Archive for February, 2012

The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

India is a place that I haven’t seen enough of, and don’t know enough about. But at least I’m lucky enough to have been there twice. And let’s face it, you could spend a lifetime exploring India and not see it all – it’s a big place!

“The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone” has been sitting on my bookshelf for far too long (since my last trip to India in fact), but I finally got into reading it this year, and I am really glad that I did. Shashi Tharoor is a former UN diplomat, so he knows India, having grown up and spent much of his life there, but he also has enough of an outsider’s view that he doesn’t assume too much knowledge of the country for the international reader like me.

The book is a series of fairly short and easy to read essays on all of the major subjects of Indian life – politics, religion, history, economics, and of source cricket. What is clear is that the writer has his own opinions on Indian life, and although he loves his country and is very proud of it, he is honest about the good and bad of India in the 21st century. Although this is a forward-looking book, some of my favourite parts were about Indian history – the campaign for independance and the people who led it, the pain of partition, and the politics since then. I’ve always known a little about Gandhi, but not so much about Nehru and others, and I think my next non-fiction reading might be to find out more about them.

If the book has a central message, I think it’s the great diversity of India. When I was there, I was astonished by the profusion of languages as I travelled around, and wondered how a country could stay bound together without a single common language. But perhaps that question says more about me than India;  we struggle with division in Northern Ireland, even though it’s not that big and there aren’t that many of us. And Scotland isn’t much better these days…

His answer to that question is that India is at its best when it embraces the diversity that spans languages, religions, castes, ethnic types – pretty much everything. India is proud of its democracy, the massive exercise that ensures that votes are gathered from every corner of the country, and rightly so. And it’s proud of its secular society, where prime ministers, politicians, cricketers, and celebrities come from all of the different faiths.

India will be the most populous nation on earth before too long, and with its combination of science and technological leadership, and a massive diaspora of Indians all over the world, it’s a culture that we need to take notice of.

I really enjoyed this book, and it makes me want to find out more about a country that I have even greater respect for now.

Van Morrison at the Odyssey

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Tonight I got to see and hear Van Morrison live at the Odyssey.  What a great night 🙂

He hasn’t changed since the last time I saw him – he still has no interest in talking (the only words he said all night were to thank the audience, and to get the audience to applaud the band). But he lets his music do the talking for him. As I remember from before, he leads his band all the way – waving at them, pointing, talking to them, directing the music. And he loses himself in it too, the head nodding, and applauding some of the solos.

But what made this concert special was that he doesn’t have a new album to sell this time round. So instead of new songs the audience doesn’t know, this was mainly old songs that we did know. But not as we know them. His band included a trombone and saxaphone, plus a part time trumpet and keyboard player (an odd combo I thought). So it went from having the feel of a jazz quartet when he joined in on his sax, to a solid horn section backing up the rest of the band (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums and more percussion) with brass stabs. As always, the arrangements were really good, with some really subtle details on muted trumpet and tinkly piano. He started with a great, really fresh version of brown eyed girl with very jazzy horns. My immediate thought was “Wow – he’s still got it. Michael Buble or Jamie Cullum could be singing that arrangement”. And I was really pleased about that, because Van is getting on a bit, but he can still do it. Other classics were Gloria, Tupelo Honey, Moondance, Sometimes we cray, and Have I told you lately. And others I can’t think of right now. All of them reworked and sounding fresh, and unpredictably performed by Van himself, when he gets stuck on a line or a word and uses his voice as an instrument, repeating whatever it is again and again. He’s also very unsentimental with his own songs – a lot of them end very suddenly, with no gradual run down at all.

I’ve got no pictures, because they would have been awful from my phone, because the staff were telling peopple off for taking them, and because I know Van hates that sort of thing. I fully expect to have sore neck in the morning from sitting at an angle for two and a half hours. But I don’t care. I still thank Van Morrison is great.

(And his daughter was pretty good too as a support act – she can sing!)

PS: Double Usefulness also enjoyed the gig, and you can read his review here. It’s probably better than mine ; )