Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War – Play Review


In World Premiere of “Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War“, at CityLights Theater in San Jose, through telling of the story of the historic event that occurred in December 1914, both the mindlessness of war and the mindfulness of peace, become abundantly evident.   Playwrights Jeffrey Bracco and Kit Wilder have made this historic story personal, by telling it through four main characters, George Krieger (Max Tachis), the German patriotic soldier, fighting for honor, glory, and fatherland; Anna Friedmann (Cailin Papp), the German nurse who questions the wisdom of war; Tommy Williams (Drew Benjamin) English poet who is compelled to go to war by parental pressure and also pulled to write and pulled by his love for his young wife and by his friendship with Krieger; and Maggie Williams (Allison Meneley), young wife of Tommy who encourages him to write and waits for his return from war.

A little piece of history along with the events in the play

For most of World War I Allied Forces, predomi...

For most of World War I Allied Forces, predominantly those of France and the British Empire, were stalled at trenches on the Western Front. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This history was also expertly and succinctly narrated at the  beginning of the play.  The world was polarized and battle lines were drawn, long before the actual event that ignited the region, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, in Sarajevo in June, 1014.   As Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia (Serbian ally) mobilized its military.  Like a game of dominoes, one by one the countries were pressured or pulled into the war, as Germany declared war on Russia, France, and Belgium; Britain declared war on Germany; soon thereafter, Japan, Turkey, and the Ottoman Empire entered the fight; and ultimately US entered the war in 1917.  Ultimately, 70 million military personnel were mobilized.

While the obsession of the generals is with moving the pushpins on a map, war has an entirely different impact on the soldiers, in the trenches.  As the characters recount, it was widely believed by common people that the “Great War” would be over within a period of months, if not sooner.  Everyone expected their loved ones to be home  by Christmas.  Then Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary halt in fighting for the celebration of Christmas, in December 1914, but the warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire.  In fact, the generals declared penalties for what they considered amounted to fraternizing with the enemies.

A cross, left near Ieper in Belgium in 1999, t...

A cross, left near Ieper in Belgium in 1999, to celebrate the site of the Christmas Truce during the First World War in 1914. The text reads: 1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the four years that the world was at war, several deadly battles were fought.  Nearly 27,000 French troops were killed in a single day, in the Battle of the Frontiers, in August, 1914.  In the battle of Verdun in 1916, over one million soldiers were wounded or killed.  In the end, more than 9 million soldiers and over 7 million civilians died, as a result of this “Great War”, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in history.  It is then all the more remarkable that in the midst of the most deadly period of fighting, there was a brief period of calm, friendship, and camaraderie, moments of hope, reflection, and humanity.

This was a one time event. All future attempts to halt the fighting were squashed by generals’ threats of disciplinary action.  It is even more astonishing that this period of calm emerged spontaneously, in the trenches.  Those who were there, not to reason why, but to do and die, disobeyed orders, and for a brief shining period in history, humanity prevailed.   The soldiers declared their own truce; they began singing Christmas carols to each other across the enemy lines.  Entirely a different domino effect was observed, as soldiers in various places, crossed the no man’s land, and shook hands with the enemy soldiers and exchanged presents of cigarettes, plum puddings and beef jerkey and sang carols.  Some soldiers even used this short period of “truce” to retrieve bodies of their comrades, from the no man’s land, between the enemy battle lines.

It is the brilliance of Jeffrey Bracco and Kit Wilder, in how this remarkable historical event is captured and reproduced on stage, in “Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War”.  After deep research and from various documents and anecdotes, Bracco and Wilder put together the script.  Ron Gasparinetti created the scenic design to conjure up images of the long ago war, Jane Lambert provided the costume design and Nick Kumamoto provided lighting and video projection to keep the time and place real.  George Psarras composed music from popular WWI songs.  (One popular song “pack up your troubles in your old kit bag” was one of the biggest hits of the Great War time).

This is truly a must-watch play of this theater season, and it beautifully captures the spirit of the holiday season.   Truce will be running at CityLights Theater in San Jose, through December 21, 2014.  For tickets, go to www.cltc.org .

In the aftermath of the #FergusonDecision, this respite is exactly what we need.  Let us call “truce” and renew commitment to create conditions of

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Trip to Kyoto – Kinkaku-Ji Gold Temple, Shogun’s Castle, Kiyomizu-dera, Byodoin Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine and trip to Kobe: Japan Travel


The best part of my trip to Japan was that we enjoyed different sites with so many of our Japanese hosts.  Each one of them was wonderful, infinitely kind and gracious and truly made our trip memorable.  We saw a lot of temples and shrines in Kyoto.  Kyoto is called a city of ten thousand shrines and has the most gorgeous shrines and temples.

wpid-20140825_130519-1.jpgOn first day in Kyoto, Piper and I met Hanada San and Nakagome San.  These two ladies are 83 and 81 years old and have been best friends for over four decades.  They are highly educated.  Hanada San studied languages and Nakagome San has PhD in Chemistry.  They use technology, accessed emails on their cell phones, and walked at such a fast pace and climbed stairs with such gusto that it would put young people to shame.

I found that in place of typical Japanese softness and roundabout way of saying things, older Japanese women are very direct.  They sit up so straight and exude such dignity as if every wrinkle is telling a tale of hardships overcome and character built.  These two gorgeous women were completely straight forward and totally direct.  Right away they made it abundantly clear that they were going to pay for everything, including meals, entrance fees, and various cab rides.

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They took us to Kinkaku-Ji gold temple.  This is a zen temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.  There is another similarly named Silver temple, Ginkakuji that we did not see.  Kinkakuji is absolutely gorgeous temple, overlooking a large pond.  We could not go inside.  But we walked around outside and took pictures.wpid-20140825_124624.jpg

We went to a lovely restaurant with delicious vegetarian food for lunch.  Then we took a taxi and went to see beautiful rock garden and lotus garden.  Again the views were absolutely astounding and every place gave an idea of how seriously Japanese people take elements of beauty.  Hanada San and Nakagome San were lovely company.  Hanada San told me that she was just like my mother and I began calling her Mama San.

We took a taxi and went to see a Shogun’s castle, called Nijo Castle.  The castle castle has two concentric rings of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of Honmaru Palace and various support buildings and several gardens.  In 1601, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate, ordered all the feudal lords in Western Japan to contribute to the construction of the Nijo castle.  In 1867, the palace was the stage for the declaration of support to the emperor by Tokugawa Yoshinobu and the palace was returned to the Imperial Court.   wpid-20140825_145029.jpgwpid-20140825_162610.jpg

We were the last people to enter.  As we walked past an area, the caretakers closed the doors behind us.  We were the only people and so we clearly heard that as we walked by the wooden floors squeaked, but not in an annoying way.  The floors squeaked like the sound of the bird and they called it the nightingale squeak.  The squeak was designed to alert the shogun when someone was walking and so that no one would sneak up on anyone in the castle and yet it was designed to be gentle on the ears.  It was a gorgeous castle with lovely views outside.

We then went to Takashimaya, a huge shopping center and after some window shopping, went for dinner.  I wanted to climb up the seven floors, while everyone else took an elevator.  The floors however, did not go straight up but veered sideways on each floor and finally when I landed on the 7th floor, I emerged in the warehouse of a huge grocery store. I made my way out of the grocery store but could not locate them.  In English combined with sign language, I explained to the concierge to make an announcement for Piper, and they did.  I got found, and we had a hearty laugh during the lovely dinner!!  Hanada San and Nakagome San insisted on coming with us to the train station to buy tickets and stood waving goodbye at us for as long as they could see us.  Awww I was soooo touched!! What a memorable day!

wpid-20140828_172857.jpgWe enjoyed Kyoto again with Kozue and her daughters Hikari and Yuki and visited the Kiyomizu-dera shrine.  Kyomizu-dera temple was founded in 780 on the site of Otowa Waterfall, and is added to UNESCO world heritage sites.  The main temple juts out with a big wooden stage, 13 meters above the hillside below, offering gorgeous views of cherry and maple trees, along with the views of the city of Kyoto, in the distance. The main hall, along with the stage, was built without the use of nails.

Behind Kiyomizudera’s main hall is the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking.  In front of the shirne are two stones, placed 18 meters apart.  If you can successfully walk from one to the other, with the eyes closed then it is said to bring luck, in finding love.  If someone guides you and you reach the other stone then it means that an intermediary may be needed, in finding love.  At the shrine, there are many other little puzzles and special prayer places to help in finding love.  The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. The waters come out in three separate streams and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream’s water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school, and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy, so you must choose, where to drink from.  Important lesson in prioritizing!wpid-20140828_184239.jpg

We walked up and down the souvenir street and then went to eat at hot pot restaurant for Okinawa cuisine.  Kozue was immensely sweet and discussed menu for me at great length to make sure that I got completely vegetarian food.  Later we walked around and enjoyed the Kyoto skyline at night and saw the reflection of the Kyoto tower on the glass building, opposite the tower and enjoyed the water fountain with music.

wpid-20140824_112118.jpgLater I enjoyed the visit with Lisa to the beautiful Byodoin Temple and garden.  While walking back from the temple, we stopped at a tea shop and then walked to the station.  But Lisa forgot her water bottle at the tea shop.  So we parted company, as she went back to retrieve the bottle and I went alone to Fushimi Inari Shrine.

wpid-20140829_135443-1.jpgFushimi Inari Shrine is at a base of Inari mountain (Inari mens God of rice) and has trails that go up the mountain to many smaller shrines, across 4 kilometers.  The distinctive feature of this shrine is that entire walkways up are lined with literally thousands of vermilion or orange tori gates.  This is not only one of the most popular shrines among tourists visiting Japan but during Japanese New Year, it also draws several million Japanese worshipers.  It was great fun walking up the trail.

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wpid-20140829_150635-1.jpgWith Donna to Kobe

The highlight of my trip to Kobe was that quite unexpectedly, we ran into a Jain temple, even as I was explaining to Donna that during the religious days of Paryushan, I generally go at least one day to the temple and this may be the only year, when I would not be going, since I was in Japan.  As we accidently came upon a Jain temple, Donna insisted that it was not a coincidence and these events happen in our lives, when we have powerful intentions and that it is a part of the divine plan.  We walked in Kobe a lot.  Also went to the harbor, which was beautiful.  I love Manju, little Japanese dessert and ate a lot of that.wpid-20140827_141647.jpgwpid-20140827_130457.jpgwpid-20140827_094858.jpg

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Lean LaunchPad for Life Science Entrepreneurs


Recently, Karl Handelsman, Founder, Codon Capital, talked about the Lean LaunchPad Entrepreneurship program, at www.bio2devicegroup.org event.  Handelsman, with Allan May (Managing Director at Life Science Angels), are instructors in the Lean LaunchPad for Life Sciences program at UCSF and also will be teaching at NIH, in the future.  Handelsman is the Therapeutics cohort and May is the Medical Device cohort.

It is a mistake to assume that pre-clinical programs are risky and they need to focus on easier low hanging fruit or they must take 10+ years and a billion dollars to create value.  We have a duty to search for the path to unlock the value of the idea as industrially relevant innovation, and there are examples of biotech startups reaching that point in 18-30 months, said Handelsman.  Lean LaunchPad program teaches scientists and clinicians in startups to do a real world assessment of their idea or technology, before plunking down millions of dollars, in an idea.  Entrepreneurs receive training in determining their product’s market viability, regulatory risk, potential clinical utility, and also likely financing vehicles before making big dollar investments in research, design, and manufacturing.

English: Molecular graphics images were produc...

English: Molecular graphics images were produced using the UCSF Chimera package from the Resource for Biocomputing, Visualization, and Informatics at the University of California, San Francisco (supported by NIH P41 RR001081). PDB rendering based on 1a8e. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Entrepreneurs need good operational models that build a context of value creation, said Handelsman.  Investors like value, not milestones.  “Investors want to invest money and they want to hear a business case, and operational milestones don’t get you there”,  stressed Handelsman.

Big things often have small beginnings and start with contributions from many small pockets.  Sharing the case of a company that started with collaboration and became the behemoth, Genentech,  Handelsman said, entrepreneurs need to start thinking about collaboration, not competition, and begin to look at what kind of collaboration will create value.  After all, strategic alliances built the Silicon Valley and there are many different and creative ways of creating partnerships.  Entrepreneurs need to talk with others and be really good listeners.

Successful entrepreneurs are not thoughtless risk takers, but approach problems in a disciplined way.  Value creation for therapeutics begins with thoughtful consideration of who would benefit from solving a certain problem, patients, payers, insurances companies or any other entity?  Once entrepreneur can figure that out, they can go to a VC and explain the business case.  Value creation, after all, is not what entrepreneur thinks or believes, but an idea or concept that gets externally validated, through the customer.  “Do not constantly worry about keeping the concept in the stealth mode, and talk to a lot of people”, said Handelsman.  VCs do not count, they are not potential customers.  In the end, one could have a sexy product, but if it does not solve a pressing problem then it is not creating value.  Real answers to key commercialization questions, in case of therapeutics, lie outside the lab, and entrepreneurs need to actively engage and talk with customer, partners, regulators and so on to figure out the value of their product.  Lean LaunchPad methodology therefore, helps to validate the product, before commercial strategy is considered, saving time, money, resources and in some cases, helping guide the change in the trajectory, for more meaningful outcome.

 

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Andhera Hone Tak – (Wait Until Dark) – Hindi Play Review


NAATAK company has exceeded all expectations in its production of “Andhera Hone Tak”, hindi version of Frederick Knott’s classic thriller, “Wait Until Dark”.  The play is performed with English subtitles projected above the stage, and that makes it a must-see play, for a wider range of  audience.

Stage versions of thrillers are rare because suspense and elements of a thriller, including murder, robbery etc. are hard to create on stage.  Producer Surender Singh has made a bold attempt in bringing this production and the suspense filled thriller does not disappoint on any count.  Clearly, Mukund Marathe has once again proved that he is simply one of the most brilliant directors.

Suneeta Saxena (Sareeka Malhotra) is a housewife, who is also blind, and is married to Sameer Saxena (Puneet) and they live in Shivaji Park, Mumbai.  Sameer becomes an innocent transporter of a doll stuffed with contraband, when he brought it home, at the request of a woman, who is now surfaced as dead.  Soon thereafter, Sameer is traveling again for business and Suneeta becomes target of three con-men, looking for heroin hidden in a doll.  The doll is nowhere to be found because unbeknownst to anyone, a little girl, Aneesha, living in the apartment upstairs, has stolen the doll. The trio play initially manage to get Suneeta worried that her husband will be suspected of murdering the woman and the only way to protect him would be to enable them to have the possession of the doll.

Wait Until Dark

Wait Until Dark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sareeka Malhotra’s performance as a blind heroine, is brilliant, both vulnerable and at the same time courageous and determined.  The three con men, played by Varun Dua, Sanjay Apte, and Amit Sharma are so good at being bad that their performance holds you at the edge of your seats.  Aneesha Nema, the little child star gives a phenomenal performance as a bratty but precocious kid.  The set design is superb, easy for a supposedly blind person to navigate and yet complex for her to figure out the movements of the intruders.  Juhi Mohan has done a great job with lights, helping create the perfect “dark”, that would give Suneeta an edge against the intruders.

Every theater season, I give my recommendation of a “must-watch play of the season” from among South Bay Theater companies, including (NAATAK – www,naatak.org, CityLights – http://www.cltc.org, San Jose Stage – http://www.thestage.org, Theatreworks – http://www.theatreworks.org, EnActe Arts – http://www.enacte.org etc.) and this season, unequivocally, I recommend NAATAK’s “Andhera Hone Tak”, as the “must-watch play of the season”.  While the play is performed in Hindi, the English sub-titles, projected above the stage, make it easy for all to enjoy.  So remember, you don’t need to understand Hindi to enjoy the suspense, heart stopping tension, spooky lighting, and climactic end, all delivered by flawless performance, in real time.

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“Merchant on Venice” by EnActe Arts – Play Review


EnActe Arts is as bold in its offerings as it is lofty in its vision of producing South Asian themed theatre, for universal audiences.  The company provides a platform for writers and playwrights from across the globe, and creates a forum for crucial South Asian themed stories to be heard, in the US.

Its current production, playwright Shishir Kurup’s “Merchant On Venice”, brings merchants of Hindu-Muslim diaspora, residing on LA’s Venice Boulevard, on stage, in an adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic.  A Hindu merchant named Devendra (Amasalan Doraisingam), requests the help of Muslim moneylender, Sharuk (Vijay Rajvaidya), to fund his friend Jitendra (Sonu Bains) in his matrimonial suit to Pushpa (Angelica Shah), a wealthy heiress of her late father’s fortune.  Underpinning their agreement, Sharuk and Devendra have a history of deep mutual distrust and dislike.  Sharuk insists that if Devendra fails to fulfill his contract and pay him back on time, then it would incur a severe penalty.  The penalty would be for Devendra to lose his manhood and for Sharuk to cut off his testicles.

Holi in india-5

Holi in india-5 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found the second half of the play more engaging, than the first half.  The first half of the play, seeks to depict with humor and ironic wit, exaggerated cultural stereotypes of racism and bigotry, and the history of racial intolerance among the communities.  Despite well intentioned effort, most of the humor did not seem hilariously funny, and at times, it seemed too simplistic, annoying, and simply perpetuating the entrenched stereotypes.  The play seeks to adapt Shakespeare’s classic, with a complex plethora of characters, and in the process, also becomes confusing at times.  Indeed, Shishir Kurup seems to be a talented playwright, and at times the beauty of the dialogs comes through.  However, in the absence of the microphones and as plenty of new characters are introduced, and as some of their voices become softer and with missing dialogs, I found my interest diminishing, and my mind wandering.  Perhaps more experienced actors may be able to deliver with greater punch and emphasis, and change this perception.  Ranjita Chakrabarti as Tooranpoi, Sharuk’s disengaged employee, was hilarious and generated some good laughs and Angelica Shah’s and Vijay Rajvaidya’s performances were excellent.

After the intermission, the play becomes serious, and focuses on tackling the crucial issue of Hindu Muslim divide. Honest communication around these issues is important and therefore I would highly recommend this play.  The events reach a point where Devendra’s “deal in the making” with GSK has fallen through and he is unable to fulfill his contract with Sharuk, and must now accede to losing his manhood.   This case is heard in the court of SABU (South Asian Business Union), by a bunch of patriarchs, who insist on conducting Hindu prayers, before the case is heard, and insist that Devendra’s counsel, Pushpa who is dressed in pants, supposedly as a man, change her attire and come appropriately dressed as a woman, in a saree or a salwar.  Some of the distractions from the original story are meaningful and show the state of affairs (for instance, in secular India, it is a norm for Hindu prayers to be conducted before many business or legal or government proceedings).

Other distractions however, were useless distractions (including the celebration of Holi or court’s insistence that Pushpa change her attire, which she did).  (It alluded to the patriarchal aspect of the culture, and it seemed like an important stereotype that should have either been dropped entirely or focused upon more strongly.  It annoyed me that while racial stereotypes were being questioned, such blatant and outrageous gender stereotypes were simply showed to exist and then accepted!!)  In any case, the story veers from Shakespeare’s version and some of these distractions could have been dropped.  In fact, the play could have shed minutes and characters, and focused on the most pertinent issue it was seeking to highlight.  

While I don’t fully agree with the way in which the Hindu-Muslim issue is highlighted (would be a whole blog by itself), it is about time that these issues of racial divides get our attention.  The play provides a great starting point for future discussions, and raises important thought-provoking questions about religion, philosophy, human expectations, and behavior.  I would highly encourage South Asians to see this important production, that EnActe Arts has so boldly brought to stage.  For tickets, go to http://www.enacte.org .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last Days in Vietnam – Movie Review


Director Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam” is absolutely a must-watch documentary/ film of the year.  The film captures the chaotic final days of the Vietnam war.

Extreme disillusionment with the war, huge number of American fatalities and the anti-Vietnam war movement grown out of the counterculture of the 1960s, has been well documented in the history books.  Almost 60,000 US service members died in the conflict.  What is less well documented thus far however, is the toll that the war took on others.  Estimates of the number of Vietnamese service members and civilians killed range from 80,000 to 3.1M.  Additionally, 200,000 to 300,000 Cambodians and 20,000 to 200,000 Laotians are presumed to have died in the conflict.  While America was wrapped up in the jubilation of the troops coming home, when the end of war was announced, a different reality was unfolding in Vietnam.

Unplanned, abrupt, and chaotic withdrawal of the American troops was poised to about to create a tragedy of epic proportion, for the location population in South Vietnam.  North and South Vietnam were expected to remain separate states, while the US was withdrawing under the banner of “peace with honor”.  As observed by an interviewee, the agreement was however, a “masterpiece of ambiguity” and North Vietnam was not poised to be honor bound.  By spring of 1975, during the final days of the American withdrawal, North Vietnamese troops were pouring into the South.  Nixon had resigned and Ford Government as begging Congress for resources that were unlikely to come.  Panicstricken South Vietnamese people were making desperate attempts to escape, while the American soldiers and diplomats were encountering a moral dilemma: whether to obey the orders to evacuate US citizens only or risk treason and attempt to save the lives of Vietnamese people and how many can be saved with time running out.  As observed by an interviewee, the South Vietnamese were like “dead men walking and sometimes, there is an issue of not legal or illegal but right or wrong”.

English: Vietnam refugees. USS Montague lowers...

English: Vietnam refugees. USS Montague lowers a ladder over the side to French LSM to take refugees aboard. Haiphong, August 1954. PH1 H.S. Hemphill. (Navy) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ambassador Graham Martin refused to believe at first, that disaster was imminent.  Amidst the chaos, when one would assume that each individual would be looking out for themselves, eventually a group of heroes emerged, including the Ambassador, who refused to give up on their South Vietnamese friends.  The locals also became fiercely determined to escape.  First, the escapees were put on cargo planes. When the airport was being bombarded, they began to escape by crowding on small helicopters and heading out to sea, to land on a flotilla of American ships. Creative solutions and improvisation were called for in a race to save lives.  The US sailors began to unload the passengers from the choppers and then began pushing the choppers overboard, to save the space for the people.  One destroyer received 17 helicopter loads of refugees, pushing all the choppers overboard.  And yet other escapees stormed into the US Embassy, with some papers, demanding entrance.  When 24 hours remained to pull out, Ambassador Graham refused to leave and supervised the initial phase of the evacuation of the escapees through choppers taking off from the rooftop of the embassy.  Eventually,  some promises were honored and some put trust, humanity, and human lives in peril.

Kennedy has created a masterpiece from disjointed accounts, newspaper clippings, news over the radio, eyewitness accounts, heroic tales, footage shot at the time, and from hundreds of thousands of pictures, each one truly worth a thousand words.  The film captures an infinitely sad reality of the war; not just during the war, but when the war is over; in its aftermath, many continue to suffer for long periods of time.  More importantly, the film also captures the heart-wrenching and also heart-warming reality of indomitable human spirit that refuses to cave in and a small group of people who emerge to do the right thing;  and in the process, make a huge difference, in how the story would be told.  According to the film, in the end, about 130,000 people escaped.  On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being excellent, I rate the film 5.  It is truly a must watch masterpiece.

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Silicon Valley Film Festival – 2014


Silicon Valley Film Festival was recently held at Plug and Play Center in Sunnyvale.  A series of films and documentaries were presented.  The film festival is organized by a small but passionate group of people committed to providing a venue to filmmakers with a vision of “imagination and creativity for a rapid positive social change”, to help create a better tomorrow.

 

A Chinese film “The Winner” by Director Zhou Wei told a moving story of former boxer Cao Hai who left his boxing career, after an injury, only to return years later, to earn some quick money, to pay for his severely ill daughter’s medical expenses.  He encountered his former opponent’s son, Liu Jin Shui, whose primary ambition was to avenge his father’s enemy.  Although Liu deeply disliked Cao Hai at first, he soon became friends with his precocious and savvy little daughter.  Cao Hai and Liu Jin Shui develop respect and friendship and that finally leads them to a remarkable boxing match in history.

 

English: Boxing Day sunrise at Southbury

English: Boxing Day sunrise at Southbury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

A short film, “Om Suryanamaha” (Salutations to the Sun), written and directed by Nandini Kanhere, was based on a poem about a young religiously devout village maiden.  She follows the rituals of visit to the temple, reciting memorized prayers, making obligatory offerings, and chanting the verses.  But then she realizes that her compassion and care was required by others as well.  She takes care of elderly person in the village and a pregnant woman and in the process fails to do her rituals in the timely manner.  At first, she is distressed and disheartened but then she experiences a spiritual awakening with the realization that divinity resides not only inside the temple but also in God’s creation outside the temple, and all around her, even within her.

These are just two of many short films and some full length films that were shown. Silicon Valley is the birthplace of innovation and technology, and it is also impacting the world of Film Making and Digital Media.  Silicon Valley Film Festival is providing voice and venue to nascent film makers from around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Book of Salt” by Monique Truong – Book Review


Primarily set in Paris in the 1930s, in “The Book of Salt”, we get to understand life through the perspective of Binh, the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and her lesbian partner, Alice B. Toklas.  Binh is a shrewd observer and in equal measure, he is creative in recounting the life of his famous mesdames, as he is candid in telling about his own place in the world.  If you are looking for a story with a beginning, middle, and an ending with a climax then the story might disappoint you.  His is a story that must be enjoyed as as a journey, without yearning for a destination.  The beauty of language in how the story is told is striking.  Enjoy below a few interesting quotes from the book and read it to enjoy more.

English: Portrait of Gertrude Stein Deutsch: P...

English: Portrait of Gertrude Stein Deutsch: Porträt Gertrude Stein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The vocabulary of servitude is not built upon my knowledge of foreign words but rather on my ability to swallow them.

Communicating in the negative is not the quickest and certainly not the most esteemed form of expression, but for those of us with few words to spare it is the magic spell, the incantation, that opens up an otherwise inaccessible treasure trove.

Only the rich can afford not to eat their animals.

After years of the imposed invisibility of servitude, I am acutely aware when when I am being watched, a sensitivity born from absence, a grain of salt on the tongue of a man who has tasted only bitter.

In order for his new business to thrive, he needed to be within walking distance of poverty.  Abject was not required.  That would be overdoing it.  He needed just a paid-on-Saturday, broke-by-sunday kind of poverty, a deep-rooted not-going-anywhere-soon kind of insolvency.  

He was a cook, after all.  For tenderness, we all know that braising is better than an open flame.  

She believes that it is possible to be humane even when one is behaving brutally.

A bridge belongs to no one because a bridge has to belong to two parties, one on either side.  There has to be an agreement, a mutual consent, otherwise it’s a useless piece of wood, a wasted expanse of cement.  Every bridge is, in this way, he explained, a monument to an accord.

Regarding sea sickness………
My body had to first let go of land before it could survive at sea.  It is the body’s stubborn resistance and violent refusal that are solely at fault, producing sham symptoms.

Charity that has to be repaid?  Wouldn’t that make it a loan?

She sat still and received from her mother a rare gift of tenderness, which for the girl would always mean pain.

Wives are never geniuses.  Geniuses are never wives.  GertrudeStein, therefore, has no use for them.  

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A pinch of salt, according to my Madame, should not be a primitive reflex, a nervous twitch on the part of any cook……..

Salt is an ingredient to be considered and carefully weighed like all others.  The true test of salt – the whole of the sea on the tip of the tongue, sorrow’s sting, labor’s smack — has been lost, according to my Madame, to be centuries of culinary imprudence.

A “memory” was for me another way of saying a “story”.  A “story” was another way of saying a “gift”.

For a traveler, it is sometimes necessary to make the world small on purpose.  It is the only way to stop migrating and find a new home.  

Plaque at No 27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris 6th, whe...

Plaque at No 27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris 6th, where Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) lived with her brother Leo Stein and later with Alice B. Toklas. Many artists and writers came here to visit her between 1903 and 1938. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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“Minefields of the Heart” by Sue Diaz – Book Review


Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D.:

Praying for safety and security of all our Veterans and their families #VeteransDay #VeteransMatter

Originally posted on Darshana Varia Nadkarni's Blog:

“War is hell”.  Most of us know this however, from a certain safe distance, except those who are in it; in the physical hellishness of war.  Towards the end of the book the author discusses another book “Black Hearts” by Jim Frederick, an account of one platoon’s descent into madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death.  Diaz says, he writes a factual and fair account of “lonely outposts, insurgent safe-houses, cold canals, farm fields crisscrossed by enemy fire, and streets as dangerous as they were dusty”.  This is the physical hellishness of war that despite being gruesome, is, for most of us, at a certain geographical safe distance.

Minefield maintenance Marines stack mines for ...

Minefield maintenance Marines stack mines for disposal. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is clearing it’s minefields of outdated mines in accordance with President William Jefferson Clinton’s directive. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But in this book, Minefields of the Heart, Diaz writes…

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Japan Travel – Koyasan Monastery: August, 2014


wpid-20140822_200202.jpgMarie-San and her husband Hiroyuki-San picked us up from Barbara’s home in Nara.  We drove for about 3 hours to a place called Koyasan which is a seat of one of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.  UNESCO has declared Mt. Koya as one of the world heritage sites. Located in a valley amid the eight mountain peaks, it is supposed to resemble a lotus and hence the location was selected as headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist sect.  We had a lovely lunch at a vegetarian place and then took a long walk where on both sides are beautiful graves of various people.  At the end of the road the founder of the sect is laid to rest and there is the head temple or Kongobu-Ji.  It started drizzling on our walk and Marie had brought umbrellas; so we walked in the gentle rain.  It was a beautiful start to awesome experience of spending time at the Buddhist monastery where Marie had made our booking.

 

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At the monastery, at the entrance we were to leave our shoes at the door and use the shoes provided by the monastery.  Our room was simple 6 by 6 tatami mat room, with a large table in the middle, where they served us welcome tea.  Marie and Hiroyuki came to our room and we all enjoyed the tea together.

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We ladies then went for the bath and men went into their own separate bath.  This was my first Japanese bathing experience and it was wonderful.  We each received a small wash towel and first scrubbed ourselves clean at our individual stalls.  Each stall was equipped with a tap and a shower head, a sitting stool, shampoo, and soap.  After thoroughly cleaning ourselves, we entered the bath and soaked in the warm water.  We scrubbed our bodies clean and rinsed and then entered the bath and soaked in the bath.  After we emerged clean and relaxed, we wore yucatas (bath robes) provided to us and then proceeded to a special room, where we were served dinner.  I don’t have words to describe the dinner.  It was amazingly beautifully served on two trays and had over 22 items and counting lids and chop sticks and chop sticks rester etc. there were 30 plus items.  Each item was served decorated into each server.  This was the most beautifully presented and the most delicious dinner I have ever had.

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wpid-20140822_173912.jpgwpid-20140822_200226.jpgAfter dinner, there was still some time before the curfew (at 9 pm).  So we changed into regular clothes and went for a night walk and to watch the pagodas that were lighted.  It was enormously beautiful.  We returned before 9 pm and went to bed and were at the mantra chanting by 6 am.  After an hour of prayers, mantra chanting, and a lecture by the monk, we went for breakfast.  Again amazed by the care with which it was served and we ate in silence or minimally talking only when necessary.  We then toured the garden and went to another temple for meditation.   Here Marie had planned meditation training for us.  After each set of instructions, the priest paused, while Marie translated in English for us.  We then walked around the various pagodas and had lunch and started towards Nara.wpid-20140823_082903.jpg

wpid-20140823_103848.jpgwpid-20140823_082937-1.jpgUpon reaching Nara, we went for supa cento.  Those are public baths on a much larger scale.  There were at least 15 pools or baths (by my count), baths that included cold bath, hot bath, outdoor pool, cave pool, salt bath, small bath tub, lying down shallow pool, jacuzzi with different jets, electric bathing pool, outdoor small pool with TV and there was wet sauna, hot sauna and so on.  There were special massage baths as well for those who wanted to pay etc.  This was a highlight of the trip.  I enjoyed the Japanese bathing experience so much that I made a special request that Marie plan at least one more day of supa cento and she did even though she and Hiroyuki-San had to drive several hours to drop me back since I missed the train back!!

 

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