The Wizard of Lies, Movie, Hotstar

Bernie Madoff died a couple of months ago this year. His name and misdeed is just an event in a long list of financial scamsters over the ages – past, present and future.

One present scam uncovered recently is committed by a Pakistani Billionaire, Arif Naqvi who defrauded Bill Gates among many other high end people. There is a book out on this and one can read about his “exploits” here.

There is a saying by Aristotle – “Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.” As far as Finance is concerned, it seems, this “youth” is prevalent irrespective of age and experience. It won’t be false to guess that we are all living among some unidentified scams in our midst, waiting for it to uncover.

The movie “The Wizard of Lies” has not much to show how the scam occured. The movie begins with the scam already done and dusted. Only the fall out is left. It’s a human predicament story. Except one character, Bernie Madoff, the rest are shown in the dark about the details of the scam but considered equally liable for the crime. The most poignant part in the story was when Madoff’s eldest son commits suicide. The second son later died of cancer. Madoff’s wife had to downgrade her living.

The movie is watchable because of two great stars – Robert de Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer – who keep the audience engaged through their restrained performances for little over two hours long movie. There is not much melodrama and sob-stories. Just matter of fact conversations interlaced with some back stories on how the scam came about in short and wrong steps.

One other actor who leaves his mark on the movie is Hank Azaria. In a role of Bernie Madoff’s hatchet man he complements De Niro and adds a lot to the scene value. In a mostly sedate rhythm of the movie, Hank’s character enlivens the screen and has an impactful edge in the story.

The movie does have some undertones of rationalization and an attempt to show that the family of Bernie Madoff also suffered. But after all is said and done, for thousands of people whose savings were wiped out, there won’t be any consolation. The movie and the reality also shows (and shows time after time) that, not only the individuals scams the system but the law enforcement agencies remain docile till the scam blows on everyone’s faces. History shows – Only the Law Enforcers had survived.

Whole government is a Ponzi scheme ~ Bernie Madoff


Swami Vivekananda on Himself

Swami Vivekananda’s complete works are compiled in books of 9 volumes. It’s also available online for free here. But if you want to have just one book which is comprehensive then “Swami Vivekananda on Himself” seems to stands alone.

It’s a “diary” plus other writings, a compilation, by Vivekananda about himself, his travels, his thoughts on people of different countries and his efforts to raise money to set up monasteries in India and also others parts of the world. It’s not clear when Vivekananda started penning his thoughts as a diary and the first recorded date in the book is 2nd March, 1884, when he was 21 years of age. The last diary entry is on 15th May 1902 when he knew his end was near. He died on 04th July 1902.

Vivekananda’s story starts when he meets Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the head priest of Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Calcutta. Ramakrishna recognises Vivekananda as an evolved being and chooses him to mentor him and to take Ramakrishna’s work and words forward to the world. But, Vivekananda, initially, considered Ramakrishna as a crackpot and a monomaniac. There were several arguments between them, on religion and philosophy, but Ramakrishna, through his patience and persistence and some “miracles,” was able to show Vivekananda the efficacy of his thoughts and actions.

Once Vivekananda is won over on Ramakrishna’s side, there was no stopping him. Ramakrishna dies in 1886 and Vivekananda took his monastic vow in 1887 and by 1902, he has published, lectured, taught, established institutions, and travelled the world, all in whirlwind 15 years. His last two years were spent in bad health.

Vivekananda writes clearly, perceptively, sharply and sometimes, humorously. Also Humanly.

There is one diary entry which is like kick-in-the-butt; “Going around the whole world, I find that people of this country (India) are immersed in great Tamas (inactivity), compared with people of other countries. On the outside, there is simulation of the Sattvika (calm and balanced) state, but inside, downright inertness like that of stocks and stones. What work will be done in the world by such people?…So my idea is first to make the people active by developing their Rajas, and thus make them fit for struggle for existence. With no strength in the body, no enthusiasm at heart, and no originality in the brain, what will they do, these lumps of dead matter!

And this by Vivekananda is a remark which, I believe, is a genesis of Globalization. He spoke these words in 1894, much before the world or the word became a fashion 100 years later: “I am thoroughly convinced that no individual or nation can live by holding itself apart from the community of others, and whenever such an attempt has been made under false ideas of greatness, policy, or holiness — the result has always been disastrous to the secluding one.

And here is one diary entry which is caustic but hilarious too; “Western music is very good; there is in it a perfection of harmony, which we (Indians) have not attained. Only, to our untrained ears, it does not sound well, hence we do not like it, and think that the singers howl like jackals. I also had the same sort of impression, but when I began to listen to the music with attention and study it minutely, I came more and more to understand it, and I was lost in admiration.” I’ve also heard similar remarks from our late filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

By early 1902, Vivekananda seems to be in pain and his diary entries reflect his inner state. “If ever a man found the vanity of things, I have it now. This is the world, hideous, beastly corpse. Who thinks of helping it is a fool! But we have to work out our slavery by doing good or evil; I have worked it out, I hope. May the Lord take me to the other shore! Amen! I have given up all thoughts about India or any land. I am now selfish, want to save myself! (The bold letters are omitted from the book, but I got the full version here.)

In the very last days of his diary entries he writes how the rains have poured and poured and the river has broken its banks and flooded his “Ashram” and he had gone out to dig a canal to drain off the waters. Well, I’ve myself stood on that river bank and I had watched the Ganga several times, emotionless. Next time when I will visit the Belur Math in Calcutta I know I will not be alone. And I’ll have the memory of this book with me.

The conviction has grown in my mind after all my travels in various lands that no great cause can succeed without an organisation. ~ Vivekananda (May, 1897)