Thursday, October 18, 2012

LOCKED OUT! Of my MacBookPro

One of the (many) negative ways in which movies condition us is to assume that all events, good or bad, will be heralded by some kind of audio cue. As a result, when one of us -- okay, let's just be brazen and say "I" -- when I sat down last week at my computer and began what I thought was going to be a simple exercise in changing the User on my machine, there was no Jaws-style jing-jang-jing-jang to warn me of impending DOOOOOOM ...

So yes. I got locked out of my computer. I thought I was changing the User, but instead it turned out I was stepping off the gangplank of my familiar Universe and straight into the Ocean of Otherness that awaits those who mess around with their log-in codes in an ignorant and witless manner.

One of the downsides -- perhaps the only one? -- of owning a Mac is that it confers upon the User a confidence in its perfection such that we forget the Blue Screen Of Death and other nightmares associated with the Other System. It has a welcome screen into which the User enters her name and password. Misspelling either of these results in the little onscreen rectangle giving itself a three-second brrrrrr, a tiny death-rattle jiggle to inform you that you've messed up.

Having created a new log-in name, I logged out of my familiar ID and then ... you know what's going to happen, right? ... I tried to log back in, the welcome screen went into its death-rattle mode and NEVER CAME OUT OF IT.

This is where it would have helped to have the scary music. Lacking it, I just sat there, very calm, very composed and told myself it was nothing. Just a CAPS LOCK issue. Just a misspelt log-in name. Just a misspelt password issue. But after running through the usual series of maneuvers, turning off, turning on, turning of and on, making coffee, turning on and off and on and off, I realized eventually that this time I was really and truly locked out. Six years worth of saved work, dozens of half-written stories, plus one very-close-to-being-finished book had all, potentially, vanished into oblivion.

I am a very calm person. Let me explain why this is not really a good thing. It means not merely that I don't get frantic and hysterical when things go wrong but that I dislike feeling upset to such a degree that I simply refuse to react at all, regardless of what's happening. The worse the situation, the less panicked I get. With the result that, during (say) an all-out Martian attack, instead of leaping up to fly suicide missions deep into the heart of the mothership, I would become dreamy with detachment, completely unable to respond to the threat. 'Who needs the Earth?' I would say. 'We're headed towards eco-disaster anyway.'

This is pretty much what happened last week. While being too becalmed to tie my own shoe-laces, I and my house partner E went on-line, found web-forums at which dozens of users moaned about this exact same (or anyway, very similar-sounding) situation. We read up the instructions and spent much of the day following the moves described by various web pundits. The result was: death-rattle, death-rattle, death-rattle.

By evening, I was looking up the price of a new machine. 'I'll get a MacBook Air,' I told myself. 'That will cure me of any residual sorrows related to losing access to pretty much three-quarters of my conscious mind.'

I'm not going to describe the entire two-day ordeal of getting back in -- YES, that happened --  because it's boring to read the thoughts of someone who can no longer think. The main purpose behind writing this account is to heap praises upon the Apple Care tech team in Bangalore (the City Now Known As Bengaluru). E called them on the morning of the second day and spent about ten hours, working through three different people and dozens of interrupted phone calls (the cellphone service broke down in mid-instruction) before magically returning my computer to its own true desktop, sans death-rattle. Everything was back to normal, as if the entire experience had been a simple nightmare after all.

Two people in particular, Catherine (don't know if this is the correct spelling) and Deepak Kumar Singh talked E through the process of interrupting the MacBook's start-up in order to locate the "black screen" where the codes reside. Once there, E had to pick his way carefully through the neat rows of letters and numbers, lines, colons, slashes, commas, full-stops and all the other paraphernalia that is the supporting superstructure to this virtual world that so many of us take for granted and changed the System Log-in password. All over the phone, via verbal instructions.

Basically, there were two options: to get behind the barriers set up on the machine, download the user-content to an external disk, then erase the memory and start afresh OR to change the password. This second option was of course far superior but involved following instructions for inputing data very precisely. E was a superhero and did that, but Deepak Singh was even more of a superhero, for being able to do the whole thing remotely, without access to our screen.

The moral of this story is: Call Apple Care in Bangalore. They really know their stuff.

And also: whenever possible, run out and buy a MacBook Air.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

ENGLISH VINGLISH, directed by Gauri Shinde

For perhaps the first time EVER, I have seen a Hindi commercial film that I enjoyed. It stars Sridevi as Mrs Shashi Godbole, an "ordinary" housewife living in Pune, who goes to New York to help her sister plan the sister's daughter's wedding. The catch? Shashi speaks Hindi and is extremely uncomfortable/awkward when attempting to speak in English. Nevertheless, her husband Satish, played by Adil Hussain (a stage actor, I'm told) insists that she travel alone to the US, three weeks in advance of himself and their two young children, Sagar and Sapna. Once in NYC, she finds her way to an English speed-learning class and painstakingly builds a new voice for herself.

I admit to being biased against commercial Hindi cinema. For me to like a soppy family-values film like this one was like a carnivore eating raw zucchinis with a happy smile on its face. Even now, several days later, I continue to think about my enjoyment of the film with surprise. Mind you: I would not watch it again. It's a one-viewing movie with a uni-dimensional pay-off. The single most riveting feature of the film was its star and also, in some ways, its greatest flaw. Sridevi's presence was dazzling, but I mean this in the way of a deer caught in the headlights of a hunter's jeep on a moonless night. I couldn't look away from her for even a second. 

While most of the supporting cast were flesh-and-blood characters, Sri-D was like the CGI element in a live-action film. Her waxy-fair skin, unmoving eyebrows, Bambi eyes and gorgeous saris were all so blemish-free as to be completely unreal. But she lent a quality of absolute conviction to her role. I would for instance be shocked to discover that the actress wasn't herself someone who believed 1000% in the values that her character upholds in the film, i.e., that of considering her family and "Indian Culture" as the gods of her heart's religion. She came through as the ideal of Indian Womanhood that all our mothers would like their daughters to uphold, even though we all know it's unattainable.

The mystery for me was that she managed to hold my attention nevertheless. I didn't want to like her, but I DID. Was it because of the golden laddoos that she made and sold as a successful home-enterprise and the fact that she had a passion that really did go beyond family? The hurt feelings she wasn't afraid to show when her husband described her as "… born to make laddoos!"? The reality of India's cruel Hindi-English divide even within that impregnable fortress, the Indian Family, where Shashi's ten year old daughter feels free to express absolute contempt for her mother? The brave struggle she (Shashi) puts up when bullied by the cashier at a New York cafĂ© to make those ghastly choices about latte/cappuccino/small/medium/whatever/whatever when any sentient being can see that a simple human connection would solve the log-jam?

Well, it was all these things and more. It was a good script and a thoughtful idea. The familiar struggles of a new arrival to the US are rendered in a sympathetic and recognizable manner but the local residents are not flattened into caricatures either. They, as well as all the other secondary characters, behave fairly naturally and with conviction. 

The "Indian Culture" in this film is what we see in Indian TV commercials -- smoothly self-confident in its assertions about one-ness, authenticity and modernity. It presents a curious pan-Indian ethos, with a Punjabi-style wedding and the Maharashtrian Godboles speaking the same kind of Hindi as the idli-loving Ramamurthy of the language class. There's a moment when the French chef and love-interest (wholly vegan, not-even-a-cheek-kiss) Laurent from the language class tells Shashi that Italy and France are distinct and separate interpretations of "European" culture. The fact that we're watching a film that makes exactly the same kind of mash-up regarding "Indian" culture suggests to me that the decision to do so was conscious. Ramamurthy is given a mumble-line about (this is not an exact quote) "… we're all Indians after all, so of course we must speak Hindi" is another clue.

So yes, this is not the same India in which khap panchayats behead young lovers, where ever more girl-children are destroyed at birth each decade, where farmers commit suicide unnoticed and unmourned by the Government. It's that Other Country where joyous citizens cavort together under a soaring tricolor, their skins bleached white, their underarms pristine, their vaginas tight-as-virgins*, their kitchens Italian and their cars German but … oh, all right! It's a commercial film. Its aims are uncomplicated and the reason it succeeds is that the editing is crisp, the script is tight and the supporting characters are clearly realized.

I especially liked the Adil Hussain character because he seemed so comfortable in his skin as the insensitive-yet-loving-husband. It certainly helped that he was satisfyingly DARK -- I am so utterly sick of the universally milk-white complexions of TV-Indians that just to see someone who looked as if he had not spent his entire life in pursuit of albinism was a relief. I was impressed by the extreme scorn Sapna displays towards her mother, utterly blind to her parent's goddess-like beauty and other accomplishments. Even the little boy Sagar, a made-for-Amul-ads awwwww-generator, performed with flawless precision. The entire audience at Bombay's venerable Regal Cinema swooned at his every lisped syllable. 

And speaking of Regal: it was totally thrilling to actually go up to a regular booking-window and just buy a ticket. You know? Just like that. From a non-cyborg human who smiled when I looked surprised at how easy it all was. I felt I had time-traveled to college days and desperate moments at the Advance Booking counter, hoping against hope that the late-night show would not be sold out. And at the time of the show, the crowd that jammed the pavement was like commuters flooding out of Churchgate at rush-hour -- a calm-faced, slogan-free riot of perfumed and well-coifed Bombay-wallahs storming their way into upper stalls. Amazing. 

*If you don't believe me, go to this link.

English Vinglish, directed by Gauri Shinde