Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Just Like Steinbeck

When Steinbeck was writing East of Eden, he kept a journal alongside. Every morning, before he began work on the novel, he would pen down his thoughts on the left hand page. I don't know if this is true of many writers but, like my idol Steinbeck, it is difficult for me to jump right into my work for the day.

I work from home, which means I have to be especially vigilant about waking up at the same time everyday and developing a routine that brings order to my day and forces me to be ready and at the computer at a specific time each day. This 'routine' changes every couple of weeks but while it lasts, it gives me the balance I require.
So, at this specific time each day, I sit down at my computer and open up the document I've been working on. I'll stare at it for a bit and then minimize the window. Then I'll check my mail, I'll facebook a while or maybe blog for a bit.

I can't speak for Steinbeck but this bit of time wastage that lasts for anything from ten minutes to an hour is absolutely essential to ease me into the task of being useful. Believe me, if I were being paid to write this blog, I'd start a new time-wastage blog to write before I opened this one up each morning. I can only theorize that I, like Steinbeck, have an inherent fear of being trapped by the forces of capitalism. That these few minutes of babbling (well, the babbling's mostly me, Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel is somewhat of a bestseller) are somehow liberating me from the shackles of mindless moneymaking. "Haha! Take that you filthy capitalist pigs...you think you own me? Huh? Huh?"

Often it's a way to tease and trick myself into doing the work that needs to be done. So I'll be writing this blog, when unbeknownst to me, I'll open up another window containing the latest script that needs to be completed. I'll continue to blog but I'll keep going back to the script to review yesterday's work. Back to the blog, all ready to post. Click on Publish Now, read what I've written, shut the window and voila! There's my script, all reviewed and ready to be worked on.

Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Whatever's left to be done is taken care of by one angry phone call from the client.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Vagabond Mondays

I'm entering the fifth month of unemployment and let me tell you, there's nothing that makes you question the existential juice of your being like sitting around, useless at home and feeling utterly unwanted.
Today, the heat seems to have let up a bit. The temperatures are in the cool late 30's rather than the 40+ infernos we've been having. I've decided, I'm going out a-wandering.

That usually means I'll catch a movie - something I haven't done in ages. Not only has my unemployment coincided with the debilitating heat, it's also faced the brunt of the fight between Bollywood producers and multiplex owners. So the last few weeks have been horribly movie-less. I plan to rectify that today by watching 'The Hangover'.

Then maybe I'll wander into a bookshop, as I often do. Much as I love these stores, I usually hate browsing. I like walking in, knowing exactly which titles I want. I no longer trust my instincts to pick up books that seem to look good, or authors that I've never heard of but 'sound' interesting. I'll also definitely pick up a bunch of magazines. Magazines are like my heroin. I need a fix every so often. Otherwise I begin to feel even more disconnected from the world. It's bad enough being stuck at home for months on end, I can't cope with not being clued in with what's happening outside.

Finally, instead of walking into a food store, I'll head for the DVD store. I'll browse through the new films and shop for a birthday present. I'll spend a good bit of time here because for some reason, unlike bookstores, I love browsing in a movie store.

I'll then take an auto and return home, glad for the outing.

Two of the last five months have been the toughest to get through. In the vacuum that unemployment creates, one really begins to ask those big questions - 'Is my life a compromise?', 'Did I choose the path of least resistance?', 'Am I not the prime mover in life?', 'Am I just going to wait for life to happen or will I get off my arse and get moving (towards what...)?'
And the worst - Am I living life to the maximum of my potential?

These are scary, scary things to ponder on; especially since every second spent pondering means one second less doing. Not like there isn't stuff that can be done.
Then there is the heart that seems awfully sure of what it enjoys doing and what it does not enjoy doing. I remain steadfastly in its corner, I keep siding with it, believing in it and enduring crippling joblessness to sustain its integrity.

But now and again I wonder, is it just me making excuses in order to maintain a comfortable state of inertia?...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Yes, I see my own hypocrisy OF COURSE

A few seconds after posting the rant below I realised how, just a few months ago, I mercilessly mocked the gentleman with the rum 'n' coke as he attempted to engage me in a conversation about the woes of the Indian writer (boo hoo).

Can I find redemption for my behaviour in the fact that he's one of those unpublished novelists, while my work actually sees the light of day? :D

FINE! I'm a two-faced hack who will never have her 3.5 children. Consider me chastised. Condemn me to that dark place where egotistical writers go to when the booze finally shift+deletes their livers into oblivion...

It Takes an Imtiaz

Watching Imtiaz Ali being interviewed by the braindead film 'critic' Mayank Shekhar (went to school with him, his IQ has dropped several standard deviations since then) would have been torture enough. But then Mayank asked him about writing his own scripts and which role he identified himself with, more- director or writer.
Imtiaz (yes, we're on first name basis. He just doesn't know it yet) replied that he was a natural director but had been forced to become a writer due to a general lack of skilled writers in the business.

As a struggling member of the breed, I was saddened by what he said, especially as he went on to describe how under appreciated and underpaid (and paid much after their work is completed and submitted) most writers were. Lack of appreciation and insufficient financial rewards were leading most writers to venture into direction and forcing most directors to write their own scripts. Imtiaz, not the biggest fan of his own writing, won my heart by laying out the case of the exploited writer in Indian cinema.

The same happens in television as well. Writers are often considered lowest of the low in the creative workforce of any audio-visual project. For some bizarre reason, our jobs are considered as easy as 'sitting in front of a computer screen with a hot cup of coffee and banging on some keys'. Mayank Shekhar, himself, declared us to be a 'lazy' bunch of people on national TV.

The reason I didn't change the channel was the priceless expression on Imtiaz Ali's face as he stared FancyPantsCritic down with utter disdain. The contempt on this director's (handsome)mug, calmed my enraged nerve endings a bit.

I sigh and wait for the day when people will realise that one of the most difficult challenges in the making of the film is that first step - staring at an empty page, having just a bunch of vague feelings and images in your head, scared shitless at the thought that someone will be investing lakhs and crores of rupees into the words that you choose. Nothing about this is easy or effortless.

...till that day comes, we write and we write and we write because there's nothing else we'd rather be doing. Even if we're driven into poverty, even if we're called lazy, even if directors and producers walk away with all the credit, even if dipshits like Mayank Shekhar get to voice their opinions, while we do not.

Not about MJ (RIP, by the way)

Must...not....blog about Michael Jackson....
Must...not...blog about Michael Jackson...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jules et Jim et moi

Sometimes I feel awful that in spite of owning the DVD of Jules et Jim, in spite of having watched it countless times and in spite of having read critical reviews and essays on the film, I still don't get it.

Why we must watch Neda die

Neda haunts me. Ever since her video first hit CNN playing in repetitive loops as breathless anchors issued disclaimers that her death might be too grizzly to watch.
Perhaps because she was so young and so beautiful. Perhaps because she was a woman (like me) in a country that politically & institutionally dehumanizes women (unlike mine). Perhaps because just a second ago she was alive and vibrant, like I am right now, and it took all of ten seconds for her life to be snuffed out.
Perhaps because I have no comprehension of what it takes to be Iranian, female and out on the open streets of Tehran, demanding justice and freedom, knowing all the while that even if I am not struck down right now by the Basij, machinery much more powerful than I am, can hunt me down and harm me in ways I cannot even begin to imagine.

I feel strangely connected to Neda. I feel as if she and I are interchangeable. It could have been me on that street, in the line of a sniper's fire. She could've been here, in a liberal, democratic country, typing about how brave she thought the Iranian people were. She is extraordinary not because she is one in a million. She is extraordinary because she is the million. And instead of sitting home and lamenting about the loss of her freedom, she chose to step out that day. She made a choice to add her voice to the million others. Because she just wanted the simple things. Like me.

"She was a person full of joy," the Los Angeles Times quotes her music teacher and close friend Hamid Panahi, who was among mourners at her family home. "She was a beam of light. I'm so sorry. I was so hopeful for this woman."

The second of three children, Soltan studied Islamic philosophy at a branch of Tehran's Azad University before deciding to take private classes to become a tour guide, hoping to ultimately lead Iranians on trips abroad, the L.A. Times reported.
She was reportedly passionate about traveling and had gone with friends to Dubai, Turkey and Thailand. The young Iranian was also an accomplished singer who was taking piano lessons, according to Panahi.
Soltan was not a hardcore activist, but had started attending the mass protests because she felt deeply outraged by the election results.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I keep track of the protests in Iran, post the election results. And I wonder what it would take for me to risk being executed by an autocratic regime. What it would it take to send video images from a cellphone whose SIM can be traced back to me? What kind of courage, what kind of despair and what kind of blind frustration would it take for a million ordinary people like me to gather in hordes and put everything they have on the line just so that their voice is heard?

That's what happens when voices are squashed for years and years and years. This is what happens when a few power hungry people believe that they can actually control the human spirit and tell it what to do, how to behave and what to feel.

So I sit in front of my television, watch with my heart in my mouth as these brave Iranians fight for their right to be human.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bakwaas Kaam

I finally got a project to work on. I am SO ashamed to be a part of it that I have to, for my own sanity, admit it (semi) publicly.

I have to write a corporate AV for a chillar security agency called (shudder) Zing. If I were looking for an agency to make sure my pet diamonds were safe or that no one got their grubby hands on those nuclear secrets, I would NOT hire one called Zing.
Anyhoo, I have to write a script extolling the many virtues of Zing. Fine - I can do it. Not like I haven't made someones limited assets appear bigger than they actually were.

But then they want me to stick - word for word - to the shitty brochure that they've come up with. I risk copyright infringement by quoting the magnificent tome here but I cannot help myself. Here's a gem: 'Peer monitoring', 'mutual assessment' and 'whistle blowers' concept will be encouraged and rewarded. The practice is prevalent as observed by us in other countries, e.g: US, UK, Germany and Italy. This will eliminate thefts, pilferages (hahahahaha) and other forms of loss, (wait for it) with or without internal collusions.
Disclaimer: the comments in brackets belong to me.

As if that weren't enough, the final twist of the knife in my gut is the 'visual treatment' demanded by the client (which is called Zing, lest we forget). It is their express wish that we use snippets of action films like Rambo, Rocky and Mission Impossible to enhance their state-of-the-art security facilities. I don't wish to doubt their abilities to provide a Tom Cruise type hanging from cables 3 inches of the ground but still...something tells me that when push comes to shove, their underfed, under-armed and underpaid guards will fall, just barely, short.

And while my lifeless - I mean zingless - carcass of a writer's body lies by the wayside, I can just see Mr. Ranjit Singh (COO, Zing) walk past, kick my remains and say - "Payment? Ismey aapka input kya thha? Saara masala tho humne diya...."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The eternal infernal debate

A close friend of mine has just had a baby.
And I tumble back into my eternal debate. Do I want babies or not. ?
Why does Sifa's baby pull at my heartstrings even without my having seen her?
Why do I shudder at the thought of multiplying everytime I see my parents.

And on it goes...

Saturday, June 13, 2009


For many people having a broken heart is something that may not be recognized at first, as it takes time for an emotional or physical loss to be fully acknowledged. As Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson states:
Human beings are not always aware of what they are feeling. Like animals, they may not be able to put their feelings into words. This does not mean they have no feelings. Sigmund Freud once speculated that a man could be in love with a woman for six years and not know it until many years later. Such a man, with all the goodwill in the world, could not have verbalized what he did not know. He had the feelings, but he did not know about them. It may sound like a paradox — paradoxical because when we think of a feeling, we think of something that we are consciously aware of feeling. As Freud put it in his 1915 article The Unconscious: "It is surely of the essence of an emotion that we should be aware of it.' Yet it is beyond question that we can 'have' feelings that we do not know about."[3]

The Physiology of my Heartbreak

There was a time when every heartbreak would begin by extreme numbness. So dissociated was I with myself that not even a pin prick of sorrow could penetrate the rhinohide of stillness that grew around me. Death - of a person or a relationship - would have me sitting in its immediate aftermath thinking 'Now that wasn't so bad, was it?"

Weeks and months would pass, I'd be strolling in a shopping mall, skipping to a 20 year old Bryan Adams song playing on the surround sound system, when it would hit me. Right between the undies aisle and the perfume kiosk, it would sock me in the gut and knock the wind out of me. The weight of the world would fall on me and I'd simply crumble. They'd literally have to pick my shattered pieces off the floor. Eventually as the days passed, I would once more convince the world that all was well with me. But inside, the tragedy du jour would slowly turn its jagged knife into me, creating deep lacerations that threatened never to heal.

But all that was before therapy.

Joy. Since I'm no longer 'dissociated with the self' I feel everything immediately and in real time. The intensity is still the same, except now that it's free to roam the nooks and crannies of my being, it's like a 24 hour torture chamber. 'Acknowledge me, look at me, don't escape, don't bury, don't ignore!' They plead and grovel to dig their twisted nails into my psyche. They're like pesky relatives who come to stay. Indefinitely.

Hitting the treadmill with a vengeance helps. Friends - god bless them - are like manna from the heavens. Marijuana, if I had some on me right now, would be perfection. Alcohol is dangerous. It could lead either way. Books - not a great idea. Music - dicey. Must carefully peruse the playlist to weed out the weepy tracks. It's too much work. Work. Yes, that would be good if I had some. Sex. Let's not talk about that shall we.

Pain is such an understatement. How does one describe this intensity of emotion that has the power to manifest itself almost physically. The heart really does break. I can feel chips of ventricular matter falling away even as I write.
There goes another bit...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Beth Ditto

Because sometimes a picture speaks a thousand words.

Why don't I like the cool stuff?

I am very disturbed. I consider myself to be a patron of the arts and the type of girl who loves a good bit of dramatic expression - on canvas, on stage, in song, in step, in word or on 70mm. I'd like to believe that my senses are acutely tuned to find 'truth', 'beauty' and of course coolness in any work of art that is presented to me.

Two nights ago, I traipsed out in the Delhi heat in response to a Facebook invite promising music, comedy, dance and general fun associated with Mr. Kite type evenings. I even dished out Rs.300 that I do not have, to attend this soiree of the artisitic elite. I withstood the horrendous crush of sweaty bodies, all breathing hot, steaming air, crammed into a space that could barely contain its own waiting staff. For all their pedigree, this lot didn't seem to think twice about shoving their exfoliated elbows into my sides, just to inch closer to the 'stage'. They also thought it acceptable to talk loudly through all the comedic sketches that could barely be heard, in spite of the mics.

I may have bitched and moaned and annoyed my friend to the point of violence, but I swear I tried to enjoy it. I tried to forget that these o-so-intelligent organizers hadn't thought to wonder how they would fit over 50 people into an airtight box that could only accomodate 15. I also tried to get over my own baseless prejudices of this 'spoilt bunch of kids who walk around with an air of entitlement' (I'm human, I too have my internal caste system). But what I could not get over was the level of goop churned out by the actors. Did they imagine they were in a PG Wodehouse novel? Were they in the smoking room of a duke's chalet? Were they longing for the days of the Raj to return? Who were these people? I didn't recognize them.

After the evening was officially declared over with a rousing samba (which I thoroughly enjoyed - I'm not that much of a cynical bitch), my friend and I got embroiled in an argument. She had a valid point - these kids were representing a space that's real and exists and had not been represented that openly on the Indian scene. Hyper-elite art, I'd call it. You have to be familiar not just with Western art forms but also Western lifestyles, references and perspectives. It's cool and it has a right to exist.

I was disturbed because I'd like to think that I stand up for any artist's right to express and for any art's right to exist. Yet I was unable to reconcile myself to these young, obviously sincere people recreating Vaudeville in a sense.

Because, if I want Vaudeville, I'd like to see the real thing. Or if it's being done in India by Indians then I don't just want the bare minimum that the bunch is capable of. It doesn't excite me because there's nothing new except the location of the performance and the nationality of the performers. I don't like when artists set out to do something new and then end up doing the same old. I don't like lukewarm.

As a writer who is not the most gifted or the most appreciated (I've had some hard criticisms thrown my way), there's a part of me that says - awww, let them blossom, let them bloom, let them say their piece because they want to. For God's sake, give them their right to be. They're trying.

But then I look into my wallet and find it so empty that I can't afford to go for Vishal Bhardwaj's next film at PVR and I say - screw you and your well meaning experiments.
I want my money back.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fully Alive

I want to write about today because it was one of those rare ones when I felt fully alive and engaged with this thing called life.

Nothing too out of the ordinary. Woke up after a night attending a variety show in the city. I had wanted to go because I felt it would jog me out of my constant state of numbness (not a bad numbness...just numbness). It was a whole mess of people in good clothes, stuffed into a really tiny, humid space, where the AC didn't work. There was samba music, stand up acts, some sketches, French troubadours and 2 strangely delightful desi Opera singers. It was ok. It did nothing to move me.

So, as I was saying, I woke up after all of that, got dressed, ate breakfast and headed out for what I believed would be a very dull meeting with a very NGO client. The kind of thing I hadn't done in months. But the minute I walked in, I felt like I was stepping into the now, like I haven't in the longest time. I felt electric. I knew this space, I enjoyed this space. We would be talking about what kind of film needed to be made. We would bullshit a little but mostly talk sense. I would get a chance to sound really intelligent. Because I am. I was Baryshnikov in the boardroom.

And then I caught the eye of the guy across the table and it was one of those rare, rare moments when you feel a connection beyond logic. Those delicious nanoseconds when there is much more than a meeting of the minds. It was an absolute understanding of each other that lasted for an infinitesimal flash. But it was wonderful.

Came home. Slept like the dead. Woke up to find a film called 'Local Color' playing on tv. True story about the relationship between an art student and a famous Russian painter. I don't want to go into a long winded spiel about the film...but in a sea of crap churned out as 'art', this simple, no nonsense film reached into my gut and made me feel, well, fully alive.

It was an important day in my experiment to find what makes me feel more me. What makes my DNA tingle and heart beat faster. What makes me shut off the running commentary in my head and just be. The answers are delightfully surprising. Delightfully simple.