Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bates Motel (A Review)

Bates Motel is slick, entertaining and addictive. The name of the series naturally drew my attention with all the memories of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller and I just HAD to watch. One always wonders about Norman Bates’ past and this series does a bang up job of presenting an amazingly well thought out perspective and context.

Before your very eyes, you see Norman evolve (not sure if that’s the right word here) from a gawky, innocent and shy teenager to a young adult with psychological problems due to his mother’s difficult childhood, his own encounters with the opposite sex and his coming to terms with his mental condition.

Without giving too much away, a quick summary/review of the series.

Set in modern day Oregon (though shot in British Columbia), the story is developed subtly and with extreme intelligence. 

The fact that murders are commonplace in the small town Norman (Freddie Highmore) moves to and lives in is explained well with the town’s own issues, problems and generally weird goings-on.  

Norma Bates’ personality spanning multicolor hues is richly portrayed by Vera Farmiga as you end up sympathizing with her in one scene to feeling she’s a real bitch in another. The conflict and anguish within her are evident as she realizes her son is not all there and she becomes the controlling mother in Hitchcock’s narrative. The subtlety of the series shows up in a few ways here. Her hair which is initially blond and wavy in Season 1 slowly makes way to the silver colored bun that is a hallmark of the movie. In another scene, Norman is sleeping in his bed and she’s rocking back and forth on the chair that is unmistakably reminiscent of the movie.

The relationship between Norman and his mother also slowly changes as he starts realizing what he’s becoming and Norma’s helplessness as she attempts to cope with her own life and his. Shades of the Oedipus complex show up in flashes providing some explanations to his eventual persona.

The show is far from one dimensional with Norman’s elder brother thrown in the mix. Relatively more normal than his sibling and mother, the brother’s character only evokes empathy as he’s a man with a good heart and readily bails out his family from trouble which Norma and Norman keep getting into. As the town sheriff says in one scene to Norma ‘You seem to always attract trouble’ or something to that effect.  There’s also the girl who helps out at the motel and always wants to help but feels excluded from the psychotic whirlpool that is the Bates family.  Other characters include the town’s enigmatic sherif and the shifty uncle from the past.

Every aspect of the Norman Bates character is explained down to the tiniest detail including the reason that the Bates house is full of stuffed dead animals and his voyeurism.

The series has you on the edge every minute of every episode. One cannot do justice to it in a write-up. Scary, thoughtful, provocative and intensely brilliant and definitely worth a view.

Just make sure it’s not the last thing you watch before you switch off the lights to go to sleep at night.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Zak the Gentle

Zak died on May 22nd and with that, he took a part of us with him.

He was withering away for the last week or so prior to that and there was something deep inside that knew he wouldn't make it. Still that doesn't make it any easier. The second time we've lost a beloved family member in a few years time. Sol died when he was seven and  half and now Zak at six.

From the moment we got him as a 30 day old, it was evident that he was playful but extremely disciplined. None of us ever remember training him but he just listened. Like any other puppy, he was a joy to be around and watch.

During my startup days, Zak regularly accompanied me to work where he was just another member of the team and he made sure to spend time with each of us during the day. Birthday celebrations were a big deal for Zak as he always got the first piece of cake,

Zak didn't really fancy too much activity or the company of other dogs. He always considered himself one of us. He's probably barked a few times in his entire life. Most people who've been terrified of dogs got over their fear just by being with him a few minutes.

In our apartment complex, we were all known as Zak's family and that sums up his presence. A beloved soul whose only need in life was to be loved and his fur to be ruffled.  His only time of insistence was when you stopped petting him and he would place a purposeful paw on your leg just to remind you gently that he was not done.

He enjoyed our long trips and the girls spent many an hour in the cargo section of the car just being with him. We took him everywhere and he took it all in with the pleasure of a baby.

Zak passed away when we were out of the country and now that we're back, it's inconceivable that he's not around. I expect to hear the frantic paws on the floor every time I call him as he scrambles to get to me. It will take a while for us to get over his loss but the memories never go away and I know he's in a good place wherever he is. Goodbye big fella....there's always a place in our heart for you.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Two decades and counting

My cousin who is a journalist and an exemplary writer recently wrote about her 28 years of marriage to a military spouse. An inspiring read to say the least but it got me thinking of my marriage and where  (after 20 years) we've come to from our early days together as husband and wife though neither of us are in the military.

I've always had relationship issues or to put it bluntly, had no relationships at all with the fairer sex during my wild formative years in the northern regions of Nigeria nor during the obligatory four years of engineering in India. 

The whole concept of getting married came quite out of the blue as I was merrily going about my first job in the US after completing my graduate degree there. My uncle in India kind of suggested I consider this girl who was a distant relative of mine. The type of decision making one does in the younger days is so unfettered and liberating. Being the 90s, I got her photos in the post and showed it to my ex-roomies who asked me what I was waiting for and that was it.

Vaishnavi and I did talk a lot during those early days apart and though I could ill afford the multi-hundred dollar phone bills, it didn't stop me. Though we were related, we'd hardly seen or talked to each other growing up so this was essential for both of us to do. When I did go to India for the the 2-in-1 program (engagement followed by wedding on consecutive days), it was still quite awkward for both us to say the least.

Our early days together in the US were hard only when we look back on them in today's context. We didn't have money and often withdrew cash from credit cards to put into our bank account (don't really remember why the convoluted transactions). We never thought of these as hardships though and just went with the flow. 

When she cooked for the first time in her life, I made an innocent comment on the sink being full of pots and pans and pretty much a single cooked offering to show for it. She burst into tears. I also had to alter my daily routine drastically. I'd come home from work, have tea and take a nap. Hmm...

For a girl who's been around family all her life, being away for the first time in an alien land with a stranger cannot be easy any way you look at it. I must say she adapted remarkably well very quickly.

The start of the new millennium gave us our first experience of true adversity.  We realized that we couldn't have children. It's when you know you can't have something that you want nothing else. It did take us a while to even accept this fact. We'd read about teenage kids aborting their pregnancies and newborns flushed down toilets and we'd cringe and lament at the unfairness of it all.  

We finally reconciled to the harsh reality and then went about figuring out a solution. Numerous tests, prodding and medications followed. We found this amazing doctor  specializing in IVF at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix and we were there a few times a week.  It wasn't all bad. The whole experience was turned into an entertaining aspect of our lives and I still remember both of us laughing insanely at the stupidest things as we went back and forth from the hospital. An unforgettable quote from one of the doctors - 'you have a beautiful uterus' - cracks us up to this day.  

Towards the end of 2002, we were informed that two eggs had fertilized and were on the merry path to parenthood. Neither of us believe in miracles but if there ever was one, this was it. And in the 37th week of our tiny adventure, during a routine examination, Dr Lindstrom (who Vaishnavi thought was very good looking) said these words - 'Let's get those babies out of ya. Would 1 p.m work for you today?'

We moved back to India in 2004 with our twin girls and life's been good. Our girls have grown up to be strong independent little women and we can't imagine how we survived before them. We have had job changes (me more than her), gone through distressing financial times and tough relationship times. 

If I could draw a graph, I must say, overall, things have been well above the median in terms of how our relationship has evolved. Yes, we have become older, more irritable and grumpy, but when I see Vaishnavi,  I still see the slim, long haired gorgeous girl all of 22 years old.

What prompted me to write all this now? One was definitely my cousin's eloquent recap of her married life.  Other than that, memories started flooding back last night. Vaishnavi and I took a long walk and we talked about our future, our children's future, what and how we should plan for them. We got to thinking about how we started out and the fun we used to have together. It was time to pen down our joint history.

For most of us, there are no defining moments in life but a series of incremental events that define our relationships. The two of us are very different but our core values, morals and beliefs are the same and that's pretty much my nugget of wisdom for those embarking on the journey of togetherness.

I can't but resist ending with a few lyrics from an old Paula Abdul song because this so us!

Baby seems we never ever agree 
You like the movies 
And I like T.V. 
I take things serious 
And you take 'em light 
I go to bed early 
And I party all night 

A wedding in Chennai

It's been a while since we had a massive wedding on the wife's side of the family. This one was especially important as it was the...