Saturday, January 30, 2010

My shoes and I

Hillary Clinton had a mishap recently. Her shoe refused to walk with her and greet the French President. She moved on while her shoe stayed back, sulking, it’s mouth angry and wide open. Maybe it did not speak French. Maybe it did not like 50 year old men who divorce their wife to marry a model. Maybe it did not like the slippery floor. Maybe it was not happy with Ms. Clinton that day.

You can never really tell with shoes. I thought I was the only one who was misunderstood and disliked by shoes. But watching Ms. Clinton being maltreated like this by her shoe, made my heart go out to her. She is a soul-sister. Just like me, her shoes do not understand her, and do not work with her.

Ms. Clinton and I are in the minority. Most women I know get along very well with their shoes. Shoes are their friends. Their shoes go merrily with their wearers, with a flourish, looking great with matching trousers and saris. They never look angry, never stay behind and sulk – and certainly not with their mouths open, the way they did with Ms Clinton.

Yes, people’s shoes are nice and affectionate towards their owners. Not like mine. Mine routinely misbehave with me, bruising my skin around my ankles, pinching my toes, and occasionally, when in particularly nasty moods, giving me blisters on my last toe finger. And once, in violent anger, they made me trip and fall when they opened their front long tongue, and I was laid up in bed with a twisted ankle for days on end. There have been times when they have stayed behind while my feet have moved on, just like Ms. Clinton’s. In other times, they have got stuck in weird corners, slotted floors and once even on luxurious carpets, when they did not like where I was going. They have ruined several of my professional days, when they have choked my feet, refusing to let them breathe, while I was in the middle of conferences they found oppressive - and have forced me to sit awkwardly bare feet on such events. They have cut short many a social evening for me when they have broken a strap, or a heel, on sighting some person they did not like, and have forced me back into the car, carrying the broken screaming shoe with me. I have observed that this is invariably accentuated when I am wearing red.

There was never been a shoe that did not hurt me. Scars and bruises on my feet tell the story of the long battle that my sensitive skin has fought and lost with the shoe’s leather. I have got used to the sympathetic glances of beauty assistants as they take my feet in their laps for a pedicure. The scars are not pretty at all. Of course, for the rest of the world, I just hide my feet. I do not want to discuss the relationship with my shoes with all and sundry.

It is not that I have not tried working with them. I have used intermediaries when the friction between us became too much – wearing peds, socks, and nylons, but the intermediaries could not give me much protection from the callousness that we treat each other. I have also tried various types – the snooty stilettos, the so-called comfortable pumps, the ugly clods, the elevating platforms, the pseudo suedes, the airy sandals – everything. But nothing, nothing works for me.

I must confess though that I do subject them to some rough handling. But it is not anything more than a slight yank to a strap. Sometimes in anger, I have hit their exterior with some surface causing them to scratch, and sometimes, I am sorry to admit, I have torn apart a loose heel. Some have called it abuse, but I don’t think I agree.

I think, my fault is – if there is – is my carelessness with them, and nothing else. For example, my propensity of watching stars when I walk has often resulted in my shoes doing a head-butt with sundry stones and rocks. I have always been yelled back and punished with blisters whenever this has happened. Sometimes to relieve the pain in the small of my back due to high heeled shoes, I have bent my shoe heel the other way, causing the heel to yowl in pain, sometimes even causing it to break. I have surreptitiously worn other peoples shoes just to see if they were more comfortable, and this no doubt, has been the cause of much jealousy and heartburn. I have always come back – sometimes early, and in rare cases, with some delay - but I have always come back to my shoes. I have a suspicion that the toe-pinch behaviour arises out of incidents like these. There have also been times when I have neglected them, as I have mistakenly worn other people’s shoes, not realizing that they did not fit me. I also remember once bending the shoe dangerously, so much so, that the shoe looked like a hoe when I was done with it.

Worse, I once had walked with one of a different pair in my feet – but hey, that’s just me! I meant no deliberate disrespect. I never did mean to separate the pair and leave the other behind, and I always did come back and reunited the pair. But oh, the anger I had to encounter later! It was excruciating!

There is no point denying it. I hate my shoes, and they hate me. We have never been comfortable with each other. I cringe when I have to wear a shoe, and I am sure my shoes cringe when they see me approaching them with an intent look on my face. We have lived with each other as couples do in bad marriages – resentful, full of complaints of past hurts, and balefully straining at the binding yoke.

I have not given up hope though. I have given myself another 6 months, to find my perfect shoe. I will do whatever it takes, spend half of my household budget, if that is what it takes, so that I can find that perfect shoe, the one that would not bite me, would not embarrass me in public, and would be kind to me. This is not an easy search, nor is it an inexpensive one.

At the end of the six months, if the search of a perfect shoe still eludes me, then of course, I have no choice. I will simply grow a thick hide, which can ignore horrified stares from well groomed hostesses, and will start my bare feet existence, freeing my feet from the shoe fetters for all times to come.

Or maybe I will get in touch with Ms. Clinton. She may have a trick or two for telling me how to mind an errant shoe.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Following a dream....

"I have a dream
A song to sing....."

That is one of my favorite ABBA songs. I and scores of others, respond to its call, as we sway to its tune, and surrender to our favorite fantasy, of following our dream, of singing our songs, and attaining Nirvana. It is very seductive - this call to living your dream.

After watching 3 Idiots, the much talked about movie, the one which exhorts students to follow their dreams, Nidhi, my 12 year old approached me with a serious look on her face. "Mom", she said, "You have asked me many times what I want to be, right? I know what I want to be. I want to be a dancer." Rebelliousness on her face, she murmured, "And, don't force me to do equations."

I squirmed internally, tore away the exasperation from my face, and made myself wear a interested and tolerant expression, "All right. What kind of dancer do you want to be, child?", I asked.

"Ummmm.... I am not sure. Like Katreena Kaif"

"Katreena Kaif? You think she is a good dancer?"

"Yes, mom. I like Kareena Kapoor too. You saw the white dress she wore when she danced on Zubi Zubi..? I loved that dress." Her eyes sparkled as she said that.

"Seems you liked the dress better than the dance."

"I love that dress, mom! Can you please buy me that dress, please, please, please, puhleeze... Alright, I will study for 2 hours every day, but puhleeze?"

The conversation ended. How could I discuss career and life dreams amidst craven desires?

I sat her down later to talk about what she meant. "Beta, you want to be a dancer. Alright. I had put you to a dance school, had'nt I? But you never worked there. You never even wanted to go there."

No answer, except an irritated look. "Not again, Mom! Sir used to make us work so hard....I don't want to talk about this any more. I have a History Project to do."

End of conversation. Hmmmmm.....

Nidhi is a good dancer. A really good one. I can tell - I have always loved dance and dancing. I have danced for years, too far back in time, but the love has stayed with me. I can tell the difference between a good dancer, and a forced one. I can tell who is a superficial dancer, and who is a natural. And I can tell when the movements are intrinsically beautiful, or made beautiful by the settings and the dresses that the dancer wears. I just know dance.

Hence, I know that Katreena Kaif is a pedestrain dancer. Kareena is not bad. They both have pretty faces and pretty dresses - like all Bollywood heroines, but their dance is nothing to remember. Bollywood has popularized dance all right, but it is no way the standard for dance. Not by a long shot. And Nidhi wants to emulate what goes around as being as dance by two bollywood actresses. Ah Well...

Nidhi is a natural dancer all right, but she has miles to go before she becomes an excellent one. She chafes at working hard, and I know it would be very difficult for her to reach excellence. Further, even if she is excellent, if she follows her dreams of being a dancer, I don't know whether she would have a shot at being a memorable, successful one.

Why do I say that? Lets take Kathak, a dance form I am passionate about. In all the years of my adult life, Birju Maharaj has ruled the roost amongst Kathak dancers. And he is still at the top. No doubt he deserves it. But how come this is so? Have there been no good dancers in 25 long years? Has he guarded the seat jealously and pushed others away? Even though he is close to 75 now, there is no good second line of dancers, who comes even 50% close to the audience he can get, the money he receives and the fame he has.

In the world of art, the cliff is a very steep one. There is a place for only the first. If there is. And then, in the pecking order, positions start from 50th to 100th. There is nothing in between. Either the artist is opulent, or the artist is barely surviving. There is not much of a middle ground. From the 50th to 100th, the dancers have to prostitute their art to just survive. Maybe take dance classes for small kids - who in terms of art, do not come even 5% close to what they can teach, or marry a rich man, or better still, get divorced from a rich man!

For every Birju Maharaj that we see on the cliff, there are thousands of wanna-be Birju Maharaj's who died trying. And none of them have lived to tell the tale. We see only THE Birju Maharaj, and we hear the bards who sing the story of a young kid who followed his dreams, and made it big on the stage. Yeah, right.

As for becoming someone like Katreena Kaif, I do not even want to hazard a guess to what happened to thousands of other Katreena wanna-be's. The thought itself scares me. No way in hell a daughter of mine will find herself on that route.

Contrast this with, lets say, investment bankers. There is nothing glorious about the jobs they do. Most of them are just trained to find suckers, and they drive around in big cars, hold soirees for the Birju Maharaj's of the time, and wear expensive dresses. But - and here is the key difference - they are a veritable tribe! Further, there are no cliffs in investment banking. They all jostle on a plateau, which has a small hill of excellence on it, which one of them climbs every so often. None of them stay on the hill for not long, but most do get a shot at the hill, however brief, if they try long enough. Even mediocre bankers make enough money to live well, none of the keep-the-body-and-soul-together business here. Also, what a star banker makes and does, and what a mediocre one makes and does, is not a the difference between survival and opulence - it is only of degree.

As a parent, what would you rather have your child do? Be an artist or an investment banker? Let her follow her dream, of force her towards the beaten path?

As an artist, she would have to work hard, very hard. Truth be told, even harder than the brightest investment banker. And then, she would have to play the fate game. Competition would be intense. Only if she is lucky, she would be recognized and celebrated. If fate cries foul, she could even struggle for survival. Yes, she would have followed her dream, but she could easily die trying. Her tale would not be told, and no bards would sing about her. Worse, she could be begging for work, from dirty opportunists who would not be above using her, in any which way they can. This is a dangerously risky business.

And as an investment banker, sure, she would have to work hard too. Not very though. On dark dreary stuff. But for a short while. Then, she would join the thousands of positions available on the investment banker plateau, and have a decent routine to live to. Her uncertainties would reduce to a large extent, she would have food on the table and a decent roof on her head, even though she may not be a stellar banker. True, no songs will be sung about her work, no press would spend time reviewing her. Routine, non-aesthtic, non-excellence oriented jobs do have their compensations.

As a parent, what road would I advise my daughter to take? The steep, uncertain not so travelled road to the cliff, or the motorable much traveled road to the plateau? For, the road less travelled is often a cul-de-sac, or worse, leads to a cliff. Look hard, you would find all the bodies lying next to it. Do the probability math. As parents, thats our job.

So, what am I saying? No dreams for Nidhi, just the beaten path?

No. I love her, how can I turn away from her dreams? Could I convince her not the take that leap of faith at this time, and continue on the beaten path for a while at least? Work on two roads at the same time. Try out the road-less-travelled and see how it goes, as she works the regular road. See if she can take the other road. See if she has the smarts and the brutal hard work required for this unbeaten path. Work with her so that she can gather strength in her wings, so that she can have a safety net to fall into, if the cliff proves to be a death trap.

After all, no one does bungee jumping without a chord on the feet, do they?


Insignificance. Isn't that what all of us fight against, all our lives? And even if we do become significant, to maybe some people or some animals, would it really matter in the long run? In the great scheme of things? To the cosmos? To the universe?

All Izz Well

This line is very popular these days. My daughter says it to me before going to school, her friends say this to each other, youngsters tap on their chests as they walk jauntily, and yesterday, I even saw a T-shirt emblazoned on it.

The "3 Idiots" fever is upon us. I enjoyed the movie too, immensely. A tale entertainingly told, about the most primitive deep rooted desire of ours - to make meaning with our lives. And this is in India, where making meaning is something that several of our country folks can only just dream of, most managing to just about survive. The setting is the young India, the youngistan, as they call it in the bubble gum kitshcy vocab that goes around these days.

Young people will dream. As they have always done. Always should. Always would. And every generation dishes out these feel-good movies, where the young are told that what they do, can and will, matter. Feeding them optimism and idealism. Thank God I am not young anymore. All this "All Izz Well" chant does not generate a fervor in me.

Most of our lives, All is not well. For most of us, what we do, does not really matter to anyone, except our immediate family, whom we feed and clothe. Most of us do not find what we love to do, leave alone being competent to do it. Most of us just survive.

The odds of finding the one thing that one was meant to do in the world are stacked against one. There are so many things in the world to do, how does anybody know what they are best at? Who defines best? How does one know that one is good at building bridges when one has never built one? Or even seen it?

I am not sure why this is so. There are people who DO find what they love, indeed, I am one of the fortunate ones, as I love what I do - not all the time, but most of the time. But only I know how long it took, the knocks I braved, the search that it took, the work after it, and even when I am here- my moments of doubt. So many of them. When I run into stone walls, barren fields, abusive team mates, irate customers, I despair still, and wonder if it was worth it all. This fleeting feeling of love for what I do -will it matter to me, really really matter, in say 5 years from now? In ten? Would it matter to anyone else?

How many of us really find what we love to do? And how many of us are sure that this is it, the thing that we really were sent to this world to do? How many of us really know what we want? How many of us even know how to go about finding out what we want? And when we do find out, how many of us make a mistake? How many of us make a mistake, and then get stuck there, like a helpless fly in a spiders net? There are divorces in marital lives - but none in the professional life. Once an adult takes up a profession, he can never really shrug it off. Why isn't there a notion of divorcing your earlier-acquired-profession? If people make mistakes in finding mates, and give a name to it (divorce) for correcting their mistake, why is there still no word for changing ones profession?

Oh, don't give me that hogwash of the universe conspiring to give me that I really really want! Just tell me how I can figure out what I really really want, and what I am good at. And that too early in life, in youngistan days... the rest will fall in place.....