Monday, August 6, 2012


An Extraordinary Correspondence

Making a case for tactile books in a digital world

Griffin Moss, an artist living in London, receives an intriguing postcard from Sabine Strohem commenting on a concept for one of his cards (Drinking like a fish).  It should not be in the least bit unusual for an artist to receive some reflection on his artwork.  But, Griffin does not know who Sabine is.  Moreover, Griffin has never shared his concept for the card with anyone.  So, how does someone from a remote island in the Pacific know this?

Drinking like a fish
This is how one of the finest epistolary books begins. The book is a collection of postcards and letters sent by these two characters to each other.  Each page shows the postcard artwork on one side and upon turning the page, one can read the message.  In case of letters, one face of the page shows the front of an envelope and upon turning the page, one finds an envelope that can be opened to pull out a letter as shown below.


Letter on following page
There is a narrative element which is interesting on its own but the form takes it to another level.  Without the accoutrement, this would make for a nice little short story.  But by having the letters and postcards, it offers an almost voyeuristic pleasure.  It also serves as means to making the story and the characters a little more intimate to the reader.  There is a certain delight in going through the envelopes and pulling out the letters as you progress through the story.  This is one aspect where the digital medium cannot compete and falls short.

The artwork on each postcard and each letter is excellent.  Since the communication takes place between someone living in London and the other person living on a fictitious island, it gives Bantock the liberty to create some new stamps.  The artwork on the postcards is attributed to the two characters and largely, the artwork on each communication ties in to the message.  This enhances the narrative flow and pulls the story together.

A concept such as this was bound to be successful, and it was.  This has led to two more books creating the Griffin and Sabine trilogy.  The tenacity of the characters' draw on their fans was such that Bantock created a sequel trilogy a decade later where two other characters are introduced, Matthew and Isabelle.  The content and the artwork in both trilogies is superb and lives up to the high expectations set by the first book.

Griffin and Sabine is one of the reasons why one would keep and hang on to a book.  While there are many merits to the digital medium in literature, there is simply no translation for the experience offered by a work like this.  Yes, the paper will age and portions will fade over time.  Perhaps the pages will start coming apart at the seams. But that will only add to the charm of this work, unlike the sterility of a digital reproduction.  This is a prime example of why paper books will never go away.

If you know someone who loves books or someone you want to fall in love with books (or just someone you love, period) then you have a perfect gift at hand.  You can thank me later.

Note: The postcards in the books are also available as a boxed set and are worth getting.

Monday, July 16, 2012


[Click on picture for photo album]

Late... but so worth the wait.

July 6th, 2012 was a highly anticipated date in the Parmar household.  That was the due date given by the doctors for our second child.  Since we had decided not to find out the gender of the baby, the anticipation and eagerness grew with each day approaching the due date.  More than anyone, our firstborn, Meru, could not wait for a promotion to the coveted "Big Brother" position.  They say good things come to those who wait.  And wait we did.  

We were told by most people that the second one arrives sooner so we should be prepared to welcome the baby as much as two weeks earlier than the due date.  We got ready.  We would have gotten Meru more excited, if that were possible.  The last week of June came and went.  We watched the fireworks on the 4th of July with the car ready to rush off to the hospital.  Finally July 6th came... and it went.  This baby was not quite ready to leave Mummy yet.  But the baby was healthy (kicking all day long to prove it) and we were assured by the doctors to wait till the 11th when they had scheduled the c-section.  

Well, we welcomed another baby boy on 11th July, 2012 around noon.  He's a big baby and more than makes up for the wait.  Fortunately, the biggest challenge we had that day was to convince Meru that his brother won't quite be ready to play with him in the evening.

Catherine and I would like to introduce our newborn son, Lekh Eliot Parmar.

Date: 11th July, 2012
Time: 12:24 PM
8 pounds, 13 ounces, 21 inches
Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia

It took us a few days to finalize his name as we followed the family tradition of naming the child based on his/her moon sign, Aries in this case. 

Lekh: (lā-kh, lei-kh) A sanskrit word for text, writing or script.   

Eliot: (ĕl-ee-ut) One of Catherine's favorite names (named after the poet)

Since we didn't know the gender of the baby, over the last 6 months we have been referring to him as Biju-baby ("Biju" means second in Gujarati).  The nickname appears to have stuck, especially since Meru doesn't see any reason to give him another name.

Four years ago when Meru was born, we told friends that life, as we knew it, had changed (to put it mildly).  Well, life just got a little more interesting.  It is hard to articulate how much joy this little one has brought to our lives.

Welcome home, Biju!  

आयुष्यमान भव, यशस्वी भव।

Monday, January 2, 2012







Run Time: 101 min.


Mesmerizing but disturbing.

[Disclosure: This is rated NC-17 and rightfully so.  While there is graphic nudity and sex depicted, the subject matter itself is certainly not appropriate for minors.  This is one NC-17 film with sex scenes that are anything but sexy or gratuitous.]

Brandon Sullivan is a handsome, well-coiffed, immaculately dressed thirty-something who is apparently very successful at work.  He lives in a modern but somewhat sterile apartment in New York City.  He is confident, well-spoken and can be quite charming.  However there is another side to his persona that is concealed from all that know him.  He has an addiction that leads to constant urges and impulses focused on sex.  He spends every living moment he can engaged in some form of sexual activity: porn, escorts, masturbation, group sex, bar pickups and more.  British artist Steve McQueen portrays a fascinating character study of a sex addict whose obsession can only lead to self destruction.  

Brandon's aimless but organized lifestyle is disrupted by the sudden presence of his sibling, Sissy, another damaged soul who shares a painful past with Brandon.  There is a hint of something that happened to the two siblings a long time ago and each has chosen a different way of coping with this.  This history that the two have is left to the viewer's imagination based on what one chooses to read in their interactions.  Brandon has chosen to be reserved and insular divulging no emotion to the outside world.  Sissy, on the other hand, throws herself to every man she encounters with an unrestrained hunger.  She wears her emotions on her sleeve and her scars underneath.  They are like oil and water.

The film focuses solely on Brandon and we view Sissy and a few other characters from his point of view.  While he shuts himself to the rest of the world, he cannot prevent Sissy from encroaching his space.  McQueen subtly illustrates how no one can illicit any emotion out of Brandon.  In fact, Sissy is the only one who can provoke any emotion out of him and that is only anger.  She constantly angers him because she represents a past and a reality that he is trying to ignore.  We meet Brandon as he goes through his routine and then see the complications brought by Sissy's appearance.  We accompany him with his boss to a bar as a wing-man and see his boss flop shamelessly.  Brandon, as we see later, cannot afford to fall flat.  His need to hook up is far beyond a hobby or a conquest, it is a true need.

The film succeeds primarily because of three major contributors.  Michael Fassbender is simply brilliant as Brandon and does a remarkable job of expressing volumes with hardly any dialog.  He portrays the different aspects of Brandon's persona with amazing clarity: the confidence, the pain and the guilt.  Carey Mulligan, as Sissy, is compelling, building on her earlier roles, especially An Education.  She is successful in revealing the insecurity and lack of self-esteem that Sissy is burdened with.  There is one scene in particular where she shines but I will get to that in a minute.  The third contribution, as significant as it is subtle, is New York City the way it is captured by Steve McQueen.  As a visual artist of critical acclaim, he has put a stamp on his creation by making New York a key player in the context of his narrative.  A vibrant, bustling metropolis can serve equally well in depicting the loneliness of its inhabitants.  He directs his camera to capture the city in an engaging yet distant manner.  The background score by Harry Escott complements the camerawork beautifully.

A good film usually separates itself from the rest with one or two memorable scenes.  Shame has at least three scenes that elevate it from a good film to a masterful one.  The first is an early scene on the subway train as Brandon commutes to work and notices a beautiful passenger sitting across.  There is no dialog but so much is spoken and exchanged simply through the eyes of the two strangers.  It is a scene that is powerful and flirtatious all at once.  The second scene is one of the many sex scenes and it focuses on Brandon's face as he has an orgasm.  It is a face contorted with pain, anger and sadness; a complete contradiction to the popular perception of climactic pleasure.  It is as if he is enduring this congress to seek the release that he craves.  McQueen avoids lengthy discourses in favor of a scene like this to make his point that this addiction is ultimately nothing other than self-abuse.  The third scene is one where Brandon finally caves in and goes with his boss to see Sissy at work as she sings at a lounge bar.  Sissy's rendition of "New York, New York" is lovely but more powerful is her emotion in the context of the narrative as she tries to connect with Brandon.  The camera focuses on her face for most of the song. (It took about 15 takes as McQueen wanted a complete unbroken shot with the entire song.)  This scene is easily worth the price of admission.

McQueen has done a terrific job of giving credence and authenticity to an addiction/disorder that has for the large part been the butt of jokes for late night television.  Brandon is cold, insular and completely possessed by his compulsions.  He is either incapable of making social contact or avoids it a as result of his past.  At one point, he admits that his longest relationship lasted four months.  The moment he feels any intimacy with a partner, his defenses seem to kick in and he runs away from it.  It is a sad painful existence badly in need of a cathartic release.  This is a terrific and fascinating film to watch, just not an easy one.

Trivia: Though the entire movie is set and filmed in New York, both the leads, the writer and the director are London-based Europeans.  Both the leads play American characters quite convincingly.