Sunday, December 13, 2009

Strident Optimism

Watched a wonderful play a couple of days back -"Happy Days", written by Samuel Beckett. Exemplary acting by the cast of two - Patty Gallagher and Joe McGrath, performed in an intimate theater setting, like the one at NCPA I used to frequent at Mumbai, the location Rangshankara, Bangalore - which even has its announcements in the voice of Girish Karnad, an old friend sitting besides me, and a young niece on the other side, watching a play like this for the first time. A rare rare treat, in more ways than one.

The play itself, left lot more unsaid than the narrative itself. I was so intently listening to what was being said, that I could not reflect on what was not being said. Age, me thinks. There were times when I could listen and reflect, both at the same time. Ah, well…... Guess age has its compensations, such as being able to appreciate and ruminate over a play like this. Age is better. Yes, it is.

Coming back to the play - the play was about a woman, Winnie, buried in sand, waist down in the first act, and neck down in the second one. No reason evident on why it was so, the sand being a metaphor for many many things. She could be buried in a meaningless existence, a soulless marriage, a dead-end job, whatever. And the sand was just taking her deeper and deeper into the earth, to non-existence, slowly, inexorably, and presumably, agonizingly. And she has a husband, Willie, who lives around her, maybe due to the matrimonial bond, or some other, who is mobile, and yet chooses to live in a hole, crawling in and out of it, sometimes using his elbows and sometimes his head.

The play is about the optimism of Winnie, of her being determined to have a “Happy Day”, despite her being buried the way she is, and her efforts to reach out to Willie as she masticates over the memories when she was not buried thus, engages in her daily routine which she turns into a ceremony, murmurs half forgotten prayers, and tries very hard to reach out and engage with Willie, urging him to connect with her, terrified as she is about "talking to herself". She does not complain about being buried, but just accepts it the way it is, refusing to use the revolver she has in her bag at all times, which could end it all at one go, that which is any case is ending slowly, excruciatingly. She has her days of panic, when she fears about Willie not being there, and her days of doubt as she wonders what people (Shower/Cooker….or something that ended with an ‘er’) say about her, and resigns herself to existing and surviving, and tries to choose the perfect time to “sing her song”. And in all this, she is perennially gay, thanking her God for the thousand mercies, and once even curses mobility, the one thing she does not have, being buried so.

The play ends when Willie crawls out of his hole, one Happy Day, and reaches out to her, to maybe give her a kiss or maybe to make the revolver kiss her, maybe to end her pitiful yearning for intimacy with him, or snuffing out her pitiful existence- difficult to say, which, and when Winnie finally, finally, sings her song. Lilting, not musical, not good, but yet, her song, the Winnie song.

As I walked out with friends, I could feel a disquiet within me. This was an optimistic play, in a way, as Winnie is so hell bent on being happy, and yet, I felt so sad inside. No, this was a terribly dark sad play, I reflected later. Her insistence to be happy, in a situation which is so obviously an unhappy one, is sadder than everything else.

No wonder, the flyer that came with the play called her a “Strident Optimist”. Winnie is optimistic, but her optimism jars. I wish she wasn’t so, I wish I could tell her, “Winnie, it is’nt getting any better, you are just fooling yourself! Your optimism is sad. Very sad, sadder than the wails that you have throttled inside. Cry, if you must, but don’t smile. You are in a hell hole, and it maybe better to just end it, rather than go on this way, it may be kinder to die than to survive.” Maybe thats what Willie decides to do that after all. Kill her rather than face her strident optimism.

I have no idea of what Beckett meant when he wrote this play, or what others say about it. Maybe after I am done thinking about it, I would look for what others have to say, but for today, I need to think more about what he meant, and what sense I can make of it.

To me, the play typified the pain that we all go through, terrified of being alone, of talking to no one. Just like Winnie, we are all scared deep inside when the day will come with the ‘words will cease’, when our breaths are wound down. Just like her, we reach out to find companions, who would care, who find us lovable, and despite finding that the “Willie” we are with, does not care or does not want to, we incessantly try and find meanings in our relationships when maybe there aren’t any. We console ourselves with optimism when sometimes it is obvious that there isn’t any sense in it. And that’s the darkest hour. When we know internally that we are even faking hope.

It happens. It has happened to me. Hopefully, it wont ever happen again. But it did. Then I survived because there was nothing else to do but survive. It did not make sense to survive. Survival seemed worse than death, but survive I did – as I made the notions of going through the day, counting seconds, counting minutes and then hours, every single day, waiting for the sun to rise and set, willing myself to live the next second, even when it made no sense to, as I struggled with the multiple options that I could use to end it all, and found none to be satisfactory.

I survived. And it wasn’t because of hope. Hope had died. But I could not die even when hope had died. I remember a friend asking me of those days – "Just how did you survive?" And I remember answering him – “What else was there to do?”

Inane reason, but who said truths aren’t inane?

Willie survives, and so do the most tortured lives. Not because survival means something better, but because annihilating oneself is tougher and scarier than survival. So, one takes the easy option - Survives, fakes hope, puts on a cheery smile, and calls is optimism. Strident Optimism.

This is so dark, so full of despair. I recognized it because I have been here. Maybe Beckett had been here too. But wait wait wait….That was then. I am not at that emotional junction today, not today. No No.

Today, I would have chosen to take the other perspective, the other path. Not in its emptiness, not in despair. Not even in hope. But in acceptance - not in optimistic way that Winnie did, but in simple, stoic acceptance. Not in right or wrong, good or bad, but accepting reality the way it is, and dealing with it in a spirit of benediction to myself – not because the universe is kind – I still think it is indifferent – but because it is kinder on myself if I think it that way. Lame? Faking it, you say? Yes, maybe.

But could I sing my song, the way Winnie did, in my acceptance mode? No. I don't think so. I wish I could though. Stoic-ism does not lend itself to songs. Singing songs would definately be better, if I could figure out how to. The way, Rabindranath Tagore did. Where I can believe in the benediction of the universe, surrender to it, and believe that there is a beloved waiting for me somewhere, after this worldly existence, even though I have no means of really knowing that He is there, and sing my song, like Tagore does...with so much certainty.

“The song that I came to sing, remains unsung to this day.
I have spent my days in stringing and unstringing my instrument.
The time has not come true, the words have not seen rightly set; only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.
The blossom has not opened, only the wind is sighing by.
I have not seen his face, nor have I listened to his voice; only I have heard his gentle footsteps from the road before my house.
The livelong day had passed in spreading his seat on the floor; but the lamp has not been lit and I cannot ask him into my home
I live in the hope of meeting him; but this meeting is not yet.”

-Gitanjali, Rabindranath Tagore

Some day, I hope, I can feel the way Tagore felt when he wrote that. And I hope that on no day, I feel like the way I think Beckett must have felt when he wrote Happy Day. No, I don’t want to go on that path again.

The day I feel like Tagore did, I would be at peace with me, my existence and that of the universe, and that day, I would need no “Willie”, nor would I need to fake optimism, strident or otherwise. Till then, stoic-ness is what I will stick to. Try to.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Race Not Won

Not winning the race
Is not pretty at all.

They say
Its the race thats important
But when the trophy slips away,
Its not pretty at all

They say
Do your best, leave the rest
But the could'a-should'a thoughts
Are not pretty at all

They say
May the best man win
But when the best man is the judge's son
Its not pretty at all

They say
Its the journey that matters
But when one reaches a cul-de-sac
Its not pretty at all

They say
Dream, and the universe conspires to give it you
But when one the dream becomes a burden
Its not pretty at all

They say
In the long run it is for the best
But when the run itself is short
Its not pretty at all

I say
Nothing succeeds like success
And when optimism makes a fool out of me
It is really not pretty at all

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Silent Sufferance

The heat from your body
hits me in waves
under the shared rajai

I writhe and turn
while you snore
hand on my thigh

I crumble
my knees close
shiver out a sigh

Friday, October 9, 2009

What was that?

This is about that one time of my life when I taught "Decision Support Systems" to a class of MBA students at one of the top 20 (So the brochure said) B-schools in India. Management education is serious stuff, where the young wear confident faces, striped shirts and grey trousers to get trained in the business of lucre. The young go through a significant grind to get through to the colleges, pay a lordly sum to be educated there, and being a post-graduate program, none of the first-year-college type levity is expected from them.

My class was of about 50 students, all of them with above 90 percentile of CAT (The vigorously competitive admission tests for management courses in India, for the uninitiated of the Indian education and its competitiveness). All of them came from good schools, presumably english medium schools, and had gone through the 12 or more years of instruction in english. Most of them wore tolerably intelligent expressions, and sometimes appeared to me interested in what I was espousing the intricacies of how business decisions are made, or thought to be made.

The course was graded based to class tests, exercises and cases. Exercises were normally conducted in the class and the students were expected to submit them to me on-line, using wi-fi, after they were done completing them.

One pleasant saturday morning, I was sitting in the class, patiently staring at my laptop, as students laboriously sat in front of me on their laptops, completing the class exercise I had given in the class, while I answered some of my other e-mail. As they would submit and I would receive the submission, I would call out the name of the student whose submission it was, verify that the document reached me safely – as computer viruses could sometimes confound these on-line exchanges, and mark the assignment done. The students could then walk out, or stay depending on their preference.

So, as I sat there on my laptop, watching the exercises fly in as e-mails, listening to the gentle “Ping” sound it made as it dropped into my mail box. Suddenly, one more ping, and I see a lewd e-mail from a student.

“Here is my ass” – it said.

Taken aback, I stared at the screen. I looked up to see if any of the students was grinning lewdly. But no, the class was humming along as usual, with students bent upon their work, or peeping into others.

This is probably one of those corny e-mails which supposedly come from people known to you, but sent by porno drug companies – which promise to make the girls scream all night, and make one the star of the parties if using their drug, I thought, as I checked again, hovering the mouse on the senders name to check the e-mail id. No, the e-mail id was legit, it belonged to a student alright - this came from no drug peddler.

"Here is my ass” the message header screamed at me, as I looked at it again.

Oh Lord, I thought. I don’t think I can deal with a love sick student, not when I getting over all this lust-shust business, my brain hummed. A tiny tingle of anticipation did run through though, and I wondered who the student was. Yes, the name was familiar, but I did not know this student.

But wait, wait, wait - the right side of my brain sang out, “Why is someone offering you his ass? What would you do with an ass? You are not a man!”

Quite right. I skidded to a halt inwardly. No, this is perhaps somebody trying to proposition someone else in the class, and maybe my email id got wrongly used. I sighed, mildly disappointed - cheated out of some cheap thrill, and then glanced around curiously. Just where was this bunch of young lovers?

But no, there were no coy looks, no longing glances, no tears flowing anywhere. What are the young coming to, I wondered. Sending lustful messages, and not even looking at each other? My, technology has really changed things, I rued to myself.

Ping! Ping!! Ping!!! my laptop intoned again! Heck, the same fellow, and similar messages. Looks like the lover is getting desperate…

“Here is my ass 1” – screamed the newly arrived message!

“Here is my ass 2” – screamed the second one!

“Here is my ass 3” – screamed the third one!

Zonked, I watched the screen. Ass 1, Ass 2 and now Ass 3? Hey, hey, hey, how many asses does a human being have? What is this going on, some kind of an orgy?

Then, it began to dawn on me! Aw s*it, I was the one with lewd thoughts - this was just a student submitting his assignments, shortened as “ass”! The previous non-submitted exercises, which were being sent from his machine to mine – and as the young nowadays do, shortened, without realizing what it could read as.

I stuffed the laugh which was threatening to break out of me, and stood up, a solemn look on my face, and asked the class in a loud voice, “Just who is offering me his ass?”

The class could not believe their ears. Some jaws dropped, some eyes glazed, and some nodded their heads side to side, trying to get the bee out of their ears. The silence was complete.

I spoke again, “Just who is offering me his ass?” The class, now sure that they heard me right, began to twitter, not knowing how to react. I turned my laptop around, hooked it to the overhead projector, and let the class see the messages, for themselves.

And then, I sat down on the chair, and laughed with the class till the poor hapless student who had sent me that “ass” offer, ran out of the class, embarrassed like never before! As I walked out – I could not stand in front of the class, and guffaw like a silly fool – I continued to hear the whoops of the laughter till I reached the professors block, and then, I surrendered to the silliness!

That poor student did not attend any of my classes for the rest of the semester. And I bet none of the students ever used abbreviations unthinkingly for the rest of their lives!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hunting Myself Down

I hunted her down and killed her. What else could I do?

It was one of those days. A day when she was acting up. Giving me trouble. Holding to my skirts and refusing to let me go ahead. Crying, fitfully sometimes and sometimes with gusto. Holding my chin and forcing me to look her way.

I was tired. I had had a bad day. One of my potential leads had gone bust. I had worked so hard on the account – had oiled my way up to the buyer, dazzled him with my presentation and charmed him by my erudite speech. Looks like the erudition was wasted on him. He isn’t buying, he told me. I wish I could ask him all those why questions, the ones that are mentioned in that celebrated “How to Win Sales” handbook.

But she doesn’t let me. She is too proud. She shrugs, digs in her hands in her jeans’s pocket and tells me “Maybe he doesn’t need it. Why sell something to someone who doesn’t need it. Chuck those questions, forget this lead.”. But I must ignore her. She does’nt have to face her CEO tomorrow, I have to. She doesn’t have to fulfill those targets, I have to.

She takes my hand and sits me down. “Why do you have to fulfill those targets?”, she asks. I am dumbfounded at her naivete. “It is my job, silly! I have to sell these products.”. “Oh, your job. Of course. I guess its not the right time to ask why you have to do this job, is it?” she asks. I sigh “You know the answer to this one.”

“Yeah, sure I do. Money”, she says. “As if you wont get money if you did what you like doing best – drawing”. She is shrugging again. I hate this aggravating habit she has. She just shrugs at everything I do, as if it is not relevant, its not important. I snarl back “We have been through this before. There is no way in hell that I could earn the money I am doing right now if I was drawing.”. A wistful note creeps into her voice “I used to love it so. Do you remember the open window where you would sit? And the smell of fresh paint and the crackling paper that you used to tack on your drawing board? You used to love the effect of fresh sunlight on your subjects, remember?”. Yes, of course, I remember. How can I not remember it? I love drawing. There is nothing in the world I would rather do. I can’t resist her when she talks about drawing, even when the time is ticking by and my targets are getting more urgent by the minute. I am smiling now, just the memory of my favorite craft can make me smile. “Yes, I remember”, I tell her. “I never did manage to get the first rays effect on that darned pitcher! Not the way I saw it anyway”. She nods, she remembers it well too.

“Come, lets do it again!”, she is jumping now. “The sky is beautiful today, and the sun is just right. Lets do it, lets!”. The cold touch of the phone lying on my desk wipes the smile away from my face. I can’t let her make me forget my job and run after some stupid non-paying drawing craft. She has already taken hold of my hand and is leading me away. I stop her, “No, I cant do that!”. She is beginning to take on her ingratiating routine now, “Please, please, lets do it, I love it so!”. Time for me to be firm. I am pushing back for my hand, which is already in her firm grip. She is small, I can pull it away. “No, Gotta work”, I tell her.

Eyes flashing, she is getting into a temper now. “I know, I know. It is for that dirty filthy easy money! As if that money can buy you the first ray of sunlight. As if the money can buy you the comfort of the paintbrush in your hands. As if money can meet that hunger of yours to paint that pitcher!”

She has hurt me bad now, and at a place where my skin is thin. I whimper, “Honey, Painting would not have given me money!”

She is sneering now. I can’t stand her when she is like this, “How many days did you try your craft? When was it that you tried? You think you would not have made money because your dear Raja Uncle said so? You, you sloth, you never even tried! You just gave up, because everyone said so! Pshaw!” I cringe - “But painters don’t really make money. Whom have I known who is a painter and had made money? How do I know I could have been one? What if I was wrong? On the other hand, I knew sales people made money. I know so many sales people, all of them with big cars and big awards.”

Cold fury in her eyes, she stares into mine. “You have them now, don’t you? The big car? The award? Did any of them feel like the little ray of sunshine to you, the way it did, long back sitting on that window? No!” She is shaking now with anger and disgust “You gave up, you coward!. You traded your talent. You decided to be successful in others eyes – the big cars, the big awards. To impress your dear Raja Uncle. You did not even give your craft a fighting chance. You - you prostituted your dreams instead!”

This is enough. Just about enough. Who does she think she is? Just a little chit of girl, all of nineteen years of age. And she is calling me a Vice President of Sales, a prostitute that sold away her dreams? Yes, I wanted those cars, those awards. So, big deal! Doesn’t everyone? I am a successful executive. I worked for all those things, did I not? So what if I could not make some crummy painting? I straighten my back, and look around for a cudgel. I need to kill her, I can’t be a VP if she keeps on hankering on being a painter. She must go. Absolutely must go.

She is running now, the remnants of a triumphant look still on her face, reveling in the hurt she has caused me. I run after her. I am faster than her, and my cudgel is big and strong. There, I am now running neck to neck to her. I catch her, pin her down, hold my knee on her frail chest, and clobber her. I watch her falling silent, her blood running cold.

Now, I can continue being the same old Vice President.

A Childs Play

There is a phrase in English - A childs play. That is supposed to mean that something is so simple that it can be done even by a child. But the phrase can be turned around to mean how a child can make you play on his terms! How a child can create a “play” out of a confident, swaggering adult in minutes.

My daughter Nidhi is a “strong willed” child, a euphemism to save us parents from the shame and helplessness of admitting that we don’t have a clue on what to do with her. Nidhi is mere 8 year old, but she can put most 80 year old geriatrics to shame with her bull headedness. She knows what she wants, and she is out to get it. Never mind refusals, scores of rules, censuring eyes and multitude of time-outs.

Lets take today. That too just the morning. I woke up earlier because of my gym routine, and came back rushing to ensure that I was in time to get her to school. I had put her in bed earlier the previous day so that she could have had a sufficient shut-eye. I was hoping she would co-operate and wake up with a sweet smile. As soon as I opened the door, I yelled – Hi Honey! Wakie Wakie, Time to wake up!” and flashed a warm encouraging smile. I saw her peep from the coverlet, pretending to be asleep. No other response. All quiet. I walked to her bed, and gave her a wake-up hug, ‘C’mon, Darling. Time to go to school”. Not a flicker. The hug turned into a squeeze, ‘C’mon, girl, time to get up”. Still no movement. I picked up a water bottle and made it hover on her head. The threat of sprinkling water was unmistakably clear. Nidhi likes her threats to not only be verbalized, but acted out. She stayed put, still snug in her coverlet. I sprinkled a drop of water on the bit of the forehead showing out from the coverlet. Swissshhh….the forehead vanished under the coverlet, much like a snail withdrawing in its shell.

Shucks, it is getting late. I do my time-out routine “Nidhi, if you are not out of the bed in another two minutes, I am going to sprinkle water of your head”. My firm voice and tone got a feigned stretch-and-yawn from the coverlet, and she took her head out and said sulkily – “Don’t throw cold water on me. I am getting up”. Right, now she is listening! I wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. The threat is forgotten. The time for the time-out is nearing. I declare the just-two-seconds-to-time-out bugle cry, “ I am beginning to count, Nidhi, One Two……”. Roll, roll, thud and a quick slither – Nidhi has rolled out the bed, and before I can swoop down on her, she has crawled under it, coverlet firmly stretched over her head!

I am furious now. Furious with her because she is getting late and furious with myself because despite my firm resolve to not lose my cool in the morning, Nidhi has made me come to a boil. I yelled – “Nidhi Sunil Mandawat, How dare you take the coverlet under the bed? Don’t you know it has cobwebs and is dirty? Come out, right this minute! And don’t think you won’t go to school if you are late! If you don’t get out from under the bed, I will take you school in your pyjamas.”. I hear a snigger – Nidhi knows that when she hears her full name, Nidhi Sunil Mandawat, she is in trouble, big trouble. But she is determined to dig in her heels and fight it out. I try getting under the bed, but get stuck because the bed is smaller than my girth. I glare at Nidhi, who is smiling wickedly – she knows Mamma can not come under the bed! I give up. I decide, I really would make her go in her pyjamas. That should teach her.

I walk into the kitchen to warm her milk and cereal, and decide to wait it out. She is bound to come out in some time, the underbelly of the bed is not comfortable, I know. She crawls out – eventually, the coverlet still under the bed, and the clock very close to the danger mark. I mentally make a note to send the coverlet to the cleaners tomorrow, and ask her to at least get it out from under the bed. She feigns deafness, and walks on groggily to the kitchen table, and plonks herself there.

“Get cracking, girl!”, I thunder, “Just look at the clock!”. She puts her head down on the table, and I can hear her deep breathing again. Looks like she is going to sleep again. I turn to fill a bowl with water, and stride across to her, where she is sleeping. She will now get a bowl-drench from me, and this would wake her up NOW, I resolve with gritted teeth. I turn towards the table to do the bowl-drench, and here she is, wide awake, grinning fiendishly with glee!

“I have been awake for a long time, Mamma!” she is chortling with delight. “You asked God to give you strength, did you not, Mamma, so that you would not yell at me? I heard you! I wanted to see if God gave it to you! And He did not! He Did not!”

I don’t quite know what to say. Once again, she has managed to make an blubbering idiot out of me, over a routine thing like a wake up call in the morning. All my adult resolves, my prayers to God, my reading of books on parenting, dissolve into zero when I face this willful child of mine. But God, how I love her! I hug her, smiling, “Okay, baby, you are right! God did not give me the strength to stand your tantrums. But God gave you to me!”. I scoop her up in my arms, and kiss her, and she kisses me back, her eyes still full of mirth.

“Nidhi Sunil Mandawat, get down from my lap this minute and get ready to school”, I whisper in her hair. She smells heavenly in the morning, she always does. She trots off, and I feel a lump in my throat. She makes me play to her tunes, but how I love playing!

Living Under Dust Covers

It was the golden hour. Soft bright sunlight was pouring in from her bedroom window, creating a patch on her bedcover. She could imagine little men, photons, carrying light straight into her bedroom, yelling “Stand Aside, Stand Aside” as they rushed in to do their jobs of spreading the morning warmth. She longed to just stay in bed, and watch the sunlight for a while. But, no way, the evil clock on her head stand nudged her and she got up, pushing the coverlets aside.

“Lift up those covers, fold them and keep them aside”. Her husband instructed from the bathroom, where he was shaving his stubble. “You always leave the room in a mess, and I have to spend time cleaning it up”. He was sounding irritated now. He is right, she thought, I never like folding up the bed immediately after I wake up. Somehow the act is too harsh when I am not fully awake yet. I would like to do that after I finish my tea. But she knew from experience, he can not stand the delay. So, she sighed and got down to the job. There - the job was done, the bedcovers were folded, lying neatly, and she straightened up, tying up her loose hair and began to walk towards the kitchen – Ah tea, that what she needed just now.

“Just why cant you keep the four corner aligned when you fold up?”, he was saying, as he glanced balefully at the bedsheet-fold-up job she had done. She halted at the door, temporarily putting her need for some hot tea on hold. She looked at the folded covers. They looked good enough to her. Obviously, he did not think so. He was glowering at her now – “I simply don’t understand how someone cant figure out that the four corners of the bedsheets have to be aligned, just so. Do you know how uncouth this looks, this non-aligned bedsheet?” Ok, ok, she said – I will do it again, and she resigned herself to drinking that tea later. She sat on the bed – her sunlight patch was still there, dancing merrily with the photon men. She glanced up at him, her eyes still drowsy and dreamy with sleep and the warm golden morning “Don’t you think the sunlight is just lovely? See, the patch it makes – it\s almost a degree warmer than the rest of the sheet”, she murmured.

“Must you stand there and talk about sunlight as if it never occurs every other day? Why don’t you get some discipline into yourself, fold those sheets properly and move out to your office?”, he was practically yelling now. “Sunlight and its patterns on the bed are about as important as your neatly folded bedsheet” – she almost retorted, but held her tongue. She had lost the warm, drowsy look in her eyes now. Proper sheet folding done, acknowledged by an exasperated sigh from him, and she walked out, pushing her feet in the slippers.

“Don’t wear those slippers to the bathroom. I have just wiped the bathroom clean. Yours are so dirty all the time. Here, wear mine” he pushed his slippers towards her. “My slippers are not dirty”, she said indignantly. “Oh, yes. They are. Just see”, he said, as he turned the soles of the slippers towards her. Yes, they were slightly dirty, dirt clinging from the soles, but she could always wash them in the bathroom, couldn’t she? He replied even before she asked – “I know the way you would wash your slippers. You would leave water all over in the bathroom, with mud in the edges. No, better wear mine.”

She moved to the kitchen after she finished from the bathroom. “Use the Aluminium tea pan” his voice sailed from the bedroom. “I have washed it for you, and please, don’t use the blue coffee mugs that we bought yesterday. They are a devil to wash, and you always chip china when you wash them”. But, she liked that glass coffee mug. She had bought it because she was tired to having her tea in these brown mugs for years now. She had liked them enough to have bought them even when he was completely against it, murmuring against her ears that it was waste of money.

She ignored what he said about not using the blue mug, and poured her tea in her new blue coffee mug. She would wash them herself, she resolved, and would do it carefully. She carried her tea out on the table, and went outside to pick up the morning paper. When she returned, he was pouring the tea out from the blue mug to the brown one. “The blue one was looking dirty from the outside”, he said. “Have your tea in the brown one today. I will wash all the blue ones and you can use it from tomorrow”.

Suddenly, it did not matter any more to her. Tea, no tea, blue mug, brown mug – it was suddenly too much work to get anything she liked. She gulped the tea, grabbed her towel and headed for her bath.

Stumble, Slip, Fall!

The next instant, she found herself sprawled on the floor, which was now somehow wet. Something near the foot region, she was hurting, it was as if something was broken, and she cried out involuntarily. She saw him running towards her through the tears of pain, and was grateful for his presence, for the first time since she woke up.

He helped her to her feet, and said “My God, Water is spilled all over, just after I had wiped it dry. Just stay here. I will get the mop”.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Women - With Women

Women, in the long run, get along better with women. I know I am
saying this to a group who have lot of men-friends and perhaps prefer their men-friends, being engineers, but still, here it is.

Our relationship with women travels multiple paths, and phases, but in the end, we find rest back with one of our kinds. No sexuality involved though - this is plain kinship.

The “Naaah” Phase:

Between ages 4 and 9: We love girls, hate guys and their clumsiness and boorishness.

The “Look who’s looking at You” Phase:

Between 9 to 16: We like girls, lots of fights with them, and are getting VERY interested in boys. Most of our interactions with girls is about boys and studies, in that order. We still like girl friends quite a bit, and have intense love-hate relationships with them, but our dominant shared interest is the same - Boys.

The “Ouch” Phase:

Between 16 to the-time-we-find-the-guy-we-sleep-with: Girls are
great to sob about HIM, and great to discuss how to finally "nail"
HIM, and sometimes we fight like cats over HIM. Our innermost thoughts and yearnings are with HIM, and we look at similar female travelers on this quest for support. We don’t much like pretty girls and turn up our noses at guys who chase them. We declare ourselves as being cerebrally attractive, though we are inwardly aching with our feminity. We meet a lot of men, and some we genuinely like, even though he is not HIM. We become great friends with them, and we love horsing around with both girls and guys, and publicly have a blast, with nightly tormented private sobbing-in-the-pillow moments. For touchy-feelie woman stuff, we keep those deep in our hearts, and prefer to keep the stuff upper lip, much like our guy pals. After all, we are equal to men, aren’t we? We just somehow deal with our abundance of emotions, sometimes without any support.

The “Found My Man” Phase

Between 19- to the time we get married: We have finally found our man, and we are mighty pleased about it. We love him, revel in his manliness, our love for him, the fulfillment of our dreams, and yes, our sexuality. He is the center of our universe. We outgrow our girl friends at this stage, and loose all contact with them.

The “Mommy” Phase

Between 20 to 30: Then comes the most earth-shaking one of it all. We become mothers! We have a human being completely dependent on us, and we are overwhelmed. And we need other MOTHERS! And we go out and get them. A million questions – urgent and important - Oh shucks, how does one sleep when the kid is wailing? Just does one work leaving the child behind? We wonder at how our mothers raised us, and we become great pals with them. Guys, even our lover and soul mate, is only an appendage now - needed only to be the thoughtful baby sitter

The “Coming Together” Phase:

Between 30 to 40: Having gotten comfortable with our "mother" type friends, we suddenly realize - hey, I enjoy being with girls!! We reconnect back with old girl friends, reach out and make more girl friends of all types – older, younger, working, non-working - and really enjoy discussing relationships, parenting, cooking, work, dresses, nail paints, mascara brands etc. Our soul mate, we have by now realized, is an emotionally simple human being, and we need more than him to meet our multiple emotional needs. We become comfortable with men, and a lot of the desperation associated with them has now vanished. For the first time in our lives, we have come together.

The “Mother” Phase

After 40- and happily ever after: Professional relationships apart, men are now like our babies. To be humored, taken care of, petted. Still a strong friendship- but the lover part of it is now kind of faint. This is also the stage when men start calling their wives "Mom". And younger men worship them as moms.

By now, our girl friends form a big part of our lives. We rejoice at births, and grieve at deaths together. We organize birthday parties, trips, travel, take-a-class-together and dinners. We giggle, cackle, criticize – and have great fun. Men friends, I hate to admit, normally peter off in this stage. In some cases, we are firm friends with their wives now!

By the time we have reached the Mother Phase - we are firmly with the girls, and we enjoy being there, and will stay there till we die. It can happen at age 28, or it can happen at age 48- depending on the life path the woman has taken. The Mother phase is a great phase to be in - it is restful, nurturing, life-giving and most delicious fun. Being a part of the sisterhood is emotionally liberating, and finally, we are comfortable being in our emotional skin.

Amazingly, from what I have observed, this really is a "woman" thing. Men do not seem to get into this phase. I have seen men envy friendships that women share at this stage of their lives. Most women, however unfortunate, will find her own sisterly band, and most men, however fortunate, would be lonely, with few friends. Another amazing thing, a woman who does not get into this phase, is irritable, out-of-sorts and a pain to be with. Being with other women calms a woman down.

So, all you women engineers, struggling within a man’s world, bear it for a while! The sisterhood will come to you – and will come surely. Just give it time!

Slumdog Millionaire - A story not told

I squirmed uneasily as I watched Slum Dog Millionaire take awards after awards on the Oscar night. It was’nt that I was uncomfortable that a British film makers perspective of Indian poverty found favor with the jury– which is what many of my friends are uncomfortable about. My reasons were simpler. I was just awfully bored by the movie.

Indian poverty and the slums – these were the most visible parts of the story, but really, those were just the setting of the story. And the story was potentially pretty dramatic, with its moments of love, betrayal, cruelty and tragedy – and yes, even stomach-churning gross-ness, but somehow the story teller got so enamoured by the setting that he could not see beyond the obvious, and ignored every thing else.

Out of the nine rasas defined in Natya Shastra, there is a ras called the “Vibhatsa” ras. Loosely translated, it stands for ‘Grotesque-ness”. This ras defines the human reaction that brings up the bile.

As I know it, grotesque-ness is best visually described by Goya in his painting called ‘Saturn devours his children”, where he has painted a huge monster eating human flesh, entrails and all, with a gleam in his eye. You cannot watch the picture without feeling sick at the stomach. And yet, yet, the monster has an almost sad and desperate look about him – as if he could not help being what he is, being the monster he is. It is not the monsters fault that he is a monster – and there, lies a story. With the flawless execution of the visual imagery that capture a day in the monsters life, the painters job is done – but as we move forward and seek answers to questions such as what the monster thinks, why did he become the way he did, what made him devour human flesh - Ah, that’s where we need story tellers!

Slumdog Millionaire is movie made in Vibhasta ras, and it is made like a series of paintings, one after the other, one after the other, feverishly and ghoulishly put together – each frame more vibhatsa than the other. Once the series is done, the painter seems to lounge back in his chair and ask – So, was’nt that disgusting? How does your stomach feel now?

What do I say to him? I can only sigh, and look at the watch. I had come to hear a story, and what I saw was a series of pictures. The pictures moved my stomach, but there was no story to move my heart.

For, just where was the story told? Where was the poignancy of the love between Jamal and his lady love? Why was the tragedy of a lost mother rushed by for a glimpse of a blue-painted-boy-as-Ram? Why was the desperation and jealousy missing which must have been an essential part of the story, when Jamaal sees his lady love being kept as a chattel? Where was the celebration of heroism when Jamaal’s brother gives up his life so that Jamaal can finally find love? Where was the ecstasy of love finally found between Jamaal and his lady love? Where was the innocence of hope when Jamaal thinks that if he sings well, he would be out of the hell hole he finds himself? Where was the turning point when Jamaal’s brother hardens his heart and decides to trample over his fellows when in the clutches of the Mama? Where was the bright defiance in the demeanor of Jamaal when he takes on the barbs and leers of the TV Show host?

Am I talking about only acting inadequacies here, which the movie certainly painfully did have? No, it is really about the pace of the story, and where the narrator has chosen to linger. Because that is the point of the story. A movie maker commands a camera and bids it to stay some place and just gloss over some other place – and that’s what makes a camera tell a story, and defines its essence. It is not just what you show, it equally is what you hide - that defines a story.

Amazingly, the movie got an Oscar for editing!!

In Slumdog Millionaire, the movie maker lingered over the grotesqueness, the Vibhatsa, slowly and caressingly as if that was the most important part of the story - and in passing showed the beauty of love and the triumph of life amongst wretched squalor. The movie maker completely fails to imbue the viewer with a sense of pervasive hope that is found in Jamaals life, notwithstanding it being rooted in slums, and his glorious dauntless human spirit that lives on, shining and bright, and loves with a wholesomeness that is both beautiful and innocent. The Movie Maker got the imagery right, but lost the essence of this glorious slum-based life. By a mile.

Mr. Danny Boyle, you are a certainly a good photographer, but a story teller? Nah….

You had such a lovely story on your hands, and you never even told it. You abused the art of movie making and story telling – by showing us mere pictures.

A daughter

A daughter is....

A warm cuddle
A morning beam of sunlight
A perpetual giggle
A soft hand in my calloused pair
A tight round-the-waist hug
A jar full of bounce
A bundle of mischief
A perennial flower in my home

Coming Home to Bangalore

The first time I am in my new office, in my new home in Bangalore, the city which I have recently moved to.

The first time when I am sleeping on the floor, on some thin mattresses, and getting achy all over. (My stuff has'nt moved yet)

The first time when I am living in a city where people do not speak Hindi, or English

The first time when I am forced to stay silent for hours, since I can't talk to my domestic help, my watchman, my veggie wala, or even the milkwallah

The first time when I am using the sign language and discovering that it is actually pretty adequate

The first time I am waking up in the early hours, with the sounds of courtyards being swept clean by "kharata jhaadus"

The first time I am seeing roads lined with flowering trees

The first time I am sniffing the morning air to take my fill of the sweet scent of jasmine and some other flower I know not the name of

The first time when I am being greeted by the aroma of freshly ground coffee as I walk downstairs to dump garbage

The first time when I am hearing temple bells as I drop my daughter to school

The first time when I am watching where I walk, lest I step over some Rangoli

The first time when I am hearing the cries of "Sopu" - the cry of a street vendor selling herbs and flowers. Did not know herbs could be sold this way

The first time when I am seeing several senior men and women guffawing over a cup of coffee, as they practice the morning ragas in the local park, and me wondering why I am not at that stage of my life yet

The first time when I feel as if I have come home. And this for a city I have come to, for the first time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Prayers that did not/could not save

A man who did not take his daughter to the hospital when she was ill, and instead prayed. And then, she died.

She was 11. He did not want to put doctors before God, he said.

What does one say to something like this?

Many of the readers are incredulous when they read this story. Just how could a man believe that God would heal his daughter? And yet, yet, all of the same readers rush to the nearest place of worship when a loved someone falls ill. Talk about hypocrisy. Of all the hypocrisies, the hypocrisy of faith is the hardest to deal with, as faith is supposed to be the way to truth.

God does not heal. Prayer is a way of comforting oneself when one cannot be comforted. And this does not mean there is no God, though I doubt seriously if there is one. Even if He exists, I do not think he is someone who interferes in the natural paths of living and dying.

The father who lost his daughter because God did not heal her, lost two of the most precious things in the world. A child and a faith. The man is to be pitied, someone who should be comforted, because he has no illusions left anymore, he is faced with stark dark reality, and if there is something that can comfort him, it can be humaneness. We all know this reality, and yet we pretend to not know it, because it is comforting. And this man has lost his comfort blanket. He believed the stories of God that were told to him. He believed, when so many of us, who know better, do not. He lost a precious human being because he believed in what the world told him.

And what does the world do to him? Convicts him of murder.

Instead of joining hands and putting our shoulders next to him to cry tears, tears that recognize the sombre reality, and emphathizing with the need to create stories so that we can somehow obscure the reality we know, we turn our backs on the man, and send him to prison.

Wah re duniya!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Go Away, Spring!

Spring. That time of the year again. A time I dread. A time I want to get over with quickly. A time when I wince every second.

Spring, the time of the year when I cannot do without you. You, who are my soul mate, my lover, my essence, my being. You, who is not there with me, for reasons not understood by me.

I get by, in other times, without you. Manage to exist without thinking about you every moment. Manage to make meaning with life and work and the crowd that mills around me.

But in spring, when every living creature, big and small, plant and animal, is suffused with love and mating, every pore of mine opens up and screams for you. I want you because flowers flower, birds sing, leaves glisten, fragrance intoxicates, sap rises and skies cloud. I want you…

But you are not there.

And I curse Spring. Why must it come and hold a mirror to my life, showing me exactly as I am - holed in the middle, emptied of your presence?

Go away, Spring, go away! Go away, so that I can live.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wearing My Skin: A Short Story

I met a school friend, rather a “crush” of mine, after 25 long years. He is one of those that I have dreamt of meeting again often, as he is one of those few guys who I was very interested in when I was young, back when I think I was prettier than I ever would be in my entire life.

He was devilishly attractive to me those days. He made eyes at me for hours - he was obviously smitten. I think we also went out together a couple of times. My friends giggled his name to me, and yes, I remember sighing his name in my sleep in those days of yearnings. Before we could get around to being more than casual friends, life and ambition intervened, and we drifted apart, and while I never really missed him, I have always wondered what it would be like to meet him, and see his wicked smile that I loved so much back then again.

So, I met him again yesterday, after years and years, and guess what, he still looked the same! Devastating and fiendishly attractive still to me. I am a sucker for good looking men whose eyes dance when they smile, and whose lips pout – lips that hint of a ravishing kiss, and steamy love bites. He looked older, of course, but his maturity sat him well. Years had not taken away the innocence in his eyes, his arms were still taut with strong muscles, and his hair while graying at the temple, became him awfully well.

And me, oh, the intervening years have not enhanced me much. Rather, the other way around. I look the worse for my years.

I was never a beautiful girl. My dad told me I was charming – but every father thinks so, and I never thought much of it. Several admiring men friends that I gathered when I was young also told me that I was sensuous and alluring, though not rapturously beautiful, but I always thought that their lust made them say such things. Not that it bothered me much. I was different from other young girls. I hated doing all the things that girls have to do to look pretty – the waxing, the plucking, the painting of the face, and other feminine stuff. I was a careless person with appearances, am even now, and back then, scrubbed only when I had to, wore good clothes only if I was forced to, dressed up only if I could not refuse and so on. I think I was just a lazy person. Clothes, hair and shoes bored me. I was more interested in people, world, ideas – and just having fun. I never felt that it mattered anyway, as it never made a difference to the crucial issue of being attractive to the opposite sex. I had more boys as my friends than girls, and I regularly received love lorn looks and notes from a few of them, and could flirt the heart out of boys that I was interested in. I was one scruffy young girl, but I was a confident, happy one.

Womanhood and corporate career changed all that. Stepping into the adult world meant that I had to trim my nails, brush my hair and wear freshly laundered trousers and shirts to go the office. Being a wife and marwadi bahu entailed wearing a matching bindi with the saree and the fancy clutch, with the right dash of lipstick, and the weekly trips to the parlour to peel off layers off my hirsute body. Being a business person meant that I had to dress to look in control, and look “Arrived”. I had to make sure I merged and belonged with the power dressing crowd, and I learnt the art of coordinating colors and accessories to create just the aura I wanted – feminine – but not overly so, smart - yet non-threatening, territorial – but not adversarial. I also learned to sheath my claws and cloak my boorishness, and learnt to eat daintily, curbing my desire to speak with my mouth full as I entertained classy men and women.

I did not really enjoy this much, but I did it because I had to, as I really did want to achieve growth in my corporate life, and appearing to be a sophisticated urbane woman was just one of the things that had to be done for it. Younger girls would sometimes walk up to me to ask for tips on how to dress the way I did, not surprising since I did a fairly competent job of exuding the image I wanted to.

And now, after being a mother for a decade, I have steadily been moving back to my older days. I have no need, nor desire to impress, belong or be approved of. My daughter loves me with a completeness that overwhelms me, no matter how I look or what I wear, and my husband depends on me with a thoroughness that can only be achieved through decades of loving and working together. My friends and I chat for hours, in identical élan, in designer or at-home dresses, in five star hotels and park benches. I am, once again, very comfortable in my skin and my place in the world Рeven better, as I have outgrown the rebelliousness of my younger days by growing a thick hide that is impervious to the malicious, look-me-down stares from snooty waiters, classy socialites, trophy wives and reproachful mother-in-laws.

As for the men-folk who were my colleagues and friends, I don’t even think they noticed the change in me – not the one from the young gauche girl I was, to the urbane woman I once became, and now the contented hag that I am growing into.

As my childhood crush looked at me yesterday, I could look right inside his brain, as his brain toted me up. Body – Fat and overblown. Clothes – Probably expensive but carelessly chosen and much worn. Teeth – dark and beginning to yellow, Chin – with a hint of the crone-like hairs that sprout on all 40 something women, Shoes – comfortable clods, that obliterated any style, Bag – the kind that most probably held at least 30 things in it, and definitely not Prada. I could see him evaluating me using the scales that were handed down to him by the Style-check gurus. Hmmmm – I could actually hear the conclusions his brain was coming to. This woman is not worth a second look anymore, he finally clunked to the conclusion.

I could not suppress a chuckle. It was sad to see him so disappointed. He was, no doubt, congratulating himself for not pursuing his love interest in me, way back then. I could see the way he desperately looked around to locate his classy wife, who looked amazingly young for her age and delicate. He surely wore her often enough to his office parties, and was surely envied a whole bunch. They made a pretty pair.

The wife floated by, and after the gracious introductions and the careful touch-but-not-smear-lipstick brush with my right cheek, she shimmered away, my childhood crush in toe. After a hurried conversation with him, she threw a furtive glance back at me as her husband looked on sheepishly. She probably slept with her corset on, I thought, as I struggled to suppress a grin.

So, that was that, I said to myself. This is what he looks like now. Do I want him still? He tempts, surely. It would not take much to fan his earlier unslaken thirst. But do I really want to?

No, I decided. It really isn’t worth it. Did I really want to get into the rigmarole of pleasing, attracting and holding men? It is painful, this beauty and holding-a-man game, Too much work, not much of a prize - even though I admit the man is a delicious hunk. There is’nt much more to him than being just a piece of forbidden, casual lust – is there? I will pass, I thought, I have better things to do, and I looked around for my giggle of girls.

They weren’t far away - my brood of youngsters, friends of my daughter, who were lounging close by, and smirking at some hunk of their size. I had agreed to chaperone them for this wild club side girls only party, and they seemed to be having a rollicking time. I heard one of them scream for me, "Auntie, come on into the water – it is cold!" - and I decided to indulge, taking off my frumpy dress to reveal a even frumpier frock style swim suit, to frolic in the water with them.

I prefer being a hag, I told myself, as I surreptitiously trod water behind the girls, wanting to drench them unawares. And did they scream when I did! That was fun!!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Courage: The pre-requisite of being an artist

It needs courage to become an artist.

An artist creates things that are non-essential for existence, but things which provide meaning to existence. Artists create beauty - in pictures, words, forms, dance - and most often than not, create them on their own notion of what beauty is. Many times the world does not agree, and sometimes it does. But the artist creates. Not because it is needed. Not because someone wants it. Not because it would sell. But simply because he has to. He creates because he must.

What does being an artist mean? It means that you would somehow create something of beauty that would be liked by people. An artist does not have a business card that calls him a Creator. Nor does he have one that calls him a Vice President - Manufacturing. Nor does he get a salary check from some one. He is his own university, he is his own factory, he is his own marketeer, he is own innovation - he is one man everything. He is stripped of all the paraphernalia that most professions has. A business man has his money, a career bureaucrat his post, a politician his constituency, a manager his salary check, a doctor his dispensary - and all of these give substance to the profession, and the man who practices it.

An artist is a stripped-of-everything profession. A man or a woman stands bare, with no protection, except a vision of beauty that they wish to share, with no protection, no props, no sustenance.

Which one of us humans can live a true-to-thought life like this? Where we have no place to hide? No degree to hold on to, no house to show off, no car to drive to - where we stand as ourselves, and ask the world to believe us simply because, because.

And yet, artists needs to depend on the same world for his daily bread and sustenance. So, maybe an artist needs to prostitute his art, for creating something that people like - regardless of whether it matches his vision or not.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Goat and a Hyena

Strange people get married - and stay married.

The reason why they get married is clear- the great Indian Arranged Marriage System - where the only things which are considered as mating pre-requisites are an ability to earn from the grooms side, and the ability to attract and procreate from the female's side, or vice versa - depending upon the social status of each one of them. In absence of any other scale, the gold scale or the beauty scale prevails, and that makes sense to me.

However, why they stay married when it is very obvious that they are very different types of human beings continues to amaze me, despite the economic vulnerability of the woman.

I recently visited one such couple. This couple has been married for years and years - maybe 40 years - the one fact that some of my friends who have western sensibility would celebrate, obviously with an assumption that if intelligent people have stayed married, it is because it made sense for them to stay married. How mistaken they sometimes are!

This couple are as different as a goat and a hyena. The woman is patient, docile, obedient, god-fearing and dutiful. The man is rapacious, self-serving, waits upon others to do his thing - pretty much a scavenger. The Hyena makes the Goat do everything for him - cook his food, give him his medicines, clean his house, lay his bed, lay the table, press his feet etc etc. In return, the Hyena does nothing for his wife - he does not even talk to her nicely. He yells at her at the slightest provocation, and insults her whenever he can, while waxing eloquent publicly over how much he loves her. The Goat bears it all, sometimes with patience, and sometimes with irritation, but her upbringing has taught her to respect her husband, and serve him - and thats what she does, without question, week after week, month after month, year after year - even when she is now worn out, old and almost fragile. The Hyena on the other hand, suffers from heart conditions because of his terrible temper, but takes excellent care of his health, and can hope to see many more suns.

The Goat and the Hyena have been living together for years, and as is wont in marriages, they have stayed together not because they love each other, but because they once entered the bonds of holy matrimony, arranged by their parents, and because Hindu marriages are not expected to break.

However, what I saw in my recent visit to the couple made me wonder if Hindu marraige was not sometimes a slavery - in fact, almost akin to indentured labour.

For, the Hyena has now taken to piss, by choice, not in the commode which is what all ordinary mortals use, but into a special vessel made for holding it due to some Baba - who has told him that pissing in a commode made him less virile. As a part of her marital duties, the goat is made to clean up the ensuing mess, and also carry the piss to the appropriate place to dispose off, as she is after all the Hyena's wife. The Hyena is very much capable of doing this himself, as he is in decent health, but he chooses to give his task to his wife since it is so distasteful to him.

I could see what made the Hyena ask his wife to handle the piss. About the virility part, I do not even wish to speculate.

The Goat does all of this, without question, without a thought of revolt or saying no - and all in the name of marital duty.

It is sick. What makes me sick is not the fact that the Hyena behaves the way he does, but why the Goat behaves the way she does. She is a human being, a person in her own right, a thinking caring intelligent person, she has no compulsions of any kind. Just why does she submit to such cruel insulting behaviour? After all, if the Goat stopped accepting the insults, would not the Hyena have to stop? After all, who else in the world will take such an insult?

Just why does the Goat not behave like a human being? Just because of marraige vows? Yeah, right. Dead right.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Let the Midnights Children Sleep!

I read the news about Deepa Mehta doing a movie on Salman Rushdie's "Midnight Children" with trepidation and horror.

Midnight Children is a book I read the first time when I was in my raw teens, during which time I did not understand much of it and flung it after the first few pages when I could not figure out how a nose could be so important. I read it with determination the second time - this was when I was at college, and it was a mark of dishonor to the group that I belonged to who prided themselves on all things literati - and was awed by the intricate ornate imagery the author wove, and its hugely metaphorical content to the birth of our nation. I have since then read it at least thrice, though not in recent years, and have fallen in love with is quirky characters - Salim Sinai, the hapless exchanged-at-birth child, the rumbuctious Brass Monkey, the rotund but sexy Begum Sinai, Mary Pereira, the ridden by guilt midwife, the Aunt Alia who feeds guilt and resentment in her pickles, the sinister Widow with her half grey head of hair - and the quirkier setting - the tetrapod laced Mumbai, the fortune-changing Mahalaxmi Race course, the breathtakingly beautiful Kashmir, and the dark murky hate spewing streets of Mumbai - and not to forget the stuffy Chothes Chest in the Sinai bathroom where Salim lay hidden, as he is hit by his first adult moment.

The book is rich in feeling and metaphor, and creates a world which dazzles, smells and shakes and has characters which cower, lust, love, fear, and take shape in ones mind, and stay with one, hours after the book is put down. Salman Rushdie is a masterful story teller. His story needs some telling, but for people who have the patience and the imagination to stay with him awhile, he amply rewards them with a world that is rich and suggestive, like real life. Like the famous Arabian Night stories, the Midnight's Children can be spun into a tapestry of another set of stories - in which each of the characters takes off from one point in this story, travels to another one, and then comes back to this one to take his rightful place.

And now, a story of this kind, the kinds that holds a world and many other yet-to-be-born stories inside is, is going to be played out on celluloid, and its fluid rich imaginative world will be concretized on reels. I hate it. Just completely abhor the idea.

It is not that I don't like Deepa Mehta - I also understand that perhaps this movie would give Salman Rushdie another spot of bright illumination in public life which the beleaguered man may or may not relish, and may give him some much needed money - nor do I mind the re-interpretation of the story in thousand different ways, which is what most good stories are for, anyway.

What I truly mind is the change of medium of the story. .

For, just how would the cinema capture the musty smells of the clothes chest in the Sinai bedroom as he views his mothers bottom? How would the camera capture the Sr. Sinai's falling-in-love-in-parts-by-part, and its completely apt metaphor to India being a country made up of parts? How would the camera manage to get inside the guilty purse of Mrs. Sinai as she goes horse racing, guilt ridden and shadowy? How could it capture the conversations-in-mind with all those many midnights children that Salim Sinai has, his falling in love with Parvati when she is just a nebulous presence in his mind.

The list is large - and I shudder to think what butchery would take place of my beloved story and my beloved weird characters as Ms. Mehta will apply her celluloid knife.

It would not be her fault, the fault would be the medium's. The tyranny of it being two dimensional - visual and audio, and that's it. No imagination, no smells, no in-between emotions, and the worst of it all, the tyranny of 2 hours! Stories of this kind are told over and savoured over days of indolent reading and telling, and the "Phir?" question marks that one goes to sleep with - and wakes up luxuriously to return to it again…

Ms. Mehta, please don't do this. Please do not put faces to my Salim Sinai, and the Brass Monkey and the virile Shiva Please do not tell me the color of the Clothes chest. Please do not tell how Bombay looked then - and how the Widow looked. I know them all in my minds eye, and I do not want to know them through your eyes. My eyes and mind are in great shape, thank you.

And Mr. Salman Rushdie, just how could you do this? Just how could you consent to the butchery that is bound to be unleashed on this magical story of yours? How can you kill all the other stories than can come out of Midnights children still? You are the father of this story, aren't you? Or have you too, tired of your creation, and are out to milk it for whatever its worth in gross coins you can touch, rather than thoughts and minds you can reach?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hungry eyes

I wish I did not have these visions.

Of blue oceans, and blue skies and blue hills and blue trees...

I am tormented by them - these visions - and find it difficult to focus on my daily life as my soul yearns for them, and rubbishes everything that I do have. I have everything that I can materially ask for, and emotionally want - my cup of life is full. And yet, yet, there is this yearning, which keeps me awake at night, and browse furiously through books, and the web - looking for that place that I can call my home.

Actually, it is not the yearning to call a place a home, it is perhaps a yearning for having lived and travelled and smelt other smells and mingled with other skins, and seen the beauty of nature. I just want to go back to nature.

I am selfish enough to cling to my air-conditioners and my neatly kept home to manage my day to day life, but my eyes - they are the ones who are hungry. They clamour for food they like, for food they can enjoy and savour, and I struggle as they take over my entire persona and make me feel as if I am one big starving eye.

Why is beauty such a need? Why are my eyes so hungry? Why can't they leave me in peace?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The road not taken...

The road not taken -is very often a cul-de-sac.

I am forever irritated by many of these feel-good maxims which can lead a tormented soul astray by pretending to stand for wisdom. The road not taken... is one of those.

Most well trodden life paths are taken because well, they are worth being well trodden. Most well trodden paths would provide a person with a good enough life, good enough money, good enough friends, and good enough peer respect. That is one the reasons why parents insist on their children taking well trodden paths.

The roads not taken are difficult, uncertain, and full of blind spots. Most often than not, they end nowhere - the precise reasons why they are not taken in the first place.

Many young people, in their first flush of youth, this writer included, hunger for such roads. Not because of anything else, but because the road seems so fresh, so new. Fresh and new it is, but it
is also treacherous.

This is also true for new products and new markets. Most new markets, are well, not profitable.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Butting heads

Today I had yet another discussion with Ravi. The same one about his parents. Ravi's parents have a mould that they have created for him, and they want Ravi to fit into that. But he does not fit. If he fitted into their mould, he would not know himself. He has got to choose between being himself, and what his parents want their son to be.

Ravi is almost 35, and yet, his parents have not given up. Or rather, Ravi has managed to not kick-shatter the mould and break free. Yet.

Why must parents make a child, an adult child at that, do their absolute bidding? It is fair for parents to expect their children to love, honor and respect them - but to live according to their norms - why is that expected? Why can parents not let their adult offsprings decide what they wants, and let them do it. Why can't they just ensure that in case the offspring fails and makes a grievous mistake, they are there to hold him, and leave it at that?

Just why is fitting into a pre-defined mould so important to be declared as a "good" offspring?

Amazingly, the differences between what Ravi's parents want, and what Ravi is - are not very significant. When the offspring is indeed very different, parents somehow reconcile themselves to it, and most often than not, learn to revel in the uniqueness of their offspring. They do not understand, so they stand aside and applaud.

But when the offspring is not very different - he is always being pushed to somehow "fit" in, to drop the things that make him different, and simply squirm into the mould.

And the guilt that is ladled out for non-conformance is huge! Guilt is thrown at Ravi at being able to walk on ones own two feet, to be able to want from ones own heart, and to be able to reason from ones own brain! Ravi's parents stands there and accuse him of being different, of being not of their kind and somehow make him feel as if he is not really theirs.

I watch helplessly as Ravi grapples with his own roots and his identity. It is painful to watch.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

No more sitting on my hands!

Its been a while - maybe about a couple of years, when I have had to sit on my hands, and force myself to not write. There are things that I want to write about, rant about, wonder about, muse about, tell stories about - and I keep telling myself that this is not the time, some day later as the daily grind simply refuses to let go.

I just told myself today that this could not continue. I needed to stop sitting on hands. And so, here is the first post on the blog