Mira Nair's movie packs in far more universal appeal than Jhumpa Lahiri's book. Rather than the movie's fidelity to the book, my main basis of comparison was: on the whole, does it tell a deeper, richer story? I thought yes; it improved on a mostly drab and plodding book, altering it in positive ways.
For instance: the movie reduced the book's all-pervading, melancholy sense of loss and exile of the middle-class Indian economic migrant (which I couldn't relate to and found rather annoying); it had richer vignettes of India as seen through visiting NRI/ABCD eyes; its manner of revealing the significance of "Gogol" was more effective; near the end, it made the middle-aged Ashima come into her own as a woman/singer; and so on.
The movie captured several “immigrant moments” at least as well as the book, the stuff that lots of Indians will surely relate to – old world mannerisms and husband-wife relations, the mulish adherence to tradition and custom, difficulties with names, the particular cliquishness of Bengalis, and most importantly, the tragicomic distance between most first generation Indian immigrants and their offspring.
Ashoke's death and Ashima's reaction to it were handled more deftly (except the oddly formal/festive attire Ashima wore at home when she got the news). However, the moment of parting between Gogol and his white girlfriend was worse than the book's (if I recall correctly), showing her in an absurdly selfish light. His relationship with Moushumi and her character were much less developed than in the book. This, in particular, shifted the book's primary focus on Gogol to more of a family portrait.
I liked Kal Penn as the bored and bumbling ABCD teen and young professional with his small rebellions and his later arc of personal growth. We see his insecurities, his disdain for the “Indian culture” his parents represent, his desire to belong in the only world he has known. Tabu and Irfan Khan were also good, though I understand their Bengali accents were not too authentic. Ultimately, the movie lacked the emotional and intellectual resonance of a great work of art, and that I think is largely due to the slight work of miniature artistry on which it is based.
The next time we whip out our Blackberries, cell phones, gaming consoles, iPods, and laptops, we would do well to remember their true cost, beyond what we paid for them at the store. Each of these gadgets use an ore called coltan. About 80% of the world supplies of coltan lie in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which the UN says is subject to "highly organized and systematic exploitation."
Coltan is “the colloquial African name for columbite-tantalite, a metallic ore used to produce the elements niobium and tantalum. In appearance, coltan is a dull black mineral. The exportation of coltan helped fuel the war in the Congo, a conflict that has resulted in approx. 3.8 million deaths.” [Wikipedia]
In a country the size of Western Europe, a war rages that has lasted eight years and cost four million lives. Rival militias inflict appalling suffering on the civilian population, and what passes for political leadership is powerless to stop it. This is Congo, and the reason for the conflict - control of minerals essential to the electronic gadgetry on which the developed world depends - is what makes our blindness to the horror doubly shaming. Johann Hari reports from the killing fields of central Africa.
Anandpur Sahib is a holy city in Punjab. Its historical significance to the Sikhs is second only to Amritsar. Hundreds of Sikhs once embraced martyrdom here. Sikh history is deeply marked by their struggle for survival in a volatile land, especially during the peak of Mughal persecution under Aurangzeb, which radicalized the Sikhs (many paintings in the museum at the Golden Temple in Amritsar record the horrifying persecution stories retold across the land). The mystical faith of Guru Nanak transformed into the fiercely spartan and nationalistic faith of Guru Gobind Singh, who also committed the Sikhs to the five Ks. In early 19th century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh further militarized the Sikh nation, creating the first modern army in the subcontinent. Reversing the dominant historical trend, he went west to conquer new lands (which later fell in the British lap).
Takhat Kesgarh Sahib—one of five Takhats, or seats of authority, in Sikhism—is the centerpiece of Anandpur Sahib. It stands upon a hill and is visible for miles. The Khalsa was revealed here by their tenth and last guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who selected the five beloved ones and administered baptism of Khanda (Khande di Pahul), instituting the Khalsa panth on Baisakhi, 30 Mar 1699. A special congregation was held that was attended by thousands. Kesgarh Sahib Fort was built here in 1699, replaced long since by the Gurdwara (a room in its inner sanctum holds twelve important military relics of Guru Gobind Singh). The Sikhs celebrated the 300th anniversary of the day in 1999 with thousands of religious gatherings all over the world. Two Gurus and families of four Gurus lived in Anandpur Sahib for many years.
This transformation is still reflected in the iconography and practice of Sikhism. Swords, spears, shields, and daggers are a centerpiece display in all Gurdwaras, besides the Guru Granth Sahib covered in finery. Even today many Sikhs become Nihangs, an order founded by Guru Gobind Singh himself as the fighting body of the Khalsa. The Nihangs—in distinctive blue robes and armed only with traditional swords, spears, daggers—renounce worldly possessions and commit to embracing martyrdom should the need present itself. Even today a disproportionate number of Sikhs enter the Indian defense forces.
The evening I arrived here in early September '06, the Gurdwara resounded with a Hindu devotional well-known in the north. In its liturgical music above all, Sikhism still betrays its mystic roots. I was below the hill when a massive monsoon downpour began—somehow the sun, near the horizon, managed to stay out the entire time. I took shelter under a souvenir shop awning, bathed by sunlight and watching water rivulets gushing by with great force. When the rain stopped, I ambled up the hill and sat inside the Gurdwara, heard the three singers (one sang notably well), did two parikramas (circumambulations), ate the prasad of sooji halwa, and took photos.
I had dinner at the Gurdwara langar: a simple, tasty, nutritious, and free meal of thick dahl, roti, and pickle. Open to all humans twice a day, believer and non-believer alike (no questions asked), these meals are sustained by donations and volunteers who cook, serve, and clean each day. I was moved by this afresh, and it struck me that this is one truly meaningful service that major temples, mosques, and churches in a syncretic India would do well to emulate.