Author: Prashant Mudgal

I am Prashant Mudgal, an engineer by degree, a drop out from my masters degree, mathematical analyst and data scientist by profession, travel enthusiast, budding marathon runner, avid reader, love history and archaeology, love doing puzzles(even though I can't crack more than half of them), scrabble player, modular origami enthusiast, international cinema and indie movies zealot, dabble on both harmonica and violin, a healthy diet seeker, vegetarian by practice, a decent cook......etc etc

Godard Breathless in Paris

In the 2003 film The Dreamers, Isabelle says “I entered this world on the Champs-Elysees, 1959. La trottoir du Champs Elysees. And do you know what my very first words were? New York Herald Tribune! New York Herald Tribune!”

Today I tried to reactivate my Filmstruck account only to see a message that said the service is permanently closing down at the end of November this year. I not only was disappointed but also a little enraged that such a good service is coming to an end. I do agree that it wasn’t the optimum film watching experience but the content was so rich and was something that couldn’t be found at other streaming services. I am thankful to filmstruck to introduce me to Andrei Tarkovsky and for providing essentials of Bergman to the masses. There have been countless movies that have been made by many directors but only a few of them have been able to make an impact at a larger scale; These are the ones who decided to break free from the conventional settings and didn’t think twice before trying a new concept and challenged the status quo. Those who had moon shot thinking.

Non-linear story telling(Memento), movie without a story or a plot( Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels), multiple genre( Million Dollar Baby) are few such audacious but arduous exemplary steps, not necessarily the first ones in the direction towards revolutionizing the film theory. The film director is one person who can make or break the film and it’s his discretion how to show the story, characters, plots, and twists. One man who stands out is Jean-Luc Godard who constantly experimented progressively throughout his career and kept on exploring the personal themes in his films. From his debut itself he announced himself on the larger screen; The setting was perfect for the arrival – 1960s France. He said our cinema isn’t influencing the youth, so let youths influence the cinema. His first work was Breathless, and with the use of jump cuts i.e. abrupt transitions between one scene to the other he not only showed how pragmatic he could be but also challenged the archaic notion that movie watching has to be an immersive and emotional experience. Bertolt Brecht already had coined the concept of alienation of the audience and Godard used it wherever pertinent.

Breathless was shot on a minimum budget and Godard didn’t have the permission to shoot the film (strange times). He employed whomever he knew as his film crew and the film was shot on the streets of Paris with the cinematographer sitting on a wheelchair and someone pushing him so he can have the perfect angle. It also established Jean Paul Belmondo and femme fatale Jean Seberg in the French cinema with latter as the finest actress in Europe. The story is simple but well crafted with beauty lying in the streets of Paris of 1960. Comparing contemporary Paris with what it was back then always makes me wonder what if I could somehow transport and see that square or that building at night in person akin to Midnight in Paris.

Breathless culminated into a success story which paved path to young directors who didn’t have large studios or sophisticated equipment. Tangerine, released in 2015, is one such example and the entire film was shot on an iPhone 5S camera.

Godard couldn’t stand the passivity and wanted movies to be an intellectual stimulation exercise that challenges the thought process of the audience and over years he created content that gloriously exemplify his tactics. It is true that brave film directors create what they believe in and that’s what Godard did. 


		
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Minima

A day or two ago I decided to get rid of some extra stuff that I was carrying over past few years and the first one to go were the assortment of random credit cards and some other savings/stores/random cards that I had acquired over a period of time and I wan’t using them at all. I have always assumed myself to be a minimalist in certain aspects of my life but while packing my stuff I realized that I might not be as characteristically immoderate minimalist as I perceived myself to be. Indeed I don’t have much furniture barring a sofa, a mattress(no bed), table, chair, and a bookshelf; I don’t own a car and mode of transport is an inexpensive bike; But when I looked around in certain nooks of the apartment, things I can call tchotchke, non functional objects collected over a period of time from lands far and near found their home. I do have plethora of books carefully selected in the past decade from various international bookstores and surprisingly have graduated to a well equipped kitchen as well.

Not a minimalist in the true sense then. Minimalism can be subjective, one needn’t get rid of each and everything. The idea is to own with a sense of responsibility and with owning less one tends to stretch the life and usage of the things one owns thereby creating lesser impact on the space and the environment around oneself. We end up in the whirlpool of the statement – I might need this one day and eventually end up having things which we don’t even need.

Back in 2014 I decided to experiment with project 333 that culminated into a success and I gave up many apparels to charity but after the project finished I ended up buying clothes again in next 2 year time frame. All of us have been caught in this vicious circle one time or the other. Oh well! Fact : After the oil industry, the fashion industry has the greatest environmental impact and with the advent of easily accessible fashion that won’t make a huge dent on the bank account, we own things without consciousness and don’t realize what impact our small purchase had. Some argue that sweatshops in south east Asia are important for the economy and how they are injecting money thereby increasing the purchasing power of the people. But don’t these big brands who give the contracts to the sweatshop owners have any responsibility how and under what conditions their clothes are made or are they merely concerned with minting money?

The idea behind minimalism isn’t to live in paucity but with enough that won’t cloud our vision and won’t be an obstruction in the process of life. Also, realizing the state that owning stuff doesn’t equate to lasting happiness may be ephemeral and transient one. From my personal experience, the last minute tickets I have purchased to go to some far flung or an unknown city for a brief vacation has brought more pleasure and pinched me less than Moomin mug or yet another CK shirt.

So, when I decided to get rid of the cards that I was owning and not using them, I decided to record my Rachel Greene moment but it turned out that next day many people ended up calling me and texting me to check if I was alright and whether I am going through a rough phase. Barring one everyone termed it as a crazy act but to me it wasn’t and as I said, minimalism is subjective and it did feel good in the end.

In the end I would say, there aren’t any set rules, do what you please and what is pertinent to the lifestyle you envision; You needn’t own only 100 items or live an ascetic life by not owning a car, a bed or TV but when the moment reaches when you are buying things for emotional support or more often than not, before buying anything you don’t have a clear ‘Yes’ to the question – do I really need it, then stop, think, and then decide.

 

 

 

Nastasya Filipovna

Finally last evening I was able to have the euphoric feeling of finishing a book from end to end, the feeling quadruples when it is a classic and the cherry on the top is added for I was moving at a snail’s pace. I picked it up in April while I was on my flight to Seattle and since then I have been reading a few pages here and there but over the long weekend I decided to be done with it and could I be any more successful!

I had purchased it for the first time back in 2011 after finishing Crime and Punishment but tsundoku applies to me. When I was in Paris, I did visit Shakespeare and Company, not for the sake of tourism and getting my photograph clicked and put a tick on my checklist but for some other reasons. At the entrance of the store there is a small paragraph written in chalk which intrigued me a lot and that was the tipping point for me to pick that book again.

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Truth be told, many times I did feel a little overwhelmed with inordinate amount of  details and endless dialogues but the development of the characters over a period of time kept me going. I guess a book becomes a classic when it transcends time, it doesn’t have to be didactic but should show the human emotions in most raw and authentic formats without any adulteration. Dostoevsky has always successfully dabbled with the concept of human emotions, the flaws and strengths that we carry with us since our birth and that makes us who we are. The Idiot deals with the human struggle of being a human being. Many times when I have read books from previous centuries, I have wondered have we progressed at all, are we on the right trajectory, will we evolve more emotionally or have we attained the apex point? The Idiot lets you peek into the Russian ideology, Russian society, customs and religion. I could understand the difference between the catholicism and Russian orthodox church and may be that’s one of the point from where the difference stems between Russia and the other western nations.

The book starts with a great pace and builds momentum over a period of time but then many characters jump in as it happens in Russian classics; As I took some time to read the book, I used a cheat sheet to refer to various characters in the story. There were metaphors and allegories used, and I don’t claim that I understood everything but I indeed relished the character development and the storyline of the main characters. The last 20 percent of the book moves at a faster pace compared to the middle part in which many other characters are getting focus and are having their spiritual transformations e.g. Hippolyte is one of them. I felt bad for Aglaya, she was just a normal girl who was with wrong people at wrong place at the wrong time. Myshkin is a typical nice guy but he is indecisive and his behavior with Aglaya infuriated me a little. Roghozin is one of those who think they are entitled to something great and they can have it by hook or crook but if one ignores his lunacy he did love Nastasya that turned into an obsession. The final one was Nastasya Phillipovana, her role in the story is passive for a long period of time except at the beginning and the conclusion. She is indecisive, she loves Myshkin but is convinced that he can’t be happy with her. She is the typical hot mess who has self destructive tendencies and it stems from her past. She reminds me of words of Jon Krakauer – “Some people feel like they don’t deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past”. She knows how her story would end but she audaciously accepts it.

I think some characters alive or dead stay with you and Nastasya is one of them and I thank George Whitman for the introduction.

Kaikki on hyvin

Sitting in a coffee shop’s bar and hitting the keys on my machine incessantly in pursue of  higher accuracy of the mathematical model I was running, I ordered a decaf and looked to my right. A woman sitting besides me glanced at me and pointed at my T shirt which said “Kaikki on hyvin” and asked what is it? I tried to produce a fake smile and responded it means “everything is well” and plugged in my earphone and started working again while listening to “All we need” by Odesza. A few moments later I felt a tug on my sleeve and I was facing another question from my curious neighbor. I paused Spotify and raised my eyebrows with a nod in a questioning form, she wanted to know what language is it. I said “Suomi, I mean Finnish”. She asked a few more questions and said “Everything is well” in a manner marked with a familiar indignation followed by a passive expression. I saw that she was leafing through a book that prompted me to use the expression “What’s it going to be then, eh”, to which she chuckled. I smiled back and resumed my work.

The concept of light

A month ago I found myself strutting around in hot Stockholm afternoon; all the Swedes seemed to be embracing the sun while I was running amok seeking refuge from the closest star of the solar system.

I ended up in Nordisk Museet in Djurgården and it turned out to be a great learning experience. Apart from learning about the Sápmi tribe, Eva chair, August Strindberg’s life apart from Miss Julie I had elaborate and thoughtful reflections on the importance of light in human life. The gallery, Nordic lights, focused on the idea how Scandinavians have mastered the concept and art of light as they live in two extremes – in summers they are drenched with sun while in winters they have sun only as a theoretical concept. The idea is not only to see clearly but also create a cozy atmosphere around you in the room and derive pleasure out of it. How to strive for Lagom while lighting your home given too much light can cause light pollution and too less will make you grope for things. The daylight is considered the benchmark in achieving this balance and thus started the human adventure for optical quest.

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How lights have changed the world we see around us!

I was particularly interested in all the optics related ideas given I strive for minimalism and want to modulate the light around me so it doesn’t cause eye pain and provides ample amount for me to read, execute tasks, and have hygge as well.

It is interesting why Scandinavians mastered the art of lighting. Back in 1930s, Sweden and Finland were host to a few most densely populated cities in the western world which gave rise to the concept of Folkhemmet( Swedish welfare state) and small apartments. The obvious corollary was to obviate anything that is too large and awkward. The design of furniture and light has to be functional. Understand what is the need and then shape the object. Soon the artists joined the crusade so everyone can enjoy the designs at much cheaper price;  artistic expression focused on functionalism thus giving rise to modernism. The gallery focused on how we evolved from the fireplace to PH lamps. (Paul Henningsen).

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The design principle ( a visit to Nordic museum in Seattle)

One important  principle to remember while choosing the light is the temperature that it works on. Warm light – temperature 2700 to 3500 Kelvin (yellow in color) and cold light – 3500 to 5000 Kelvin (Blue white/white in color), candlelight 1850 Kelvin. Most hygge temp e.g. sunset, candle light, and campfires is ~ 1800 Kelvin. (Kelvin is the standard unit to measure temperature and 273.15 Kelvin = 0 Celsius)

The question that we should ask while thinking about the functional lighting is what happens in the space? Is it for reading and writing or to accentuate focus on something. That’s how the functional lighting works.

Too much light and one would start feeling being interrogated in the room thus staying away from ceiling light that creates an industrial ambience is a good idea; unless it comes with a dimmer so you can modulate the brightness. Too much light can kill the hygge of the room.

One interesting concept is the use of several light sources and the localized lighting( concentrate on lighting areas of the room than entire room).

I have experienced that too much light cause discomfort in the room and even a small light source works if the room isn’t used for working. For general lighting we can use large arched lamps, small chandeliers, or overhead lights to create localized and focused lighting. Hanging central lights provide focused and softer light. There are many lamps that diffuse light through origami structure to create multiple focal points and many geometric lamps that help develop patterned light across the room.

For those who read and write, having arched floor lamps with cool white light is apt while to highlight certain spaces one should think of accentuating using low level table lamps.

Apart from focusing on the concept of light one should focus on the color palette of the room as well. Low key color palette with use of white and grey on the walls helps light to bounce.

These are the basic principles that one should start playing around with while thinking of light around them, there isn’t any one stop solution as the light is a subjective concept. Thankfully we live in an industrial world with enough options to cater to our needs.

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Nordisk Museet – How functionalism dominates the design process; PH lamp on display.

 

 

 

 

 

An old bookstore in Tallinn, Estonia

Estonia, once under the iron curtain of Russia is now the most connected country in the world. Its capital city Tallinn indeed feels like a city straight from a fairy tale. From the cloudy skies, cobbled pathways, canopied passages to the orange rooftops, each has direct connection to a dream woven story.

The ochre and other pastel colors in the old town remind me of Gamla Stan in Stockholm and large hanging drapery of sky is a splitting image of the Prussian blue water of Baltic Sea.

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Pastel passages of Tallinn

The city has cool neighborhood, Kalamaja, famous for its wooden architecture. The bohemian and hipster hood akin to certain parts of Brooklyn where I like to hang out. If I were a Finn living in Helsinki I would take a ferry most of the weekends to eat at F-Hoone(May be it means F-building) in the Tellskivi center. The market nearby – Depoo, runs from an old locomotive depot. One side of the market reminds one of the Soviet past of the country. Tchotchke from the yesteryear era find home in the market while the other end is as modern as any other city market.

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F-Hoone, The hipsters paradise

Such medieval city has to have a rich reading culture and I did end up in Raamatukoi opposite the tourist info center in the old town. The Estonian word Raamatukoi means bookcase in English and it indeed is apt given the bookstore is brimming with books – new and old.  The reading skill foundation laid by the Children’s book trust and National book trust acquaints one with Russian literature very early; Seeing the familiar Mir publisher logo on various titles made me smile and was surprised to see a few statements written here and there in Hindi.

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The bookstore sells chiefly old and used books, postcards, old vinyl records and is a pit stop of the history. It holds in itself a historical account of what the country has gone through and has been an eye witness to various churns of time without getting stuck in a time warp.

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Inside Raamatukoi

Rahva Raamat is another bookstore that was well equipped but when I learned that it is a chain bookstore present in entire Estonia, I kept it in the same bucket as Barnes and Nobel. There is something charming about the old, independent bookstores and coffee shops that is comforting.

I wish I had more time to uncover the other parts of the city but the impromptu ship journey from Helsinki turned out to be fruitful and gratifying indeed.

The silver-lining  of Estonia is instead of being held back by its past and playing the blame game as has happened in many post disintegration countries, it chose to start from scratch and build. The strategy has paid really well and Estonians can enjoy the view of their capital city from either Patkuli or Kohtuotsa and breathe the fresh air with pride.

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The orange rooftops of Tallinn from Kohtuotsa

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St. Catherine’s passage (Katariina Käik)

A quiet place to sit

Not very often we find a place where we can gather our thoughts, find solace, have a cup of coffee and browse through an impressive collection of literature – fiction and non fiction. After visiting Auschwitz, I came back to Krakow in the evening and wanted to be at a place that can give me silence for some time. My hostel wasn’t conducive of such ambience so I walked a little south west of my location across the Planty park and reached Massolit books and cafe at Felicjanek 4/2. I entered the quiet bookstore and strolled around, a few people were browsing, a few talking, and a few were working on their computers as in any coffee shop in a big city of USA. I ordered a latte and seated myself in a corner seat besides an old woman who most probably was a teacher and was correcting papers and was nodding her head in disappointment while embellishing the answer sheets in big red circles. IMG_20180609_185244

A few days ago I was in Nordisk Museet in Stockholm and learned about the concept of lighting the spaces and how optics and light designers have revolutionized the concept and the device itself. The Scandinavian region doesn’t get a lot of light for a large part of the year, so artificial lighting is the key but the fundamental principle is to have a smooth transition between darkness and light or vice versa and create an environment that is cosy, comfortable, and makes you calm. While I was sitting there, I could feel those principles in application.

The books on the table in front were the ones which I won’t generally find in your around the corner bookstore unless I go to City lights in San Francisco. Apart from that, the old and used tables here have a charm that needs to be enjoyed again whenever I find myself in Kraków.

 

The next renaissance

The movie fight club has a few thought provoking quotes – “We are the middle children of history, no purpose or place, no great wars, no great depression”. I don’t second the thought completely, our generation might also have a purpose may be a latent one, may be the purpose is hidden in layers like a pomegranate hides the berries in layers. Taking the middle path is the norm, the path that is safe, one that might bear the fruits of success – a success that is moderate but not the one that will make you immortal. Fight club comes to rescue one more time by stating “It’s only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything”.

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The cities that have marked themselves in golden letters in pages of history were unforgiving to the people who called them home. There wasn’t a plan B, if you succeed then you will share the glory and your place in pages of history with the greats from all walks of life but if you fail then you might starve to death and you subject your upcoming generations, if any, to similar fate. But that didn’t deter them to take risks. They always shot for something that can be considered the ultimate manifestation of human spirit.

What is it that we will risk everything for? Pope Julius II gave the commission to Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo wasn’t a painter, he was a sculptor. But the philosophy to take risk on the unlikely heroes was not uncommon. Identify a talented person and bestow responsibility of a herculean task; sit back and look at the results.

But what we do nowadays is quite tangential to that approach. We enlist the people for jobs once we determine that they are the perfect fit and then we assign the tasks to those who demonstrated the ability to execute those tasks in the past. Entirely risk averse. No risk or reduced risk is what the aim is. The space and time required for the ideas to flourish are not provided and then we wonder why aren’t we living in another renaissance?

Colors – The Paragone within

Voice by KHMRS is being played in the background while I write this. When I was a kid and before I had any comprehension of Physics and optics, I always wondered that if light can divide itself into rainbow colors then if I will mix the VIBGYOR then may be I will get white or something made of light but every single time I got some blackish muddled color like my thoughts and also warnings from my mother on wasting colors. After many years, in one of the books I borrowed from Dr. B C Roy’s children’s library in New Delhi I read about the additive and subtractive mixing of colors giving rise to white light and the blackish color of my mix. In short, when you mix RGB lights in 1:1:1 then you get white light. While when we mix the colors the concept that is used is called the subtractive mixing e.g. a shirt appears blue when white light shines on it because it absorbs all colors but reflects only blue back. The same shirt might appear of different color when looked in different light. The color of an object does not reside in the object itself. The color is in the light that shines upon the object and that ultimately is reflected or transmitted to our eyes. 

Mixing of colors wasn’t a welcome activity before renaissance, many purists didn’t like the idea of mixing color and their argument that there is nothing a color can add to the black and white world. If a painting is great then it is great, an addition of color can’t have an effect on it’s intrinsic value. White and black were considered the natural colors and rest were just derivations.

The competition, rivalry, tussles were the hallmarks of the renaissance period and one of the fiercest debate or paragone as it was called during that time between colore(color) and designo(design and drawings). Design was with Florence and Color with Venice and Venetian colore has always been characterized as sensual e.g. Titian’s Venus and the Lute player – the painting that hangs in the MET. While the guiding principle of disegno is manifested in lines, contours, and forms. While disegno was considered more intellectual and rational form of art, colore was seemed as vulgar but with the advent of renaissance, both the ideas got an uplift and world became vivid with colors.

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Venus and the Lute Player