Solaris – two different visions


(A poster by Victo Ngai as seen on Chrome Yellow)

The Projector theatre in Singapore is currently doing a run of Tarkovsky’s movies – and I couldn’t resist the chance to watch Solaris a second time. There was a time when I was devouring everything from Tarkovsky – Stalker, Mirrors, Andrei Rublev, his writings on cinema. Since then, my attention span has gone through a significant contraction and I now stay drugged in the great melodrama of streaming television. A call for Solaris was also a call from the past. One I am glad I answered.

Before watching the movie, I picked up the original story from Stanislaw Lem, the Polish writer. I found a BBC audio rendition of it, which was a delight to hear. Lem’s Solaris was a scientific exploration of an alien existence. A psychologist travels to a space station orbiting a celestial system Solaris. The Scientists on the space station are studying Solaris, particularly its deceptive ocean. When Kris, the psychologist arrives on the station, he meets only one of the three Scientists. One has killed himself and another refuses to come out to meet Kris. The third, Snow, is shifty, drunk and paranoid. By the next day, Kris begins to experience strange events when he wakes from his sleep to find his ex-Wife in his room. He kills this apparition by sending her into space, but another apparition returns. As he talks to the other Scientists, he realises that they have guests of their own and think that Solaris’ enigmatic ocean is reading their minds during sleep and conjuring images from their conscience. Kris begins to fall in love with his apparition, but at the same time works with the Scientists in defeating the ocean.

Lem’s story is focused on man’s attempt at communicating with an alien entity. The attempt seems futile because we expect communication to be in our own perception, our own language. When the alien communicates through a different mechanism (like manifesting our own conscience), we see it as hostile and want to destroy it.

While listening to the book, I remembered similar themes from Tarkovsky’s movie. However, when I began to watch it, I realised that I had forgotten the overwhelming emphasis on human connections that this adaptation had. The movie adds a long prologue in an idyllic country home where Kris remembers his mother and his ex-Wife. He spends an emotional evening with his father and aunt, as he purges some of the old memories in a bonfire.

In the space station, while the main plot points remain similar to the original story – much of Kris’ focus is on understanding his relation to his Wife Hari than in understanding the alien entity. He is annoyingly absorbed in his romance, connecting back with a woman whose death he feels responsible for. In a slight exaggeration to Lem’s story, Hari continues to die, and though she regenerates every time, each of her deaths casts another shadow of guilt on Kris.

Kris’s illusions illustrates how a lot of our relationships and people around us exist only in our own perceptions. Strangely, Kris never seems to doubt the authenticity of Hari’s love, but he is afraid of killing her again by leaving the planet. He has already done this in the real world when Hari commits suicide after he left to another city for his job.

The Scientists decide that they can counter these apparitions by telling the ocean their conscious thoughts instead of just their dreams. “Be careful what you wish for”. This to me is the convergence between Lem’s story and Tarkovsky”s adaptation where man tries to bring back the communication to his own terms, even though Solaris was offering it a chance to understand their own dreams and desires. It highlights again in the voice of Snaut, the futility of exploration when we are only looking for mirrors.

The original story returns Kris back to earth where he writes two reports – one that narrates reality and another which reports no anomalies at the space station. However, in the movie Tarkovsky leaves us with a doubt on whether the Scientists ever leave and whether even the idea of their victory and their return is a dream that the ocean throws back at them. Perhaps our entire reality is an illusion- a product of someone creating a virtual world with the thoughts in our own heads. A matrix. And in this one, Kris is happy to take the blue pill, but most of us go chasing down the rabbit hole.

iphone Blues

This is one of those how to kind of posts that I never write. But considering the amount of trouble I went through in getting my iphone legally unlocked, I have to make a note of this. Also considering how I have never written How-to posts, this will probably read less like one and more like my horror story.

Somewhere beginning of last year, I purchased an iPhone 3G in India. At the time, the only options available were to either get an iphone locked to Airtel or to Vodafone. Now, none of these carriers were offering a deal. There was no lucrative plan, no discount – So you were saddled with a carrier for one year without any benefits except the ability to own an iphone.

So I got myself an iPhone locked to Airtel. At the time of taking the connection, I asked about the unlocking procedure after the completion of one year; to which the sales representative replied: It will auto-unlock in one year.

Well may be I was too gullible, but when I moved to Singapore, it did not strike me to check whether the phone was unlocked. I arrived in Singapore, and happily inserted a sim from 7-11 into my iphone – to get the rudest shock of relocation. My phone was still locked to Airtel and rejected this sim as Invalid! My first reaction was to rush off to the nearest Singtel store and buy an iPhone4, but providence saved me, as the store did not have the model I wanted. I know that iPhone5 is expected next month, and buying a model an year old is nothing short of foolishness. But to live without an iPhone till the next model arrives. Unimaginable!

So here’s what I did. I shot off a mail to Airtel Customer care, requesting for a remote unlock. After about 4 days, I got a mail asking for some specifics regarding my model, which I promptly provided. Silence, for another 7 days. I could bear it no longer, and searched for ways to expedite. On twitter, I found Airtel_Presence – the twitter channel to reach Airtel’s customer care. And I have to say they were responsive, at least far more than the official contact given otherwise. After two days, they responded (on twitter) saying that my phone is unlocked. I inserted the new sim again, expecting a ‘Voila’ moment, only to see some more invalid sim flashed on the phone.

After a few unhelpful calls with Airtel (who suggested that perhaps my sim was not good enough, etc), and after some unsuccessful internet searches, I called up the Apple helpline, who told me that my phone still showed as locked to Airtel in their database. So after confirming with the carrier that my phone was indeed unlocked from their end, I had to restore my iphone to factory settings using itunes. I inserted the new sim, and restored my phone using itunes and finally – the Voila I had been waiting for!

So if you have bought an iphone in India with a carrier, you must:

  1. Check with the carrier how long is your phone locked.
  2. If there are no benefits in price, you must request an immediate unlock, and once the carrier confirms this, restore your phone to factory settings and check with a different sim not belonging to the carrier to ensure your phone is unlocked
  3. If you find yourself outside the country, unable to visit the carrier to get the phone unlocked, mail their customer service ID (no point calling as most of the tele-callers will be unable to help with the technical issues) and request for an unlock. Constantly follow up – else they will take a long time to resolve the issue.
  4. In case any of the above does not work, call Apple helplines, which are very responsive, and can tell you the right solution depending on your phone’s serial number.
  5. If nothing works, well you can always go and do a hack unlock (for which there will be several guides available on the internet), but that is not something I suggest. Other than the fact that it is illegal, you end up losing warranty, have trouble doing OS upgrades (you will have to jailbreak everytime you want to upgrade)

Happy i-Phoning.

Moving to Singapore

I have seldom stayed long in a place ever since I left my hometown. Every few years, I pack some stuff into a Suitcase, reach a new place and hope to begin a new life. When it is time to leave (inevitable), I realize my suitcase has grown several folds, and I have to disperse this excess baggage. What follow are Garage sales, throwaways, gifts to friends/college juniors/housemaids, and eventually the last resort – packing away tons of stuff to my parents, who have mercifully, been less mobile, and who always welcome the stuff piled up over the years.
So it was this time too, when I chose to finally leave Mumbai, and move to Singapore. This time, the amount of stuff to be moved was massive – I had stayed, without knowing, 5 long years in Mumbai. These were years in which I had money to spend (unlike student days), had got married, and taken up much bigger houses than single rooms of earlier times. So even after days of selling and disposing stuff, I sent 47 packets home with Agarwal Packers & Movers! When they arrived at home in Jaipur (I was there to witness the catastrophe!), I was aghast at the mess. The movers kept bringing the boxes, and soon I thought Mom and I would get engulfed in brown boxes, never to be found again. Well somehow we managed (rather mom did as I watched from my sickbed, occasionally lifting a finger), and by the time my father arrived in the evening, there was no trace of the boxes and the chaos of the afternoon.

So I arrived here, in Singapore, with yet another suitcase. A few clothes, a few shoes, a few books and a few DVDs – essential moving stuff. (Leaving my collection of books behind at home was the hardest part, and the pain hit me anew when I entered the grand bookstore of Singapore: Kinokuniya at Takashimaya mall, and looked at the book prices. ).
In Singapore, the acceptable trend is to let out well-furnished apartments – it is often difficult to find an unfurnished place. Suits me in my current transient state, though it does impose quite a few restrictions. For instance, the microwave, the oven and the Wine cellar are all knitted together in a fixed space. To buy a new microwave which suits my needs better, will require a series of approvals – from the owner, followed by the apartment contractor, followed by the building committee (and I am sure followed by a Govt authority somewhere, which seems to involve itself on a macro level with public life)
Whatever I have seen of this city/country, the one defining feature that leaps out is Consumerism. I have rarely seen people who would be caught dead with a simple phone (which is any phone other than iphone), or without an LVMH/Channel/Prada bag on their shoulders. In the MRT (metro rail), the madness to consume is most prominent. Faces are buried in ipads, iphones, and the air is heavy with an amalgamation of perfume. The ugly LVMH logo stares out from all directions. As you walk through Orchard Road, the main shopping district, you see people queuing up outside the Channel store, or waiting patiently to get their Louis Vitton. In a coffee shop, sitting on a table which does not have an ipad or a mac is almost embarrassing. Heaven save you if you have some other brand of laptop/tablet. And anywhere in the city, if you are clicking pictures using a point-and-shoot, you will be forced to wonder if it is an unwritten rule to use ‘DSLR only’,

So when they say life in Singapore is easy, it is true to a good extent. There are some standard formats you can adopt for your life and live happily. You don’t have to exert yourself in making choices – you know which phone to buy and what purse to carry. If I ask two people, I will also know the approved shoes and dresses. As a vegetarian I do not even need to exert myself in choosing food, simply have to pick out of the 2-3 options on the menu. Commuting is easy – the MRT is convenient, and safe. Located amidst many beautiful countries, Singapore is also a great place to travel from. I am told Bintan and Batam (Indonesian islands) are less than 40 minutes away by ferry, Malaysia is an hour’s drive away.

It is also a place friendly to walkers, and I simply love that. No matter where you are, you will find a walkway. Despite the warm weather, it is lovely to take evening/night walks near the river, with the city twinkling in many lights, all of them playfully reflected in the river. My favorite spot, which I have recently discovered is the walkway at Stadium (Singapore Indoor stadium).

So I think I can very much get used to staying here. And also that it is early for impressions.

A new blog

In the last couple of years, I have begun to enjoy photography more and more. Though I still carry my camera mostly on travel (and thus almost never capture Mumbai through this eye), I have learned a little more than what I knew two years ago when I picked up my first DSLR.
Although still a bit premature, I think I can dabble with a photoblog now, which is what I am attempting to do at Memento Mori
Do drop by if images interest you.


For days, perhaps months, the feeling of inadequacy and incompleteness is mounting inside me. There have been rare moments in my life when I have felt completely satisfied, but this dissatisfaction is becoming a burden too heavy to bear. For the first time, it has begun to flow into moments of minor joys.
What is it that is troubling me so much? What responsibilities am I failing in? I don’t like where I live or have stopped enjoying what I do…but, changing a job or shifting a house are just distractions, which are only increasing this sense of failure. The peace has to be my own, it will never be found in these details.


Wait seems to be the theme of the moment. I am waiting for the monsoons, which seem unmoved by the scorching days. I am waiting for things to progress at work, beyond which let me not say more. I am also waiting for getting out of the city to greener pastures (though I did come back from a hectic weekend – but that was ‘hectic’, so not quite what I am looking for).


After much deliberation, I have finally invested in a digital SLR – a Sony Alpha 300. It seems appropriate for my amateur attempts. Up to this point, I had quite enjoyed my Point and shoot, Sony DSC P100, which has been by my side for four long and faithful years. It has traveled with me to many places and captured many of my memories. But there are a few things which can be best filmed with only a DSLR (the vegetal photography for instance, which has suddenly become my favorite subject).
My P100, unfortunately, is not taking the new arrival very well and has been throwing tantrums. It initially flared into a rage, flickering its screen profusely , and has now restored to a sulky blurred image. Needless to say, these tantrums are causing me much grief as I cannot always carry around the bulk of the garangutan Alpha, and quite miss the compactness and efficiency of my long-standing friend. I hope it comes back to its senses soon – very soon.


What was I thinking?! picking up Autumn of the Patriarch for a tired journey beginning on a Thursday midnight! No, I have not traveled through even 100 pages of it yet, despite having traveled many miles on either side of the equator in a crammed plane seat. It is not a travel companion, but a book to be read when you are in one of your ‘streams of consciousness’. Now that I am more awake, I am enjoying it much more.

As I am home for a week, have picked up Sebald’s Emigrants where I had left it. Somewhere in the midst of a melancholic tale. It is deeply touching and haunting, as Sebald’s writing always is.

My Mumbai break is well-timed, with Landmark just beginning its annual sale – picked up a decent lot – Llosa’s War of the end of the world (which got a repeated mention in the comments on my post on Death in the Andes here) and Coetzee’s Inner Workings being the highlight purchases. Now all I have to do is read them.