TV series, books, trends and people: the best of 2017!
A doctor, a delicacy, a drama, a sculpture and a teacherbrunch Updated: Dec 30, 2017 21:46 IST
Before the Christmas tree is put away, crowded return flights caught and New Year’s resolutions freshly broken, here’s a quick glance at what made my past year special
Book of the year
Three scientific men of letters took my breath away this year. Neurologist and naturalist Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia), oncologist and author Siddhartha Mukherjee (The Emperor of all Maladies, The Gene) and neurosurgeon and writer Paul Kalanithi (When Breath Becomes Air). Kalanithi’s book, first published in 2016, takes the top honour thanks not only to its philosophical ambition (it is a personal treatise on the meaning of life in the face of imminent death) but also its relentless courage. On the verge of completing his residency and embarking on a long and successful career as a surgeon-scientist, Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. He was 36 when he was diagnosed – as old as I am now – and did not live long after.
Not everyone would devote their last, excruciating days to writing a book describing the process. But then Paul Kalanithi was not just anyone, as the book eloquently reveals. (Tip: This book is best read in private. I had a tough time holding back the tears on a train between Nasik and Mumbai, despite valiant attempts featuring vada pav between Kasara and Kalyan.)
Meal of the year
The Dutch Burghers in Sri Lanka draw their ancestry from the Dutch, Portuguese Burgher and Lankan communities. Like the Anglo Indians, the Burghers have distinct customs and ways of life, reflecting their European heritage as well as sub-continental roots. And of this amalgamation comes the wondrous Lamprais – derived from the Dutch word lomprijst or ‘packet of food’.
Nothing prepares you for this dish, but I’ll try to explain: there’s lamb, beef and pork, making it a meat-lovers’ edible shrine. There are cutlets. There’s brinjal pahè (eggplant curry), seeni sambol (sweet onion relish) and blachan (shrimp paste). These disparate delights come nicely together inside a steaming banana leaf. I would recommend flying to Sri Lanka simply for this delicacy. (And a Kumar Sangakkara sighting, which I was lucky enough to have.)
TV Drama of the year
Based on Maragret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale is a top-notch feminist drama, etching out a dystopian society that’s part science fiction, part current reality. Guaranteed to haunt. Another drama that foregrounds a woman’s reality is The Crown – and the woman happens to be the queen. Season 2 delves into the personal struggles of the palace’s famous occupants, especially their relationship with the media. Makes for compelling viewing, for most part. But Season 4 of Transparent was my pick of the year.
The Pfeffermans spend the season in Israel, where the show carries on its exploration of the fundamental issue of identity, seen through an ever-shifting lens of family, sexuality, religion and now politics. It’s terrible to hear that the show’s lead – Jeffrey Tambor, playing the eponymous parent with a trans identity – has joined the beleaguered set of Hollywood’s powerful men. Tambor quit the show responding to sexual harassment allegations levelled by his personal assistant, as well as a co-actor on the show – both trans women. Good riddance, Jeff Tambor. We’ll miss you, Maura Pfefferman.
Wow! Moment of the year
There were a few contenders. Some poignant black and white images at Sooni Taraporevala’s photography exhibition Home in the City: Bombay 1977 - Mumbai 2017 that opened at the Bhau Daji Lad museum in Mumbai. A few breathtaking moments from movies like A Death in the Gunj and Newton, throwing light on the dark areas of the personal and national psyche. Outrageously funny political posts from the anonymous Humans of Hindutva on Facebook. But my pick is from an exhibition entitled The Story of Space that showed simultaneously across several venues in Goa this November.
The piece that captivated me – Satellite Sonata – was a thrilling mix of science and art, such as I haven’t experienced before. Swiss artist Robin Meier’s exhibit was carved from a meteorite over a billion years old, sculpted into a musical instrument, that he and a co-artist played live using a violin bow! I sadly missed the live performance, but the exhibit was accompanied by recorded music, carefully calibrated to resemble the ‘music of the spheres’. The most incredible part? They allowed you touch the meteorite! A mind-expanding, soul-stirring, eye-watering experience.
Person of the year
We’re all shaped by more people and forces than we can count, or are even conscious of. Amongst these, some reveal their true impact years after they’ve done the work. Poet and professor Eunice de Souza, who passed away days before her 77th birthday this year, was one such force. To say that she shaped literary minds and careers with her vast literary knowledge, and unforgettable manner of distilling it for young minds, would be just half the story. For those of us from St. Xavier’s College who continued to stay in touch with her, there was the other half to discover: Lover of birds. Carer of stay dogs. Devoted niece to her ageing aunt. Never too world weary to gift a book, share a chai, spark an idea.
At first she’d intimidate you with her acerbic wit, arch demeanour and stately saris. But if you were lucky enough to get close, you’d find deep compassion and genuine warmth. These words from her last collection of poems (Learn from the Almond Leaf), first published in 2016, are a fitting epitaph.
Learn from the almond leaf
which flames as it falls.
The ground is burning.
The earth is burning.
Wish you all a flamboyant new year!
From HT Brunch, December 31, 2017
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