much richer in structure than ours. Japanese music also seems to be so.

TAGORE: It is difficult to analyze the effect of eastern and western music on our minds. I am deeply moved by the western music; I feel that it is great, that it is vast in its structure and grand in its composition. Our own music touches me more deeply by its fundamental lyrical appeal. European music is epic in character; it has a broad background and is Gothic in its structure.

EINSTEIN: This is a question we Europeans cannot properly answer, we are so used to our own music. We want to know whether our own music is a conventional or a fundamental human feeling, whether to feel consonance and dissonance is natural, or a convention which we accept.

TAGORE: Somehow the piano confounds me. The violin pleases me much more.

EINSTEIN: It would be interesting to study the effects of European music on an Indian who had never heard it when he was young.

TAGORE: Once I asked an English musician to analyze for me some classical music, and explain to me what elements make for the beauty of the piece.

EINSTEIN: The difficulty is that the really good music, whether of the East or of the West, cannot be analyzed.

TAGORE: Yes, and what deeply affects the hearer is beyond himself.

EINSTEIN: The same uncertainty will always be there about everything fundamental in our experience, in our reaction to art, whether in Europe or in Asia. Even the red flower I see before me on your table may not be the same to you and me.

TAGORE: And yet there is always going on the process of reconciliation between them, the individual taste conforming to the universal standard.


What I infer from this conversation is that life at the micro level (i.e.,what we ordinary humans see, feel and hear) is chaotic. This can be compared to the movement of an electron in a conductor. It seems to encounter many obstacles before it can reach an end of the conductor. The longer the conductor, the more its travails.

When we transcend this level and enter a new state of consciousness/knowledge – the macro level (the existence of such a state is another question), the world appears in a different light, where the dependence of effects on the causes is more direct. This can be compared to the flow of current in the same conductor in which the electron “suffers”. The flow of current follows very deterministic principles, apply a voltage (cause) and the current flows (effect). Pretty straightforward.

Taking the analogy of the electron in the conductor to life, what is the voltage that moves us humans? Some call it fate, some call it destiny, but what is it really? What happens at the other end of the conductor and beyond? Is the travel amid obstacles within the conductor worth the trouble? Is it possible for the electron to transcend the limits of the conductor and control the path toward its destination? Finally, what is the contribution of this electron to the current?

Love at first sight

யாயும் ஞாயும் யாரா கியரோ
எந்தையும் நுந்தையும் எம்முறைக் கேளிர்
யானும் நீயும் எவ்வழி அறிதும்
செம்புலப் பெயல்நீர் போல அன்புடை நெஞ்சம் தாம்கலந் தனவே

தலைவனின் காதலைச்சொல்லும் ஒரு குறுந்தொகைப் பாடல்.

This is a sangam age song (kuRunthogai) describing what the protagonist felt on seeing the love of his life. I tried to translate it, but I am no Keats. What follows below is a translation of only the words in the poem to the best of my ability.

Our mothers know not each other,
Our fathers related like strangers
How do I even know thee
Yet our hearts have mingled
Like falling rain on a clay field.

Try as I may, I have not brought out the feel of the song. This song exactly picturises what goes through the mind when confronted with mesmerising beauty.

Shawshank Redemption

Shawshank Redemption is one of the few movies that appeals and elevates you to another plane. This movie can at best be described as poignant with excellent performances by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.
The movie is about a man wrongly accused for the murder of his wife and sentenced for life. The hope he has of being free someday and the manner in which he achieves it is extraordinary. Among other movies that rely on special effects and exaggerated emotions to captivate the audience, Shawshank Redemption stands tall, depending entirely on the performances of the artistes and the taut screenplay. No wonder it is high on the list as one of the best movies of all time. For more details and some interesting dialogues visit the link above. What follows is the tag-line for the movie.

Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.